Thursday, 6 November 2014

Microsoft Band (day 7: heart rate)

So far I've had the Band a week, and it's been on my wrist almost every second of that time (except charging). I'm surprised by how easily I got used to wearing it - it is still chunky, but light enough that I can cope :-)

The one remaining question people have asked is how good the heart-rate sensor is, so I did a couple of tests today both running and walking/sitting. I used the Band in conjunction with a Polar H7 chest-band paired with both the Polar and Strava apps. 


I expected the results to be pretty close (given how good the GPS performance is on the Band)... but turns out, not so much. Here's the heart-rate data from the Band - seems consistent with an average of 165 bpm (high of 177).


The Polar H7 chest strap data was slightly different though. Here is the graph from the Strava app; it recorded an average of 149 bpm (high 159).


And of course you can view the data from the Polar chest-strap in more detail on the Strava website:


So there's a bit of variation between what the Band reports and what was recorded on the chest-strap. I did another test just walking for 20 minutes; with the following result:

  • Microsoft Band reported average 107 bpm (high 147)
  • Polar H7 chest-strap reported average 81 bpm (high 93)

Only on the internet could two tests be considered a statistically valid sample, but there you go - looks like the Band's heart-rate sensor is not as accurate as a chest-strap ;-) In reality, any number of factors could contribute to the difference: maybe I didn't have the Band on tight enough, maybe face-up versus face-down on my wrist makes a difference, maybe the strap is the bad data, who knows?!


The Bottom Line

That's all the blog posts for now - my first week with the Microsoft Band is done.

Overall I still like it - I've gotten used to having it on, the sleep data is new and interesting, and it's a good run tracker (the GPS is as good if not better than my Garmin - and it definitely finds the satellites quicker). I love the notifications on the Band: text messages, email, Facebook, etc... these could be the things that keep me using it after I get bored of the other stuff :)

The negatives are minor, but important for some. The battery realistically only lasts a full day - the minute you use the GPS functionality you're going to have to charge again within 24 hours. People report longer times but I doubt you are really getting the full use of the watch if you're stretching the battery so long. The other hardware issue is the question-mark over the heart-rate sensor ~ I'll leave it for people with more patience than me to do an exhaustive test, but as the disclaimer says "this is not a medical device" and it's probably as good as you can expect for a device of this size.

Finally, though, even assuming the battery lasted a week and the HR was spot-on, I would still not be able to use the Band as my only fitness-tracking device, purely because the data is locked into the Microsoft Health ecosystem. While there is no way to export ALL the data (into Strava or similar systems) I'm just not willing to give up my current devices.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Microsoft Band (day 6: data)

Short update today, answering two questions I've heard a lot about the Band:

  • Can the data be exported?
  • Does it work for cycling?

Can data be exported?

The short answer here is "no"; at least I have not found a way to get any of the raw data out of the Band or the Microsoft Health app. There are Connected Apps partners with Microsoft, including RunKeeper, so I signed up for their service to see how much data is shared.

The first problem with Connected Apps is that (apparently) your past data is not shared. This meant that after I joined there was no way for me to upload the half-marathon data from last weekend. New activities, however, seem to appear on RunKeeper as soon as they're sync'd to Health.

The second 'problem' is that only a summary of each activity is available... here is the information available on RunKeeper after a 5 km run this evening:


No details are available in the Connected App - no kilometer splits, elevation chart, map track or heart rate data :-( I would really like to get the running data (heart rate, GPS track as GPX) from my Band activites, and/or sync them automatically with Strava... however if the only integration possible with Strava is a 'summary' such as that shown above - I wouldn't bother!

Interesting statistic shown on the RunKeeper website...
1139 RunKeeper users also use this app
I wonder just how many Bands have been sold so far...


Does it work for cycling?

There's no particular reason why the Band won't collect data (GPS track, heart rate, etc) from a cycling effort as well as a run... I tried it out and it works fine. The problem with this is categorizing that workout in your training records. The speed/average pace recorded for a bike ride will far exceed your running capacity ;) and the heart-rate will be a lot less; making the calorie calculations also useless. 

If metrics are important to you (and they probably are, if you're reading this), then "no" the Band isn't much use for cyclists compared to the myriad of other options available.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Microsoft Band (day 5: rest)

No running after the half-marathon, so I thought I would blog some random info about the Band today.

