First, thank you to o2 (and the Community team – Toby, Meri and Merina) for letting me try something different from what I am used to (Windows Phone) and something that I am considering buying myself (or at least, something similar to the Band).
Secondly, apologies for the length of this review. I wanted to be comprehensive, but it is a bit of an epic…
Let’s get the obvious out of the way – Windows Phone is different from Android. In fact, Windows on this phone is very different from what I had experienced previously. Admittedly that was Windows 6.1 on a Samsung Omnia i900, but still it is a massive change.
Unboxing the phone was different. The box slides open to the side, rather than lifts up to reveal. It’s a well-made and thought out way of doing it – the phone appears by increments and is well packaged.
Included in the box are the usual charger/usb/mini instruction manual that you are used to – much of the user guide is either on the phone (as part of setting it up) or available on the internet.
The back of the phone has to be removed to insert the battery, sim card and (if chosen) a micro SD card for additional storage. This is a tricky process, as there is nowhere on the phone that indicates where you start to pull from – you just push on the back as it wraps round to the front, and it eventually comes off. It does not inspire confidence, as it just makes you feel as if you are trying to break the phone.
Once this is done though the phone feels well made, even if it is not to the standard of the premium market - it is not the same as some of the top end devices such as my Xperia z1 for example. It is a little slippery in the hand, but feels robust and so much lighter than I am used to.
The one thing that seems to be missing is a dedicated camera button, which is a massive miss. While I don’t take many photos on my phone, it is so much easier pressing and holding the camera button instead of unlocking and finding the camera app.
The power and volume buttons are the wrong way round from what I am used to (the z1 has the power about the volume, while the 640 has it the other way round). This is not a massive issue, but the power button was pressed occasionally when the phone was being secured in my in car holder which was annoying.
Setting up requires an Outlook account – either existing or new. Once you do that and connect to Wi-Fi it starts updating, first the phone itself and then the apps pre-installed of which there are blessedly few. After this is done you can load more apps on, set up additional email accounts (such as Google as that is where all my contacts are) and have a play around with other items to personalise the phone.
This is a rather limited area though. The home screen can be changed, although this is just the background behind the live tile screen and the wallpaper on the lock screen. Ringtones, notifications and apps on the lock screen can all be added or changed as normal and is quite intuitive from the settings menu.
Once set up you can connect to the store to install whatever apps you like to personalise the device and continue to receive updates from whatever social media you are on or whatever news you are after.
This is the biggest let down with this device, and the Windows experience full stop. The app store is difficult to navigate, is missing a large number of apps from the Goole store, and those that are in both are vastly different.
To me, the apps that are common to both seem to be either stripped back (i.e. only part of the full experience, like the mobile version of Facebook instead of the desktop one) or an older version. Whether this is because there are fewer developers for Windows, or there is not as much focus on it due to the reduced user count (and so less chance of getting money off their investment).
This is the Windows version of the Arseblog app (an Arsenal blog). As you can see, the picture at the top is just HTML code and it only has the blog posts (not the news, menu or anything else).
This is the Android version, with all functions available.
Windows Twitter app (which actually looks nice, but is just missing conversations).
Android Twitter app
Windows Waze app (pretty much the same, just different layout)
Android Waze (screen shot shows night view rather than day view).
That aside, the apps themselves load quickly and the phone is generally responsive - more so than you would expect from a mid-range phone, and better than a comparable Android offering (such as my wife’s old S3 Mini). There is very little lag when asking the phone to do anything, the animations run smoothly even when several apps have been used recently.
In fact the phone is actually really pleasant to use. Even though it is only a 720p screen, it looks really nice, is bright enough to read outside and responds well to even light touches. The only problem with the screen is sometimes, very occasionally, there is a small amount of pixilation. It is only noticeable when looking at something with lots of detail or reading a lot of text. There is a really useful tap to wake function that is not on the z1, and the battery life is much better than the z1 – I am used to charging it every night, but this is not necessary on the 640.
One thing that does seem to be missing is an LED notification light. I know this is not on all phones, but I find it really useful. The always on screen (even when “off”) provides notifications and the time at a glance, but the blinking LED is much easier to notice when the phone is in your peripheral vision.
There is also no vibration when typing on the keyboard. Again this is a personal thing but does mean you know that your touches have been recognised. You can turn on the noise for input, but if the volume is low or you are somewhere noisy it is not obvious.
Integration of MS office is good – I have gotten used to making notes and reminders in OneNote, although there is a baffling lack of a file manager as standard. Documents are clear and easy to read and edit, although unsurprisingly it is a cut down version of the Office Suite (for example cannot freeze the top row on an Excel document).
The camera itself takes really good pictures, even if it is “only” an 8MP camera. I would go so far to say that on the phone screen they are a match for the camera on the z1.
Sound on phone calls (supposedly the main point of a mobile phone!) is really clear, and the signal seems to be better on the Nokia compared to the Sony – for instance in the town I live in there is 4G service, but only in certain areas on the Sony. On the Nokia I seem to get much better 4G signal in a wider area. Whether this is down to what the phone is made of, or the antenna is better I am not sure. I have also been told that I sound much clearer on the 640 than the z1 as well.
Now, on to the band. It is made of a black matte plastic at the sides, and a nice bright screen surrounded by shiny black plastic in the middle. There are two buttons, a power and a selection button. The power button, much like the phone, turns the screen on and off and the selection button, well allows you to select things (as does the touch screen, but depending on what you are doing you have to use one or the other). The clasp is two hooks that protrude on the inside of the band - these fit into a groove on the opposite side to allow for some sizing differences (like buckles on a watch strap).
