Mi Band: A Ridiculously Cheap Option

Multiple colors available including black. Image from the mi website.

I was down with a bad bout of flu/cold/fever late January which floored me for 2 solid weeks. 2 solid weeks of inactivity and loss of a back-to-back over an extended holiday weekend! The cause was unclear but I suspect the lack of sleep depleted whatever’s left of my immunal defense system. The lack of sleep was a result of adjusting to the new school year. Instead of relying on the services of a school van this year, we’re now driving C2 to school. With the alarm going off at 5:50am, we’re getting less than 6 hours of sleep (even less if you’re looking at the deep sleep phase) on most nights. Sleeping earlier is impossible since we only reach home around 9:15pm (shakes fist at the KL traffic!) and be done with dinner and all the cleaning up at 10pm. Then there are the emails to clear, reading and some coaching of the kids to attend to. Even with no TV time, midnight comes too soon!

When marathon training is added into the mix, I was walking a tightrope. The rest, as the say, is history. I realized then that I’ve to pay more attention to my sleep patterns and make little adjustments here and there to my lifestyle. I no longer check my emails on a daily basis. I’ve also reduced my rice intake during dinner, only taking in mostly vegetables, some meat and soup, so that less food sit in the stomach that late into the day.

Sidebar: You only need to listen to this fascinating podcast by Coach Jay Johnson with Dr. Mike Dedekian to convince you on the importance of getting enough sleep, in the context of a growing kid or if you’re a runner in training. The impact of sleep on the endocrine system was also discussed. Look for Podcast 026 here.

Next, I downloaded some sleep tracking apps for the iPhone. Sleep Time logs the usual metrics such as duration of light and deep sleep, REM. You can even choose to fall asleep to music. There is, of course, an alarm function. Smart Alarm does the same thing but includes a sound recorder feature. You’ll find out the next day if you’ve mumbled or revealed any secrets at any point of the night. Somniloquy may have negative effects on the sleep quality. I found it spooky listening to the voice recording the next day. What if you recorded something which really isn’t from this dimension? Right, I may have a hyperactive imagination.

Which led me to research some wristworn wearables from Jawbone, Fitbit, Garmin, and Samsung. Pretty soon, the Apple Watch will be thrown into the ring as well. Typically these wearables offer silent vibrating alarms, tracks activities and sleep while the more expensive ones have preset reminders to get you off your chair to keep you active. Some even link to your smartphone in providing you with alerts and some rudimentary messaging features. The problem is I found that not only are these devices expensive (RM499 and above), they’re rather buggy in many areas from user experience to syncing with the phone. RM499 is RM400 more than my tolerance for a nice-to-have item.

A note on the silent alarm: I can’t help but be enthused by this feature. No more waking up the spouse when my weekend alarm goes off at 4:15am!

It was through digging around for information that I discovered the Mi Band. Everyone, in this region at least, knows the company Xiaomi. They’ve sold millions of their very affordable and highly spec’ed Android phones and tablets, and powerbanks, modelling much of their design and marketing after Apple’s. Which tech company doesn’t, right?

The price of the Mi Band was what first caught my eye. The “princely” price tag of RM59 had me refreshing my browser just to be sure I wasn’t seeing it wrong. The specs were impressive as you can see from the screen grabs below. You can head to the product page to read up more.

Other than the price, here are the other features:

  1. 30-day battery (rechargeable via USB)
  2. Mil-grade accelerometer (what they claim)
  3. IP67 water/dust resistance

 

 

Image from the mi website

 

Image from the mi website showing the exploded view of the parts.
From the mi website.

Being the cheapo, I ordered 2 units to take advantage of the free shipping above RM100, with the other unit going to my colleague. Delivery was quick and I received the package in 4 business days. The first thing you’ve to ensure is that the unit is fully charged. To do that, just pop the sensor out from the hypoallergenic silicone band and pop the suppository-shaped (!) sensor into the proprietory USB charging housing. The 3 LED indicators will tell you the status of the charging level. A full charge took me around 2 hours.

Other than the status of goals achieved for the day, the 3 LEDs indicate the charging level.

Next was to download the free Mi Fit app from the iTunes App Store before pairing the phone and band. This was easily and quickly done by hard tapping the band to wake it up. Finally, I did some customization such as personal info, alarm options, LED color preference. I didn’t change the defaulted 8,000-step goal just so that I can get a feel of the metrics. Again, the updates were easily and seamlessly synced to the band – no manual intervention needed. Naturally you need to ensure that you’ve enabled Bluetooth on your phone prior to the sync.

Firmware updates are also accomplished via Bluetooth. You will be prompted by the Mi Fit app whenever that is required. With all that done (within 5 minutes, really), you’re good to go. Nothing else needs to be done. When it’s time for bed, there’s no need to enable the sleep tracking mode simply because it somehow knows.

I’ve had the Mi Band for less than a week and there’s little to complain. With the exception of 2 days, I’ve been meeting my daily activity goals of 8,000 steps (I noted that that approximates to around a 6K run) whenever I run. All 3 LEDs will flash and the band will vibrate when the said goal is met. I’ll need to jack the goal upwards when the meat of marathon training starts in March. Though I’m seeing some improvement, I can still do better in the sleep department. There are some negatives of course (see end of review), one of which is the claimed LED status display where it’s suppose to show you a lit LED for every 1/3 of daily goal achieved. Doesn’t work. However at the cost of 6 Starbucks latte, I’m not complaining much.

Sync in progress.
Logging screens
Plonks all the details into the iOS Health app.

Will gear like the Mi Band and smartphone apps help you sleep better? I don’t think so. But with numbers attached to your nightly downtime, you’ll be able to tell how well you’re resting further allowing you to adjust your routine and lifestyle accordingly. For a sleep deprived person like me, that’s very helpful.

Fits my skinny wrist just nice.

Pros

  1. Decent activity tracker.
  2. Lightweight and comfortable for all-day wearing.
  3. Android and iOS support.
  4. Integrates with iOS Health app.
  5. Fast Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity and transfer.
  6. Frequent firmware updates.
  7. Strong vibrating alarm.
  8. 30-minute pre-alarm wake-up buzz.
  9. More features are enabled (such as lock/unlock, call alerts) if you’ve a Mi device, e.g. the Mi 3 or Redmi Note.
  10. Barrel scraping price.


Cons

  1. The lift-to-view-status of the LED doesn’t work, at least in my unit.
  2. Bracelet clasp finicky but secure once put on.
  3. No snooze so if you missed the wake up buzz, you could potentially oversleep. Best to have a backup alarm.
  4. No hourly buzz to remind you to get off the couch.
  5. No online community, unlike Garmin Connect.

Website: http://www.mi.com/my/miband/

Originally published: Feb 17th, 2015. Mi has since released Mi Band 2 which incorporates an optical heart rate sensor. The Band 2 still retails at a ridiculously cheape price.

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