[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.

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.

 

Microsoft Wasn't Lying About Battery Life For Their New Smart Band

Oh it gets great gas Milage. Trust me!
Oh it gets great gas Milage. Trust me!

One of the vexing aspects of modern wearable electronics is that they are electronic. Hence, they require batteries, and batteries have finite capacities. We’ve all seen and read of the claims and counter-claims about this phone or that one’s battery life, and in many cases have found that such claims are about as accurate in the real world as a Hyundai mileage sticker in the dealer’s showroom.

Your mileage may vary indeed.

So when the Microsoft Band burst upon the scene two weeks ago the question of its battery life was of concern. Surely a device keeping track of up to 10 sensors including GPS would need a huge battery to keep it going, and where was there room in the Band’s sleek packaging?

MS Band w Batteries LabeledWell it turns out that Microsoft has been very clever, packing in not one but two batteries into places you might not have expected. The wrist band contains two batteries, one on each side of the wrist, that also serve to ‘grip’ the Radius and Ulnar bones in a form-fitting cradle that keeps the Band from slipping around the arm without having to be too tight.

So, two batteries, but what about those sensors? Well Microsoft has released a bit more information about the clever power-sipping scheme they have devised to make optimal use of the Band’s sensor capabilities while maximizing its endurance.  In the case of the heartbeat sensor, it is turned on and off at intervals that vary depending on the activity and setting of the Band. It is turned on a lot when you are running, less often during the day, and even less while you sleep. In each case a useful heart rate profile is captured, without wasting battery life on unnecessarily high resolution. Clever.

First CarBut hopefully, not too clever.  It would be of little consolation if the resulting device was too limited by its electrical frugality to be effective for its intended use. So far, the MS Band is getting rave reviews for its functionality, so the only question would seem to be, what about those battery life claims?

Well Microsoft told us to expect 2 days worth of battery life in typical use, which included a run with GPS activated and sleep monitoring.  I’ve been wearing my Band for 10 days now with a use profile very much like the one Microsoft suggested would be ‘typical’. To be frank, I actually use it at least as much as a smartwatch, receiving notifications, Texts, Alarms and Reminders all to my wrist, with the Haptic feedback on the “High” setting.  Throw in occasional Cortana use as well and I’m demanding a lot from it, with Bluetooth enabled 24/7.

"Seems a Bit Excessive"
“Seems a Bit Excessive”

In my experience so far, Microsoft’s claims are quite accurate.  Unlike certain car companies, Microsoft’s claims that the Band will last 2 days have been completely in line with my experience. On days where I have charged the Band fully at night, the battery holds between 60-40% at the end of the day.  Running it for two days flat takes the battery down to 10%.

Ten days and one user is hardly a statistically valid sample but at least so far I’m happy to see my Band delivering on the battery life Microsoft claimed.

Microsoft hummerNow if only they made cars…

 

 

 

Well, maybe it’s better if they stick to electronics.