Review: UA Band

Introduction and display

To say that HTC has taken its time before making any sort of move in wearables is an understatement. During the scene’s explosive formative years, the Taiwanese hardware giant idled while companies like Fitbit, Jawbone, Microsoft, Apple and Google ran full-speed, shuffling to raise the bar over each other.

Now, HTC is teaming up with Under Armour, one of the biggest names in performance sporting goods, to create a fitness tracker called the UA Band. While not particularly impressive compared to modern smartwatches like the Apple Watch or the Samsung Gear S2, it blends the best that the category’s old guard has to offer with a smart companion app called UA Record. Plus, it makes tracking and accomplishing your fitness goals painless and rewarding.

UA Band review

Display

Fans of the HTC Grip‘s low-res rectangular display that was shown off at last year’s Mobile World Congress will enjoy what the UA Band has to offer. That’s because the Band, more or less, is the Grip. Or at least, what has become of it. The 1.3″ PMOLED touchscreen certainly doesn’t scream quality at first sight, especially with big-name contenders in mind, but UA and HTC’s slick presentation of the on-screen elements is simple and efficiently mapped-out.

Giving its red button a press brings the touch-sensitive display to life and shows the time by default. From here, you can easily drill down into another level of the user interface with a tap, or navigate between each easily, with a swipe of the finger to the left or right.

The seamless PMOLED screen beams tweakable strengths of soft, white light and the animated transitions baked into HTC and UA’s “Real Time OS” are fluid. (Though, you’ll be disappointed if you’re hoping for Pebble Time-levels of panache.) The color palette is certainly limited here, but to have everything readable at-a-glance is a trade I’ll gladly make over some potential battery-draining flourishes.

Design and comfort

One look at the UA Band and you’ll agree: this is, by no means, a re-imagining of the modern wearable. Still, once wrapped around your wrist, it feels refined and unobtrusive. That’s because its design is lightweight and seamless, perfect for a wearable that gets better the more you wear it.

The Band rocks a cohesive design that expertly strides the line between sporty and fashionable. But, no matter which camp you personally lean closer to, its looks blend in well with any outfit. Unless you hang around a crowd who are wise in wearables, passersby will probably just thing you’re wearing a black, rubber bracelet.

UA Band review

In terms of build materials, much of the Band and its straps are made up of flexible silicon, which aids in its sweat proof, water-resistant efforts. The only section where you’ll find anything else is on the frosted plastic top and its underside, which is capped in tough, red plastic.

Facing up is the PMOLED display, which blends well inside of the all-black body of the Band. Its sole button is located on the side, which powers the watch on and off. Through UA Record, you can customize the orientation of the screen. So, if you’d rather have the button facing up instead of down, you’re in luck. It’s a small detail, but any added customization is welcome.

UA Band review

Extending off of the Band’s sides are the dot-patterned straps. To put them around your wrist, feed the excess slack of the strap through the loop until you find whichever holes feel the most comfortable. It’s like the mechanism built into the Fitbit Flex, and does good to stay locked into your selection through sleep, workouts, showers, etc.

The Band’s pre-installed strap accommodates a wide range of wrist sizes, yet HTC and UA have also included a strap for tinier wrists that you can swap out with a SIM tool.

Editor’s note: our review unit came included in the UA Healthbox, so, although it’s unlikely, the aforementioned goodies could differ from what will be actually packed inside the UA Band retail unit. We’ll reach out to HTC and UA for confirmation and update this review promptly.

UA Band review

Flipped over, the red-bellied UA Band reveals its heart rate sensor and battery charging port. Included with the purchase is a proprietary charger which connects via USB. Latching said charger to the UA Band on the first try requires a bit of practice and finesse, as it isn’t very intuitive. But, once secure, the magnetic clasp is tough enough to let it dangle from the outlet while charging.

Comfort

A wearable is something you have to live with, so you’re going to want to make sure it’s comfortable. Thankfully, with the UA Band, there are no pinched arm hairs, awkward rubbing, or rashes to be had. Its design yields comfort that lasts all day, all week, and even all month, if you’re in it for the long haul.

It’s quite easy to judge a fitness tracker’s comfort before you actually spend valuable time living with it, but the Band makes a solid first impression. Once you find the sizing that suits you best and snap the teeth into the strap, it barely feels like anything is on your wrist.

UA Band review

Branching off of my early impressions, implementing the UA Band into my life continues to be painless. From the start, it has been a set-it-and-forget-it affair, but I’ve grown to relish its simple aesthetic and lightweight design. And since I’m at the desk more often than not, I really like that it doesn’t get in the way of my mouse-wielding hand.