Configuring the Run tile

I mentioned that you can change which stats are displayed while running - to do so click on the Band (top-right of screen) and choose Manage Tiles. This shows the list of available tiles with a 'switch' next to each that lets you show/hide the tile on your Band.

Some tiles have additional options (indicated by an 'edit pen' icon). Touch the row to configure; in the case of the Run tile it will display a screen explaining the options and an Edit button at the bottom of the screen. The final Run Settings screen lets you click to edit which run statistics are displayed on the Band screen:

Finding your historical heart-rate data

I just assumed that the band was monitoring my heart-rate and step-count all the time, but it took me while to find the data in the app. You would expect to access it somewhere in the Activity History screen, but that only contains Runs, Workouts, and Sleeps.

Instead touch the steps count on the main screen. This will take you to the rendering for a the current day's steps (as a histogram), with heart-rate graphed in the background. Touch the graph to switch to heart-rate view; or scroll down to view past day's step summary... notice the gap in this data (middle screenshot) -- the Band was off my wrist for charging :-)


You can display data for past days by tapping one of the past-day rows. The historical data has a darker header color (almost black, not purple), and you can view the steps and heart-rate data throughout the day... this is half-marathon race day:

Flashlight!

Just kidding... kinda. There isn't a Flashlight tile... but it is amazing how much light the Band emits when showing the menu (I've chosen a lime green theme, so it's quite bright). In a darkened house I can easily navigate around using the ambient light from the Band's screen...

If you want total darkness from your Band, enter sleep mode (if you're actually going to sleep) or else turn Watch Mode off so that the screen doesn't even show the time.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Microsoft Band (day 4: race)

Today I wore both the Band and my Garmin Forerunner 10 in the US Half-marathon (San Francisco) to compare their usability while running and the data they collect.



TL;DR I love having the extra data from the Band after the race (eg. heartrate) but without Strava integration to view the data in more detail I can't leave my Garmin behind just yet. Sadly the secondary readouts (heart-rate and distance) on the Band seem too small to read easily while racing.

The Band

I wore the band on a different wrist to the watch and it definitely felt heavier than the Garmin, however I hardly noticed the difference once I started running. I started the GPS detection at the same time on both devices; the Band was ready to go a lot faster than the Garmin.

As I mentioned in an earlier post: I love that the Band has the heart-rate and GPS sensors built-in, so it can do all this without requiring a phone nearby!

The Race

While running both devices seemed to keep similar distance/pace time, with the km splits being pretty consistently recorded. The Garmin beeps at a km split which is fine, but sometimes I hear the beeps from other runners' watches around me and I look down for a split and it's not there. The Band vibrates so there's no false-positives... I know when I glance down that the split time will be there. The more direct feedback is a nice touch :-)

The 'run tile' display looks like this (apols for the image quality):


I've configured it via the app Band > Manage Tiles > Run to show heart-rate, distance, and duration. This means the pull-down drawer will show calories and current pace. Double-tapping the action button will cycle between the currently displayed data so that each element occupies the bottom (larger) position. This is useful, since I found it tough to read the two smaller numeric readouts while running... I almost wish the entire display could be set to show one stat really large, and the double-tap could then cycle between that view and the more crowded setup shown above...

I mainly glanced down at the Band when it vibrated to indicate a km split; it was slightly easier to read that view (I think because the numbers weren't changing). I didn't find myself looking at the heart-rate display much during the race... maybe because I wasn't sure to do with that information anyway.

I used the Garmin more frequently to gauge my progress since I found its display easier to read on-the-run.

The Results

The main reason to wear both devices was to compare the results - Microsoft Band and Health app versus Garmin Forerunner 10 and Strava - so here they are:

Summary

The Garmin slightly over-estimated the distance (but so did the Band, by slightly less) - they are both accurate enough, but I guess the Band did better. The average pace is the same for both, however the calories estimate is again way off. I've no idea how it decides the Fats and Carbs calorie numbers... nor which is more "correct".

The Microsoft Health app has the heart rate info: average, high, and low; and also the Recovery Time which I presume is some sort of indication of how long you should wait before exercising again? They really need to help us out with how interpret some of this stuff!


Pace

The pace data for the Band is shown along with the heart rate and elevation in graph form (below). The problem with looking at this information in the app is how compressed it is - you can't easily "zoom in" to see the variations in pace or elevation over time.