This is the box (not very inspiring...)
Here is one shot of the band. The larger button is the power/screen on and off button, the smaller the action button. You can also see the optical heart rate sensor and one half of the skin temperature sensor (the metal surronding it). Just behind that you can (just) see one of the release buttons for the clasp.
Here is the other side of the band, showing the charging point and the other part of the temperature sensor and the groove for the clasps.
Here is a picture of the band on my (hairy) wrist. The screen does not rotate but is fixed in orientation. This can make it difficult to read - personally I prefered it with the buttons facing up my arm as shown.
Probably the most important part of the band is sizing. I have been using the medium, which at first seems very tight but has either stretched to fit me (unlikely), started to mould to fit my wrist better (possible) or I have just gotten used to it (probable). It is also likely down to the fact that I have not worn anything on my wrist consistently for a while – I used to always wear a watch but have not regularly worn it for about 2-3 months now.
The band comprises a massive 10 sensors – heart rate, accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, light, skin temp, UV, capacitive and skin response. To me, this is a little overkill, but given the price I suppose you get what you pay for.
They seem reasonably accurate – days when I walk more there are more steps reported, days when I am a little less active the step count is lower. Like all things, the accuracy is subjective. I do not know how accurate it is as I do not have anything to compare it to.
Microsoft Health app front screen - summary of today.
You can also get workouts sent to the Band. To get these you download them from the Microsoft Health website to the Health app, and then to the Band. You can only store one workout on the Band at a time, but several in the app. Once you start, it tracks your heart rate to see how you are doing and this is then analysed in the app (or website once synced).
Likewise you can also download golf courses and play them while wearing the Band. It tracks your progress round the course, and the number of shots you take – although it can be a little hit and miss (!) until it gets used to your playing style.
Of more interest is the sleep tracking function. Just before you turn out the lights you turn on sleep tracking and in the morning when you wake up you turn it off. You can then sync the band with the Microsoft Health app and see how long you were asleep for, how long you were in light or deep sleep, if it was restorative or not, and some other parts.
Health app sleep tracking.
It gets more interesting the more you track it – you can start to see patterns in your sleep amongst other things, as well as try to get more sleep.
Interestingly there is a website that runs alongside the app (dashboard.microsofthealth.com) which goes into much more detail and from which you can export your data so you can do your own analysis if you want.
Screen shot from website showing sleep tracking.
Screen shot from website showing sleep tracking.
In terms of charge, the Band lasts somewhere between 24 and 48 hours. While this seems rather vague, it depends on what you are doing – if you keep checking your stats then the screen is on longer and the battery goes quicker; if you go for a run or cycle and use the GPS (ha! As if) the battery runs out quicker.
I did have one occasion where I thought I had enough charge to see me through the night, but at some point it seems to have given up the ghost. I normally got about a day and a half, and the advice on other reviews is to either charge when you are in the shower (as the Band is not waterproof) or while you are sat at a desk and not walking around (and missing steps!).
And that is one of the flaws of the Band – not being waterproof. Obviously it would be hard to ensure that it is given how much technology Microsoft have stuffed in this, and that there are other fitness trackers that you can wear while swimming, but it does seem as though they have missed a trick. Or maybe it was planned that way to allow you some charging time…
The charger itself looks much like a phone charging cable – usb one end, proprietary port at the other to charge it. The part that connects to the Band is magnetised which means that unlike other fitness trackers charging is really easy – get the two anywhere near each other and it attaches itself like a limpet. It seems to get the Band to about 80% quickly, but the last 20% takes a while – although that could be perception as it is either 80% or full, and the battery icon (being rather small) is a little deceptive.
In case you want the short version, a Windows phone won’t be for everyone. While not the most powerful device the 640 is capable of completing anything that is thrown at it. It does take some getting used to, but after a while navigating the phone becomes second nature. It is really built to last – while the materials aren’t necessarily premium it is well made, fits together well and feels solid.
The battery life is a massive plus point for this phone, easily outstripping my previous devices by a day. Whether or not it would last a full 2 days if I used it exclusively (some apps are just not available on the Windows Store, so I was using both together) I am not sure, but it would certainly get you the mid-afternoon on the 2nd day.
With a little more time and support, the shortcomings of the Windows experience could be overcome. All it takes is a wider app store, and this will become a third contender for choice when looking at a new phone/contract.
The Band is a comprehensive life companion. The different sensors mean that it can track almost anything, how accurately is open to interpretation, but its versatility is a big positive. It gets more comfortable to wear the longer it is on, and provides useful feedback about what you are doing and how much benefit you are getting from it.
The only negative about the Band is cost – it is still best part of £100, and with other devices claiming to do most of what it does at a fraction of the price (the Mi Band Pulse or 1S is only £30 with a spare band) it faces real difficulty in getting a large part of the market. One positive is that it will work with both iOS and Android even if some parts are Windows only (Cortana, and replying to texts and emails).
Would I buy either? A Windows Phone is a possible, although I would go for a higher point in the scheme (like the 950 or 950XL) even if it would take some getting used to. If the apps I use most were on the app store it would be an even more difficult choice, but until there is more of parity I think I’ll stay an Android.
With the Band it is mostly a question of price over function. The Band is not sure if it is a fitness tracker, smart watch or some hybrid of the two. A smaller feature set would create a longer battery life, but what to sacrifice? If you take too much out it just blends into the background of competitor.
I've got a few more days with both, so if there is something that anyone would like to see tried then let me know and I'll try it.
You must be a registered user to add a comment here. If you've already registered, please log in. If you haven't registered yet, please register and log in.