At this point I have a variety of gadgets in my drawer. My fav right now is the Garmin Fenix 3. The best combination of GPS watch, fitness/sleep tracker, and smart watch functions. Amazing device. But at the end of the day, it’s big, isn’t the best sleep tracker and some days you just want to wear a normal watch and not look like a geek. The Polar A 300 is an excellent every day watch. Always on display, easy to read, good notifications, good sleep tracking and good battery life. But it has no GPS so for activities like hiking/cycling it is only somewhat useful. At this point I have two Fitbits, the Flex (which is really my daughters) and a Charge . Fitbit as one of the companies that invented this sector and still dominate it, have been irritating me. They have fallen asleep at the wheel. Innovation seems to me to have stalled. None of them do the whole suite of notifications (on an iPhone). Move reminders have been added to only the newest devices. Watch faces on the Blaze are so lacking as to be laughable. The latest products the Flex 2 and Charge 2 just aren’t what I am looking for. They just don’t cut it.
So what am I looking for? Well … the requirements boil down to this (in order of importance):
1) small enough as to be barely noticable
2) smart watch like vibration notificatons (not just call)
3) good battery life (5 days or better)
4) automatic sleep tracking. Having to manually start/stop sleep is just a complete non starter
5) move reminder
Right off the bat a number of the Garmins that I would otherwise consider drop off. This includes Vivofit (no vibration alert only audible, which can get missed when your in noisy places). All of the Fitbits miss the mark with only call or call/text notifications (again on iPhone).
The unit consists of a removable peanut (similar to the first gen of this device as well as the flex).
The charge clip is firm and simply designed. I have no idea if it is the same one as the first gen band. The removable nature of this means you also can change the band (and also makes cleaning the band simple and easy). There are lots of options from leather to metal available inexpensively on Amazon.
I have not been able to find a belt clip for it like I did for the fitbit Flex, nor have a I found a protector that would allow me to just throw it in the pocket.
The default band is the usual rubber but it is well designed and easy to do up. Fitbit could learn a thing or two from this. I still prefer a simple watch band like clasp but none the less it’s fine. The extra loop insure that if it comes undone there is a chance you might not loose it
Over bluetooth the device’s firmware can be updated, which there was one for me. Not sure how active they are with updates, time will tell.
The display is a simple affair and reasonably readable especially in lower light situations. You can customize the display to rotate through all of your stats. It is not an always on display (sadly). You can have it attempt to detect your wrist turning to turn it on if you want. I found this like on other devices messes up and comes on when sleeping. How hard is it to combine the fact you detected I’d sleeping and do not turn the display on? It will cycle through them as you tap the button (or optionally when you rotate your wrist, which is hit or miss). Its simple, efficient and well done. It’s a little on the smaller side so reading it without my glasses is sadly not possible (for me).
So now we have loaded the app (called mi Fit) onto your phone and are ready to pair. The registration process is not the smoothest experience. And if you are trying to use an existing account your in for a challenge of your patience. By default your user id is your country code and phone number. So in my case +1905xxxxxx. And you need to manually type and remember this (including the + sign). To say it’s not obvious is an understatement. Once you EVENTUALLY get past this part your onto the next. And I bumped into my second MAJOR hurdle. I bought my band on ebay, second hand. It was cheap, and in my country so why not … well I will tell you why not. It turns out Xiaomi have decided on the band 2 to try and prevent theft or reuse after loss. If the band is tied to an existing account it can not be tied to a new account until it is removed from the previous account. To do this the previous owner needs to unpair it within the Mi Fit app. This releases the band so it can be registered to a new account. There seems to be no way around this. I was able to get the previous owner to do this after a bit of chatter, but none the less, I was able to get it going. But this is something to be aware of. And if something happened to your Xiaomi account the band is garbage.
The app itself is simple and easy to use and gives you your current step count/calories and kms. The calories is activity calories only, which is nice. Fitibit insist on blurring your activity calories with your basal calories. Something that in my mind trivializes your activity calories. So be careful if your comparing calories with other devices …
Battery life is reported to be as much as 20 days, I managed a whopping 37 days before it asked to be charged! This so trounces the Fitbit as to be earth shattering. And my experience with the previous Gen says it’s possible. One of the things I like is that they tell you very clearly the percentage of battery remaining (Vs fitbits high medium/low) as well as when it was last charged. They are not afraid to let you see what the battery life of the device is.
Notification wise the device is the most comprehensive, and flexible series of notifications on the market. Again, Fitbit could learn a thing or two. Oddly the Google Mail app can not be selected for notifications, only the default mail app 😦 The vibration motor is fine and gets the job done, silently alerting you. Oddly alert setup is hidden behind the play icon? The message comes up briefly and then goes away. There seems to be no way to recall the message on the band you may have missed.
I have found bluetooth connection (on iPhone) to be a bit spotty which means the notifications can get missed. And re connection when you walk away from your phone takes some time, again affecting notifications. So this is definitely an area of weakness.
There is a band finder but it simply buzzes the band and turns on the display, so not all that helpful. There are bluetooth signal strength apps that could help you find it. Like most devices in this category it does not alert you when you walk away from your phone (or loose the band). Why they don’t do this is beyond me.