By contrast, the same data in Strava (minus heart rate, which my Garmin watch doesn't record) is much easier to interpret:


Until Microsoft Health has similar visualizations (or they are able to integrate with Strava), I won't be able to use the Band on its own... I like these graphs too much :)

Map

Here's the two maps side-by-side. The GPS accuracy seems fine for both devices - neither had a major error (which does sometimes happen). Microsoft Health has the neat speed-coloring, but again it's hard to see the details inside an app. The Garmin data rendered by Strava is much easier to zoom in and browse around.


Splits

Finally, just for the sake of it, here's the two sets of splits from the Band and the Garmin. Easily close enough to be considered equally accurate over the distance. The nice thing about the Strava presentation (which you can't see here) is how interactive their rendering is: hoving over a split highlights the map and helps you visualize the elevation and location on the course.

The Battery

Because I wore the Band overnight I only had a short time to re-charge it before the race, so it was showing as 80% charged when I left for the start line. To really test it, I left the display lit the entire race (although you can press the power button to show and dim it while running). At the end of the race (around 90 mins) the battery indicator looked to be around 50%... it's not very accurate but perhaps some indication of how long the battery could last while running with GPS enabled. The Band worked throughout the rest of the day - receiving notifications and step-counting - finally complaining about low-battery around 8pm... a little over 12 hours of use including the race.

Conclusion

I still really like the Band (despite this little problem) and will continue to train with it in addition to my Garmin for a while yet. Some of the non-running functions (like notifications) have been almost as much fun to play with as the running features :)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Microsoft Band (day 3: sleep)

One of the interesting side-effects of how quickly I got used to wearing the Band was that I decided to give the sleep monitoring a try. I had previously been cynical about how comfortable these devices would be to sleep in, let alone wearing it every night... but I'm also curious about the data it collects so I'll be sleeping with it for a while at least :)



This is the sleep data it collected - the night before a half-marathon (and daylight savings switch-over) so it shows me getting up very early. I already know that I wake up through most nights... usually I need water... but it's interesting to see this information tracked accurately. Also interesting to learn how much of the night is actually restful versus light sleep:


I think I usually fall asleep much quicker than 15 minutes, I guess the Band will answer that question too over time.

Tapping on the graph switches to 'heart rate view', more interesting data! Hard to spot any correlations here (eg. between heart rate and restful sleep) but it'll be interesting to revisit after a longer period. The graph looks like this:


The one tricky part about using the Band for sleep monitoring is you lose an opportunity to charge the battery overnight. The device can get to 80% charge pretty quickly (maybe 40 minutes, definitely less than an hour it seems) so my plan is to charge at least that much each morning after waking up.

To get the battery to 100% takes a lot longer, I haven't timed it but seems to be a few hours (?). Not sure why that last 20% takes so long, I guess I'll find out if 80% is enough to get through most days... I've read people are getting at least 2 days of use (notifications, step counting) on a single charge as long as they don't enable GPS. Since I plan to run using GPS tracking daily, will have to wait and see what sort of battery life I get.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Microsoft Band (day 2: pairing)

Sadly, day 2 of my Band experience was not as much fun as day 1.

As I was excitedly demonstrating how notifications from my phone appeared on the Band... they stopped appearing :-( I didn't think to try and debug the issue right away, so I just kept the Band on collecting data.

Next morning when I went to view my sleep data on my iPhone (more on that in future), the Band wouldn't sync data at all! Just this message:
Band error - I can't find your Band. Please make sure it is nearby and paired or go to My Microsoft Band to register a different one.

I was immediately pretty concerned! I looked through the menus on the Band but did not find anything helpful. I checked the pairing and it seemed to be paired fine (although I discovered later it wasn't), so I went to My Microsoft Band as they suggested.

ARGH! Now it sounds like I am going to lose data :-(
Unregister Band? Default tile and notification settings will be erased and you will need to factory reset your Microsoft Band.

I panicked some more, and tried the Help feature in the app... OMG Microsoft WTF. Microsoft Health's in-app Help (on a mobile device!) just goes to the Support Home Page on the web (where, by the way, it's impossible to find anything related to Band).

Worst. User. Experience. Ever.


Finally after much screwing around with various settings, it appears that you need to be paired to TWO "bluetooth devices" for a Band... one with an "LE" suffix and one without (as shown). This is about 30 minutes of various rebooting and re-pairing attempts.


I have no idea what caused the pairing to fail in the first place, it just seemed to step receiving notifications at some point, and then not be able to connect at all.

