Microsoft Band gets new capabilities in preparation for Apple Watch launch

microsoft-bandTime is ticking and Apple is about to launch its hot new Apple Watch that’s been available for pre-order for a couple of weeks now. This has enticed Microsoft to push its own wearable device, Microsoft Band, and associated service Microsoft Health to new levels as competition in this space is about to get very hot.

Today Microsoft has announced a large software update for its fitness tracker and accompanying online services. As part of this update, Microsoft Band will be able to integrate with third-party cycling apps such as MapMyRide and Strava which will allow cyclists to compare their ride data with others and share routes. This feature is expected to roll out this Thursday, April 23rd.

“Customers want even more integration with additional third party fitness partners,” says Matt Barlow, a Microsoft general manager, in a statement. “We know they have existing relationships with other apps, services and devices outside of Microsoft Health and Microsoft Band, and they’re looking for new ways to integrate their data, ensuring it will all live and work together in one single spot.”

Microsoft Health smartphone app will also be available to those who don’t currently own a Microsoft Band fitness tracker, Microsoft said. By connecting to native phone sensors, Microsoft Health will be able to function, although in a more limited capacity, on Android phones, iPhones as well as Windows Phones. This exciting new capability will be available in the coming weeks as Microsoft looks to broaden the overall Microsoft Health platform and make it available to a wider audience.

Microsoft Health Web Dashboard service is getting some new features as well. The update, scheduled for April 27th will allow users to compare their exercise stats with others of similar height and weight. The update will also enable tracking and processing of additional data such as sleep recovery, fitness progress, oxygen volume used during exercise, and detailed historical stats for advanced analysis of run and workout data over time.

Source: GeekWire

Microsoft Band now selling at Best Buy, Target & Amazon in US; UK expansion & pre-orders announced

MSBand_Group_Bike_Mapping_RGB-640x357Up until now Microsoft Band was only available at Microsoft’s retail locations. Since the smart fitness tracker launched in November, its supply has been extremely limited with many Microsoft stores quickly running out of stock as soon as new shipments arrived, especially in the more-popular sizes.

Now it appears that Microsoft is ready to mass-produce the popular gadget as the company has just announced that as of today the Band will be sold at Best Buy, Target and Amazon in the U.S. The Microsoft Store (brick and mortar locations as well as microsoftstore.com) will, as of today, start receiving much larger and more frequent shipments of the wearable units. The price of the Band will remain at $199 for now.

Additionally, Microsoft Band is for the first time since launch becoming available for sale outside of the U.S. borders. As of today, it is available for pre-order in the U.K. through Amazon, Curry’s PC World, Dixons Travel, Harrods, and O2. The wearable will cost £169.99 (ERP) and the device will ship on April 15th.

Entrance into the U.K. market marks the beginning of what Microsoft expects to be the first of many non-U.S. markets to get the Band.

“We are excited to expand to an additional market, and to incorporate the feedback of more customers into our future product and service updates.” – Microsoft Corporate Blogs

This is truly exciting news for many who have wanted to get their hands on the fitness tracker but couldn’t because of supply issues in the U.S. or because of the lack of availability outside of U.S. Microsoft is positioning itself well just in time to compete with Apple in the wearable tech space.

Source: Microsoft Blog

Microsoft Band will start selling at 765 Best Buy stores starting this month (US-only)

Microsoft-Band---official-imagesMicrosoft Band is definitely a hot item, but its lack of availability outside of Microsoft stores in the US and limited supply have definitely hampered its growth.  It has been constantly sold out and very difficult to find at Microsoft stores as its re-stocked limited supply got sold out rather quickly.  In addition, the lack of online availability makes the situation even worse, and since November it wasn’t available for online pre-order.

Things seem to be changing as Microsoft has just recently made it available for anyone to pre-order the Microsoft Band through its online store.  This is a small step so far, but just recently, we found out that Microsoft will start selling the Band at 765 Best Buy stores in the US this month.

Best Buy stores will be featuring the Microsoft Band in their smart-watch display area, and will even include a live demo for people to interact with.

