Sunday, 25 September 2016

Mi Band 2: A Reliable and Lasting Fitness Band

Mi Band, one of the most successful fitness peripherals ever to be launched, has finally met its successor. With the launch of the biggest phone ever manufactured by Xiaomi, the Mi Max, comes the highly anticipated Mi Band 2. The new Mi Band 2 costs a bit more at launch price compared to its predecessors, but promises better user experience, features, accuracy and more. Does it live up to all those promises? Read on to find out!

The Mi Band 2 comes in the same revised brown cardboard package as its predecessor, which while being compact does offer less protection. I still prefer the first generation packaging which was chunky but is tougher and presents the Mi Band in a better way - upright and with the module fitted into the band.

The contents of the box are the Mi Band 2 module itself, a newly designed rubber strap, proprietary charger and a user manual. As the new module is larger, the new charger is both larger and has a flat cable, a characteristic inherited from that of the Mi Band Pulse. The strap itself is also wider but not longer, so it still won't fit people with very large hands but would still suit the majority.

Picking up the band, I immediately noticed a change to be thinner, more elastic and softer to the touch, which Xiaomi claims to be gentler to the wearer's skin. Besides, the portion where the module fits is stiffer now to reduce the incidence of modules popping out of the strap, which was a major problem with the first generation product as people lose their module more often than they snap the band. Also, the band clasp now has a smaller but longer pin, which is easier to push and has a tighter grip.

The Mi Band 2 weighs a mere 7 grams (Holy Smokes!), making it near impossible to feel its presence when worn. The Optical Heart Rate Sensor on the posterior is now less prominent compared to the Mi Band Pulse (which I gave to my father, so there's no comparison photo here) and is claimed to be more accurate, and I've tested to prove that there's no detection of heart beats of the air (which is a problem that plagued many devices including even the Apple Watch!). 

The Mi Band 2 is now fitted with a 0.42" OLED display up front which is capable of displaying the time, steps walked, distance covered, calories burnt, battery left, heart beat rate and application notifications. This is a significant upgrade over the three LEDs of previous generations. However, it also translates to shorter battery life. I'm at 18% charge after only 16 days*, while its predecessor can easily top 40 days on a single charge. While it might seem like a worthy trade-off, I would've wanted more since the module has a larger overall size that can fit a larger battery.

Battery life improves a lot with many features turned off, including lifting wrist to view info

Another physical change is the use of a plastic cover over the OLED display with an aluminium touch-sensitive button instead of having an aluminium top plate. The upside is that it's hydrophobic, meaning water doesn't stick on to it, and the glossy surface looks better. The downside is its much easier to scratch now, and dents are extremely ugly and obvious. The touch button works fine but it gets activated when in touch with water, so you might find it displaying calories burnt when you want to check the time after a swim.

The internals of the Mi Band 2 is said to be a complete overhaul of its predecessor, with new sets of sensors employed and new algorithms applied. The result is a more accurate activity counter and sleep detector. The device is capable of monitoring one's sleep pattern using the heart rate monitor, but it draws more power and doesn't have a significant change in accuracy. Steps are counted more accurately, but as it relies on an accelerometer instead of a pedometer I don't count on it too much for accurate step counting.

Another neat thing is that you can turn on a feature which turns on the OLED display once it detects you've raised your hand like how you would view a watch. Again, it increases battery consumption but I find it a great thing, now that I rely less of my trustworthy analog watch which I've learned to rely on for the past 8 years. A quick turn of your hand will also turn on the display, but this might actually cause unnecessary battery use depending on your daily activity.

You can choose how time is displayed, as well as other band information

We used to only have the ability to know that we've got a notification from a vibration and LEDs lighting up in the older Mi Bands. Now that we've got an OLED display, it only makes sense that the display is capable of showing the app where the notification came from. You can also choose whether the band shows notifications when the phone is being used, so you won't be having a vibrating band while chatting in a busy chat-room. However, it's worth noting that it can only display notifications from three user defined applications, and the app icon database is not complete. 

Basically all apps is selectable for vibration with notifications

Gladly, phone calls and messages doesn't take up the three slots if you choose to activate notifications display for them. Phone call notifications start showing up after a 3 second ringing time or up to 7 seconds, with short pulsed vibrations to notify you of an incoming call. Also, the band will be showing an Upgrade icon whenever it receives a firmware update. Users no longer have to wait and check whether their band has rebooted from an update as the band automatically turns on the display upon booting up. 

Update icon appears while updating band firmware

A new thing introduced with the Mi Band 2 is an Idle Alert. Basically what it does is upon detection that you haven't been moving for 1 hour during a predetermined time period, the band vibrates and alerts you to move and keep the blood circulation going. Great feature for the workaholics to keep their blood going and their mind refreshed regularly. Also, if you have a specific time period where you have to stay seated for long hours, you can even turn on a Do Not Disturb mode to stop any alerts coming in. 

The Mi Band 2 lives up to most of the expectations, but misses out on some. The major upsides of the device are the new OLED display, better strap, higher accuracy and some new features. However, the shorter battery life and the use of plastic for the top plate might turn some away from buying it. For me, it's a neat fitness companion to have and a worthy upgrade over the last generation especially considering the still low price of just RMB 149 (approx. USD 23), but it leaves a lot more to be desired and I hope the next iteration would bring us more surprises.

*With all features turned on, including frequent heart rate measurements. Personal usage may fare differently