The device does do move reminders (and they can be turned off). It’s set for 1 hr inactivity and this can not be changed. You can define the hours that move alerts are active for which is nice. It also just gives you a simple buzz to get off your butt 🙂
Interestingly enough this unit actually has a heart rate sensor on the bottom of it. You can call up your heart rate anytime you like (which can be initiated on the phone or on the band). It doesn’t, oddly enough, seem to sample your heart rate through the day? The heart rate monitor can be configured to be used while sleeping to be more accurate at detecting you level of sleep. The sensor itself is quite smooth on the bottom, unlike others, so it ought to be reasonably comfortable in the long run. Accuracy is another matter, and one should not expect much. There is a way to use the heart rate monitor to track say a workout. Just press the Runner in the top left corner and click start. You can do an indoor run (no gps) or an outdoor run. Interestingly enough it even includes a high heart rate alert feature. There is a third party app on iPhone called
Finding friends that might also have a Xiamoi band is utterly useless. You can pull up a QR code on your phone and a friend can scan it. You can’t do it unless you are physically next to each other. There is a share button but this can only be done to Facebook and twitter (no email), although you can save it and email it yourself?
Like Apple Health, there is no web portal to view your data. Nor is there an ability to export your data from within the app. Fortunately, unlike Fitbit, Xiaomi does completely support sending it’s data into Apple Health. Impressive!
Ok let’s talk data. First up is steps. Every company uses different algorithms to determine steps. In my mind if they are within 10-15% of each other I can live with that. What is actually more important anyway is relative day to day. From steps, Kms and calories are calculated. Kms is particularly unimportant IMHO.
Day 1 I compared to a Garmin Fenix 3’s step tracker:
Garmin 11215 steps 9.1 kms 229 calories
Miband 105338 steps 8 kms 299 calories
Difference% -6 -12 +31
So steps are well within my tolerance. It’s worth noting I see nowhere to adjust your stride which would adjust Kms per step. Calorie wise not sure what to say.
Day 2 I compared to a Fitbit Flex
Flex 13444 steps 10.1 kms
MiBand 13090 steps 9.7 kms
Difference% -3 -4
So it did very well compared even to a Fitbit! Calorie wise Fitbit have always been absolutely stupid IMHO in that they blend activity calories with Basal calories. Basal is the calories it takes to exist. Basal is such a larger number that it totally overwhelms and makes activity calories look irrelevant. This can be demotivating. Even Fitbits activity calories which you can find by exporting the data from the portal end up being astronomical. So for the above day Fitbit says I burned 2438 calories, and 1183 of those were activity calories (Xiaomi calculated 312. Now when you care about calories is when you are trying to watch your weight. Calories in Vs calories out. So … I have no idea what to say about that. Moving on …
Now onto sleep! The big issue with comparing sleep is each company from Garmin, to Polar etc all decide to track different things. Some times awake, some restless, some deep sleep …
I compared a Fitbit Flex with a Polar A300 with the Xiaomi:
7.4 7.4 7.6 hours of sleep
I had to manually adjust the Flex, it totally missed when I went to bed. The Polar and the Xiaomi nailed it. And in fact the Xiaomi got it within mins.
Xiaomi track deep sleep (which they say is aided by the heart rate monitor) and then subtract from the total sleep to give you light sleep. I found the green light from the heart rate monitor creeps out and disturbs my sleep. The time we are in true deep sleep, at least for me is small. According to them: 1.7hrs of deep sleep so 5.9 hours of light sleep. Xiamoi make no attempt to give you a number of quality of sleep. On the second day it nailed when I went to bed but messed up when I got out of bed taking when I got up to go to the bathroom as me getting up. There is an edit button but it doesn’t seem to work and just says that a record for this time already exists. This is unfortunate as it would allow you to correct it.
Let’s have a look at the heart rate monitor, in inactive, sitting relatively still for 15 mins with the band tight. Optical heart rate sensors like this one need close contact with the skin to insure light doesn’t interfere with it. Now doing this test was a challenge to say the least. There is a buggy app called Mi HR that will allow you to use the Mi Band’s heart rate monitor in other apps. A clever piece of software. So I used Endomondo with the Mi Band and used a Scosche Rhythm+ with my Garmin Fenix 3 for the comparison. So let’s go with the good first. Over the 15 mins the Mi band showed an average heart rate of 74 and the scosche 78 or a delta of only 4 BPM (or 5%). This is really quite acceptable. I am shocked how overall it is quite good. If you were using this simply to estimate calories this is definitely acceptable. Now lets have a look at data points. In the 15 minutes there were 147 data points in common. During the 15 minutes the two differed by as much as 31 BPM topping out at a delta of 37%. This is shockingly bad and would be unusable if you were trying to use this to alert yourself when your heart rate was too low or two high. At a threshold of a delta of 5 BPM it was off by more than that 23% of the time. 10 BPM 12% and 15 BPM 11%. Here’s a graph of the data:
I did a 2.5 hour road bike ride and compared the Xiaomi using the Mi HR app on iOS to a Wahoo Tickr chest strap and the results were abysmal. According to the Xiaomi the average heart was 102, Vs the Wahoo Tickr at 165. And the graph between the two is so bad as to be laughable. And I can only imagine how bad a mountain bike would be (given the added bumps etc).
So in summary: size is perfect (exactly what I was looking for), comfort is good, battery life is excellent (I’d go so far as to say industry leading), activity tracking is fine, notifications are good, sleep tracking is barely adequate, app is basic and buggy, heart rate monitor is barely implemented, and activity tracking outside of walking is barely implemented. It’s for me, good enough and well worth the money.
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