Specs, performance and companion app

Just like most fitness trackers, looking at specs alone doesn’t paint the entire picture of what it’s capable of. If the Apple Watch or Moto 360 are floating around in your mind as potential purchases, then sure, you probably won’t be too impressed with what the UA Band has under the hood. Still, my take is that it does quite a lot with a little.

At its core, UA and HTC’s wearable runs on its own proprietary operating system called “Real Time OS” and is backed by an ARM Cortex-M4 processor. In terms of internal memory, there is 8MB of Flash storage and 4MB of SRAM, the latter of which is used to perpetually log and store your activities throughout each day of use.

The UA Band is stocked with a 112mAh battery and a vibrating motor to alert you with whichever notifications you set. Its built-in “Motion G Sensor” and gyrometer allow you to track your workouts without a phone, if you so choose.

To top things off, this tracker tethers to your smart device via low-energy Bluetooth and can survive submersion in water up to a depth of 2ATM (about 33 feet).

Performance

A fitness tracker that nails design and comfort puts it ahead of most options out there, but it needs to perform -and keep performing over time- in order to be worth your consideration. The UA Band makes good on both counts. It’s little coincidence that its good looks mirror how easy and fun it can be to use.

Despite its small 1.36-inch screen, the touch gestures work surprisingly well. During workouts, I love that broader strokes and taps of the finger were recognized just as well as touch commands made with pin-point accuracy. This means that you don’t have to quit what you’re during to track your daily step activity, or to begin logging an exercise. It’s an especially valuable perk for those in the flow of a blood-pumping jog, or for people who just don’t want to channel much thought into operating a touchscreen *raises hand*.

In terms of tracking, the UA Band is reliable at collecting and displaying data in a digestible manner. Starting with the “Activity” slide, this is where you can see the amount of steps taken throughout the day. Through the app, you can set a step goal and the wearable gives you an up-to-date look at how far you’ve progressed. Once you reach your target, a neat animation takes over the screen and a flurry of vibrations pulse through the Band as a congratulations.

UA Band review

On the “Sleep” section one swipe over, the UA Band displays the amount of sleep you got last night. By default, it detects your sleep patterns automatically by tracking changes in your heart rate. I’m no software engineer, but I’d posit that the Band cross-checks a decrease in resting heart rate with the time of day, then begins tallying your sleep. When your heart picks back up to normal levels, it ends the monitoring. Of course, you can track sleep manually, too. Either way, it’s accurate and I enjoy checking out fun sleep-related metrics, like how long I was in deep and light sleep states each night.

The last two slides allow you to check your heart rate and start a workout, respectively. There isn’t much to say about the heart rate sensor other than it works as intended. It’s a handy informational tool to check when you’re working hard on a workout. Lastly, the “Fitness” page is where you can trigger a specific type of workout that is tracked through the app. The Band supports a diverse lineup of workouts, ranging from yoga and golf, to walking and baseball, and can track them each in UA Record.

UA Band review

The Band’s durability came into question a few weeks after I started using it. Though its build materials feel high-quality and are scratch-resistant to everyday aggressors like fingernails, or even razor-sharp cat claws, I was able to ding it up pretty good. I’m not exactly sure how or when it happened, but the Band somehow collected a big scuff on its front. Not just that, the black strap clasp, clad with an HTC logo, suffered a bit of wear and tear from normal use. Altogether, it’s nothing that impacts my experience using the Band, but nevertheless, is disappointing to encounter incidentally with a sub-$200 device.

Companion app

The UA Band offers a user-friendly experience, even for those who are new to wearables. This is partly because it’s just plain easy to use, but also because its companion app, UA Record, does all the leg work. What’s more, from the initial setup to everyday operation, getting the most out of the band and app doesn’t require a huge time commitment. Once you input your height and weight into the UA Record app and get your phone synced up with the Band, there isn’t much more to fiddle with. Just continue on with your life. Unless, of course, you’re a fiddler. Then, you’ll be entertained by the presentation of your metrics in UA’s beautifully-designed app.

As mentioned earlier, each of the features that you can swipe between on the wearable reflects what you’ll find in the app. But, whereas the Band only shows the current day’s metrics and, in some cases, how close you are to reaching your goals, the UA Record app contains more in-depth statistics to let you look at, say, a week, or a month’s worth of data at a glance. After a few days of recording your stats, it’s just plain fun to look back and see the ways in which improved yourself, and where you need to work harder, too.

