Microsoft has been experimenting with smartwatch keyboards for Android Wear, and now the company is bringing a similar concept to its own Band hardware. In its first major update, Microsoft’s Band has become a lot more useful for Windows Phone users, thanks to a new Cortana-powered dictation mode for replying to texts and the addition of a virtual keyboard. It works like a standard QWERTY keyboard, but Microsoft is using its Word Flow software from Windows Phone to detect letters and words correctly.
Voice dictation or a QWERTY keyboard for quick texts
I’ve been using the Band’s virtual keyboard for a few hours and found it was a little tricky to use at first, but once you trust it and get used to not worrying about tapping on the wrong letters then it’s actually really useful. The keyboard addition is limited to Windows Phone, and you tap on letters and then swipe right to see the result, with words separated out that can be deleted or swapped with other suggestions. I dislike shouting into devices in public, so a keyboard is the preferred way for me to communicate when I’m commuting, but the voice dictation addition works well too. Once dictation is complete, the words are displayed on-screen as if you used the keyboard option and you can edit or delete them before sending a message. Microsoft is still using pre-configured text responses too, so if you just want to use simple replies without a keyboard or voice then that’s not going away.
Using a keyboard on a 1.4-inch display is still something many will balk at, but if it’s quick replies then it feels like there’s room for a good software keyboard. Microsoft’s attempt is simple and basic, with enough options for it to not be too cluttered or irritating to use. I’m sure I’ll use the new keyboard to reply to some text messages while I’m holding onto a pole on a train and it’s not worth pulling my phone out for a quick reply.
Microsoft has also added a bike mode to its Band that lets you track bike rides indoors or outdoors. The Bike Tile will monitor your heart rate, your ride, elevation, and speed while you’re riding. Perhaps the most important addition in the first major Band update is Microsoft’s move to allow third-party apps on its fitness tracker. While we don’t have any to test right now, developers will be able to retrieve data from the Band’s sensors and create apps that utilize it.