Great Deals Available Right Now on the Surface Pro 3. Save $100!

Surface-Pro-3[1]Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is a bone-a-fide hit. The combination Laptop/Tablet form factor, combined with its excellent screen, impressive hardware, solid build quality and outstanding pen input has made this the most popular Surface Pro to date, with over a billion in sales last year quarter.

If you’ve managed to resist this gem, Microsoft is making it a bit harder to hold off with a great set of deals available both on-line and in it’s physical stores.  From Jan 30 to April 5th, a brand new Surface Pro will set you back up to $100 less than normal, plus Microsoft will throw in a free sleeve to boot.

"The Surface Pro 3's infinitely adjustable hinge makes it a great fit for any setting."
“The Surface Pro 3’s infinitely adjustable hinge makes it a great fit for any setting.”

Of course, this deal may be limited by availability of stock. It’s quite possible that Microsoft is selling off excess inventory from the holiday sales season, so its probably wise to grab one while you can!

 

 

You can hop on down to your local Microsoft Store, or click on the links below to the online store.

Surface Pro 3 Model.                                                Suggested Retail price (USD)
Intel® Core™ i3, 64 GB and 4 GB of RAM.                                $799
Intel® Core™ i5, 128 GB and 4 GB of RAM.                              $899
Intel® Core™ i5, 256 GB and 8 GB of RAM.                           $1,199
Intel® Core™ i7, 256 GB and 8 GB of RAM.                          $1,449
Intel® Core™ i7, 512 GB and 8 GB of RAM.                          $1,849

ITs never a question of: "Laptop or Tablet?" The Surface Pro 3 is Both!
ITs never a question of: “Laptop or Tablet?” The Surface Pro 3 is Both!

These are great prices for a great combination device. Don’t forget to add in the price for a type cover to your budget. The result is an irresistible combination at a great price.  I’ve been running the Windows 10 Preview on my “old” Surface Pro and I have to say I’m really excited about this new version of Windows in combination with the Surface’s form factor. Your new Surface Pro 3 will be receiving a free upgrade to Windows 10 later this year, so there’s no reason to wait!

If you’re on the fence about the Surface Pro 3, take a look at our full blown review as it may help you decide.

Microsoft Band Battery Covers Are Apeeling!

"We've Been Testing Bands For Years"
“We’ve Been Testing Bands For Years”

It’s no secret that we here at MicrosoftProductReviews are big fans of the Microsoft Band. Personally, I snagged mine within a few minutes of the initial launch on-line and have been wearing it ever since. A couple of the other folks here have also purchased them, and one of them ah, “imported” his from the US to another country. We’ve done unboxing videos, test-driven them at Starbucks and generally love the things. Personally, I find I miss it if its not on my wrist, and I have a couple of articles about it into the pipeline, one of which will show off a little appreciated bit of “Magic” the Band and its app can do.

That said, we’re not without our criticisms. The screen scratches way too easily, and the lack of a curved shape that matches the shape of the wrist still makes it a bit clunkier than it should be. There are some software changes that we would like to see implemented too, but these are all par for the course with first generation hardware of a pioneering new device.

Unfortunately, sometimes first gen devices also have some odd problems, and today I have to report about one of those. When I put my Band on after my morning shower it was fine.  I wore it all day, and when I came home after my afternoon run I removed it for another shower when I saw, well, this:

WP_20150123_007WP_20150123_009

"MS Band Battery Covers"
“Microsoft Band Battery Covers”

That’s pretty ugly!  The plastic/rubbery coating on the batter covers had peeled almost completely off.  It appeared to happen in a single day and for no reason I can identify.  Looking at the “Exploded View” of the Band on the Microsoft website clearly shows the battery covers, with their retaining screws.  The diagram makes it seem that these are a single molded pieces of plastic, but in fact they are made of metal with a plastic , and in my case, this had peeled away.  It wasn’t clear whether this would represent a safety issue, but given that the apparently metallic battery cover was now in contact with my skin I decided not to wear it any more.  Since then however, Microsoft has assured us that this doesn’t represent a safety issue.

I called my local Microsoft Store and scheduled an appointment the next day.  They didn’t have any large Bands in stock (Stock levels at the physical stores remain low after the Holidays season), but they did have a single Medium sized Band.  I had always found myself using the small-end of the Large size band, so I figured I’d try out the Medium and did it fit, go with that. They put it aside and shortly thereafter I walked into the store, 15 minutes early, and we got down to work replacing it.

Well first off, about half of the store employees were wearing their own Bands – a good sign that they will know what’s up with them.  However, nobody had seen anything like this!  They all gazed at it in amazement, shook their heads and said they’d never seen anything like this at all.  Of course, my Band was older than any of theirs, so perhaps its an issue that takes time to develop, and is going to happen more often as Bands get worn for longer times.  Let’s hope not, but when the staff person helping me took his own off and inspected it, we could see that the coating on the inside of his Band was also starting to peel off.  His was not peeling off of the battery covers like mine, but rather the inside of the strap itself.

