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Honor Band 6 review: Android owners, beware

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
45
inc. VAT

The Honor Band 6 is a great-looking wearable but has a known issue with Android handsets

Pros 
Great watch-like look
Super sleep tracking
Impressive stamina
Cons 
Connected GPS hobbled on Android
Screen tough to read in sunlight
No additional apps
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To say the Honor Band 6 is entering a crowded fitness tracker market place is a bit of an understatement. Not only are there five previous Honor Bands out there, but it also competes with six generations of Xiaomi Mi Band, a further five Amazfit Bands and more Fitbits than anyone can easily keep track of.
 
But the smartwatch-like looks of the Honor Band 6 certainly make it stand out from the crowd, and its 14-day battery life isn’t to be sniffed at, either. So why wouldn’t I recommend it to the half of the world with an Android phone? Read on to find out.

Honor Band 6 review: What you need to know

Despite looking like a slightly squashed Apple Watch, the Honor Band 6 is clearly more fitness tracker than smartwatch. That means, unsurprisingly, that fitness features are the focus here. It will track steps, heart rate and exercise naturally but it also measures stress, has built-in breathing exercises, tracks sleep and will monitor your SpO2 levels.

There are smart features, but they’re just the basics. Think notifications, control of music apps and a neat remote shutter function for triggering photos from your phone’s camera. There’s no app store to expand on the tracker’s core features.

Honor Band 6 review: Price and competition

You can get all of this for the not unreasonable price of £45. While that means it compared favourably with the Fitbit Inspire 2, which costs £90 (albeit with a year’s worth of Fitbit Premium worth £60), it’s astonishingly not the cheapest fitness tracker you can buy.
 
On our list of the best fitness trackers you’ll find the Xiaomi Mi Band 5, which can now be had for as little as £25. There’s now a Mi Band 6, too, which sells for around £40, the Samsung Galaxy Fit 2 goes for around £50 and the Amazfit Band 5 sells for £40.
 
While all of these track runs and bike rides, they rely on your phone’s GPS to measure distance. But you don’t have to spend the earth to get built-in GPS – the Huawei Band 4 Pro goes for £50 – considerably less than the cheapest GPS-packed Fitbit, the Charge 4, which sells for £120.

Honor Band 6 review: Design and features

All of these fitness trackers have a pretty similar look: a long and thin rectangular ‘brain’ encased in a rubber band of some description. The Honor Band 6 deviates from this a little, with its slightly wider screen making it more watch-like in appearance.

The screen’s dimensions of 0.8 x 1.6in make it a little less fiddly to use the touch controls, although mistakes do still happen. Thankfully, Honor hasn’t seen fit to ditch the physical menu button, which is far more reliable when rain and sweat are involved, as they often are for runners.
 
The screen is a nice colourful AMOLED panel with a resolution of 194 x 368, giving it a decent pixel density of 282ppi. This isn’t the brightest screen I’ve ever seen on a tracker, though, and in the spring sunshine it can struggle for readability, even with the brightness slider turned all the way up.
 
The ability to customise the brand with replacement straps is welcome, but doing so isn’t particularly straightforward. The strap comes in two halves, which each connect directly to the main tracker body. Removing each one requires you to dig out a tiny clip and then force the strap free. It’s not the kind of thing you’ll do often – aside from anything else, the Honor Band 6’s connectors are proprietary and require straps designed specifically for it – but it is suitably fiddly for that to be a relief in itself. 
 
I don’t want to overstate these drawbacks, though, because otherwise the Honor Band 6 is the most handsome fitness tracker around and I think the slightly wider footprint makes it much easier to use than a regular fitness tracker. To my mind, it looks more stylish and expensive than its rivals, which is quite impressive for a £45 wearable.

Honor Band 6 review: Performance

For the most part, the Honor Band 6 performs very well, but I have to address what is by far the biggest drawback before delving any further. It has a known compatibility issue with the majority of Android handsets. Y’know, around half the phones in the country (we do love our iPhones in the UK, apparently).
 
Not that you’d know this by reading the Honor website, or even the box itself, but after attempting to connect to my phone’s GPS on three separate occasions without luck, I contacted the company and was told that connected GPS doesn’t work on Android. You need either an iPhone or an Honor/Huawei phone.

Honor didn’t explain why this is, but my guess is it has something to do with the ongoing Huawei paranoia, where the Chinese manufacturer (and its subsidiaries, like Honor) has to make do with the open-source version of Android for security reasons. Blocking access to location data for Huawei products would certainly seem logical when viewed through this lens.
 
All is not lost, though: you can still connect to GPS on Android phones but you have to trigger a run/bike directly from your phone. Do this, and data is displayed on your Honor Band 6 as if you had set it off from there; awkward, but it works. Go without GPS, however, and you’ll find the distances wholly inaccurate. On the three 5km runs I took before being informed of the incompatibility, the band guesstimated around 4km distance each time, which is clearly nowhere near good enough.
 
Fortunately, I did still have my Honor 9X Pro review sample and can confirm that with compatible hardware it locks on quickly, and distances were within 0.02km of the 5km distance measured by my Garmin Forerunner 245. That said, the algorithm for calculating “current pace” during a run needs a little work. While my Garmin (correctly) stated my average pace at the 6.00/km mark, the Honor 9X Pro displayed 5.40/km, only correcting itself once the run had come to an end. That’s a bit useless for those that use their wearable for pacing.  

The more general fitness features fare better. While I’m not entirely convinced of the need for a stress tracker (most of us know when we’re feeling the pressure, and it’s not like it can give you an advanced warning), the remedy is quite nice. The band has built-in breathing exercises where you breathe in time to a slowly pulsing yin and yang sign. The band gives you a heart-rate measurement before and after, so you can see how effective it’s been.
 
That’s nothing new but it’s nicely implemented, as is the sleep tracking. Once you enable TruSleep, accepting a slight hit to battery life in the process, the Honor Band 6 will track your deep, light and REM sleep and plot it neatly in a graph for you to review at your leisure. Where Honor stands apart from its rivals is its helpfulness in explaining what each metric means, what the average should be, and what you can do to improve things.

 
Case in point, one night the app told me my “sleep continuity” was low and tapping this provided useful lifestyle tips on how it can be improved. None of the tips were revolutionary but it’s far better than just dumping the data on you with no explanation, as some apps do.
 
I mentioned that TruSleep impacts battery life earlier, but you really shouldn’t be worried by that. Honor says the Band 6 should last two weeks with light use, dropping to ten days with lots of exercise and all the optional features enabled. This seemed pretty accurate to me, and it’s hard to fault that, especially when docking it with the bundled magnetic charger for ten minutes will give you three days’ usage.

Honor Band 6 review: Verdict

The Honor Band 6 is, to my mind, the most stylish fitness band out there, and it’s comfortable to boot. The feature set is solid, battery life is brilliant, and its implementation of sleep tracking is the most intuitive and comprehensive I’ve seen.

But I can’t recommend it to Android users with connected GPS requiring a workaround to function and with no guarantee that this will continue to work. Not when you can buy a Xiaomi Mi Band 6 for a little bit less.

 
If you’re an iPhone user who can’t justify the cost of the basic Apple Watch SE then the Honor Band 6 is worth a look. The same applies if you’re sticking with Huawei/Honor handsets despite the hobbled Android experience. Everyone else, regrettably, should look elsewhere.