Xiaomi’s New Mi Band Pulse Gets Hearts Racing

When Xiaomi first revealed the Mi Band in the summer of 2014, I immediately knew that it had got the price right. A fitness wearable is not an essential item and it’s not exactly rocket science to make, so the US$13 price tag made sense – it acknowledged our inevitable “smart” and wired-up future where pretty much everything connects to an app to give us data (our cups, our shoes; eventually our underwear). These things will ultimately be given away free; they’ll be embedded and ingrained. If a company is trying to charge people hundreds of dollars for a fitness gizmo, it’s doomed to failure, I thought.

Despite the tiny outlay, I didn’t bother with the Mi Band. But last month Xiaomi updated it and added in a heart rate monitor. The price went up only slightly – to RMB 99 in China, which is US$15. The name changed a bit too – now it’s the Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse. Now was the time, I decided, to see if a bargain fitness wearable was worth having – or if I’d soon be stuffing it in a drawer and forgetting about it.

Getting it on

The Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse makes itself useful by doing quite a few things – tracking your running and walking, monitoring your sleep, sending data and analytics to the Mi Fit app, waking you up with an alarm, taking your pulse, and buzzing you if your phone rings.

I tested it for over a week in conjunction with my iPhone 6. I was also keen to see how the Mi Band Pulse synced with iOS’ Health app.

If I were on a Xiaomi phone, the Mi Band Pulse would give me one extra feature – securely unlocking the phone without needing the passcode.

Once you get your Mi Band Pulse out of the box, you’ll need to pop it into the rubbery bracelet. It’s not easy to slot in, but that should mean the central nodule stays in place. Owners of earlier versions of the Mi Band complained of this popping out sometimes, but the revamped design seems to be tauter and safer.

Weighing only 5.5g (0.19 ounces), it’s barely noticeable on the wrist. The pliable band is thin around the reverse of your wrist, so you won’t notice it too much when you’re resting your forearm on the desk to type. The first time I put it on, I noticed the metal clasp at the rear was scraping my desk and laptop, so I put the Mi Band Pulse on the other way around, resulting in the clasp being out of the way.

With that sorted, I soon forgot it was on there – even though I’m not used to wearables.

In the box you get a USB charger into which you slot the nodule. Xiaomi says the battery is good for 10 days on this new Pulse model, compared to 30 days on the cheaper Mi Band (which is still for sale). It seems the heart rate monitor really uses some juice.

In my experience, I got through eight days on the half charge that it came with from the factory, so it’ll likely last you a solid two weeks. That seems fair to me. I don’t want to have to charge a non-essential gadget each day – but two weeks is more than satisfactory.

Mi Fit app

Next you’ll need to get to grips with Xiaomi’s own sporty app, called Mi Fit. It’s available for iOS and Android.

Once you have a Xiaomi account and give the app a few basic details, you’ll need to set a daily steps goal. It’s best to be realistic to avoid constant disappointment later. I wish the goal could be changed for certain days so that I can set a drastically higher goal for the weekends or for the one or two days per week that I actually get round to doing some proper exercise.

Now you’ll see that Mi Fit gives you data on the number of steps you take, the distance, and whether you are walking or running – and for how long each burst of activity took place. It also gives an estimation of the calories you burn. Swipe over to the “Last Night” section and you’ll see it looks at the time you slept and woke up, how long you slept, and periods of light versus deep sleep.

There’s no advice on how to improve your metrics, but the data is clearly laid out and pretty easy to interpret. You can share your daily or weekly performance to Facebook, Twitter, and WeChat.

Mi Fit is also where you configure the alarm. More on that later.

The biggest new addition to the Mi Band Pulse – the heart rate monitor – is evident in the Mi Fit app, albeit rather buried in the drop-down menu. That’s where you’ll find the readout for your heartbeat. It shows you your pulse on demand, just like the Apple Watch. But Xiaomi’s gadget takes abt 10 seconds to take a reading and only gives a static number, unlike the live number from the Watch.

You don’t get any daily data on your heart. There’s only that static read-out.

At first glance, the new heart rate monitor doesn’t seem to do much.