"Don't Worry, The MicrosoftProductReviews Team is On The Job!"
“Don’t Worry, The MicrosoftProductReviews Team is On The Job!”

I started to hear some gentle alarm bells tinkling. Sure, this could be a one-off problem, but what are the odds that one of the very first Bands sold would have a catastrophic failure of the coating on the inside of the Band, and then when its taken to the Microsoft store the person exchanging it also had the inside of his Band peeling? Not very likely, unless there is a common factor at work resulting in the coating failure.  This would suggest, although it doesn’t prove, that there may be a quality issue brewing here.  We’ll have to wait and see as more Bands get worn for longer periods, whether we two were just “lucky”, or were just warming up for our jobs as Canaries.

We contacted Microsoft to report the problem, asked them if they had seen it before, determine if they felt there was any safety issue with wearing the Band without the battery cover coating intact, and to seek their instructions on what you should do if you see this happening to your Band.  As mentioned above, they don’t believe there is any safety issue (that’s good), and have not seen a lot of these failures to date. A Microsoft Spokesperson told us:

“Microsoft Band is a robust and rugged device for those who are active in the gym and on the job.  While it was designed to withstand even the most extreme fitness regimes, it is susceptible to scratches and damage through normal usage patterns like any wrist worn device.   In extreme cases, where there is a nick or scratch in the rubber coating, skin lotions with acrylics and/or sweat can seep through and cause corrosion under the rubber coating, resulting in the coating peeling away.  The damage is entirely cosmetic and does not affect the safety or functionality of the device. The battery casing is designed to prevent battery contact with skin regardless of any damage that it receives.  Band users can take steps to ensure this does not happen to their device and are advised to ensure no damage occurs to the underside of the device and to avoid all contact with soap, detergent, chlorinated water, salt water, lotion, bug spray, and sunscreen.  In addition, users should wipe the underside of their band periodically with a damp cloth to keep the device clean.”

When you look at the list of things Microsoft is saying to avoid, it’s pretty comprehensive.  It wouldn’t be going too far to say it’s all but impossible to avoid things like “contact with soap, detergent, chlorinated water (that’s pretty much everything except rainwater), lotion…”.  Given that these are all things that one can fully expect the inside of the Band to come in contact with, one would hope Microsoft will try to improve upon their choice of adhesives in the next version of the Band.  Certainly, it would seem that the material they have chosen is arguably a bit more delicate than is desired. All engineering is an exercise in compromise however, and a thicker, more robust coating would have increased the thickness of the already somewhat chunky design, so if this turns out to be a bit of a freak occurrence, no change may be recommended.

"Lets Hope For The Best!"
“Lets Hope For The Best!”

On the other hand, my Microsoft Store guy’s Band was also starting to peel on the inside of the Band, so we will just have to wait and see.

If you see this kind of thing happening to your Band, you should let us know in the comments below, and then follow Microsoft’s instructions to get it replaced.  On that topic, I have to compliment the folks at my local Microsoft Store (Bethesda, MD) for being helpful and accommodating.

"The Bethesda MS Store"
“The Bethesda MS Store”

It was actually fun to talk with them as we sorted thru the necessary steps to return my first Band, register the new one, transfer my warrantee (best $19.95 I ever spent!) and activate, pair and set up my new Band.  They even replaced the screen protector, AND applied it for me (doing a much better job than I had done on my original!), all with a friendly and calm manner.  I’ve reported before on how much I was impressed by the staff and manager at this store, and it’s great to see that long after launch-day they keep on impressing!

We really love the Microsoft Band, and hope that this is truly an isolated incident. Have you seen a problem like this on your Band? Let us know in the comments below.

[UPDATE] Pimp My Band Update Adds Features We Requested – Then Does Us Two Better!

Update – December 17, 2014 1:02PM – Pimp My Band app has been updated today with a couple of improvements bringing the app version to 1.2.0.1.

Here is the full update bulletin:

• Modified color picker interface
• Better light theme handling
• Minor bug fixes

—————–

Pimp My Band – it seems like only yesterday we were enthusiastically recommending this great app, well actually is was just a bit more than two days ago. This great little app allows you to set a custom background for the Me Tile, essentially the Start Screen of your Band.

We really liked the easy to understand interface and simple to follow process to upload a photo from your Windows Phone to your Band. It works quickly and easily, so much so that we could only find a couple of little quibbles with it. The first was that while you could change the background to the picture of your liking, you couldn’t change the accent stripe on the right side of the Me Tile. To do this, you had to go back to Microsoft’s app, change the color, which would also wipe out your lovely Custom image, and then go back to Pimp My Band to re-set the background to your custom picture.

