What is the Honor Band 4?
The Honor Band 4 is a petite low cost fitness tracker. For just £59.99 you get heart rate tracking, a bold colour screen, sleep tracking, Connected GPS for your runs and cycle trips, and support for notifications.
Xiaomi’s Mi Band 3 is its biggest rival, rather than the more expensive Fitbit Charge 3. And this Honor band not only a lot cuter-looking, it has a much better display.
While there’s no built-in GPS, the Honor Band 4 is an affordable fitness tracking star, even if it doesn’t handle every feature perfectly.
Honor Band 4 — Design
The Honor Band 4 is a very typical-looking fitness tracker. It’s roughly an inch wide, with a long, portrait display. Until recently an affordable band like this would have had a very basic monochrome screen, if it had a display at all.
Honor has changed all that. The Band 4’s display is sharp and colourful. And thanks to the OLED panel, its contrast is superb. As OLED screens use light-up pixels rather than a backlight, black areas in the screen merge with the black surround. This is probably the best screen I have seen in a budget tracker like this.
The core design is different to the norm too. Some cheaper bands are effectively little plastic lozenges that fit into a hole in a silicone strap. The Honor Band 4’s strap is two pieces of silicone that attach with sturdy clips to each side of the main unit.
This may not change how you use the tracker, but it makes the Honor Band 4 seem more like a higher-end gadget, like a smartwatch.
You have a choice of coral pink, dark blue and black colours. And the strap uses a full watch-style buckle on the back rather than a simpler clasp and fastener. Again, the Honor Band 4 is one rung above the basics.
Like most trackers as slight and light as this, the Band 4 is pretty comfortable. Quite often I’ve forgotten whether it’s there on my wrist. Slightly gummier strap silicone would make the tighter fit required for reliable heart rate reading during exercise more comfortable, mind.
As-is you just have to accept you may have a few visible indents in your skin after a long run. Nothing too bad.
A lack of proper auto brightness is one of the few practical niggles of the hardware fundamentals. The Honor Band 4 has a very bright screen that can easily handle bright days. However, the intensity does not change automatically. Instead, you have to dive into the settings menu to do this.
At the price, sure, it may not be feasible to add auto brightness. This requires an ambient light sensor on the front that may make the production of the entire band more difficult. However, the route to changing brightness should be quicker and simpler.
That said, I’ve mostly used the Honor Band 4 at brightness “1”. It goes up to three but the low setting has still done the trick for outdoors runs. Caveat: the UK is not the sunniest place in the world, particularly in January.
Honor has added one smart feature, though. You can set the screen brightness to dim at night, to make it easier on both your eyes and the battery. The display also has a glass top layer, which looks and feels great.
The screen is good enough to make you greedy for watch faces. But there are, sadly, only three. There’s an analogue one, a digital face and a fitness-led one that gives more space over to your step, distance and calorie counts. With any luck Honor will add a few more options in an update. This OLED screen deserves them.
The display is also your main method of interaction with the Honor Band 4. It’s a touchscreen. There’s also a capacitive pad below that acts as a “back” button, but in techy terms this is really an extension of the touchscreen. There are no side buttons.
Honor Band 4 — Interface, App and Fitness Tracking
Up and downwards swipes on the screen take you through the Honor Band 4’s various sections. As this is not a smartwatch, there are only a few of these “homescreens”to contend with.
When you first use the Band 4, the active exercise tracking page sits somewhere in the middle of them, which is not handy. However, using the Huawei Health app on your phone, you can both rearrange the interface and get rid of ones you don’t want or won’t use.
Let’s deal with fitness tracking first, and cover the periphery features later.
At £59.99, the Honor Band 4 needs to compete mostly with fairly simple trackers that have HR and step counting. It does these jobs fairly well.
While not enabled as standard, the band offers true 24/7 heart rate tracking. You end up with a graph in the Huawei Health app made up of a results “node” every two minutes. The Band 4 also lets you see your current heart rate whenever you like.
