Apple Watch full review
Hold on to your hats, guys: it is Microsoft vs Apple, just like the old days. In this case we are comparing the Apple Watch with its Microsoft counterpart the Microsoft Band. Wait, you hadn't heard of the Microsoft Band? Well, quite. The Band is a quirky device from the all-new quirky Microsoft. You can buy one today, but you probably don't want to. Find out why in our Apple Watch vs Microsoft Band comparison review.
Apple Watch vs Microsoft Band comparison review: UK price, value, availability
The different ambitions of Apple and Microsoft can be witnessed in the respective prices of the Apple Watch and the Microsoft Band. Apple is shooting for the moon, Microsoft keeping things tight.
You can buy the Microsoft Band today and get it delivered tomorrow, or walk into PC World and walk out with a Band. The Microsoft Band is now available direct from Microsoft for £169 inc VAT. You can also buy the Microsoft Band from PC World (and Currys), also for £169 inc VAT. If it becomes more successful, you will find it all over the place. More likely in our view it will be discounted, and fall away from view.
The Apple Watch Sport Edition is the cheapest you can buy. At juat £299 Apple's cheapest model is bound to be popular, but prices soon scale up and there are lots of optional extras on which you can splash your cash. You can spend more by opting for the Apple Watch Edition which starts at £479. The most expensive Apple Watch is £13,500.
It will be interesting to see how popular they prove. At the time of writing there is nowhere in the UK into which you can walk and buy an Apple Watch. You can pre-order, of course. The Microsoft Band is here now and much cheaper than is the Apple Watch. But where the Watch is a shrunk down smartphone, the Microsoft Band is a souped-up activity tracker. Value isn't all about a low, low price... as we will see.
You can find out more about buying the Apple Watch, here: Apple Watch buying guide and price list | View Apple Watch buying options on the Apple Store.
Apple Watch vs Microsoft Band comparison review: design, build quality
Simply, the Apple Watch is designed and built to a much higher spec than is the Microsoft Band. For one thing the Watch comes in two sizes, one each for men and for women. And then there are the three 'collections'.
The Apple Watch collection has a polished silver or black case made from a custom alloy of stainless steel; the Apple Watch Sport collection has a 60 percent stronger anodised aluminium case in silver or space grey, with strengthened Ion-X glass; and the Apple Watch Edition collection uses 18-carat yellow- or rose gold, and features equisitely crafted straps and closures.
Further to this there are six strap options: Link Bracelet, Sport Band, Leather Loop, Classic Buckle, Modern Buckle and Milanese Loop. Before we even get to the software, then, the Apple Watch is so personal that there is a model for everyone. As we will see shortly, that is absolutely not the case in terms of the Microsoft Band.
The Apple Watch has 11 faces (or 'complications'), yet Apple says it offers more than two million ways to tell the time through various customisation options. There's everything from Astronomy and Solar to Modular, Timelapse, Utility, Motion, Photo and even the Mickey Mouse watch.
Apple uses a 'Digital Crown' to let you interact with the watch without obstructing the screen, and it also operates as the Home button. Touch is also supported on the Apple Watch, although you'll primarily use this crown to navigate the device. The Apple Watch is far more beautiful than Microsoft's less expensive Band. It is much more comfortable, infinitely more personalised, and just as robust. Really, in this aspect alone you are getting your money's worth. But let us not discount the Microsoft Band.
Straight out of the box you can tell that this is a fitness tracker with smartwatch pretensions. It's a black plastic band with a big face. And that is it.
Big and chunky, the Microsoft Band is a lot of device to wrap around your wrist. It's basically rigid, and the back of the display is roughly 5cm of straight-edged, rock-hard Band. The Band is uncomfortable to where, even though it is well constructed and robust. Made of thermal plastic elastomer, the band is both water and sweat resistant, and designed for extreme temperatures. We put it through multiple workouts in a variety of environments, and it never blinked.
