True to their word, Microsoft has entered a contender into the wearable tech sector, and it’s done so well ahead of the Apple Watch’s expected “early 2015” launch. And although the Microsoft Band is clearly aimed more as a fitness tracker, that doesn’t mean that it won’t give Apple a run for its money.
The Microsoft Band is most certainly unique among other fitness bands, save for perhaps the Samsung Gear Fit. Much like Samsung’s watch, the Microsoft Band features a thin, 1.5-inch full-color touchscreen and a bevy of features lurking inside the slender frame. As with most modern high-end fitness bands, the Microsoft Band tracks steps taken, measures heart rate, calculates calories burned, tracks sleep patterns, and links to a smartphone using Bluetooth 4.0 and a custom app—Microsoft Health, in this case—to display the results of your day. The Band begins to differ from some of its competitors with the addition of independent GPS tracking to map out the user’s run with or without a smartphone being present, and also a UV sensor to help the wearer minimize the risk of skin cancer by avoiding nasty sunburns.
With all this focus on fitness, the Microsoft Band hasn’t forgotten that it’s also a smartwatch. The Band packs a punch with features seen on similar devices, like caller ID, vibrating alarms, and text and email previews. Of course, the Microsoft Band also includes Cortana, the company’s digital personal assistant, available now only on Windows Phone 8.1 devices.
At first glance, it is very obvious that the Band is a product of Microsoft. All promotional shots of the device show the main interface and, love them or hate them, it’s all tiles. Additionally, switching between menus and applications has the same fluid motion seen across all current versions of Windows, including Windows Phone.
It’s uncertain at the moment if the Microsoft Band will be upgradable to future software versions, such as the lauded Windows 10, the operating system which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella promised would operate on a multitude of devices. It would be fitting for Nadella’s vision of Windows, in which one OS would provide an identical experience across all devices.
The Microsoft Band comes at a time when it can best capitalize on a market free of any competition from Apple during the rush of the holiday shopping season. Best of all, the Microsoft Band is not limited to Windows devices, opening the opportunity for sales to iPhone and Android users as well. Whether shoppers will opt to wait until next year to procure Apple’s wearable or put a Microsoft Band under their trees, only time can tell, but the timing of this launch can only benefit Microsoft.
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