Testing its effectiveness by cycling through HR-reducing breathing techniques while sat and walking around, the Honor Band 4 seems impressively responsive for a low-cost wrist tracker. It likely uses a fair amount of algorithmic error correction to come up with its results, but there are no glaring errors in its graph results. This is a decent way to casually keep an eye on your resting heart rate.
Honor also claims to use a more advanced than usual motion sensor to judge your steps. It’s a 6-axis sensor, likely meaning it has a 3-axis accelerometer and 3-axis gyroscope, letting it effectively track in 3D. In practical terms this likely gives Honor’s behind-the-scenes more info to work with on exactly the kind of strides you make.
The results are actually fairly impressive. Using the Honor Band 4 to track a 5km run, the results are very close to those of a full GPS watch, a Garmin Foreunner in this case. Honor claims accelerometer-based readings should offer up to 95 percent accuracy.
I still don’t tend to recommend any purely motion-sensor based trackers for keen runners and cyclists, though. Even if distance tracking is fairly sound, not having a map of your route takes a lot of the enjoyment out of checking out your stat history. However, the Honor Band 4 also has Connected GPS.
This is where a tracker without its own GPS chip takes the signal of your phone to inform the pace and distance stats you’ll see on the Band 4. And it means you get a mapped route in the phone app to look at post-run.
Tend to run with a phone in your pocket to supply music, or “just in case”? The Honor Band 4 will feel much like a full GPS watch. If you accidentally go out for a run with your phone’s Bluetooth turned off, it reverts to its own motion sensor data.R
There are some neat extras to some of the activities too. Those core activities are Outdoor Run, Indoor Run, Outdoor Walk, Outdoor Cycle, Indoor Cycle, Pool Swim and Free Training.
“Outdoor” activities use Connected GPS, “Indoor” ones don’t. Oddly, Free Training, which just shows your heart rate and calorie consumption, also tries to harvest a GPS route. It can come up with funny-looking results if you just lift some free weights at home.
Both Indoor Run and Indoor Cycle let you alter your distance at the end of each run, which is handy if you use gym equipment with a display. Duration and distance alerts are my favourite extra, though. When you start each tracked exercise, you can choose a goal of distance or time and milestones, such as each kilometre of a 5k run. The Honor Band 4 will buzz each time you reach one, and when you’re 50 percent through a workout.
These are minor motivators you don’t get in all cheap fitness trackers. You can turn them off too.
The Band 4’s heart rate tracking during active exercise isn’t always the fastest on the uptake of rising exertion levels. And on a few occasions it has mistaken a near-resting heart rate for one in the 110bpm when using Free Training.
Honor’s HR algorithms sometimes see what they want to see, particularly if you start a tracked exercise and then don’t do anything. But it is still a good way to monitor your peak exertion levels, and get some validation when you try that bit harder during a workout.
Screen behaviour is the other minor complaint. “Raise to wake” is the standard way to see your stats while exercising. The response could be a fraction quicker, and the screen time out seems far too keen to switch the Honor Band 4’s display back off.
Honor likely wants to keep battery life as consistent as possible, but the option to keep the screen on all the time (or at least alter the time out) during exercise is sorely missed. Still, for its price the Band 4 is a surprisingly competent tracker, suitable for those who run regularly, not just people after a way to count their steps.
All your data ends up in the Huawei Health app. This is much more stripped-back than Garmin Connect or Fitbit. There’s not a great deal of motivation features, just “medals” for milestones reached and long-term stats screens. Garmin devices are, unsurprisingly, better at monitoring fitness levels over longer periods. However, it’s fairly clean, clear, and you get graphs for pace, heart rate and cadence for each tracked run.
Huawei Health also lets you sync your data to Google Fit and MyFitnessPal, if you’d prefer to use another app. However, you do have to use Health to setup an Honor Band 4.
Honor Band 4 — Features
The band also has a few extras: alarms, notifications, Find Phone, sleep tracking and AliPay.
Let’s start with the one most of you probably won’t use: AliPay. This is a Chinese equivalent to Google Play, a wireless payments system. And it is actually available to use in the UK.