To be entirely fair the Microsoft Band does come in three sizes: small, medium and large (for wrists of 39mm, 41mm and 49mm). On those wrists you will be carrying around 60g, which is mostly made up of the 19 x 8.7mm main body of the device, which has on it two physical buttons. It is that size because of its capacitive 1.4in 320 x 106 display. This is impressive for an activity tracker/fitness band, much less so for a smartwatch. This is a different species to Apple's wearable.
Like Microsoft the Band conceptually smart, useful, uncomfortable, ugly. But you couldn't love it. The Apple Watch inspires love and desire, the Microsoft Band is useful. Read: Apple Watch vs Apple Watch Sport .
Apple Watch vs Microsoft Band comparison review: display
Given all of the above, it should be clear that the Apple Watch has a much better display than does the Microsoft Band. By any metric, it does.
The 38mm Apple Watch has a 272 × 340 display, which makes for a 290ppi pixel density. The 42mm Apple Watch has a 302ppi pixel density, with a 312 × 390 display. The Apple Watch as a small but high-end smartphone display. This is highly desirable minature screen.
Using the same terms we would describe the Microsoft Band's is a 0.2in display, but again we are not comparing like with like, here. The Band has a 11 x 33mm touch-enabled TFT full-colour display. The display resolution is 320 x 106 pixels. The pixel density is high enough to not discern pixels - not least because we are not viewing photo or video on this display. The screen is bright and clear, and the touchscreen is responsive.
For such a small display Microsoft has made sensible decision to keep the interface super simple. It is adequate. You can see details on screen even when on the move and with sweat running in to your eyes. The viewing angle is good. You can adjust the brightness to conserve battery life, and we have to say that we found the 'Low' setting worked perfectly well.
It's okay. But nothing like that of the Apple Watch. See also: Apple Watch vs Motorola Moto 360 comparison review.
Apple Watch vs Microsoft Band comparison review: features
And this is where you really get your money back, Apple Watch fans. Apple's wearable is a customisable smartwatch designed to work with the iPhone 6 that is also a comprehensive health- and fitness device. We'll go into its full feature set below, but first let's talk about what Microsoft's wearable can do.
The Microsoft Band is powered by Microsoft's new Health platform, which Windows Phone, Android and iOS users will be able to use even if they don't own a Microsoft Band. Like Apple's Health app, it collects and stores data from fitness devices (whether that's the Microsoft Band or a third-party fitness tracker like the FitBit) to offer up insights to help you live a healthier life. You can use it even with your iPhone, but the integration is nothing like as deep as if you use the Apple Watch.
The Microsoft Band tracks your heart rate, steps, calories and sleep, and feeds all of that information into the Health app. You can set goals, use the Microsoft Band to complete guided workouts, map the routes you've run, cycled or hiked using GPS, and more.
In addition to the fitness features, you'll also be able to connect your Microsoft Band to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth to get notifications such as emails, calendar alerts and text messages, which you'll be able to preview. It'll also let you know when you've got an incoming phone call, if you've got a notification from Twitter or Facebook, for example.
There's a built-in timer and alarm app on the Microsoft Band, too.
The Apple Watch can do everything that the Microsoft Band can, and more. Well, everything except extend Cortana from Windows 8. Do you use Cortana? Of course not. Let's move on. (Siri is supported on the Apple Watch anyway, allowing for smart messages and dictation.)
The Apple Watch is accurate to +/-50ms no matter where in the world you are, and allows you to connect and communicate directly from your wrist. A Digital Crown enables you to interact with the watch without obstructing the screen, and also operates as the home button.
That flexible Retina display is a single crystal of sapphire. Force Touch, tiny electrodes around the display, recognise the difference between a tap and a press, allowing for different gestures to be made. A linear actuator provides haptic feedback. This is the Apple Watch's so-called Taptic Engine: more than just helpfully vibrating when you receive a new notification, it can do such things as provide slightly different vibrations for left- and right turns within the Maps app.