We also suggested that on occasion the on-screen instructions were a tad confusing in that they told you to touch a control below, but there were a couple of options to chose from.  The Developer of the app spotted our Review and Tweeted he would be making some changes very soon. Well, soon turned out to be very, very soon. Version 1.2 has landed in the Store and it has very neatly addressed the quibbles as we requested, and in fact, has added two new features that are really very cool!

MS Band LegoHead
“OK LegoHead. Time For A Change”

Right out of the gate the instructions have been simplified, leaving no uncertainty about what exactly to do. Score One for MSPR and Band Owners everywhere!  Then guess what, you can now set the accent stripe color from within the app.  Score Two for MSPR and the app Developer, Fela Ameghino (@FrayxRulez)!

"The Running Mandy and Orion Nebula Look Great! Not Crazy About the Dominant Color Accent Stripe In This Case Though"
“The Running Man and Orion Nebula Look Great! Not Crazy About the Dominant Color Accent Stripe In This Case Though”
"Pick a Color. ANY Color!"
“Pick a Color. ANY Color!”

But Fela didn’t stop there, oh no, this guy’s serious about his updates. Version 1.2 has also added the ability to change the Accent Stripe to match the dominant color in your image – chosen automatically by the app itself!  Now that’s slick, and it’s a nice original idea.  I wish we could claim to have thought of it first, but this one’s all the Dev’s! Well done!

And, it’s not over yet.  Just in case your artistic vision doesn’t match the “Dominant Color” the app chooses for you, you can select a custom color from, well, any color in the universe. Just like before, the app is simple, fast and does everything as advertised. The original Pimp My Band was a really solid piece of work, well worth the $0.99 price, and this update is an impressive bit of work that shows off the Dev’s creativity and commitment to customer satisfaction.

"Yes! That's All Limped Out!"
“Hydrogen Red -Yes! That’s All Pimped Out!”

Given how well this worked last time, I’ll make just a couple of suggestions.  First, the “Dominant Color” automatic selection is amazing!  I really like it. But sometimes what you are looking for is a contrasting or “Complimentary color” that would really stand out and truly accent the image.  I would love it if an option could be added to automatically select either the Dominant color, or its Complimentary color. The other suggestion – World Peace.  Like last time, you’ve got 48 hours – Go!

[UPDATE] Want a Custom Start Screen on Your Microsoft Band? Pimp It!

Update – December 15, 2015 – We’re happy to report that the Pimp my Band app developer has confirmed to us on Twitter there is an update with great features coming coming soon.

If you are one of the lucky ones to have scored a Microsoft Band here in the US then you know this is an impressive device. Bristling with sensors and sophisticated abilities, like App Notifications, Cortana integrations and Band-specific Apps, it’s a highly functional and useful device.

Nice, but this could use some pizzazz
Nice, but this could use some pizzazz

One thing it isn’t though, is particularly attractive. It has a minimalist, Utilitarian design that is similar to many less capable fitness bands, and stands in complete contrast to what is expected from the upcoming Apple watch which is much more about form and less about helping you live a better, healthier life.

Still, Microsoft has tried to allow for some customization of the Me Tile display in order to allow you to make your Band pleasing to YOUR eyes. You can choose between 10 Colors (plus 3 Black with a different colored stripe) and 12 different wallpapers out of the box – a healthy start.

But what if you are used to putting your favorite photographs on your device displays? Well it’s been hinted that this would be possible, however the still somewhat limited interfaces available for the Band (basically the Microsoft Health App) have not allowed this.

"Like me, You Need a Dragon On Your Band. Admit it!"
“Like me, You Need a Dragon On Your Band. Admit it!”

Besides, what would you be able to do with such a small display, right? It’s only .43” x 1.3” inches, so there would seem to be little worth doing with it. Considering that a lot of the available space is understandably taken over with text, particularly if you enable the “Watch” function, it might seem not worth bothering. And what about the display resolution? Surely such a small and utilitarian device would not have a very high resolution, the kind that would make a photograph a useful background. After all, Microsoft didn’t include any photos in the display choices, and their not shy of loading such photos onto Lumias are they?

Looking a bit at the display specs, you get a hint that photos might not look too bad. The Band has a 320 x 106 ppi display. That gives it an overall resolution of 240 ppi. That’s not exactly High Def video, but its higher than the 3rd Gen MacBook Pro (227 ppi) and almost as good as the 4tth Gen iPad (264 ppi). In more MS terms, it’s the same as the current Lumia 530 (245 ppi), way better than the Lumia 630/635 (218 ppi). You have to climb up the Lumia Ladder all the way to the 700 top get a better resolution (312 ppi)! And the full color TFT LCD technology used in the display is no slouch either. Clearly, this was built with the capability to do more than a simple geometric pastel background.