UA Band review

Upon booting up the app, you’re greeted with a compacted view of today’s metrics. It’s meant to be digestible in the case that it’s all you’re concerned with. At the bottom of the homescreen is a unique feature simply called “How Do You Feel?”. Everyday, you can select a number from one (being the worst) to ten (being the best). In its current state, it’s hard to tell what the end-game for this feature will be. But, if UA’s recently announced partnership with IBM is any indication, incoming insights by Watson promise to the make the UA Band one of the smartest around. But right now, I like that, at the very least, it inspires me to learn what amounts of sleep and general activity make for an overall good-feeling day.

If you don’t want to completely ditch your current tracking software (or your tracker, for that matter), UA Record can also sync data from a ton of external services, such as Apple Health, Google Fit, Garmin’s Connect, Jawbone, Withings, Fitbit, Misfit and more.

Then, there’s the social aspect to Record. The drive to use UA’s app over, say, whichever one you’re using at the moment, is based in our natural desire to compete with each other. You can create timed challenges with friends, encourage them to complete their goals, or rub it in their faces when you out-exercise them.

Competitors, compatibility and battery life

The Band competes in a tough field of opponents who have been at the game much longer than Under Armour and HTC. Despite their lack of experience, this rookie effort takes comparable trackers from the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone head-on in terms of features, a fetching design and the reliability of its tracking capabilities.

Compared to a wearable like the Jawbone UP2, the UA Band tracks steps and sleep just as well and the discreet, but informative PMOLED touch display removes the guesswork from the UP2’s troublesome touchpad. The Band isn’t as chic, nor does it offer IFTTT capabilities that are built into the UP2’s app API, but it supports as many, if not more, third-party fitness tracking services. However, these positives come at the expense of, well, expense. The Band currently costs twice as much.

Garmin Vivosmart

It can’t be denied that the UA Band has an uncanny resemblance to Garmin’s Vivosmart fitness tracker. They each rock a minimalistic design, built with a rectangular, touch-sensitive panel. As someone who digs the style that the Band puts forward, I also really like the Vivosmart’s look. Fortunately for the Band, we hated the Vivosmart’s battery charging cradle and the screen isn’t as efficiently laid out. That said, UA’s tracker is much more expensive.

Compatibility

Under Armour and HTC’s debut fitness tracker is compatible out of the box with iOS 8 and above smartphones or tablets, as well as all Android 4.4 and above devices. The user experience on each app is exactly the same, so no one’s getting the short end of the stick here.

Whichever mobile phone operating system you use, setting up the UA Band involves pairing it over Bluetooth, which can be done in the settings menu, or more easily through UA Record. And while not exactly cutting-edge, the UA Band is also able to display notifications for texts and calls on iOS and Android, so you don’t have to yank your smartphone out every few minutes.

UA Band review

Battery life

The 112mAh battery embedded into the UA Band is said to last up to five days before requiring a recharge. During my tests, which put the battery through over ten cycles, this tracker has no issue meeting the advertised battery life.

From what I could tell, having notifications funneled through the Band didn’t make an noticeable impact on its battery performance. Plus, the screen is easy to read even on the lowest brightness level, so there’s no reason to have it turned up.

The battery charges quickly via its included USB cable. From less than 10% battery capacity left, it filled back up in less than 40 minutes.

Verdict

Under Armour and HTC’s joint efforts have produced a solid fitness tracker that demands your attention. If not just for its looks alone, its performance with and without the companion app, UA Record, makes it a cohesive, smart buy for those looking to get fit.

We liked

The design doesn’t rock the boat compared to more exquisite timepieces like the Huawei Watch, Moto 360 or the Apple Watch, but it is one of the most refined fitness trackers out there. The design is seamless and better yet, it yields comfort that often times makes you forget you’re wearing it at all.

The benefit of the already-stellar companion app means that the UA Band will continue to be improved upon in the future. Since the announcement of a partnership with IBM’s Watson, we’re eager to see how this is put into motion. But what’s currently available is informative and rewarding.

We disliked

Though the Band does a lot right, it comes at a pretty high cost. $180 (about £126, AU$262) to be specific. This price range nearly puts it into the smartwatch bracket, with which it can’t stack up to based on its comparatively limited functionality.

The frosted plastic body of the Band looks and feels durable, but it tends to scratch quite easily. I felt as though I was careful while using it, but it somehow ended up with some ugly blemishes that can’t be buffed out. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a concern, nevertheless.

Final verdict

Well-built technology ecosystems are rarely affordable to buy into, and what Under Armour and HTC have built in the Band and its companion app, Record is a good case in point. This fitness tracker mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do, only faltering with its questionable scratch-resistance and high price tag.

I’d recommend this fitness tracker for anyone on the market who is looking for a stylish and fun to use device. The UA Band costs a small premium, but with that extra cash you might have saved, you’ll be buying into a fantastic mashup of hardware and software.

 

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