On the back a ceramic cover with sapphire lenses protects four sensors that make up the heart-rate monitor, which allows the Apple Watch to build up a comprehensive picture of your daily activities. The Apple Watch also has an accelerometer to measure body movement, and it uses the Wi-Fi and GPS in your iPhone to track distance. There's a speaker, too, which is water-resistant.
A Glances feature lets you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see whatever information you choose to have there. This is quick, at-a-glance summaries of such things as the weather forecast, your location or your calendar. The Apple Watch lets you control music on your iPhone or computer, or music stored on the Watch itself. Any photos you favourite on your iPhone or Mac will also show up on your Apple Watch. You can choose what types of notifications you receive on the Apple Watch, then simply raise your wrist to see the notification.
The Apple Watch is much, much more sophisticated than the Microsoft Band. It offers a greater feature set, and better integration with iPhones. Whether that makes it a better device for you only time - and your opinion - will tell. (I like the Microsoft Band's feature set, and as an Android user I couldn't use an Apple Watch anyway. I also like the fact that I can wear both my watch, and my Microsoft Band. But let's be clear: the Apple Watch is a better device.) See also: Apple Watch vs Huawei Watch smartwatch comparison.
Apple Watch vs Microsoft Band comparison review: specs, performance
As always with Apple, what a product does and how it looks and behaves are more important than what is inside. Apple uses its own S1 chip and has a healthy amount of storage at 8 GB. However, as it stands you can only use 2 GB for music and just 75 MB for photos. Apple doesn't quote RAM. It supports Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, too. There's a heart-rate sensor, an accelerometer, a waterproof speaker and support for wireless charging, although the Apple Watch depends on a companion iPhone for GPS. A digital crown is used alongside touch input to interact with the Apple Watch.
The Microsoft Band runs off an ARM Cortex M4 MCU CPU. You get only 64MB onboard storage, so using a smartphone is required for smartphone-like functions: but at least the Microsoft Band synchs with all smartphones via Bluetooth 4.0. GPS is built in so you can work out without your phone being present. so there's no need to carry your smartphone around with you in order to accurately record and map your runs. You get a three-axis accelerometer, and a gyrometer. Odd inclusions are an ambient light sensor and a skin temperature sensor. There's a UV monitor, and an optical heart sensor so you can monitor your heart-rate 24 hours a day.
Read our Apple Watch tutorials:
How to set up a new Apple Watch | How to make Apple Watch battery last longer | How to use Siri on Apple Watch | How to use Digital Touch on Apple Watch | How to reply to a text on Apple Watch | How to answer a call on Apple Watch | How to change watch faces on Apple Watch | How to use the Music app on Apple Watch | How to use Maps on Apple Watch | How to use the Apple Watch Activity app | How to use the Apple Watch Workout app | How to take a screenshot on Apple Watch | How to make the Apple Watch a more accurate fitness tracker | How to manage Apple Watch notifications | How to use Apple Pay on the Apple Watch | How to write your own custom text replies on the Apple Watch
Microsoft Band vs Apple Watch comparison: battery life
Apple touts up to 18 hours of varied use which drops to 6.5 for audio playback and just 3 for phone calls. Our testers have found very varied battery life depending on what you do with the Apple Watch. But with reasonable use you should get through the day. And that is all that matters, really.
With the Microsoft Band you get two 100mAh rechargeable Lithium ion batteries. And Microsoft says that the Band should enjoy 48 hours of battery life. That really hasn't been our experience. Yes, we are using it a lot, connected via Bluetooth, measuring a lot of activity. But I have never managed to get it through two days, even when the display is set to low. And when it goes, it goes.
On the positive side the Band charges really quickly via the supplied charging cradle cable - although you have to supply your own USB plug. But it does mean that if you want to use the sleep functionality as well as tracking activity with either Apple Watch or Microsoft Band, you may be in for a struggle.
In essence, our experience of both devices has been broadly the same in terms of battery life. See also: Apple Watch vs LG Watch Urbane smartwatch comparison.