"Much Better than that Kid kicking the Soccer Ball"
“Much Better than that Kid kicking the Soccer Ball”

After looking thru all this I became interested in customizing the displayed image on my Band. As a semi-pro Photographer I have a large library of personal images I rather like, and all my capable electronics immediately have the manufacturers’ stock backgrounds replaced with ones of my own I find pleasing. The inability to do the same with my Band was a little irritating, particularly once I realized that it should have the capability to do a good job with an image of the correct proportions.

So I was very excited to discover that an App to do just this, “Pimp My Band” was just released into the Windows Phone Store. It’s a very simple, easy to use App that does just one thing, allow you to crop (the original image is untouched) and upload photos from your Windows phone to your MS Band Me Tile.

"It's a Start"
“It’s a Start”

Upon opening the App it connects to your Band and shows you an image of it with your current Me Tile displayed. Tapping on the image opens your photo library on your Windows Phone. You can swipe up or down, left or right as usual in order to find a photo you like. Tap on one, or press the camera button on the bottom if you would rather take a new photo. After selecting the picture you wish, the App will move on to the next step.

You are then presented with the photo you selected, which is scaled to fill a frame of the dimensions of the Band’s display. Using you finger you can then slide the photo up and down to frame the photo as you would prefer to look on the Band. When you’re done, tap the checkmark on the bottom of the screen. You are then taken back to a page that looks like the one you started on, except that there is a “Save” icon at the bottom.

"10, 9, 8, 7..."
“10, 9, 8, 7…”

Thumba_2014-12-14_02-49-46

You tap on that, the screen dims and it report that it is “Changing your background” and the familiar moving dots fly across the top of the screen while the data is uplinked to your Band. Meanwhile your Band screen indicates that it is syncing with the App. Once this is complete, which takes 10-15 seconds, and then a splash screen shows up confirming that he screen background has been changed. Tap the “OK” and you are done! That’s it!

 

If you like texture, now you can have it.
If you like texture, now you can have it.

I’ve played around with the App for a few days now, uploading dozens of images. I’ve found it to be fast, predictable and stable. Only once did it seem to hang for a bit, then reported a failure and suggested that my Band wasn’t connected and I should verify that Bluetooth was on and my Band paired. I checked, and everything was fine. I killed the App, reloaded it and all was well. I’ve not seen an error again, which is a pretty good track record for a Bluetooth data transmission. I’ve demonstrated it working from about 10 feet away, but not sought out its limits. It’s certainly reliable enough to allow you to update the display from your chair while your Band is charging on your desk. Oh, and I checked, it works while your Band is charging.

"I have a thing for Leaves. Now you know."
“I have a thing for Leaves. Now you know.”

In terms of image resolution, I’m actually very impressed with how good photos look on the Band. Of course taking megapixel images and reducing them to a (cropped) 320 x 106 pixel image scaled down many times can eliminate many image quality issue, but at the same time the downscaling can be done well or badly. In this case it’s exquisite – so far I cannot detect any artifacts in the resulting backgrounds on the Band. Color replication is more than acceptable, and to my delight, the black levels on the display are excellent, regardless of whether the brightness is set to high or low or automatic.

"NOW I've got my Badass Band on"
“NOW I’ve got my Badass Band on”

The real challenge is picking an image that will look good cropped and overlaid with the text on the Me Tile. If you have the Clock option on as I have, a lot of the left side of the Me Tile is dominated by white text. Best not to put your Wife’s face in that area, or a bunch of white clouds either. So choose your photos with care, but with Pimp My Band, it’s so easy and quick to change backgrounds that it’s no bother, really kind of fun actually to change to a new one until you’re happy with the new look of your Band.

wp_ss_20141213_0001I have only a few quibbles with PMB. At the moment the colored stripe on the right side of the Me Tile cannot be changed from within the App. If you want to change it to go better with your photo you have to go back to the Microsoft Health App, change it, which will also change the background, then return to Pimp My Band and reload the Photo. This may be a limitation imposed by Microsoft, but if not it would be a good thing to improve in the next version. Sometimes the taping on the image is not clearly called out, it’s just referred to as “below”, which could be called out a bit more clearly as there are other action icons in the bottom of the page at the same time. These are small issues that could easily be tweaked and shouldn’t cause anyone to wait before trying the App.

Pimp My Band is available in the Store for $0.99, and its well worth the Buck!

Download Pimp My Band for Windows Phone here

Five Nights at Freddys is Available for Windows Phone, Sort Of

The popular games, Five Nights at Freddy and Five Nights at Freddys 2 were released yesterday for Windows Phone. For devotees of these, lets just say, unusual, games were understandably pleased.