This is a significant step in bringing the Band out to a much larger audience, and although there is still no word of Microsoft planning on selling its wearable device outside of the US, it’s definitely a signal that Microsoft is ready to make its presence felt in the wearable space. We’re hoping that this is a sign towards a world-wide launch of the Microsoft Band but one step at a time, as even having it at Best Buy is significant with the way things were going.

With the Apple Watch set to be announced tomorrow and expected to be available for purchase in April, Microsoft is readying themselves as the space for wearables is set to heat up.

Microsoft Band ExplodedAlthough the Microsoft Band is a fantastic smart-watch, especially with the recent update which added a superb implementation of a keyboard, voice reply via Cortana and more importantly, the opening up of its APIs for developers, it is still at its heart a fitness band.

We’d like to think of it as of a hybrid device, just like the Surface Pro line.  However, in the fitness band category it’s definitely the top-of-the-line with an unprecedented amount of sensors, including GPS and continual heart rate monitoring and works with all three major smartphone platforms.

It costs $199 and plugs into Microsoft’s HealthVault which uses machine learning to provide helpful feedback to the information the Microsoft Band collects about your health.

The Apple watch on the other hand is primarily a smart-watch, and it will have health features as well, but not as robust due to the lesser amount of sensors available on the device. Apple’s push will be primarily geared towards the ability to use Apple Pay and even the rumored opening of car and hotel doors.  It will have a  wide array of customization options which will hit different price points and starts at $349.

Source: WindowsCentral

Microsoft Band available for pre-order to those who signed up for e-mail notification

microsoft-band-sold-outMicrosoft Band was never released to the masses like most other Microsoft products. For one reason or another, the Redmond software giant decided to use the Band as sort of a “live beta test” for its machine learning business. The Band was available in super-limited quantities online and in Microsoft’s physical stores as the company likely wanted to quietly introduce the fitness wearable before committing to a large-scale release that can actually compete with market leaders such as FitBit.

The one thing Microsoft could not anticipate was how popular the Band would get in such short time-frame and it caused the device to sell out within hours of its release in the fall of 2014.

Well, now it appears that Microsoft is getting ready to ship more Bands as the company is starting to take pre-orders online, and those who signed up for the e-mail notification “when product is back in stock” will be the first in line.

Microsoft is currently sending e-mails to all who signed up to get notified when Microsoft Band is back in stock, and in this e-mail there will be a special link where you can place the order. Make sure to check your e-mail and your Junk folder in case it ended up there.

The catch – you can only order one Band (there is a quantity limit in place) and the wearable device is still only available to folks in the U.S. The shipment date is currently set to March 17 and the price is still $199.

Please note Microsoft has now taken the “Notify me” link off the Band order page that is available to the general public.

We expect this to be the first of many product re-stocks and hope the Band will be available in more markets as the demand for it is strong world-wide.

Microsoft pushes firmware update to Microsoft Band but doesn't provide details on changes

microsoft band update1Microsoft has finally come along and started updating the Microsoft Band.  It’s becoming a much better product and one that feels fresh again with the latest update we’ve seen which was a major improvement that included an amazing implementation of a virtual keyboard and a quick reply option via Cortana and much more.

Now if only Microsoft can get actual stock of the product and provide us with detail on whether the Band will ever be released outside the US. Sadly, with the way things are going it looks as if version 2.0 will be the one to see a worldwide launch.

Back to the good news – the software giant has pushed out a firmware update to the fitness device. This new firmware will bring the version number 10.2.2612.0.

Microsoft hasn’t provided us with any of the changes made in this firmware update on their support page but we suspect that it’s most likely fixes for the previous major update.

To update manually you can open the Microsoft Health app and it may update that way, or you can plug the Band into your PC and run the synchronization software to get it.

[Video] Microsoft researchers show how productive the Microsoft Band is with new update

Microsoft has released a video about the Microsoft Band and how the new addition of the keyboard and the better voice to text integration make it a much more productive tool.

Microsoft developers and researchers talk a little about what went into designing such a fantastic keyboard on the tiny display the Microsoft Band possesses. They mention how pleasantly surprised users were with how great the implementation of the new feature is and how such feedback encourages them to do even more great things.

One of the great new features of the Microsoft Band is also the voice to text feature using Cortana and the improvements made to it. This is definitely a feature we here at Microsoft Product Reviews are big fans of.

