In a crowded marketplace, it's always good to carve out a niche - and this is what Microsoft did in the wearables space with the original Band, reviewed here. The idea was to do a lot more than a humble 'fitness band', yet stop short of a full smartwatch. As a result, the Band could be a big aid to your life while keeping a multi-day battery life. It was clunky though - and now we have the Band 2, in theory more comfortable, more durable and better in every way. We're well away from 'prototype' territory this time round, and it remains the smartest thing you can hook up to a Windows Phone, in particular...
Recent Reviews - Hardware
Bluetooth keyboards have gone into and out of fashion over the years, but they're definitely in vogue at the moment, thanks to the use of tablets and 'phablet'-style large-screened smartphones, where a wireless full size keyboard can turn the device into a mini-laptop. Microsoft's new offering is ultra-premium and rather quirky, not least because of the early state of Windows 10 Mobile, but has a few unique features and is worth a look if the price doesn't put you off.
The search has been on for several years for a replacement for the (now no longer produced) Proporta Pocket Power, an all in one, no cables needed, truly credit card sized emergency charger - and, right up at the premium end of the market we now have a candidate, offering full 2A output and able to deliver around 700mAh at 5V in about 20 minutes. While only around a one third charge for today's smartphones, that this fits unobtrusively in your wallet in a card slot makes this a terrific (if slightly pricey) accessory to get you to the end of a long day. Coming in deluxe packaging, with extras, it's also just about the perfect gift for a smartphone owner, as I explore below.
Even if you do the usual 3.7V/5V maths to calculate the actual power available at the voltage your smartphone needs it (i.e. the 5V level), you still end up with well over 15,000mAh of useable charge from this new 'Executive' power bank. Add in a unique backlit LED readout, triple output jacks and a torch function and you've got a really, really interesting mobile accessory.
Microsoft's own reviewer's guide for this, the Band, talks about it being 'the first device powered by Microsoft Health', and this is the key to understanding the accessory itself. Introduced initially in the USA at the end of last year, there was a feeling that it might never reach the rest of the world in that form, since the Band was quite clearly a 'version 1' and with many flaws. That it has made it to the UK in late April 2015 is handy because it means we get to play with it - and appreciate it, but don't be fooled that the Band is attempting to be a serious mass market product yet. Wait for 'Band 2', slimmer, lighter, tougher and cheaper.
Even though we reviewed the more unusual and unique Lumia 640 XL first, don't be deceived - it's the vanilla 640 that will receive the lion's share of Microsoft's marketing and the lion's share of the resulting sales. It's cheaper, more normally sized, yet still has decent components and is just about everyone's idea of a "'my first smartphone' that doesn't suck". Which sounds rather dismissive of the 4xx and 5xx series of Lumias, but the 640 is a cut above these devices for not that much more money on the High Street.
With one eye on Asian phablet-loving markets and the other on business markets in Europe, Microsoft has very carefully tailored the new Lumia 640 XL to appeal to both sets of users while keeping cost as low as possible. In the process, with remarkably few compromises and impressing at almost every turn, the 640 XL just became the de facto phablet for anyone wanting to spend £200 rather than £600.
The new bottom of the Lumia range is upon us, a low price but does it all represent a compromise too far, as on the ill-fated Lumia 530? Surprisingly, no, the compromise is very modest, as long as you're happy with a slightly smaller screen and don't need to shoot macro photos...
Back in July last year - so about eight months ago, I reviewed the Lumia 930, fresh out of the box, with a few glitches, with Lumia Cyan and in - ahem - bright orange. Quite a bit has changed since that time, both on the device and in the industry as a whole. Plus it's a whole lot cheaper. With all that in mind, using a few bits from the original review where appropriate plus 80% that's brand new, I wanted to re-review the Lumia 930 in March 2015. Yes, it's not perhaps the flagship that Windows Phone needs as a 'hero' device, but it's currently incredible value at just over £300 SIM-free in the UK (for example), around £150 less than when it launched.
Having already reviewed the Billy 4's big bother device, the Billy 4.7, the smaller, cheaper, more lowly specified device is always going to seem like an anti-climax. And, in truth, much of what was said about the 4.7 is also true here, but in miniature. What of the Billy 5S LTE? We're working on getting that one in, too....