However there is a bit of a glitch that we wanted to make you aware of.  At the moment the game doesn’t show up on all of the Windows Phone Store servers. Instead, if you search for either game you see only a list of several “Guides” to the games. These are fairly named as “Guides” or “Game play”, however they all use the official graphics from the original games, which can lead to confusion about what exactly you are purchasing.

"No Need For That. We'll Be Happy to Help"
“No Need For That. We’ll Be Happy to Help”

And these are all PAID Guides, ranging from $0.99 to $3.49, so you end up paying more for a “guide” than the actual game costs!

To reiterate, these “Guides” are not doing anything underhanded.  Guides, paid or free, are a staple in every gaming store. The problem is that the widely announced Game itself is not showing up on people’s handsets when they search the Store.

The games ARE available, but at the moment you may need to use a link to access them form the Store. This may change rapidly, as the Store’s servers populate the game everywhere, but in the meantime, look carefully before you buy, and if you can’t see the actual games on your phone’s store app, using these links will bring them to your handset for download:

Five Nights at Freddy’s (Windows Phone) – Download

Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 (Windows Phone) – Download

A Microsoft Store Opening – The Complete Experience

Thinks is less than a quarter of the line I found when I arrived
This is less than a quarter of the line I found when I arrived

On November 22 Microsoft officially opened its 110th retail Store in the Westfield – Montgomery Mall in Bethesda MD. We gave you a sample of the actual opening moments on video, and an interview with the Store Manager earlier. Ironically, I purchased a new Surface Pro 3 at the opening itself, and when I got home my Surface Pro got wind of it and died, so it’s taken a bit longer to get this out to you than I had hoped, but, courtesy of my new Surface Pro 3 – here’s how it all happened.

The Store was covered with a white cloth, hiding all the activity within.  On the right is the beginning of the line with the lucky 200 that got to meet an MLB Player.
The Store was covered with a white cloth, hiding all the activity within. On the right is the beginning of the line with the lucky 200 that got to meet an MLB Player.

To be honest, I’ve never been attracted to store openings, visions of slick guys in cheap suits and toaster giveaways were what came to mind, but here at MicrosoftProductReviews.com we will go to any lengths to keep you in the loop so I hitched up my boots and went to see what it’s all about.

I arrived at the mall about an hour before the opening. I wasn’t expecting too much, this was a Microsoft store, not a destination that usually arouses a lot of passion in people. Since the first 200 people in line would get a chance to meet Stephen Strasburg (a Major League Baseball player for those who don’t recognize the name). I figured there would be several hundred sports die-hards, and a few looking for opening day bargains. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Th Elaine started off in the distance on the right, passed behind me for an equal distance, made a Uh-Turn and came back on the left, then wrapped around the Macy's store and out of sight! Hundreds of People for Microsoft!
The line started off in the distance on the right, passed behind me for an equal distance, made a U-Turn and came back on the left, then wrapped around the Macy’s store and out of sight! Hundreds of People for Microsoft!

There were many hundreds of people, of all ages and interests, literally filling that arm of the mall. As the photos try to show, the crowd began at the Microsoft Store, which is at a prime location on the corner opposite an Anchor Store (Macy’s) and a Starbucks. It then ran all the way down one arm of the mall to another Anchor Store, then did a 180 turn and ran all the way down the same arm (on the opposite side of the arm), pausing only briefly to make a gap for the tomb-like Apple Store, and then kept on going all the way to the Microsoft Store again! There was also a separate line that snaked around in front of Macy’s and went down the other arm of the mall a ways. I was looking at between 400-500 people and it wasn’t open yet!

Not much interest in the  Fruit Stand nearby...
Not much interest in the Fruit Stand nearby…

It’s worth noting too that this isn’t a huge store. It has ~1300 sqft of well laid out space, but at the moment it was clearly dwarfed by the line up. Translation, once the store opened, these people were going to have to wait a while to get in, so they must be VERY interested in getting their hands on some new Microsoft products!

 

Winner of the "Best Tweet" Award gets his swag
Winner of the “Best Tweet” Award gets his swag

The Opening Ceremony began with a crowd-raising talk by the new Store Manager (you can read our interview with her here), explaining that there were several things to look forward to in the next few minutes. There was a giveaway to the person who had the best Tweet sent out from the line, and a short speech by the Director of Economic Development for the County – Steve Silverman. Microsoft Vice President Fred Humphries had the enviable job of giving away some $625,000 in technology Awards to a variety of organizations.

Microsoft V.P. Fred Humphries gave away a lot of money to the Community, here he is awarding $50,000 to Wounded Warriors
Microsoft V.P. Fred Humphries gave away a lot of money to the Community, here he is awarding $50,000 to Wounded Warriors

And then there was the actual opening.  I won’t spend time describing it, you can see the video of it here. Much more fun than you would expect from a stodgy old company like Microsoft.

