Xiaomi Band 3, First Take: Activity tracking at a rock-bottom price
Xiaomi recently started selling its handsets in the UK, along with a range of wearable and smart home products. Launched at the same time as the Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro (review coming soon), was the Xiaomi Band 3, the third generation of the Chinese company’s wrist-worn activity tracker.
If you’re interested in wearing a wrist band to track paces, heart rate and sleep patterns, as well as viewing handset notifications and even today’s weather with a forward two-day forecast, you can get all this for just £26.99 (inc. VAT) if you opt for Xiaomi’s Band 3. That’s an incredibly low price for this kind of feature set: we recently looked at the Fitbit Charge 3, which offers similar functionality for £129.99. And as I write, the price has fallen to the ‘stocking filler’ level of £19.99.
Importantly, the Band 3 is comfortable to wear. It’s light and fairly minimalist, weighing 20g including the wristband. The rubbery wrist band has plenty of notches to ensure a good fit, and they are secure and held together well. The tracker itself is a lozenge shape measuring just 17.9mm wide, 46.9mm long and 12mm thick, and should feel fine on all but the smallest of wrists.
The front is not all screen, as there’s a touch button below the display. Still, the 128-by-80-pixel OLED delivers a lot of information, and can push out quite complex graphics — the weather forecasting includes images of clouds and other weather icons, for example. The touch button is used in combination with screen sweeps. Left and right sweeps move between main menus, while up and down moves between options within them. I found it tricky to get to grips with this, and I don’t think it was entirely my fault: the touch sensitivity seemed off at times.
The OLED is not the best for reading outside, and you may need to shield it with a cupped hand. In fact, outdoors, I found it almost as convenient to get my phone out as it was to use the Band 3 for notifications or call rejection.
According to Xiaomi, the battery lasts for approximately 20 days. I’ve been using the Band 3 for four days, during which time it has depleted to 89 percent. This means you should be able to travel for a week without the charge cable — which is handy, because charging is a fiddle. The unit itself is a lozenge that must be squeezed out of the wristband for charging; the charge unit then slots into one end and is tethered to USB power by a very short cable.
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When in place on the wristband the lozenge is remarkably firm. The only reason it should come adrift is if it’s not put back accurately after charging.
What about performance?
If there’s one thing a pace counter needs to do accurately, it is count paces. Unfortunately the Band 3 seemed to under count. My Fitbit Charge 2 is pretty accurate at counting my paces, but the Band 3 delivered at least 10 percent fewer paces and sometimes more than that. Some days my Fitbit was a couple of thousand paces ahead of the Band 3 after 13,000 Fitbit paces or more. Paces are converted into distance, with the Band 3 using its own maths, and while this is unlikely to be accurate for everyone (an algorithm based on gender, age and weight simply can’t be right all the time), it would provide a comparator if it accurately counted paces.
Some might argue that accuracy only matters to those who want to do ‘serious’ exercise. If distance measures are out, how can you train seriously for that 5k, 10k, half-marathon or whatever? I think that’s an elitist view. Accuracy matters for everyone, whether they are simply curious about distance travelled or paces taken, trying to improve activity levels, or doing ‘serious’ training. Xiaomi needs to work on its core competencies.
Moreover there are no software nudges to get people to do just that little bit more to reach their goal. Love them or loathe them, these are the stock-in-trade of activity trackers, and it would be good to see Xiaomi’s next-generation Band include more. It does, though, recognise the difference between walking, running and cycling, and users can hand-pick other activities in the app.
Sleep tracking seemed similarly off during my (admittedly short) test period. The band was sometimes a bit confused about how long I was asleep, and I’d need to test it for longer on this metric to determine whether the information provided is accurate enough to be useful in the long term.
The heart rate tracker provides an instant reading on the band, and statistics on the app which show a calculated resting heart rate and other metrics. Again, it didn’t seem very accurate to me, recording data a bit higher than my Fitbit. That’s another metric I’d need to test over a longer period.
I’ve mentioned the app a couple of times. It picked up data from the band very well. Reports are nicely designed — a screenshot shows the breakdown of a short stroll, for example. The app is the route to setting up alerts for metrics like heart rate and pace speed (only for outdoor running), and to tag different activities — oddly, these include things like eating, bathing and brushing teeth which I had no idea counted as exercise!
The Xiaomi Band 3 looks like a bargain at its rock-bottom price, but if you’re interested you should consider the accuracy of its basic capabilities — step counting, distance calculation and heart rate measurement — before taking the plunge.