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

Expert Reviews Staff
12 Feb 2016
Our Rating 

The Honor Band is neither the prettiest nor the most functional fitness tracker – so who’s it for?

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Specifications

Pedometer: Yes, Heart-rate monitor: No, Display size: 1.06in, Resolution: 128x128, OS support: Android 4.4+, iOS 7.0+, Battery life: 3 days

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?

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.

Here's our favourite fitness trackers and smartwatches today

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.

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