A low cost fitness band perfect for those a little more casual about what they're tracking
Xiaomi started out making its own custom version of Android, MIUI. Then it started making phones. Now, just 4 years on from first existing as a company there is a whole range of other products you can buy besides phones. A tablet, earphones, battery packs, routers, and even a fitness band.
It's the last of those that we have here. The Xiaomi MiBand. The official price in China translates to $13 in the U.S. which, however you choose to look at it, is an insanely low price for a device in this category. But is it any good?
Read on to find out.
There's really not much to the hardware from the outside. You get that impression immediately upon opening the box. This is no smartwatch pretending to be a fitness tracker, or a fitness tracker pretending to be a smartwatch. There's no controls, no display. Just a band and a silver dongle with three LEDs on its outer face.
The band is made of silicon which while not particularly flashy does mean the MiBand is very comfortable to wear. It's adjustable, too, in the same way a watch band would be from the very small wrist right up to the not so small. It does mark quite easily, but they're interchangeable at least. So if it gets too damaged, there's a bunch of different colors to replace it with. There's also supposed to be a leather band, but if you ever see one of those for sale, make sure you send me the link.
As for the dongle, there's nothing to it, really. Black on the rear, aluminum on the front and on the button/clasp and three LEDs within. It charges via the pins on one end which dock into the proprietary charger. It's an idea to keep that charger safe, too, since you won't be using it that often and it's certainly small enough to lose. It's also IP67 rated, so don't worry about taking it off when you get in the shower.
Inside, the MiBand houses a paltry sounding 41mAh battery. But numbers don't tell the story as Xiaomi claims 30 days battery life and you know what? They're not lying. I've not worn this one long enough to test that fully, but after 10 days there was still 74% of the battery remaining. And that's outstanding.
The MiBand isn't the sort of device that you're going to spend more than a couple of minutes setting up and adjusting. It's a strap it on and forget about it kind of device. Just take it off once a month to charge the battery.
Software and features
It's here that will ultimately make or break the MiBand experience. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the hardware. It looks a little uninspiring, but that's about it. But as you'd perhaps expect from a device with no display of any kind, features are limited.
Essentially you're going to be tracking your steps and your sleep. If you step up to a fast walk or a jog it will keep counting and also log how much of this you did, but it's not yet a dedicated run tracker. Without a display you're going to do most of the work inside the companion app, but the LED lights on the outside will indicate a few things. When you're one-third and two-thirds of the way to your daily goal, and it'll go mad and flash and vibrate when you reach your target. It'll also start to flash when the battery gets low and when you're pairing, and the colors can be changed within the app, too.
The MiBand app will break out your running stats within your overview each day. Which brings us to how you interact with it. The MiBand has its own app – available either from Xiaomi directly or through the Google Play Store – which you use to pair your phone and interact with the band. Currently this is the only way to collect and use the data the MiBand collects.
The isolation of the data in this way will instantly put some folks off buying it. And that's fine. But what the MiBand app does do, it does very well. It's a really simple interface made up mainly of a large circle showing you how many steps you've taken or how long you slept for. Beneath that you'll see a quick breakdown of the stats. Tapping on the little graph icon up top will show you an even more detailed breakdown.
Besides walking and sleeping, the MiBand can also track sit-ups and jump rope activity, but there's also a section in there to vote for which sports you want to see added next. You can also integrate your WeChat account – presumably to share your activities with your friends – and manually share to a few other options.
You do also get a few "smart" options with the MiBand as well. It's able to serve you as a great alarm clock in the morning, vibrating strong enough to wake you and likely the person next to you. But it does work. You set the time you want to rise inside the app and tell it how often you want to wake up at that time. If you're really mad you're even able to turn on an early bird option that will set the alarm off half an hour early. Personally, I prefer to leave that turned off.
The MiBand can also vibrate when you don't answer a phone call. It isn't like a smartwatch where it will vibrate the second the phone starts to ring, but rather after a pre-defined time period. If you set it to the shortest, three seconds, it's enough time to answer the phone before the caller hangs up.
The app also allows you to set the band to vibrate on reception of notifications. This however doesn't seem to work on any of the phones I've been testing it with, so it may be one of the features exclusive to Xiaomi phones at this time. Also exclusive to Xiaomi phones is the ability to set the MiBand as a trusted device to bypass your phones passcode, and this works as well as you'd want it to. After a short setup involving touching the MiBand to the phone, your lock screen passcode will be disabled while your phone is connected to the band.
So it's restricted in what it will do for you, but to some that'll be just fine. I'm definitely of the more casual approach to tracking this kind of data, so the MiBand suits just fine. Sleep tracking seems pretty accurate – gauging this as a new parent it seems to have it pretty much on the money – though step count seems to have a bigger margin for error. 78 steps completed in bed? I don't think so.
The bottom line
The Xiaomi MiBand certainly isn't going to be for everyone. But it is a fitness band for everyone. Anyone put off by the much higher prices commanded by the likes of Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike et al will immediately have a barrier removed by the MiBand. I imported this one to the UK for little over £20 including shipping (which itself accounted for around one-third of the total price) which puts it substantially below the competition in that regard.
If you're a serious health and fitness tracker, then move along, you more than likely won't find the MiBand up to the standard you're looking for. But for those of us who are less concerned with absolute accuracy and using the data with other apps and services, it's an option definitely worth considering.
I want to encourage myself to just be a little more active. To (try to) sleep well, to get up and walk more during the day. The MiBand is absolutely perfect for that with the added bonus of a months battery life between charges. If, like me, you just want to try and be a little more active and keep track of it without spending a lot, then check it out. It's a really good device.
If you're interested in buying, there are plenty of online retailers that will get you one to North America and Europe. Currently XiaomiShop.com is selling them for $19.99 plus shipping.