Mini-Review #9: Xiaomi Mi Band 2

Yes, I bought a Mi Band 2 last month. I won’t elaborate too much about it, since it was a 2-year-old gadget (even the Mi Band 3 was released last May), there are tons of reviews and discussions about it, and some of you might own one already.

To tell the truth, not a long time ago I used to not care much about smartwatches – a large, expensive watch that needs to be recharged every few days and becomes unreadable under sunlight was not at all appealing to me. I also had no interest in looking at and poking on an even smaller screen – it will certainly attract curious glances. But I started walking as an exercise a year ago and started to think of a way to know how many steps I’ve taken without looking at Google Fit.

I didn’t buy the just-released Mi Band 3 simply because I like Mi Band 2’s minimalism, both in features and appearance. I don’t need any extra features, since walking is the only exercise I have the time, ability, and motivation of doing. When I wrote this, it also was not yet available in my country, and I don’t want to wait.

First impression

The size is perfect for my small wrists (about 15 cm in circumference), and it’s most comfortable worn on the 2nd inmost hole. Strap is very comfortable; better than most if not all watches I’ve ever worn.

It’s not apparent on the video reviews I’ve watched and specifications I’ve read, but the screen is ridiculously tiny compared to the body; about only half an inch in diagonal. This also answers my slight annoyance about the simple, unchangeable watchface even before I bought the band.

Pairing

I gave up trying to pair the band with Gadgetbridge, so unfortunately I still need to install Mi Fit and create an account. Mi Fit installed new firmware & fonts into the band right after pairing; I was afraid that it’ll brick my band since my battery’s down to the single-numbers, but thankfully it was succesful.

If you don’t pair the Mi Band all the time (which I did to save my phone’s battery when I’m home) or turn the ‘lift wrist to turn on’ feature, it uses about 2% battery level per day. It’s been 3 weeks since I first charged it and I still have 49% of charge left.

The band connects really well with the app. I’m happy I don’t even have to open the app to reconnect the band, and if you turned your GPS off (but not Bluetooth), the band will still be connected.

Features/Mi Fit

Activities: Mi Fit can detect three types of activities: slow walking, fast walking, and light activity. (I assume it could detect ‘heavy activity’ as well, but I never did any activities I could consider ‘heavy’ since I started wearing the band.)

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Maybe it’s just me, but I keep forgetting that pressing the large circle on top of the app shows the current day’s steps and history. I tend to press the ‘goals’ part (the one with the graph) to do that instead.

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Alarm Clock: Works great even without pairing, and it succesfully woke me up, but it can be hard to turn off, since it was hard to precisely tap the button three times in my groggy just-waking-up state.

Notifications: Like the alarm clock, it works great, but they’re shown on the band for a very short time. A tap-to-dismiss feature would be much better. Also, there’s a 1-2 second delay between the phone and the band on receving notifications.

Sleep Tracking: It seems to only track sleep during the night, which is unfortunate for people with unusual sleeping schedules, and me, who likes to take naps when possible. You also can’t delete sleep times you entered manually, which I learned the hard way after staying up all night, caught up on my lack of sleep the next afternoon, entered my sleeping time manually, and was told that I slept 15 hours later than usual.

Talking about sleep tracking, the section of the app that manages it has some minor translation problems that made me stop on my tracks. For example, instead of saying ‘July 21’, it said ‘7m21d’, which is derived from the default Chinese date syntax (which would be ‘7月21日’).

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Activity Tracking: The activity tracking page on the settings is a mystery, since there’s no information about it anywhere in the app. Besides sports (some of them not on the ‘activities’ tab), it has options to track trivial activities e.g. standing, sitting, and showering and send them to Mi Fit’s server. The page is buried on the settings, so it’s not meant to be visited often. Maybe it’s a tool for Xiaomi to collect data voluntarily given by users to improve the automatic activity tracking of their apps and wearables.

Overall, the app is good, but the only major flaw I could see is it can’t view the details of the previous days by themselves (such as what time did I walk/run on July 23). Thankfully, I also integrated the app with Google Fit and it shows these details in its timeline’s day view.

Screenshot_20180728_150953

Google Fit

The Mi Fit-Google Fit integration works pretty well at first sight; you can see steps, distance, calories, sleep duration, and heart rate, although it does nothing with the sleep data (like showing it on a graph, like other stats).

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Screenshot_20180728_151023

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However, as many have pointed out, there’s a large gap between the number of steps and calories on Mi Fit and Google Fit. Looking at the activity log, it looks like GFit added up the step count from both walking and running from the band into the total step count, making it show way more steps than Mi Fit, which only shows the step count from walking. The funny thing is, I didn’t consider myself running at that time – I thought I was just walking in a faster pace than usual, and wouldn’t that be detected by Mi Fit as ‘fast walking’? The whole thing is confusing.

Accessories

The wide availability of third-party straps is one of the reasons why I chose the Mi Band. They cost from <$1 to $20, and most models are available in multiple colors. Most are made of TPU, but there are also metal, leather, and nylon straps. You can find straps with traditional watch buckles instead of the button closure, strap extenders if you have large wrists, or a magnetic frame to secure the module to the strap instead of simply insert it from the back (I’ve heard of modules popping out of the front of poorly-made straps, but it’s unlikely to happen with this type of strap). I haven’t even started with the available patterns.

There are screen protectors, too – not only the obligatory clear ones, but also colorful screen protectors that cover the touch button, with a square window to expose the screen and a picture like the Batman insignia below it. To me, not only they emphasize how tiny the screen is, some of them are quite tacky.

For additional straps, I think your best bet is the Mijobs brand. I’ve bought some of them, and they’re pretty satisfactory.

A simple Mijobs TPU strap.
A patterned silicone strap that reminds me of Fitbit straps. Would be my favorite if only it’s not too large for my wrist, making the tracker prone to popping out of the strap, so I only wore it when I’m at home).
A Mijobs ‘Aurora’ strap, with slightly flimsy but secure closure and a defect on the white ring (It doesn’t bother me much, and due to the low price, I didn’t demand a refund)
A Mijobs ‘Classical Youth’ silicone strap, with metal frame.
A Mijobs ‘Plus’ leather strap with metal frame.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m satisfied, but maybe because I don’t want a lot from the band. I want to track how many steps I walked in a day, and the Mi Band 2 does it very well. The sleep tracking is a nice bonus. The app still needs some improvements, like a more detailed history page and more settings for notifications. The Google Fit integration works, although the phantom ‘running’ stat is confusing. This doesn’t really bother me, since I don’t use Google Fit really often these days. These problems can actually be fixed by using a 3rd-party app, which I’d like to try soon.

As for the size and shape, it’s perfect, and I think I’m getting used to the teeny-tiny screen – a bigger screen would mean a reduced battery life. The strap is very comfortable, and it’s really easy to find replacements. The straps are a major selling point for me – there are many smartbands with better features (reflective/color/always-on screen, built-in USB plug, activity modes, constant heart rate monitoring, watchfaces, etc), but none of them have as many varieties as the Mi Band 2.

At the end, it’s a good basic activity tracker that successfully motivates me to walk more.  As much as I like the simplicity of it, I’m still thinking of buying a smartband/watch with more features, like an Amazfit Bip.

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