This is a pretty neat video and a look into how the team thinks about the productivity on the Microsoft Band and it’s certainly nice to see such fantastic features added to it.

[Video] Microsoft Band virtual keyboard full review – it works surprisingly really well

Microsoft has just pushed out the first major update for the Band since its launch in October, and one of the cool new features is the availability of a virtual keyboard. But how well does it actually work on such a tiny screen? Surprisingly, really well. We have to say that Microsoft did the best implementation possible on the screen real estate available.

The way to start a text is to tap on the messaging tile and reply to one of the previous messages you’ve received, or you can just reply to a text when one comes in. Scroll upwards on the screen and you’ll see a reply icon. Once you tap that icon, from there you can select the keyboard option, voice to text with Cortana, or choose a response from the list of the pre-selected replies.

Once you select the keyboard, you’ll notice it’ll take up the entire screen. But don’t worry, you can always scroll over to the right to see what you actually wrote.  You’ll notice there’s a space button in the owner corner and a period on the top left.

This keyboard uses Microsoft’s Word Flow technology which does a fantastic job in predicting commonly used words  so you don’t have to be entirely accurate while typing and the end-result is very good, actually.  Missing the letters completely while typing often results in what you were trying to achieve as the prediction engine is pretty well optimized in this situation, and it does a really good job of figuring out what you’re trying to type.

WP_20150223_23_27_13_ProTo add punctuation or numbers, just scroll to the left while using the keyboard and you’ll see an option to add numbers or punctuations. Yep, for such a tiny thing it certainly has all the keyboard essentials.

In the middle of your message or after you’ve finished, you can scroll over to the right to check if you’re satisfied with the result, and then scroll back to continue typing. If not, you can tap a word you’re not happy with and just above it you’ll see a few suggestions to select from. There’s also an X beside the word in case you choose to delete it completely and a plus sign to add more text before the word selected. Once you’ve finished, you would press the action button to send it off.

We’re very impressed with how Microsoft implemented these features considering how tiny the display is, and although it’s nice to have this ability, it’s hard to imagine situations where one would use this when your phone is always nearby. Either way, some people may find this useful, especially while exercising or while they’re away from their phones.

Microsoft Band, Health get major updates including Bike Tile, Virtual Keyboard, Developer SDK Preview & more

microsoft-bandMicrosoft Band is a very useful health & fitness tracker but also a handy smart-watch that has a lot of potential. Although the device was launched late last year at a very small scale, Microsoft wanted to get a lot of user feedback and carefully examine user-data before they mass-produce the wearable tech. Presently, it’s only available in the U.S. but we expect to see Microsoft Band available in more countries in the near future.

It’s been well over three months since the Band hit the shelves (and also sold out within hours), and today Microsoft has released the first large update to the device as well as an update to the Microsoft Health app which now fully integrates with Microsoft HealthVault and MapMyFitness. It also gives users a much deeper insight into their health activities and workouts through Microsoft Health Web Dashboard.

“For the last three months, we’ve monitored feedback carefully from customers, partners and media. While the response has been overwhelmingly positive, we are continuing to listen to our customers and make improvements based on their feedback,” said Matt Barlow, General Manager of New Devices Marketing. “This feedback is at the heart of the decisions we make, and today we’re pleased to take our first steps in launching new features and functionality for Microsoft Band and Microsoft Health that address what we’re hearing.”

On the front-end, the update is mainly focused on enhancing the interaction and workout experience while the user is biking, through the new “Bike Tile” and guided bike workouts. Another feature included in the update is the “Virtual Keyboard” which lets users read and reply to text messages and e-mail straight from the Band by easily swiping the on-screen predictive keyboard. This is only available (at least for now) for those with the Windows Phone 8.1. Click here to watch our full video review of the Virtual Keyboard.

On the back-end, there is now a new ability to allow third party developers to tap into the Band’s vast array of workout APIs as Microsoft has announced the release of the Developer Preview SDK. According to a recent press release, “this will allow third party developers to start building innovative new apps and creative new experiences for Microsoft Band. Developers can learn more at http://developer.microsoftband.com

Here is the full list of features now available for the Microsoft Band & Microsoft Health:

Insights

  • Microsoft Health Web Dashboard: The Microsoft Health web dashboard provides users insights, unique to them. The more users use their Microsoft Band, the more valuable these insights will become. The web dashboard is accessible via any web browser, providing a powerful complement to the Microsoft Health mobile app, which helps users track progress to their fitness goals. Users can access their personal Microsoft Health web dashboard at: https://dashboard.microsofthealth.com.

