Microsoft has launched a $199 wearable, Microsoft Band, that could change the face of the fitness tracker and smartwatch market.
A wearable from Microsoft has been expected for years, but while most were expecting a smartwatch, the Microsoft Band is being marketed primarily as a fitness device.
Battery life: 48 hours
Display: 11 x 33mm, 320 x 106 resolution touchscreen
Compatibility: Android, iOS and Windows Phone
App integration: Microsoft Health, plus RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal and MapMyFitness integration.
It has all the standard features you would expect, including a 24 hour heart rate monitor, run tracker, step counter, calorie burn calculator and sleep tracker. You can also set personal goals for steps taken and calories burned via the associated Microsoft Health smartphone app (more on that below), and the Microsoft Band will let you know when you've achieved them.
It has a 11mm x 33mm full colour capacitive touch display (320 x 106 pixel) and can provide text, call and email notifications. It also has a "Watch Mode", which will make the device constantly display the time and date without pressing any buttons.
Looking at these specs, there are obvious comparisons with Samsung's Gear Fit smartwatch. The Gear Fit has a similar size screen and monitors all the same basic fitness functions, providing several types of fitness notifications, plus email, call and text alerts. Both also have Bluetooth 4 connectivity.
However, Microsoft Band has several additional features that separate it not only from the Gear Fit but most other fitness wearables on the market.
On the fitness side, the device syncs with workout plans from various gyms and fitness publications and provides you with exercise prompts during your work out. It also has a UV sensor, so you can check how much ultra violet light you're being exposed to while outside, integrated GPS tracker and skin temperature monitor. The heart rate sensor also uses optical rather than audio input - a must-have for modern fitness trackers as it provides a more accurate pulse reading.
Despite being called a fitness wearable, Microsoft Band has a lot of smartwatch features, including: calendar, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter notifications, a stock value tracker, weather reports, and Cortana integration, providing your device is syncing to Windows Phone 8.1.
But what is perhaps Microsoft Band's defining feature, and what could really prompt a change in the wearables market, is that it's cross-platform compatible, working with Android 4.3-4.4, iOS 7.1 and later, and Windows Phone 8.1.
This trumps the Gear Fit, which is tied not just to Android but to Samsung's own phones, as well almost every other smartwatch and fitness band on the market. Even the fairly platform neutral Pebble Steel only works with iOS and Android, and while the Fitbit Flex syncs with all three main mobile OSes, it doesn't have any of the smart features of the Microsoft Band.
Currently, the US$199 device is only available in the US, and there is only a limited number available. The company has declined to comment on any international roll-out plans.
Microsoft also launched a cloud-based health service, Microsoft Health, that collects data from Microsoft Band and other third party devices and apps, to provide "personal insights so you can reach your fitness goals".
These insights include information on which exercises burned the most calories, how well you slept, and how long your body needs to recover from a training session.
Currently, the platform can collect and analyse data from RunKeeper, MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal and Jawbone Up, as well as Microsoft Band and other unspecified smartwatches and mobile phones.
“We are taking our first steps to empower people to achieve more with their health with the announcement of Microsoft Health ... and the first device to be powered by [it], the Microsoft Band," Microsoft said in a statement.
"This is just the beginning of a multi-year vision for Microsoft in the health & fitness and wearables category," it added.