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The rumors that Microsoft would soon join the wearable industry are true, as last night the company announced the simply named Microsoft Band, a fitness tracking smartband designed for use with the app Microsoft Health. Available now for only $199, one of the band’s most interesting features is the fact that it’s cross-compatible with the three major mobile phone platforms: that includes Android, iOS, and – of course – Windows Phone.

The Microsoft Band has a lot in common with the Samsung Gear Fit smartband that was released in early April, as it features a narrow, rectangular display embedded in a black strap. The two devices share a few features as well, as both are equipped with heart-rate monitors and sleep tracking capabilities, and they both measure a user’s exercise activities, like steps taken while walking or running. The Microsoft Band goes a few steps further, though, featuring a built-in GPS sensor and a UV monitor, which can suggest when users might want to apply sunscreen before venturing outside.

en-INTL-PDP-Kronos_CrossCompatibilityThe Band can even be used without a smartphone – though you have to pair it at least once. The trick is that you can take off on your workout without having to carry your smartphone with you, as the Band will continue to measure all your biometric data while still offering functionality like a built-in stopwatch, timer, and alarms. The Band also offers users guided workouts (created in coordination with Gold’s Gym), but those need a smartphone in proximity to work.

All of the fitness and biometric data recorded by the Microsoft Band gets sent to Microsoft Health, an app that sounds a whole lot like Apple’s HealthKit and Google’s recently launched Google Fit apps. Interestingly, because Microsoft Health is cross-compatible across all mobile platforms, it’ll also drink in all the data collected by different fitness tracking devices. A post on The Verge about the Microsoft Band explains:

“Microsoft Health will work with Android Wear watches, Android phones, and the iPhone 6’s motion processor, automatically collecting data from all three. Microsoft’s also been working with Jawbone, MapMyFitness, My Fitness Pal, and Runkeeper to import their data, and plans to incorporate many more.”

As to how well the app will work with the various devices out there remains to be seen, but Microsoft is taking a very smart approach here.

The Microsoft Band also offers some other features found on smartwatches, including caller ID, text messages, and other smartphone notifications (including weather updates, emails, and social network alerts). While pairing the Microsoft Band with an Android or iOS device will provide all those features, syncing it with a Windows Phone handset will give users access to Cortana, which can respond to voice commands and send texts based on your dictation. Those features seem to make the Microsoft Band a great new argument in favor of grabbing a Windows Phone.

While its design is a bit plain, the Microsoft Band has already scored huge points by virtue of being cross-compatible, full-featured, and affordable. If nothing else, the Microsoft Band can be seen as a utilitarian and flexible alternative to the ostentatious and expensive Apple Watch.

Are you interested in the Microsoft Band? Will you be ordering one, or are you still looking forward to more Android Wear devices – or the Apple Watch?

[Sources: Microsoft Band, The Verge]

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