Features

Bike Tile: The Bike Tile on users’ Microsoft Band lets them track their rides both indoors and outdoors, on the road or trail. Features include:

  • Heart Rate Monitor: When the Bike tile is active, the heart rate monitor is optimized specifically for biking activities.
  • Elevation Tracking: Track elevation and elevation gain, distance and duration and calorie burn– viewable in the Microsoft Health app.
  • GPS: Users can activate GPS on their Band to map their ride in the mobile app and share it with their friends via email.
  • Speed Analysis: Track your current and average speeds both on the band and in the mobile app, and review your custom splits to relive those longer bike rides.
  • Recovery: From the mobile app, users can see an estimate for how long it will take their body to recover from the ride.
  • Web Dashboard: Biking functionality is supported by the Microsoft Health mobile app at launch. Integration with the Microsoft Health web dashboard is coming soon.
  • Guided Workouts: Five new indoor biking workouts have been added to the Guided Workouts portfolio, including: Indoor Bike Tabata Sprints, Indoor Bike Hour of Sweat, Indoor Bike Total Body, Indoor Bike Pyramid, and Indoor Bike Intervals.
  • Quick Read: Quick Read provides another option to scan incoming texts, emails and other notifications. When enabled, notifications are displayed in a large font size and in rapid succession of words enabling users to read messages while in motion and without the need to scroll.
  • Virtual Keyboard & Voice Replies for Windows Phone 8.1 Users: Windows Phone 8.1 users can craft replies to text messages in two ways. Users can reply to text messages using the virtual keyboard with minimal errors with the help of Microsoft’s World Flow technology, which predicts commonly used words and phrases. They can also dictate responses with voice, powered by Cortana.

Integration

  • Microsoft HealthVault: Users can create a complete picture of their health, with them at the center. Microsoft HealthVault lets users organize their health information in one place, and helps them gather, store, use, and share information and records with their healthcare providers. Now with Microsoft HealthVault integration, a user’s Microsoft Health data is automatically uploaded to their HealthVault account, including their workout and sleep data. To link a Microsoft HealthVault account to Microsoft Health data, simply go to “Connected Apps” in the menu of the Microsoft Health app.
  • MapMyFitness: Starting today, users can sync to their MapMyFitness account. To link a MapMyFitness account to Microsoft Health data, simply go to “Connected Apps” in the menu of the Microsoft Health app.

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.

Microsoft Health & Microsoft Band updated with 12 new workouts; Health web app coming soon

microsoft-band-smartwatch-fitnessLast week Microsoft quietly released their first notable update to Microsoft Band firmware and Microsoft Health app since the fitness tracker went on sale. It was released quietly because there wasn’t much available in terms of a change log but we anticipated it had something to do with preparation for future updates beside the standard “general performance improvements” tagline that accompany most smaller app updates.

Well, today we’re finding out that Microsoft is perhaps leveraging that update as the company has published a press release saying they’re rolling out a major content update to the Band and Health app.  The app will now support up to 100 Guided Workouts including some from best-selling fitness author Mark Rippetoe.  According to Microsoft, this update brings “12 new workouts, as well as four new workout plans that range between two and three weeks each.”

These new workouts will be available just in time as most folks are trying to shed some pounds gained over the holidays and start a fresh new year. Microsoft Band is the perfect coach for those lucky enough to own one as there are still supply issues with the device.

“The updates round out the portfolio with strength training workouts of all levels, timeframes and difficulties, ranging from routines for beginners just starting out with the New Year, up to experienced enthusiasts who need something new and fresh to kick start their year of fitness.”

Additionally, WindowsCentral found out that the Web version of Microsoft Health app is being developed and more details will come soon. They also managed to get more information from Microsoft about Band-related updates with the company stating “this is the first in a series of updates for Microsoft Health and Microsoft Band, and we look forward to announcing additional content, features and partners in the weeks and months ahead.”

Source: WindowsCentral