The scene inside the store was initially nearly bedlam. The Xbox and Tablet deals were disappearing fast, but inside all of this was a professional and unflappable staff that calmly helped people out and completed sales as quickly as possible.

Checking out was an all Microsoft affair with wireless Lumia-driven handheld.
Checking out was an all Microsoft affair with wireless Lumia-driven handheld.

Personally, I scored a number of great deals, as well as regular purchases. Frankly, the store is a dangerous place! I was impressed with the way the staff had been prepped to be able to manage the entire purchase process from their hands as opposed to having to try to work thru the crowd to a register.  Everything was handled quickly and efficiently by my salesperson via a Windows Phone that was snapped into a base with a card scanner.  Once she had my Windows ID everything was smooth as silk including emailing me a receipt within a minute (neither of us wanted to fight through the crowd just to pick that up!)

The Surface and Tablet table.
The Surface and Tablet table.

The store layout is simple and will be pleasing to wander through when it is a bit less crowded. Tables with product category examples of machines are arrayed in an easy to navigate fashion with plenty of room to wander about.

 

 

Lots of MS Bands and accessories were readily seen and available.
Lots of MS Bands and accessories were readily seen and available “Off the Wall”.

Wall displays on the interior wall side do the same and hold many electronic Tchotchkes like chargers for the Microsoft Band, and, by the way, they had quite a stock of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A nice selection of Windows Phones to play with.
A nice selection of Windows Phones to play with.

There was a nice array of Windows Phones to look at and play with in several parts of the store. This shelf was on the wall towards the rear section.  Others could be found on tables towards the front of the store, ready to be spotted as you walked in or just passing by.

 

 

Stephen Strasburg playing Xbox with his lucky fans in the rear Events/Training part of the store.
Stephen Strasburg (Left side with short hair and blue shirt)playing Xbox with his lucky fans in the rear Events/Training part of the store.

The rear third of the store can be quickly reconfigured to serve as a training space or open area for any purpose. Microsoft calls this space the “Community Theater”. When the store opened it was basically piled high with Xbox 360s and the $99 Tablet specials. In a few hours that pile had been winnowed down and the space was quickly reconfigured to serve as the space for the meet and greet even with MLB Player Steven Strasburg, who spent some time entertaining the lucky 200 first people in line at the store.  He was bowling in an Xbox One on a multi-display panel that formed the back wall of the store to good effect and got lots of applause whenever he bowled a strike!

One of the very happy Strasburg fans, Carl - showing off some of the special event SWAG from his visit with Stephen Stasburg
One of the very happy Strasburg fans, Carl – showing off some of the special event SWAG from his visit with Stephen Stasburg

I left to stash my purchases in my car and grabbed a quick lunch. I could hear the crowd upstairs even in the noise and activity downstairs in the food court.  I returned to the store to interview the new Manager and then made another swing thru the store. Still full of shoppers and the line still snaking around the mall. People seemed happy to wait however, as the excitement and the deals were still in stock.

Overall, my impression of the event was that it was kind of like going to a fair – lots of fun for people of many ages and interests, but in this case, a clear focus on tech deals was obvious.  I enjoyed myself, which was a bit of a surprise as I’m not really a crowd person, so I would have to say when Microsoft opens a store near you I would encourage you to go down – early – and be a part of the fun.

"Oh yes. I DID enjoy myself ;-)"
“Oh yes. I DID enjoy myself ;-)”

BandSalesGate: the (Semi)Final Chapter

The stealth launch of the Microsoft Band will probably go down in History as the most successful, and occasionally baffling, new product launch in Microsoft’s history. If you’ve been sleeping in a cave for the last few weeks here’s how it unfolded:

"Bands Away!"
“Bands Away!”

After months of rumors pointing to Microsoft developing a SmartWatch, or a Fitness Band, out of the blue an App appears on the iOS Store for the “Microsoft Band”. Within minutes similar Apps populated the Android and Windows Stores, and at 12:01am the Band was offered for sale on the Microsoft Online Store.

If you hadn’t been so lucky as to be looking at the all this unfold online you were unlikely to have bought a Band as they sold out online very quickly that day.

The great reviews the Band garnered, combined with its being sold out on line, and having limited availability in Microsoft Stores, led to much speculation on the internet that the Launch had taken place with an unusual, maybe, unprecedented, small amount of stock. Many voices speculated that Microsoft did this intentionally to make the Band look like it was more desirable than it was.

Now, here at MSPR didn’t agree with that, but the clear mismatch between the supply and demand made the question of launch volume worth looking into.

