The Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse, the Chinese manufacturer’s new heart rate monitoring fitness band, is ludicrously cheap. It can be picked up in China for next to the price of the original Mi Band at 99 Yuan and is on sale in Xiaomi’s global store for the slightly higher sum of $27.
That said, an incredibly cheap tracker that doesn’t work is probably worse than no tracker at all. So will the Pulse shift another 10 million wearables for Xiaomi and does it deserve to? Probably to that first question and not quite to the second.
Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse: Design
We’ve very much in Wearable Tech 1.0 territory with the Mi Band Pulse’s design. It’s almost identical to the original Mi Band with a small, oval shaped module with a clean, matte finish and a selection of black or coloured rubber bands (the colours cost slightly more).
If Misfit hadn’t slashed its prices so ferociously we would have stuck with our verdict on the Mi Band’s design and build. It does still work because it’s so simple – no fiddling about with annoying clasps plus a handy IP67 dust and waterproof rating.
And it’s only half a gram heavier than the first Mi Band at 13.5g which, for the record, is so light you’ll forget you’re wearing it and also be able to comfortably sleep with it still on your wrist.
But with the Misfit Flash and Flash Link also now selling for rock bottom (from $16.99) prices, in most cases we’d recommend checking those two trackers out. They are more stylish, more versatile and, most importantly, more accurate than the Mi Band family.
The Mi Band Pulse is slightly chunkier than its predecessor, due to the optical heart rate monitor, but it’s hard to spot the difference. Still annoying is the small bit of metal which will scrape on laptops.
As with the Mi Band, I didn’t pay too much attention to the three LEDs on top of the tracker but they can be customised to show your daily progress. Overall, it’s a durable build but the bands do get scuffed up quite quickly so be prepared to buy a replacement at some point.
Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse: Tracking
The Mi Band Pulse tracks steps, distance and estimates calories/grams of fat burned, just like the first Mi Band. It also breaks your walking and running into blocks of active time and presents hourly, daily, weekly and monthly graphs.
In general the Mi Band Pulse, like the first one, tends to overestimate steps – and so, everything else – and I did still tend to find entries in the Mi Fit app timeline that had me covering 1.7km when I know I walked about half distance that then sat at my desk for half an hour.
That doesn’t mean it’s off entirely, the Mi Band Pulse successfully recognised runs and workouts, it just means that Mi Fit You ends up looking slightly more active than Real You.
There have been some accusations that the Mi Band Pulse is more prone to counting steps when you are simply moving your arm. If you’re hell bent on this budget tracker then I guess my only suggestion is to take it off when typing, for instance. Again, I’d recommend a Misfit tracker over a Mi Band.
The sleep tracking, which employs optical HRM readings at 10 minute intervals to help in monitoring, was actually pretty usable. It was hit and miss, of course, so you’ll need to keep an eye on your light sleep stats to check you weren’t just frozen in concentration while watching the latest Making a Murderer on the couch.
But what’s good here is that even though the Mi Band Pulse has auto sleep detection, on the sleep tabs in the app, you can edit the ‘fell asleep at’ and ‘woke up at’ times the next day. A bunch of wearables with auto sleep detection that are also not 100% accurate don’t let you correct it which is hella annoying.
And, to be fair, one night I was lying awake in bed at 2.30am, suffering from post-CES jetlag, listening to the Call Your Girlfriend podcast. The next day, the Mi Band Pulse correctly logged that I didn’t actually get to sleep till 3am even though I was lying there, cursing long distance flights, for hours.
Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse: Heart rate tracking
The new optical heart rate sensor, which uses photoelectric light perception, on the Mi Band Pulse is what separates it from rival budget trackers. It helps with the sleep tracking, like I said, and I can vouch for the fact that if you wake up in the middle of the night, you might see its green light blinking.
For on the spot readings and keeping an eye on your resting heart rate, the Mi Band Pulse is accurate enough. It takes a good 20 – 30 seconds to fire it up but when it does, I found that its readings were accurate to within 5-10 bpm even when compared with a chest strap (more on that in a second).
That said, in the Mi Fit app itself, bpm readings are presented in a list with the date, time and ‘slow’, ‘fast’ or ‘normal’ which isn’t very useful at all.
As for using heart rate readings during exercise, it’s not continuous or quick enough for glanceable info for a start. The Mi Band Pulse also really struggles with when your heart gets going, during runs and workouts it was all over the place when compared to the reliable Wahoo Tickr X chest strap. That’s something we’ve seen with much more expensive trackers so I’m not at all surprised.
Essentially, it’s a nice addition for resting heart rate readings but nothing better than what you’d get on say, an Android Wear watch.
Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse: The Mi Fit app
Xiaomi’s companion fitness app is fairly basic with daily totals, graphs to swipe through, the option to share your day’s progress on social media and a bunch of settings. There’s not much to motivate you here compared to more sophisticated ecosystems, though you will get a nudge when you’ve hit your step goal for the day and a total distance on your profile page.
Quick note: If you’re finding it impossible to sign up or log in to Mi Fit, it’s best to do so on desktop then sign in on the iPhone or Android app. Don’t ask us why, just another Xiaomi quirk.
The good news is that Mi Fit is compatible with both Google Fit and Apple Health, though with the latter you can only share steps and sleep data with Apple. With Google Fit, the Mi Fit app successfully shared steps, calories burned, distance and sleep data though annoyingly it transfers over Xiaomi’s blocks of activity which don’t always make for the most useful scrolling.
The Mi Fit app is also where you can set up extra features like the Mi Band’s alarm and app notifications for up to three apps that you choose. That’s a bit of a shame but at least you can choose WhatsApp which is more than you can say for recent Fitbit trackers. The vibrations are on the loud side but they’re strong enough that you won’t miss them.
Mi Fit can also send you an activity summary every day at 9.30pm and a sleep summary after you wake up, both of which are fairly reliable. In the app you can also see the current charge status of your Mi Band Pulse with when you last charged it (which, to be honest, tends to be wrong). If you have a Xiaomi phone, the Mi Fit can even be used to unlock it.
Xiaomi Mi Band Pulse: Battery life
I got caught out by the Mi Band Pulse’s shorter battery life but it’s still decent compared to the Fitbits and Jawbones of the wearable tech world. If you’re using the heart rate monitoring casually and not every night while asleep (by turning off ‘sleep assistant’), then the Mi Band Pulse will stretch to between ten days and two weeks.
That’s half the battery life of the Mi Band and much less than a Misfit Flash or Jawbone UP Move which can run for weeks and weeks (actually up to six months) on a coin cell battery. Misfit prides itself on power management and doesn’t offer any heart rate tracking but it’s still worth considering because charging pretty trackers is a pain but charging budget ones feels like even more of a chore.
And, damn, that proprietary charger is easy to lose. I would have preferred a dock but at this price, I’m not going to be too much of a diva about it.