Smartwatches and wearables became ubiquitous in 2015 with all the big players wheeling out their products with largely the same features at escalating prices based on aesthetics rather than differentiation. Honor, the Huawei-backed “digital native” brand, announced their Honor Band Z1 back in October 2015, featuring a paired back set of features, but for an attractive price of £59.99. Let’s take a look at how it stacks up in our Honor Band Z1 full review.
The first comment to pass on the Honor Band Z1 (yes, it’s named that way round!) is that it’s an activity tracker first and foremost, a smartwatch a distant second, and all wrapped up in quite an elegant aesthetic. It has an interesting combination of brushed metal and polyurethane materials to its finish, and comes in Black, Cream or White colour options from Huawei’s own VMall. The Honor Band Z1 seemingly takes a few cues from the Pebble line of smartwatches in that it favours simplicity over extravagance. This is both refreshing and unfortunately frustrating.
Unboxing & Specifications
Honor keep with their turquoise colour scheme for the Honor Band Z1 packaging, and it is relatively sparsely populated on the outside with only tasteful branding and specification call outs on the rear.
Inside you’ll find the device itself front and centre. The rest of the box contains the warranty and quick start paraphernalia, as well as the included magnetic Huawei-branded charging cradle and an extra rubber band loop.
The Honor Band Z1 delivers a 128 x 128 pixel touchscreen OLED display measuring just over 1″. Whilst the bezel is round, the screen is most definitely square as the resolution suggests. The screen is mounted within a 38mm x 9.5mm brushed metal bezel and that is attached to the wrist with a check-patterned polyurethane band for comfort. The device itself is IP68 rated providing total dustproofing and waterproofing up to a depth of 1.5m meaning that showers aren’t going to trouble the Honor Band Z1. Powering this device is a Cortex M4 processor running off the back of a 70 mAh battery that is good for up to 3 days of use, depending on sensor utilisation. Talking sensors, the Honor Band Z1 comes complete with an Accelerometer as well as a capacitive sensor for interaction.
Design & Features
As stated at the outset, this device is predominantly an activity tracker with specific modes for running, intensive work outs, as well as a sleep tracker. It has the ability to deliver notifications such as SMS, Email, Phone calls, calendar entries etc (all via the companion app) from a tethered smartphone, however this feels as though it’s a decidedly secondary function.
Via the companion app, available for both Android and iOS, users can track sync their tracked data and share via social media. Like many apps of a similar nature, there are option to view historic activity and sleep data as well as settings to control the push notifications, alarms and do not disturb options. All standard fare really.
Performance & Use
It’s worth starting the round-up of the usability of the Honor Band Z1 with a quick nod to Honor in terms of the steps counter. Most activity trackers that are wrist-worn often overstate the number of steps wildly. However the Honor Band Z1 seems to do a good job of keeping track of actual steps. A fairly unscientific test saw us taking 50 steps with the Honor Band Z1 as well as with the Xiaomi Mi Band 1S. Of those 50 steps, the Z1 recorded 55 steps, whereas the Xiaomi option measured just 39. Still not perfect, but for £59.99, it’s quite good as a general indicator of your activity. Sleep tracking is similarly accurate with the Honor Band Z1 measuring both light and deep sleep (based on activity). Again, the sensitivity of the accelerometer here is key.
The device feels comfortable on the wrist and sleeping with this device is as easy as exercising with it on. Rarely did we find any situation where the device felt like it pinched and needed removing which is a huge bonus for a device that wants to track your sleeping habits as much as it does your activity.
All of the tracking does take its toll on the battery but managed just above the 3 days that Honor suggest. During our testing which included constant wearing of the device, gym going, as well as sleep tracking, we managed 4 days without needing to charge.
When the device does drain however, the included charging cradle is really something nifty. It charges via pin ports and has a crazy-strong magnetic clasp. This magnetic clamp is so strong that we managed to affix the dock to a vertical surface with velcro and have the watch hanging vertical when charging. The charging time itself is also very fast, as you’d expect from a 70 mAh battery. As Honor suggest on their website, the 70 mAh can be charged for just 10 minutes on the included cradle in order to get a day’s wear out of it. We found that to be accurate during our testing with normal activity and notifications settings.
Notifications for any installed application can be set to utilise push notifications. This is where the first signs of discontent start. The notifications seem sporadic and not exactly “push”. Furthermore when the notifications do come through, there is no way to dismiss them from the phone, only the device, and that’s one at a time. Each notification dismissal pushes the user back to the watch face, forcing a gesture-laden trip to the notifications section to dismiss the next one notification; and repeat. It therefore makes perfect sense to limit severely the number of apps utilising this feature to cut down on the gesture frequency.
Speaking of gestures, the capacitive touch screen on the OLED display is rather hit and miss. A simple tap is all that is needed top illuminate the display, but the display times out after just 3-4 seconds, regardless of the screen being read. This setting, unfortunately, cannot be changed. You’ll find yourself tapping the device continuously to read the bits of the notifications you can, on the 128 x 128 screen. It’s not a great experience really.
The long and short here is that this is a nice looking activity tracker with some pseudo-smartwatch features, not the other way around. It accurately tracks steps and sleep, and manages to muddle through push notifications and watch face integration; it certainly doesn’t excel at the latter. There are no doubt many firmware updates to come but there are no third-party applications due to the fact this is a proprietary operating system. This means no new watchfaces outside of the 5 or so stock ones, no calendar visibility, no music playing and more importantly no third-party integration from developers. Perhaps this will come – there is no guarantee though.
Where the device does provide the required value is in the comfort, fit and finish, and the price (to an extent). The rubberised polyurethane band allows snug fits without sweating, and the brushed metal finish of the IP68 certified watch itself are a nice offset aesthetically.
For the price, there are more feature packed trackers out there (see our Xiaomi Mi Band 1S) with better companion apps too, but the Honor Band Z1 attempts to fuse the functionality of an activity tracker with that of a smartwatch, and to be fair, almost manages it. It’s not a horrible experience, it’s just disjointed. You will get used to the foibles of the Honor Band Z1, but the fact you shouldn’t have to takes longer to fade into the background.
Consumers wanting a nice looking activity tracker for their running and Gym sessions might find this a good option. For those looking for a cheap smartwatch with some activity tracking functionality would be better off looking at an original Pebble smartwatch regardless of its age. It essentially does everything the Honor Band Z1 tries to do, but better, for a similar price point.
We do however look forward to firmware updates from Honor as the continue their Huawei-backed charge into the mid-range market, which will hopefully provide tweaked functionality and improve the smartwatch-esque options available to users of the Honor Band Z1.