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I was running errands this weekend when my wrist buzzed with a SportsCenter alert, telling me that the University of Washington football team had defeated Colorado 38 to 23, with several key stats and top players from the game.

Microsoft-Band_Hero_1It was a quick serving of timely, bite-sized information about a team that I track. I didn’t need to pull my phone out of my pocket; I was able to just glance at my wrist to learn everything that I needed to know.

In short, it was great example of the value of Microsoft Band, and an answer to people who ask why anyone would want a smartwatch when they’re already walking around with a smartphone.

Here’s the catch: There’s no dedicated SportsCenter app for Microsoft Band. The alert came through the device’s integration with the iOS notifications platform, which lets users see, on their wrists, all of the notifications that come through on their phone.

And in the larger scheme of things, that’s actually a problem. With iOS notifications turned on for my Microsoft Band, and no specific filter for the device, I’m getting a ton of notifications that are really best-suited to the phone, like prompts from games and apps that I can’t access on the Microsoft device. My wrist is buzzing all the time.

PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES: ‘Microsoft Band’ Diary: Can this new wearable device change my life?

As a result, I’m probably going to turn off iOS notifications on Microsoft Band relatively soon.

Lots of potential, with underlying challenges. That sums up my first weekend with Microsoft Band.

I’m chronicling my experience with Microsoft’s new wearable device in this series on GeekWire. After the first few days, it’s clear that this device is a foot in the door for Microsoft, a first step that positions the company as one of many players in wearable technology.

Microsoft is promising to make steady improvements, but in the meantime, the experience can feel raw at times.

Buying coffee with Microsoft Band

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Another example is the Starbucks experience. One of the first dedicated third-party apps for the Microsoft Band lets you buy coffee with your wrist, by scanning a bar code on the Microsoft Band at the Starbucks register.

It’s linked to a Starbucks Card, which many people store in the Starbucks app, but the initial setup on the Microsoft Band requires entering the card number manually into the Microsoft Health app on the iPhone.

That’s bit of a pain when the number is only stored in the Starbucks app, not a physical card, requiring you to remember the digits as you switch back and forth between the apps. Presumably, over time, they’ll make it possible to quickly import your card number from app to app.

After the initial setup, actually buying coffee at my neighborhood Starbucks was seamless. The scanner recognized the bar code on my watch quickly, just like the Starbucks smartphone app. You could debate the relative value of paying with your wrist rather than just taking out your phone, but it was fast and easy, and the card in the Starbucks app updated quickly with my new balance.

It’s cool enough that I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when other dedicated third-party apps emerge for Microsoft Band.

Exercising and tracking calories

Given my goal of losing weight with the Microsoft Band, I’ve been riding my exercise bike and lifting weights for at least a half hour each morning, and also making a point of walking more to meet my initial daily goal of 5,000 steps. (I realize I’m going to need to step it up significantly to meet my goals, but I’m taking things slow to start.)

IMG_7559The exercise tracking works well. I’ve experienced some weird bugs, like the inexplicable blank period in the chart at right (I swear I kept on cycling!) but overall I feel like I’m getting good insights into my workouts, and the numbers are giving me extra motivation to keep going, which is of course one of the key benefits of fitness trackers in general.

The companion iPhone app (Microsoft Health) provides a nice summary of data from workouts and other activities tracked by the band, but there’s nothing like slicing and filtering data on a computer, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Microsoft has in store with its upcoming web interface, which is expected to be launched relatively soon.

In the meantime, I’ve set up an account with the app MyFitnessPal, the free calorie counter. In addition to letting me track my calories and weight, MyFitnessPal connects to the Microsoft Band (and other fitness trackers) to log my steps overall, and calories burned during exercise.

Those data points from Microsoft Band are automatically taken into account in my daily progress in MyFitnessPal, and the kicker is that I can then use the MyFitnessPal web interface for an overall view on my computer. So far it’s working well.

I’ll report back on my fitness progress after another week or so with the Microsoft Band. Among other things, I’m planning to start using the guided workouts available through the band, which come with companion videos in the Microsoft Health App.

I’ve decided against a WiFi-enabled scale for now. Just didn’t seem worth the cost. I bought a new battery for my old-fashioned scale over the weekend, and I’ll be entering my weight manually into the MyFitnessPal app.

More notes from my experience

microsoftbandScratches and Marks: You can probably see this in the Starbucks photo above: the bezel of the Microsoft Band scratches pretty easily. This is a minor annoyance — the scratches are only noticeable in bright light, and the screen itself hasn’t scratched on my device. But it’s something to keep in mind.

As I noted in my first post, the orientation of the screen makes an under-the-wrist placement optimal for viewing alerts, but this makes the device easy to scratch while typing, for example.

Battery Life: Microsoft’s claim of 48 hours of battery life seems pretty accurate to me so far. I last charged the device on Saturday night, and right now, as of Monday morning, it’s at roughly 25% charge. This is much less battery life than many other fitness trackers, but the device does charge quickly, giving me more than enough to get through the day with about 30 minutes of charging.

Advanced analytics: One of the eye-catching ideas that Microsoft talked about at launch is the notion of connecting the Microsoft Band to your calendar to know, for example, if specific patterns in your schedule are affecting your sleep. These advanced analytics are not available at launch, however. Microsoft hasn’t yet given a timeframe, but once the company does come out with these features, they could be a big differentiator for the Microsoft Band.

That’s it for now! Hitting publish and jumping on the exercise bike. Will have another update soon.

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