About two weeks after the launch I was told by a MS Service Rep for the Band that they only had 5,000 on hand at launch. He was quite certain, but we would not take the word of a single Service Rep for granted, so we reached out to MS for confirmation. They replied twice, once to say they would not comment, and the second time to try and give a bit of perspective. As we reported earlier, we were told that:

“we don’t officially share or comment on specific numbers but, so you’re aware, we have built and have sold well beyond 5,000 units.”

"Uuuuhhhh... I Think I Read That Right'''"
“Uuuuhhhh… I Think I Read That Right”'”

So we ran the story, in which we at no time stated that Microsoft claimed to only have 5,000 bands at launch. In fact, we were very clear that this was a statement from a Service Rep, and the Official Microsoft position was quite different.

Certain other websites who picked up our story, apparently read our Article before they had their morning Starbucks, because they incorrectly claimed that we did state there were only 5,000 Bands at launch, then following in our footsteps, they also contacted Microsoft, and got the same answer we had already published, but presented it as if it was something new they had dug up themselves.

"Hey You, Yah the WC Guy. You'd Agree We Were Here First, Right!"
“Hey You, Yah the WC Guy. You’d Agree We Were Here First, Right!”

Besides ‘discovering’ that more than 5,000 Bands had been sold, in the same sense that Columbus ‘discovered’ a continent with inhabitants that had already been there for 40,000 years, and visited by Europeans at least half a millennium before, what other sites missed in all this was that this statement was made two weeks AFTER the initial launch, so you could read it to mean that the amount available at launch could have been anything, but that two weeks after launch, the total of those available at launch and those built and sold after launch exceeded 5,000.

Since the situation was still upon to interpretation, we reached out again to Microsoft and asked them to clarify, once and for all, the number of MS Bands available at launch, or at least, to be unambiguous regarding whether it was more than 5,000. They told us this:

“… correct. I was referring to numbers available at the time of launch”.

"Building As Fast As Possible'
“Building As Fast As Possible’

So there we have it. Microsoft has unambiguously stated they had well more than 5,000 Bands available at launch, just as we originally wrote. So from now on, we will have to wait for some Financial statements to try to learn what we can about sales numbers. Let’s just leave it that certainly Microsoft would have loved to have had more on Launch day, and you can be assured that somewhere, people are working very hard to bring more Bands to the legions of fans clamoring for them here in the US. Given the number of people in other Countries where it is not yet available who are also clamoring for it on line, any that they can make between now and the end of the Holliday Season, is likely to be snapped up quickly.

 

An Interview with the Microsoft's Newest Store Manager

New store Manager Tiffany Traynum and I at the opening
New store Manager Tiffany Traynum and I at the opening

On November 22, Microsoft opened its 110th store in the Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda Maryland. It was a big event, and if you want to see all the crazy, fun excitement of the opening moments please enjoy our videos of the event.

Making a successful store requires more than just great products, it also requires a great team of people, and they thrive best with great leadership. Judging by the enthusiastic and well informed staff of the Microsoft Store at the opening, they have both. I was fortunate to be able to get a few minutes with the incredibly busy manager of the new store, Tiffany Traynum.

Tiffany has been working for Microsoft for three years, including a stint at the Microsoft Store in nearby Tyson’s Corners. She told us that the reason Microsoft is opening up a store in this location is that despite having two specialty stores in the Baltimore area, Maryland has not had a Microsoft Store in the heavily populated, high-tech part of the State.  This newest store is intended to fill the needs of the residents and businesses in the Washington, DC suburb of Montgomery County and surrounding areas.

Store Manager Tiffany Traynum addressing the crowd at the start of the Grand Opening
Store Manager Tiffany Traynum addressing the crowd at the start of the Grand Opening

I asked her to describe the planning process and training of the staff and she said that the 1,300 sq ft store has been in the planning stages for many months, and Tiffany and her staff of 32 employees have been training for 2-3 months in order to provide customers with the highest quality of knowledgeable service.

When asked to describe how a visit to the Microsoft Store might differ from going to one of Microsoft’s retail partners, like Best Buy, she replied:

“Our retail partners provide an excellent customer experience which we try to expand upon in several areas. We offer extensive on site troubleshooting and repair services, and naturally, if we encounter anything we can’t handle immediately on site, the staff has a direct line to all the support we they need from headquarters to ensure that anything our customers bring us we will get fixed. Customers walking in to look at a new purchase will find a very large product selection, along side unique offerings like training; both individual and group, and unique services such as individual personal shopping.”

The latter sounded pretty interesting, particularly if you have a tech-savvy person on your gift list but don’t know what to get them. She explained that you can go online to book appointments for the individual services ahead of time, ensuring your visit will be as pleasant as possible.

"Honest Boss. These were just part of a test. You'll let me expense them - right?"
“Honest Boss. These were just part of a test. You’ll let me expense them – right?”