Anyway... my Band is back online and all my data appears to be intact. It was not my ideal second-day experience, however; and at this point I'm a little less like to shift to this as my primary running device if the data is potentially lost so easily.

I like everything else about it so far though, so I'll keep playing!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Microsoft Band (day 1)

I had no clue Microsoft was working on the Band until the reviews starting to leak out last night, but I was immediately keen to try one out. Today I dropped by the Microsoft Store at opening to pick one up, and I'm happy to report it's actually a pretty cool piece of tech.

Let me start by saying two things: (1) I really wanted to like the Band ~ smart watches don't really appeal to me but this feels smaller, less obvious and more focused that the Apple and Android devices (2) my primary use-case is running - with GPS and heart rate recording - so that is my measure of the device's success.

TL;DR I like the device a lot, my initial impression is that it does what I want while running and it pleasantly surprised me in a lot of other ways as well.


Features

The initial setup was painless: I downloaded the Microsoft Health app to my iPhone, paired the Band and was immediately able to receive alerts (texts, voicemail alerts, etc) on the Band. The app was easy enough to figure out: I changed the color scheme and turned on Facebook, Twitter, Notifications... and everything just worked.

Using the Band's menu on the phone screen is surprisingly smooth - although I'm not sure how people will bigger hands will find it. The device itself is less bulky than I expected (especially on my small wrist)... don't get me wrong it still feels "big" and looks a little "wide", but it's not heavy and after I'd worn it for a while I barely noticed it.

Playing around with heart-rate monitoring, calendar, notifications, alarms, the step counter, the UV detector and the workouts feature was a lot of fun; but as I said my primary concern was using it for run training...

Running

I was easily able to figure out how to get everything working, but here is the running "support page" for reference. To be clear - you do NOT need your phone with you while running! The GPS functionality is built-in to the Band, along with the step-counter and heart-rate monitor, so you get plenty of good data while exercising without dragging a phone around :)

To compare the accuracy and usability of the Band I wore my Garmin Forerunner 10 for comparison. They both took a while to 'find satellites' (and it always feels like forever when you want to start running), but the Band was actually ready slightly ahead of the Garmin.

During the run, they both kept in pretty close sync, beeping out kilometer markers at roughly the same time (and therefore showing similar splits). There was a bit of drift between them but nothing dramatic. The screen of the Band was constantly lit (which was great, as I was running at night), and the elapsed time is pretty easy to read. The heart-rate text is pretty small to read while you're moving unfortunately.

Your pace is available by 'swiping down' on the screen while you're running. It auto-hides after a while, returning the display to the elapsed time and heart-rate. I haven't got pictures of these screens and haven't found them on the support site yet. At each kilometer marker (or mile if you must) it beeps and shows your pace-per-kilometer/mile for a few seconds, before again reverting to the elapsed time display.

After the run was over, I uploaded my Garmin data to Strava (as I normally do) so I could compare the results. The Band seamlessly sync'd its data to my phone as soon as I opened the Microsoft Health app.

Summary Data

Here's the summary info from the Microsoft Health app versus Strava's view of my Garmin-collected data. Both compare pretty well - the Calories calculations are fairly different (something to investigate further) but the distance and pace are pretty close. The best thing about the Band is the inclusion of heart-rate info, without the hassle of a chest-strap or other additional device.



The Band also has an interesting 'Recovery' estimate (not shown) which I'm still to learn more about.

Map

Here's the two maps (Band/Health app vs Garmin/Strava). The Band does cute color-coding of pace, I'm not sure whether Strava can do that with more information (it does not have any heart rate data available as the Garmin Forerunner 10 does not support that). The Band track seems a little more accurate, but with a sample size of one it's a little early to draw conclusions about that.



I'm not sure what to make of the Band coloring a 4'20" kilometer as "snails pace" (jk :-)

Splits

Both provide similar splits data, although the data varies slightly (due to GPS variance).



Graphs

The Microsoft Health app shows pace, heart-rate and elevation. Strava doesn't get heart-rate data but graphs the other two (note the Garmin's GPS error causing a pace calculation error in the Strava graph around the 2km mark).



Navigating around the map, splits and graphs is fairly easy once you figure it out. Just tap and swipe around until you get the hang of it.

Conclusion

After less than a day it's probably a bit early to draw conclusions, but I overall I had a lot of fun playing with the Band today. Can't wait to race with it and check the data against the watch (and to see heart-rate info for the first time in ages). Here's hoping the number of app integrations increase and they eventually work out sync'ing with Strava!