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 you'll also be able to comfortably sleep with it still on your wrist.
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 that distance then sat at my desk for half an hour.
Xiaomi Mi Band tips and tricks: Get more from your budget fitness tracker
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. And 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, is what separates the Mi Band Pulse 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 reliablechest strap. That's something we've seen with much more expensive trackers as well though so I'm not at all surprised.