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band1I’m walking across town to the store for a light lunch most days, boosting my daily step count. (Resisting the urge to pop across the street for a burrito.)

Microsoft-Band_Hero_1In the mornings and evenings, I’m riding my exercise bike/desk while checking email and even while working on stories. (Yes, the bike has a built-in desk that holds a laptop.)

On my latest visit to the gym, I spent so much time lifting weights that I couldn’t straighten my arms for a day afterward. (Lesson learned.) Every morning, I’m weighing myself to check my progress. (3 pounds down, 32 pounds to go.)

Those are the high points from my testing the Microsoft Band wearable device over the past three weeks, in my experiment to see if this gadget can make me healthier. I’ve come to appreciate the Band for making me more health-conscious, at least, but these are the types of life changes that people can experience with pretty much any wearable device these days.

So is the Microsoft Band worth the premium $199 price? Not yet. But it has promise. Here’s a rundown of my experience over the past few weeks.

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Battery Life

The Microsoft Band has 48 hours of battery life, as promised. That’s more than the typical smartphone, but less than the typical fitness tracker, owing to the fact that this beefy device has a color display, and is really more than a fitness tracker. (It offers lightweight apps.)

But for me, the two-day battery life means the Microsoft Band falls into the realm of “yet another device to charge.” Especially if you want to use the device to track your sleep, it’s tough to find the right time to charge it.

I’ve talked with other Microsoft Band users who have developed a routine for charging, such as topping it off with a car charger when driving to work, but a few times I’ve found myself forgetting to charge the device, only to realize in the middle of my day that the battery is drained. Arghh!

Surface scratches

PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES

There are no two ways around it: this device is extremely easy to scratch. I inflicted most of the scratches at the beginning, by wearing the device under my wrist while typing — highly unadvisable!

But even since switching to a top-of-the-wrist orientation, I’ve had a hard time using it without inflicting further scratches, just from inadvertent scrapes on my desk or against the wall.

It turns out I gesture a lot when talking, and I think several of the scratches came from waving my arms during our latest recording of the GeekWire radio show (at one point I hit the mic screen with my wrist) which I realize is not a typical use case.

You can see the worst of the scratches in the photos accompanying this piece.

This seems like something for Microsoft to fix in future versions of the device, although lots of factors are at play here, with the materials used on the screen and bezel ultimately factoring into the weight.

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Microsoft Band and Fitbit Flex. (I need to get some steps in!)

Exercise Metrics

In my usage, at least, Microsoft seems to have nailed the step count. On one of my walks I counted steps in my head for several hundred paces, compared the number to the Microsoft Band’s count, and it was dead on.

For purposes of comparison, I’ve also been wearing a Fitbit Flex device (I’m starting to feel like a robot with all this hardware on my wrist) and the Fitbit number seems inaccurate by comparison, overestimating the total number of steps I’ve taken. At one point, when the Microsoft Band was telling me I was at 3,500 steps at mid-afternoon, the Fitbit said I was at more than 5,000. This was after putting them on at the same time in the morning.

Heart rate is another matter. At one point while on the elliptical machine the gym this weekend, my Microsoft Band was showing a heart rate of 180 (is that even possible?) and the hand sensors on the LifeFitness machine were showing something more in the realm of 125. The latter seemed far more realistic. I was moving at a good pace, but nothing that extreme.

I also notice discrepancies in the Microsoft Band heart rate during the day. I’ll go up a few flights of stairs, start breathing hard, and yet the Band shows my heart rate in the mid-70s, more in the realm of a resting heart rate. This seems like something for Microsoft to address in a software update.

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A gym workout, logged in Microsoft Band and shown in the Microsoft Health app for iPhone.

Software

Speaking of software updates, this is one reason why I believe the device has potential long-term.

Microsoft is working on a web dashboard and advanced analytics, so you’ll be able to see all of your stats aggregated on a computer (not just on the Microsoft Health smartphone app). Ultimately the system will be able to analyze your activities against things like your calendar — telling you, for example, how your schedule affects your sleep.

In the meantime, you can see individual activity stats on the smartphone app (available across Android, iOS and Windows Phone) and you can sync your Microsoft Health app with a limited number of third-party apps. I’ve had good luck using the Microsoft Band with MyFitnessPal, for example. The MyFitnessPal app automatically takes into account the calories burned while exercising with the Microsoft Band and uses that in the equation with daily calories consumed, to let you know how much you can eat.

That’s a nice capability to have, but having to use one more app is kind of like having to charge one more device. The Microsoft Band will be a much better value when Microsoft has time to unify and upgrade the software and online experiences.

Bottom line, I’m going to keep using the Microsoft Band. I know this post has largely focused on its flaws, but hey, it’s making me healthier. And in the broader scheme of things, I think Microsoft should be applauded for getting this device out into the market — starting with something modest, sticking to it, and making progress over time.

Just like my approach to exercise.

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