When the first images of the Xiaomi Mi Band 2 were released on Twitter a few weeks ago, it seemed like the Chinese company finally delivered the ideal hybrid between a compact watch and a fitness band.
My first impressions of the Xiaomi Mi Band 2
A render of the Xiaomi Mi Band 2
Having owned the first generation Mi Band for almost a year now, I couldn’t curb my impulse buying habit and instantly ordered the Band 2 as soon as it went on sale on Geekbuying.
Before going over its features, I have one confession to make: until recently, I had a very hard time understanding the exact appeal of using a watch-type wearable device.
There were a few issues that prevented me from going all in on smartwatches (or wearables, in general).
The main problem had to do with their battery life and durability. This was particularly obvious when going to the gym or playing basketball – having to remove my watch every time I played ball only to put it back on so that I could remove it again before bedtime for its usual daily charging cycle got to be very annoying. There were many days when I would arrive home late in the evening and completely forget to charge it.
It became very clear that I needed a wearable device that I could wear for weeks or even months.
Unfortunately, even the most power-efficient watches sold today only last for five to seven days on a regular charge. This meant I had to consider also wearing a fitness band.
But wearing two devices brought up the issue of convenience. I consider myself a practical person so wearing a watch and a fitness band seemed like a very cumbersome concept.
I was looking for a single device that would be a watch and a fitness band.
Here is Rys wearing an Apple Watch and a Fitbit. I didn’t want to be like Rys.
Finally, pricing was a very important factor. To this day, I clearly remember how one of my colleagues accidentally dropped a brand new Apple Watch on the pavement only to watch it shatter into pieces upon impact.
I did not want to spend a small fortune on something that could break easily.
Ultimately, I gave up on the idea of wearing a watch and decided to buy the Mi Band, using it for the activity tracking, sleep monitoring and the silent alarm/notification buzzer.
Now that I’ve been wearing the Mi Band 2 for a day, here are my initial impressions.
The first things that struck me when unboxing the Mi Band 2 were its slim profile and its crisp OLED display. For me, the compact form factor is definitely a plus since I’ve seen several fitness bands that look bulky on the wrist.
The two Mi Bands side by side
The OLED screen appears to be easily readable in outdoor conditions. Since I live in the UK, it was hard to find the appropriate weather to test it under bright sunlight but I’m hoping to do that during that one special day in July/August when the sun is out for more than ten minutes.
There is only one touch button on the Mi Band 2; it can be used to cycle through fitness stats and to bring up the time. I’ve seen various YouTube reviews of other (cheap) wearables that implement this functionality using a similar mechanism. I believe that having a physical button that you can press is definitely a plus since most sensors fail to accurately register presses, leading to a bad user experience.
In addition to the button, you can also interact with the band by simply raising your wrist. This works really well when you’re on the go and want to get a quick view of the time or your step count and heart rate. I’ve found that the lag between flicking your wrist and the screen lighting up is relatively small.
The Mi Band 2 feels comfortable on the wrist
The Mi Band 2 ships with a standard black band built from a similar material as the first generation wearable from Xiaomi. The band feels rubbery and soft – I wouldn’t say it is the definition of stylish but I’m sure there will soon be plenty of third party band options to choose from (you can find a selection of Mi Band 2 bands here).
For example, the original Mi Band currently enjoys a wide selection of leather straps and colorful plastic bands for users looking to customize the look of their devices.
The Mi Band and the Mi Band 2 side by side
Swapping bands is fairly easy: you simply squeeze the main brick from the band’s underside and slide it inside the replacement strap. Similarly, putting on the band is straightforward too: I didn’t have to struggle getting the band to stay on my wrist while connecting the prong into its respective hole.
To charge the Mi Band 2, you have to insert the wearable brick into the convex end of the USB cable below. I was hoping that Xiaomi would adopt a standard USB interface (micro USB would’ve been ideal) but it looks like they’ve gone for the same two-wire system that was used for the original Mi Band.
Finally, there’s now a heart rate monitor on the Mi Band 2. I’ve found that some heart rate sensors tend to be quite imprecise, particularly when the wrist gets sweaty. Without additional testing, I can’t really tell whether the Xiaomi band is any better in this department.
On top of the basic fitness and sleep monitoring functionality provided through the Mi Fit app (available on iOS and Android), the Mi Band 2 can also alert you of incoming calls and texts.
You can choose to back up your Mi Fit data with Google Fit or Apple Health, depending on which operating system you use. Alternatively, you can use Xiaomi’s own Mi Cloud.
The Mi Fit app has a clean UI
However, one of the most useful features has been the sedentary alert. In my job, I tend to spend most of my day in front of a computer screen and often find myself sitting down for long periods of time. One of the first things I enabled on my Mi Band 2 was the sedentary alert that buzzes my wrist whenever I’m inactive for more than one hour. This functionality was never implemented in the original Mi Band and it was something I was looking forward to.
The same buzzing alert can be used to wake you up in the morning – I definitely prefer it over my phone’s alarm, particularly since the Mi Band 2 picks the optimal time to wake you up based on its own estimation of your sleep phases.
After one day of above normal use, the battery registered only a 7% drop. Given that my first Mi Band easily lasted over a month on a full charge, I expect the Band 2 to roughly deliver on the promise of 20 days of battery life.
I’m also hoping that by disabling certain features I don’t tend to use very often (e.g. the heart rate monitor), I will significantly increase its longevity.
Up until last month, you would have been hard pressed to find an affordable fitness band that doubled as a watch and packed a heart rate monitor. The Mi Band 2 is not only the cheapest device to include these features, but also sports a great design, amazing battery life, and good software support.
Given the state of the wearable market in 2016 and the rapid growth that Xiaomi has enjoyed in this segment, I hope the Mi Band 2 marks the moment when fitness bands go mainstream.