Plugging in to Health app

Mi Fit connects with the Health app in iOS – but here comes the first disappointment with the Mi Band Pulse. The gizmo and its accompanying app only contribute two sets of data to your Health dashboard – “Steps” and “Sleep Analysis”. It does not push data to the “Walking + Running Distance” section, and there seems to be no support for that. Mi Fit is supposed to give your calories data to the “Active Energy” part of Health, but that seems broken.

Sleep Analysis and Steps sync between Mi Fit and Health, but Active Energy is broken. Note that the Weight data is from my Xiaomi Scales.

Health is a great way to aggregate data from other fitness apps – I just use Nike Running and Strava – but Mi Fit’s failure to dish out distance data kind of screws up the whole thing. So only my iPhone 6 is giving me details of how far I walked or ran within Health, and that’s usually a lot shorter than my actual ground covered because I often leave my phone behind on my desk as I work.

This lack of data options results in Mi Fit feeling rather disjointed from Health.

Getting moving

If you choose to keep Bluetooth on on your phone, the Mi Band Pulse does a good job of buzzing you when a call comes in. I struggle to see how it’s useful as my phone is already vibrating and making a noise. You can’t dismiss the call by tapping your Band – and of course you can’t take a call through it. That would make it a very different kind of wearable – one that’d be pricier and have really sucky battery life.

The emphasis with the Mi Band Pulse is very much on keeping it simple. And I like that.

The data collection, alarm, and all the other functions of the Mi Band Pulse work even when not connected to your phone by Bluetooth. The little wearable has a tiny brain of its own alongside its 45mAh battery. So I usually turn Bluetooth off on my phone and just sync up the Band at the end of the day – or sometimes a few times a day if I’m curious about my numbers.

But you don’t need to check the app much because the Mi Band Pulse has three LEDs on the front that can show your progress based on the the steps goal you gave during the setup process. To activate the readout, you have to swing your arm upward so it lines up with your chest – as if you’re looking at a watch. Or as if you’re a character in Grand Theft Auto making a large and clumsy swing to look at the time. The gesture is not easy to get right and I didn’t master it on the first day. Even after that, it could be hit or miss.

Once you get the swing just right, the trio of LEDs will show how you’re doing relative to the steps goal. The little tutorial in the app earlier has already initiated you on what the coded blinking means. When you hit the steps goal, it’ll give you a little buzz – which you’ll probably mistake for a phone call notification.

You best take the Mi Band Pulse off for playing the guitar. Or polishing the Crown Jewels.

The Mi Band Pulse is water resistant but not waterproof. I ended up taking it off any time I washed as I noticed that it caused the gizmo to register phantom steps. So did lots of other things – like brushing my teeth, doing the washing up, or cooking. Not only did all those activities result in non-existent steps being taken, they were sometimes registered in the app as exercise sessions.

That’s a pity as the Mi Band Pulse was broadly accurate during the course of my test. It logged my actual steps well with decent accuracy and it managed not to be fooled by lots of other tasks, like typing, writing, or driving. As I spend most of my waking day typing, it’d be disastrous if the thing counted hundreds of steps each time I edited a teammate’s article. Thankfully, the gadget has more sense than that.

But for fairly vigorous activities involving mainly one hand, you best take the Mi Band Pulse off – like for playing the guitar. Or polishing the Crown Jewels.

Once you start running, it seems smart at detecting your change of pace. After going for a run and checking back on the app, you’ll see that your run is marked out separately from your walking so that you get a better idea of the time and distance involved. There’s no route mapping, so you’ll have to stick with Nike Running or some other app if you want that.

The heart rate monitor of the app once again doesn’t appear to do much once you’re exercising. I guess it’s working quietly in the background doing something or other, but there’s no way to check your heartbeat unless you stop and get out your phone, fumble with the drop down menu, and then stand perfectly still for the time it takes the Mi Band Pulse and the Mi Fit app to confer on what your heart rate is.

I tried it once in the middle of a run and saw that my heart was racing at 157bpm. I can already feel my heart going like a washing machine with a brick in it, so being shown a three-digit figure isn’t hugely useful information. It doesn’t appear in my daily data later. And the process of checking your heart rate is too slow and cumbersome to bother doing it repeatedly.

Time to sleep

If you want Xiaomi’s Mi Band Pulse to track your sleep, you can keep it on all night. I found is comfortable to wear while sleeping.

Xiaomi says the newest Mi Band fires up its heart rate monitor once every 10 minutes in order to get a clearer picture of your sleep and the quality of your slumber.