There are versions of the Band 4 with NFC, but ours simply displays a barcode or QR code to let a scanner identify your AliPay account. If there’s one feature to bin in the Huawei Health app when you customise the band’s layout, it’s AliPay.
Next up, there’s a nugget of genius called Find Phone. Tap this item in the Settings menu and your phone speaker will play a dopey tune while someone of indeterminate accent says “I’m here, I’m here” over the top. A simple feature made slightly bizarre, is there anything more “Honor” than this?
You can also set reminder and wake up alarms in the Huawei Health app, which use the vibrate motor inside the Band 4. There’s no speaker inside, though.
Sleep tracking is up next. Honor claims this is “advanced” but it is for the most part derived from familiar data. It breaks your night into deep, light and REM periods, and notes any times you woke up. Huawei then rates your sleep out of a hundred, and tells you whether each aspect of it is good, or not so good.
To get the most in-depth data you have to turn on a feature called TruSleep, which claims to monitor your breathing as well as your movement. Of course, as there are only heart rate and motion sensors here, this isn’t recorded using any kind of additional sensor. Plus it gives me a score of 100 every night, so may not do more than have a guess at whether you have sleep apnea or not.
Notification support is perhaps the most important Honor Band 4 extra. It’s a mixed success. That you can receive wrist notifications from any app you like is the main draw. Recent unread messages can also be reviewed from a Messages section on the band’s homescreens.
The Honor Band 4 has a smartwatch-like approach to notifications. It is impressive at the price. However, it makes reviewing your messages seem far too awkward. You can’t quickly flick through multiple messages as they arrive. And when you dig into both the Messages section and the actual goodies inside, there’s an annoying pause at each point.
The Band 4 is only really good for having a quick glance at an incoming message, to see if you need to respond, or check out the full text. If Honor can sort out this part of the band with a software update or, more likely, the next generation of wearable, it’ll have not just a great budget tracker but also a solid stand-in for a simpler smartwatch.
My guess is that Honor Band 4 actually re-retrieves messages from the phone’s companion app as you ask for them, over Bluetooth. This seems likely because the software is otherwise pretty snappy. “Messages” is the slowest part.
Honor Band 4 — Battery Life
Features like notifications and a reasonably large colour screen make the Band 4 seem like great value. That you would have to “pay” for the Honor Band 4’s punchy colour OLED screen with shorter battery life seems intuitive. But you don’t.
Honor says the battery should last for up to 17 days as a watch or 26 days standby, which presumably just means sat around doing nothing, but still switched on. Confusingly, it is also listed has having 14-day battery life in some places.
The actual important claim, though, is the 6.5 days Honor says the Band 4 should last with full heart rate and sleep tracking switched on. This is how I’ve used the band, and is how I’d recommend using it too. I’ve actually seen it last slightly longer in reality, likely because I haven’t worn it every night and every hour of each day.
However, you can expect it to last around a week even with some notifications and the odd tracked run, because the actual battery-sapping GPS work is done by your phone. This makes the Honor Band 4 something of a dream combo. You don’t have to charge it often, and yet the screen doesn’t look basic.
Such solid stamina is yet another argument for having more control over the display during tracking and an always-on mode, though. A very simple clock shown all day (but not all night) may have a huge effect on battery life, but because this is an OLED screen, it wouldn’t necessarily decimate it.
To recharge the Band 4 you clip it into a little plastic dock, with two metal contacts that correspond to ones on the band’s back. You then plug in a microUSB cable. It’s a practical solution, but that little plastic dock is annoyingly easy to lose.
Why buy the Honor Band 4?
The Honor Band 4 might just be the best fitness tracker band you can get for the money. It’s more versatile than the Withings Pulse HR, does more than the Xiaomi Mi Band 3, and has Fitbit Charge 3 features at a Fitbit Flex price.
Its app is not exactly the definition of fun, HR-tracking of low level exercise can be spotty, and handling of notifications needs to be be improved. However, long battery life, charming design, a great screen and real run tracking potential thanks to Connected GPS make the Band 4 a top buy.
Just like Honor phones, other companies struggle to compete with Honor wearables for those who care about cost.