Honor Band Z1 review: Jack of some trades, master of none

Price when reviewed

Dedicated pedometers are in trouble at the moment. They’re under fire from phones doing the same job passably and smartwatches doing it well. It all makes the concept of having a dedicated fitness tracker seem a bit pointless. It’s just another accessory to keep charged… and where the hell did I leave that proprietary charger anyway?

Honor Band Z1 review: Jack of some trades, master of none

So, they’re in a race to do things that phones can’t or won’t: sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring or just showing the time on your wrist. You know, like a watch. Some, such as the Asus VivoWatch do the whole sort-of-smartwatch thing quite well, but the Honor Band just leaves me scratching my head and wondering who it’s aimed at. It’s fine, but it just doesn’t really excel at anything at all.

Honor Band Z1 review: Appearance

At first glance, the Honor Band is an attractive thing. I have a soft spot for round watch faces, and the stainless steel rim looks good. There are no buttons, and nothing to distract from its appealing, diminutive shape. Weighing in at just 25g and with a 1.06in touchscreen, this makes most smartwatches feel positively obese.

There’s nothing to distract, except for a fairly ugly rubber strap. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious way of changing it, either. Honor has at least tried to make it look a little nicer with a faint criss-cross pattern embossed into it, but it still looks rather tacky compared to the watch face itself.

This feeling is only confirmed when the screen springs to life. Rather than the crisp and clear faces that appear in the press shots, the monochrome P-OLED here is considerably more pixelated, giving it more in common with the first-generation Pebbles than the latest Android Wear beauties.

Of course, there are perfectly good battery-shaped reasons for this, but it does detract from the luxurious feel they’re pitching at. Plus, the press shots mislead here again. The watch faces on Honor’s website clearly extend further out than on the real product, where the designs are held in place by an ugly black box. The round screen, in other words, is just a small square screen in a round frame – and an obvious one at that.

This may seem overly critical, but Honor is marketing this as a beautiful, minimalist product, but upon the slightest inspection the illusion crumbles. In the few days I wore it, the stainless steel rim showed signs of picking up faint but noticeable scratches.

Honor Band Z1 review: Features

In terms of features, the Honor Band performs better. The pedometer tracks steps subtly in the background, and you don’t need to switch on any kind of fitness mode for it to notice you’ve broken into a run. Just as well, as I found bringing the screen to life an inconsistent process.

It’s a touchscreen so, in theory, a jab of the screen should activate it, as should shaking the arm. Neither worked consistently, and it’s times like these when a button would be really handy, even if it meant compromising the purity of the design. On the plus side, once recognised, the touch gestures work extremely well, even through a pair of gloves that my phone’s touch screen refused to recognise.

The passive measurements extend to sleep tracking and buzzing whenever you’re sat still for too long. It can also set off a silent alarm on your wrist so that only you – and not your partner – are disturbed by your selfish need to get out of bed.

It dabbles with smartwatch functionality, but never really gets going. If you have a phone call, your wrist will buzz with the phone number dialling in, but no text messages or emails appeared on the screen, despite claims that they would. On the plus side, the band’s waterproof credentials extend beyond just running in the rain, and there’s no need to take it off when you step into the shower.

Honor Band Z1 review: The Huawei Wear app

The Honor Band, along with most other fitness trackers, requires its own app on your phone. Slightly confusingly, the accompanying app here is the one Honor’s parent company, Huawei, used for its trackers.honor_band_app

It doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary. The homepage gives you an approximation of the time you’ve spent moving and the distance covered (there’s no GPS, meaning they really are just approximations) and, in a cute twist, it equates the calories burned to a food equivalent (“151kcal = Calories from 1 drumstick”).

Other than that, it’s business as usual. Once you’ve figured out how to access your recent stats, rather than just the day you’re on (it’s less intuitive than I’d like), you can see graphs of when you ran and walked, and how good your sleep was each night, broken down to deep and light sleep.

It’s an entirely personal experience – there aren’t any friends to compare with – but what it does works fine and is neatly presented.  

Honor Band Z1 review: Battery life and charging

One area the Honor Band excels in is battery life: no mean feat for such a small device. The monochrome screen and lack of heart rate sensor clearly help here, but it pays off well, with the Band delivering a comfortable three-and-a-half days use during testing. More impressively, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything charge so fast.

The Band was on 10% just before I needed to head out to play football. After putting it in its bespoke magnetic charging cradle, the Honor Band had leapt to 70% charge in less than half an hour. That’s hard to argue with.

Honor Band Z1 review: Verdict

So there we have it: the Honor Band is basically a Fitbit that tells the time, but in a fashion that’s considerably less discrete, in a package that isn’t stylish enough for that to be a positive. That would be fine and dandy if it offered something extra – as someone who used to wear a Pebble, I genuinely think smartwatches are worth wearing – but, alas, it doesn’t. That’s unless you count the ability to know when someone is phoning you as a killer feature, and I’m not convinced I do.

Okay, that’s broadly the same as the Asus VivoWatch, you could argue, which is a valid point. Somehow, though, the Asus seems more appealing because it embraces its limitations with a more angular design. The circular face makes this device look classier, but there’s no substance to back that up, and the lack of a physical button and its finicky touchscreen makes it worse.

It is, of course, a fair bit cheaper. Available for £60 direct from Honor’s vMall website, the Honor Band Z1 is around the same price as a Fitbit Flex, offering pretty much the same feature set. Maybe that seems like a good deal, but, for me, I’d either get something more discreet (such as the Fitbit Flex) or something just as showy, but with better battery life such as the Misfit Shine 2. Or, if you want a real looker, pay double and get something with more style that offers smartwatch features such as the LG G Watch Urbane, which has had quite the price cut since launch.

It’s not that the Honor Band is bad – it’s just hard to find any area in which it excels. Even at its modest price point, the Honor Band misses the mark.

See also: The best smartwatches of 2016 – our favourite wearables

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