In previous posts on this blog, I’ve chronicled my experience with the MicrosoftBand. In short: It’s got some great features that are unmatched at this pricepoint in fitness bands. However, the battery life on GPS isn’t good enough for most folks to depend on it for a long run. (You better clock a sub-3 marathon if you want to track it on your MicrosoftBand.)
I continued to use mine, even on really long runs, like a recent 5-hour trail effort. I just let it count steps in low-battery use mode and use it to dictate the occasional text to the phone which is tucked away for safety in my backpack or waist pack.
Falling apart like a Chinese motorcycle
Here’s the problem. The MicrosoftBand’s build, which feels solid, is turning out to be anything but. A couple of weeks ago mine simply stopped giving haptic (vibration) alerts. The settings were all correct. The vibration unit just quit working. A hard reset, suggested by Microsoft customer service, did not fix the problem. The haptic alerts stayed off for a couple weeks, then came on again, inexplicably, for a couple of hours, before returning to broken state.
You might think that’s a one-off problem, but I was worried that it’s not, that it’s a sign of bigger problems and a fundamentally flawed design.
I think I’ve got confirmation now that the entire MicrosoftBand design makes it a lemon.
This morning, I noticed for the first time that the screws that hold the hardware units on either side of the inside of the strap are failing. They’re either stripped or broken, with the result that flexing the band, even slightly, exposes the innards of these hardware units. See for yourself. Look down toward the face of the unit, and you can see the gaps at the point where the screw is supposed to hold the curved hardware unit onto the band. Clearly, the flex zones in the band are not flexible enough, and the fastener system holding the hardware near these zones isn’t strong enough.
I should stress that these units have been treated very gently. (I am one of those people who does not wreck gear, even scratch it. I have always been wary of the flex in the band, and have taken pains only to flex it just enough to get my skinny wrists into the band.) You can see in the image below how little flex it takes to open the guts of those hardware zones now that the band has failed.
Yes, I’ve got a few hundred miles on my band, because I run 50-70 miles a week and walk another 50 or so. I sleep with it on. This means that although the band has been on my wrist a lot, it hasn’t been taken off and on very often, typically half a dozen times a day for a quick rinse and dry before I shower. (You can never shower with the thing on, according to Microsoft.)
These failures have seem to have rendered the unit a lot less sweat or splashproof, as the next image shows.
Below, you see what looks like oxidation of the screw/hole area probably as a result of sweat getting in at the point of failure.
Not a one-off problem
The reason I believe the MicrosoftBand is an irredeemable lemon is that these are photos of two different MicrosoftBands. The top photo is mine. The bottom is my wife’s. Both have failed in exactly the same places, and both exhibit the exact same oxidation at the point of failure. They’re both the exact same age. Hers has been much more lightly used.
I’ll be visiting the local Microsoft Store to see what their reaction is to this problem. Likely, they won’t want to process a refund, and will want to replace the units. I’d normally be OK with that if not for the fact that the design is so clearly bad. The replacement bands are, I believe, simply going to fail in the same places two months from now, and I’ll be back for another return. And another return. And another.
Although I have loved the feature set of the MicrosoftBand (the lousy running GPS interface notwithstanding) I can no longer recommend it as a decent alternative even for more casual users. I believe this generation of the band is critically flawed at the design level. Moreover, Microsoft has not yet given any indication as to whether any of the information the band gathers will be delivered in usable form outside its servers. At present, the only thing you can do is look at it on the (shabby and lacking) phone apps. There’s no companion web site akin to Garmin Connect or MovesCount where you can get a more in-depth look at your activities. That failure, coupled with this critical hardware failure, means the MicrosoftBand is a lemon. I wish it were otherwise.
Don’t buy this band.
I brought the bands back to the local Microsoft Store, where I explained how disappointed I was in the quality and my worry that any replacement band would simply fail again and again. The manager rolled his eyes and explained to me that I should expect hardware issues on a first generation device. Ugh. Nothing worse than a manager who doesn’t realize that his job is to be a customer advocate, not an advocate for his company’s failures. He was not inclined to refund my money, which is what I would have preferred, and my wife would have preferred as well. (That last bit’s surprising, as she likes her band more than I like mine.) She’s also worried the thing’s just going to keep falling apart.
Anyway, the local manager told his “techs” to process a replacement right there, and acted like this was a big favor to me even though we’d paid an extra $20 per band for the extended super warranties. He told his techs repeatedly that “he’s unhappy with the band,” rather than dare repeat the real problem: mine was defective, not working, and both were falling apart at the seams. In fact, one of the store employees took off her band, cranked it wide open, and hers was falling apart worse than ours. She seemed to think that was not big deal. So did the manager. I noticed that hers wasn’t collecting white powder inside like ours – probably because she’s not sweating into hers like we do ours.
Anyway, the manager wandered off and the tech taking care of me did his best to be nice to The Difficult Customer. Another tech that I knew from another sub-par Microsoft experience (various failures in Windows Phone) came over to try and smooth things over. The tech who processed the refund was good enough to swap in everything, including the screen protectors and even starbucks cards that came with the original purchase. So score one for the help – when the manager wasn’t looking.
I unboxed and paired the new band and there’s a bit of gap in that suspect spot but it’s not so loose or wide as in the returned bands. I’ll have to watch that spot carefully.
I still wouldn’t recommend that anyone buy the MicrosoftBand at this point. (In this house, we’re stuck with it.) The feature set is good, but the build seems bad and the ecosystem non-existent. The best feature for me is being able to dictate texts via Cortana while my phone is packed away. That feature isn’t available to anyone on iOS or Android, of course, which means that anyone on those platforms would probably be better off with a new, higher-end Garmin or Fitbit unit.
That’s a change for me. For a month and a half, I recommended this thing to friends and family interested in a connected fitness tracker. Today, I actually sent email to retract that recommendation. Sad.