She seemed very proud of her team, and all the work that had gone into preparing for the big day, and when I told her I had tested them extensively with a series of purchases and was impressed with the calm, professional performance in the midst of so much activity she beamed: “I’m so proud of them all! It’s such a privilege to work with such a great team!”

Watching her staff handle over a thousand customers on Saturday, plus a special event with Stephen Strasburg, I can see why she was so proud of them.  She has a great team, and Microsoft has a great new Manager of its newest store.

This is what it's like to be at a grand opening of a Microsoft store

Martin microsoft store

We covered the Microsoft store opening in the Eaton Centre mall in Toronto on November 20th, and just two days later Microsoft opened up two more stores, one in California and  one in Bethesda at the Westfield Montgomery mall in Maryland, which we covered and managed to get some great video footage of.

The mall was packed with visitors and the line ran from the store, which is situated at one apex of the Mall’s arms, down an entire arm, past the relatively quiet Apple Store, to the end of the arm, then back again, and all around a part of the other arm of the Mall.  It was an enormous crowd of hundreds of eager fans and curious customers. The countdown began and as the curtain dropped, Microsoft employees cheered and the music kicked in.  Shortly after, the store employees started a circular conga line and before I knew it I was deep in the riot of action.

For those of you interested in what it’s like to be at the front lines of a Microsoft Store opening, watch this.

Here’s some video footage of the line and just before the store opened, but it doesn’t capture the entire line, just a small portion.

Take a look at our coverage of the new Microsoft Store in downtown Toronto  which just opened at the busy Eaton Centre mall on Nov.20th.

How Many Bands Did Microsoft Have at Launch? Would You Believe 5,000?

Microsoft-Band---official-imagesUpdate (Tuesday November 18, 2014 2:24PM)Today’s online stock of Microsoft Band sells out in 15 minutes! Click here to read more.

By now the ‘Stealth Launch’ of the Microsoft Band is quickly becoming a legend. Quantities were so limited at launch that it sold out on line within hours. That sounds more like a gold-plated iPhone launch than an unexpected new Microsoft product release, but that’s how it was.

And to a large extent, it still is. It’s been a couple of weeks now and the Band is still Out Of Stock online, and reports are that most stores are out as well.

There has been a lot of speculation online that Microsoft did this deliberately, to create the appearance that this was a highly desired and successful product. Personally, I don’t think that makes much sense, but clearly there was a mis-match between supply and demand.

A while ago I called the Microsoft Band Support people to inquire about an ‘update’ that showed up for the Band. As we reported, it turned out that this wasn’t an update to the Band, but rather to an App that wanted to communicate with the Band.

"Feeling Lucky...Punk?"
“Feeling Lucky…Punk?”

While I was on the line I mentioned how lucky I seemed to have been to get one of them before they sold out. “You’re luckier than you think, Microsoft only had 5,000 of them for the launch.” he said.

That hit me like a thunderbolt. “Five thousand!”, I exclaimed. “Are you kidding me!”. “No.” He replied, “Five thousand. Five, zero, zero, zero. That’s all. They’re working hard now to build more to meet the demand, but we have no idea when they will be back in stock again.”

I asked him to repeat the number back to me, just so I was sure I understood. He did, and again, the number was just 5,000.

That’s an amazingly small product launch. There’s testing the waters, but this would be more like testing a puddle!

Now, Support people are an interesting group. Sometimes they know more than they should, and sometimes they know less than they need to, and sometimes they don’t know as much as they think they do. Most of the time I’ve found they know what they need to solve basic issues, so even though it was a recent and very interesting event, one wonders why a support rep would be privy to launch stock volume information.

After all, this IS Microsoft. How long did it take them to release sales numbers for the Xbox One? So in the interests of keeping facts straight, we reached out to Microsoft and asked them to comment on the information their rep had given me.

Initially, their response, was, well, I’ll let you read it:

From a Microsoft spokesperson:

“We are excited by the response we have seen to Microsoft Band but Microsoft does not comment on production volumes.”

That’s not saying much is it. It neither confirmed nor denied the accuracy of the information at hand. Having added nothing to the conversation, we were just going to have to go with what we had. I guess Microsoft figured that out, because after a short while they added the following:

we don’t officially share or comment on specific numbers but, so you’re aware, we have built and have sold well beyond 5,000 units.

"Well?  Do You?"
“Well? Do You?” Hurry up. ‘Cause I gotta go order some Starbucks with this thing!”

So there you have it. Was it 5,000, or “well beyond 5,000 units.”?  Personally, I thought the 5,000 number was low, but clearly they had a lot fewer than they could have sold. Let’s hope they will be able to work through the backlog soon.  Both Black Friday and Christmas are coming up, as are a number of Openings of new Microsoft Stores (we will be covering some of them) so there will be a lot of people hoping to see one on their wrist soon.