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.
@MSProdReviews Update with great features coming soon 🙂
— Fela Ameghino (@FrayxRulez) December 15, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I 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!