I had high hopes for the sleep tracking on the Mi Band Pulse, but I came away disappointed after sleeping with it on for nine nights. I was hoping the heart monitor would augment the accelerometers to give a clear picture of how I sleep, but it didn’t turn out that way.

Last night is a great example. I went to bed and then struggled to sleep for a while – I’m not sure how long, but it felt like more than 30 minutes. But when I checked the app this morning, it told me that I went into a “light sleep” as soon as I got into bed. The gadget and the app are capable of tracking periods when you’re awake during the night, even if very briefly, so I’ve no idea why it’s thinking that I’m out for the count as soon as I hit the pillow.

The same problem happens in the morning. I often lay in bed for a while after waking to listen to streaming radio and catch up on world news outside of the tech realm, but the Mi Band Pulse counts this as me still being asleep – even though I’ve tapped the Band to dismiss the alarm. Hmmm…

It looks like the heart rate monitor can’t tell the difference between lying in bed and actually snoozing. Your heart does beat a little slower during the onset of sleep, so the new Mi Band Pulse should be equipped to feel that.

Rise and shine

When the alarm goes off, the Mi Band Pulse buzzes five times in fairly quick succession to wake you up. I found it usually did the job of waking me, and it was a much nicer way to start the day than a blast of clattery clamor from your phone. You can tap the Mi Band Pulse (you’ll have to tap it fairly hard) to dismiss it. If you don’t, it’ll go off again a while later. I can’t recall if it’s five or ten minutes (I’m not a morning person), but it works like a snooze.

I’ve got used to the buzzy wake-up as a pleasant replacement for my phone’s alarm.

That’s improved a lot from when my teammate tested the first Mi Band in September 2014 and found that it had no snooze function – which meant he needed a backup alarm.

Aside from the normal alarm, there’s also the option for what Xiaomi calls a natural wake-up (you’ll have to jump back in to Mi Fit to set that up). It claims to listen to your sleeping patterns and then wake you up with a more gentle buzzing at a time that the Mi Band Pulse deems will give you the least stressful and most soothing wake-up. It’ll do this up to 30 minutes before your alarm is set to go off. I tried it once and I liked the gentle prodding it gave me, but the apparent lack of a snooze option in this particular feature caused me to go back to sleep and then I overslept.

The regular alarm, however, works well and I’ve got used to it as a pleasant replacement for my phone’s alarm.

Conclusion

The price is right, the bracelet looks decent, and it does a good job with walking and running. The main let-down is that the sleep tracking is not as accurate as you might hope it to be – and it’s not very evident what advantage the pulse tracking really brings to the Mi Band Pulse.

People like myself who use an iPhone will also bemoan that the Mi Band Pulse doesn’t give enough data to Health – only two things. There should be three, but one seems to be broken. That data issue means you’ll have to rely more on Mi Fit, leaving it rather disconnected from any other fitness apps you may use.

Despite those things, I like being able to leave my iPhone in the car and go for a run just with the Mi Band Pulse.

My summary is that the Mi Band Pulse is a good entry to wearable fitness tech – and it does enough that, for most people, you won’t need anything more. Do you really need notifications of every email on your wrist, or every social media tidbit zapped to a bracelet? I certainly don’t. And I definitely don’t want to pay hundreds of bucks for a smartwatch that’ll need replacing in a few years when I already have a watch that’ll last me decades.

I just want a clearer idea of how much I’m moving in order to get me increasing my activity a bit during the course of the year. It’s a simple request – and the Mi Band Pulse mostly delivers.

It’s still on my wrist now – not tossed to the back of a drawer, where so many wearables go to die.

Mi Band Pulse pros:

  • Looks ok
  • Lightweight, soft, comfortable
  • The price is right
  • Mostly accurate walking and running tracking
  • Mi Fit app is pretty good
  • Alarm works well
  • Really good battery life – I estimate about 14 days

Mi Band Pulse cons:

  • Sleep tracking not accurate enough
  • Lack of data available to view in iOS Health app
  • You best take it off for some vigorous activities that don’t involve walking
  • Heart rate monitor doesn’t seem to do much

This post Xiaomi’s new Mi Band Pulse gets my heart racing (REVIEW) appeared first on Tech in Asia.