Whilst on our travels in Berlin for IFA 2019, Honor hosted us at their launch of PocketVision, an application aimed at the visually impaired. They also showed off their Honor Band 5 and we got to take one away for a closer look. With many players in the £30-£50 fitness tracker space, Honor haven’t seen the same traction in their fitness trackers that they have with the mid-range smartphone offerings. Xiaomi, and more are very competitive in the budget fitness tracking market, so let’s see whether Honor can compete with their 5th generation band.
- Good value
- Good AMOLED display
- Comfortable despite material choice
- Notifications are hit and miss
- Charging cradle is abhorrent
- Navigation touches can be missed
Fitness Tracking For The Masses?
The last Honor fitness tracker I used in anger was the Honor Band Z1 which I gave a luke-warm response to. It had watch design but wasn’t really smart enough for anything, and the display was not what you’d call good. I have followed the Honor Band’s evolution, so became interested when I got to swap out my Withings Steel HR Sport and give the Honor Band 5 a spin.
The Honor Band 5 isn’t a new device to e-shelves, being launched originally in August for the Indian market. Now available in the EU, consumers feast their eyes on a 0.95-inch full-colour AMOLED which is something only a year ago would have been unheard of on a device such as this. There’s also touch-based navigation, real-time heart rate monitoring, water-resistance up to 50 metres which allows for swimming tracking, sleep tracking and more.
The basics are all here in terms of aesthetics too. The band itself is remarkably comfortable to put on and wear for prolonged periods, and overnight, despite the rigid nature of the band itself and the rather cheap, basic band included with the device. Gestures work as well as can be expected on such a small screen and the AMOLED display really makes for a great viewing experience, albeit sometimes the touch display seemed to miss my swipes left and right to dismiss a notification for example. This happened consistently over a period of time even after I got used to the controls.
Battery life is slated for up to 14 days according to the marketing, however we managed to deliver 5 full days with a variety of features turned on (more on that later). I personally don’t think that’s too bad at all and whilst it is very much behind many other watch-cum-fitness trackers, for a band such as this, at this price, it’s a good return.
Track All The Things
Digging into the features a little reveals a few layers, and the most obvious place to start is the workout tracking aspect of the Honor Band 5. Swiping through the menu to ‘Workout’ mode, and the user is greeted with various options for the Band 5 to track; indoor and outdoor walking, running or cycling, rowing, cross-training, indoor swimming, or free training to be precise. Choosing an option allows the user to set a target (time, calories, etc) as well as whether to have interval time alerts, before starting the session.
Based on my use, in the gym with a mixture of cardio and weights, I average around the same calorie consumption, over the same period of time as my last two fitness-orientated trackers (Withings Steel HR Sport, and the Suuntu Spartan), and the same steps and distance covered, which to my mind suggests that this is doing a pretty good job.
If you’re more of a sofa surfer than a gym-goer, you might want to give yourself a boost and turn on the activity reminder function within the Huawei Health app which will give you a nudge when you’ve been sedentary for an hour or more. To become even more disappointed with yourself, you can enable the real-time heart rate monitoring option, and monitor how high your heart rate is even when not doing anything! There are a few options available on the companion Health app here too. Enabling the ‘Smart’ or ‘Real Time’ monitoring options will take periodic measurements based on your movements, or constantly measure your heart rate, respectively. The latter will eat into your battery life, a point the app does point out to you helpfully.
There are even more functions included here. Watch faces, whilst few and far between can be shuffled, albeit no customisation to them is available currently. The step counter tracks steps accurately and can sync to the Health app to give a nice visual representation of how active you have been, as well as calories burned, etc. Sleep tracking is also available here and does a very good job of breaking down your night’s sleep, boiling down your deep, light, and REM sleep patterns into an overall score that you can track.
I’ve been incredibly impressed with not only the way in which the Band 5 can track a variety of health-specific metrics, but the way in which the Health companion app displays them. Overall it’s a clean and intuitive experience.
Ahh That’s Where They Budgeted
As is to be expected with a device this compact, this competitive in terms of price, and this packed full of features, there are some corners cut. Firstly, I’m glad they didn’t start with the screen. As stated previously, the AMOLED display delivers crisp, vibrant colours despite the relatively low resolution. Instead, it seems that the materials used were looked at, understandably so. The band, whilst comfortable, does feel cheap to the touch. Getting a replacement band might help make it feel and look a little more premium, however I doubt that is the main concern for those in the market for such a device.
I also can’t really complain about the battery life. Despite turning on ‘Smart’ geart rate monitoring, and enabling many third-party app notifications, my Honor Band 5 managed to tip just over the 5-day mark in terms of battery life, which is adequate in my opinion. Far from adequate however is the charging cradle you’re expected to use to juice this band up.
The charging cradle looks and feels as though it’s been 3D printed, without any thought about the device it’s going to be charging. Okay, yes, it has a clip mechanism that keeps the band in place which is a good thing, however that place is likely to be on its side, on a desk somewhere such is the inflexibility of the ‘shoulders’ of the band itself. There is no lying the band down flat, which is what this cradle calls out for in terms of the device it’s charging. Instead, I used the ageing microUSB charging cable and had the band lie on its side to charge. Thankfully it doesn’t take too long to charge fully. I wish they’d have come up with a better recharging option here as this is poor.
Finally, we have notifications. Here’s where my big beef is. I must caveat this by saying some of my peers have had better experiences with this than I have, although some others have had exactly the same problems as I’ve found.
First up, the good bit. Notifications for all applications I chose in the notifications settings part of the Health app came through to the band without incident. Reading thpose notifications was fine, regardless of the app, however dismissing them from the screen does nothing in terms of the message on your phone. This means, you pull your phone out after a couple of hours and you’ve still got all the same messages to dismiss on that. Not overly intuitive.
Secondly, only once have I received a phone call notification on my device. I have received a few “missed call” notifications, but always without ever actually receiving the call notification as it was ongoing. This is beyond infuriating, and I expect this to be fixed in an update.
Should You Buy An Honor Band 5?
There is a lot to like about the Honor Band 5 whilst using it. The sheer amount of metrics it manages, as well as the promise of an update that delivers SpO2 blood oxygenation tracking as well as remote music control (a must for gym goers), means that the Honor Band 5 certainly ticks many a box in the features category.
Battery life is decent as well, so this gets a thumbs up, along with the general user interface, companion application, and how comfortable it is to have on your wrist, despite the materials used. If it wasn’t for those pesky notifications, this would be almost an automatic purchase and would be receiving the ‘Recommended’ MTT badge, and not ‘Value’ one.
If you’re the kind of consumer who is looking for more of a fitness orientated device than you are a smart wearable, it’s a no brainer in my opinion. In 2019, is it right that we should really be making a differentiation between the two when it comes to purchasing decisions? Perhaps so when taking into consideration the price.
With that in mind, I have to recommend the Honor Band 5 be seriously looked at for anybody looking to keep a closer eye on what their body is up to whilst asleep and awake, and for those same people to just keep a finger crossed that the forthcoming updates deliver further improvements.