Do you really need a wearable or a fitness tracker? If you are reading this review then you should be asking this question again and again. The emphasis is on the word “again” because the answer will always be a “NO” in all caps.
During a recent interaction, Stephen Bobst, CTO of Teradata, a database and analytics company, said pointing at my Honor Band 4 that people who need these devices the least, are the ones wearing them. This really struck me since most people wearing wearables in developed nations like the US and Europe are the ones who already take healthcare and medicare seriously. It is also important to note that these people are wearing Fitbits and Apple Watches, which are really expensive.
In comparison, markets like India has Honor Band 4 and Xiaomi’s Mi Band 3, which are inexpensive and offer features found on their expensive counterparts. So, the question is not just whether you should buy them but also about whether they will make you fit? Let’s test Honor Band 4 and find answer to those two questions.
Design and Display
One of the easiest ways to make a wearable affordable is by using an inexpensive display solution like LCD and opting for less sensors than ones found on premium wearables. In that way, Honor Band 4 is both a leader in its class and at the same time, laggard against wearables from Apple and Fitbit.
It is a leader mainly because it’s switch from a black and white (read monochrome) display to a color AMOLED panel. The 0.95-inch display is made entirely of 2.5D curved glass, which makes it fit nicely around your wrist, whether you wear it ahead of the carpal bone or after it. Speaking of the display, there are options to choose from three different faces and one of them is an analog watch face. I, however, used the default face for most of the time, since it displayed most of the valuable information. Honor Band 4 users also get to choose between three different brightness levels.
The brightest setting of 3 is ideal under direct sunlight while the brightness setting of 2 works in normal daylight. For most users, setting the brightness level to 1 will do the trick as well and it would also lead to higher battery life. One of the most important things for any wearable is the strap, and in the case of Honor Band 4, it ships with a silicone strap and our review unit came in blue but you can also choose from black or pink.
This is probably the biggest letdown of this design. A conventional watch or fitness tracker should let you change the strap but since the Honor Band 4’s core element and the strap are a single piece, there is no way to change it. This also means that the charging module is placed underneath the core and you will need to remove the entire wearable to charge the device.
The older designs of such wearable devices allowed you to remove just the core and then charge them by directly plugging it into the USB port. This design, though practically easy to manufacture, also adds a bit of friction in use. Overall, the Honor Band 4 has a vibrant display and is also comfortable to wear for long duration of time. However, some of the design choices may not appeal to all users. The Honor Band 4 connects to both Android and iOS device via Huawei Health app, which is freely available on those app stores.
What can Honor Band 4 do?
This is the most important question before you decide whether to buy the Honor Band 4 or any other wearable. The Honor Band 4 can track your steps, sleep, heart rate and other physical activities, including your swim stroke. Now, if you want to just track your steps then you don’t really need a wearable. It can be done via your smartphone as well. Most smartphones from Chinese brands do that by default whereas on other phones, you can do so by downloading the Google Fit app. The accuracy won’t be as good as that of a wearable, which uses a specialized accelerometer, but its data and calorie count, would be good enough for most users.
But the wearable adds real value when you use it for tracking other vitals. My two favorite features are continuous heart rate monitoring and real-time sleep monitoring. Let me talk about the sleep monitoring feature first. It is a known fact that sleep deprivation is affecting health of humans more than any other disease.
In 1942, eight hours of sleep was the norm and according to Sleep Cycle, 6.8 hours is the new normal. It says the national average in India is 6 hours and 20 minutes. This represents drastically low sleep average as the recommended range of sleep for most adults is between 7 and 9 hours. This is where the Honor Band 4 comes really handy. It tracks your sleep to an extent which can be described as accurate.
It perfectly tells you the time at which you went to bed and the time at which you woke up. If you enable Huawei TruSleep, a proprietary software feature, then the wearable will classify sleep cycle into deep sleep, light sleep, REM sleep and the time tried falling asleep. It can also tell you the number of times you were awake during the sleep cycle and rate the breathing quality.
There is nothing much to read into these data since they are measured using the on-board accelerometer and software algorithms. The biggest takeaway for me, so far, has been that I’m not getting enough deep sleep and last night, the app told me that I should try putting electronics in Do Not Disturb mode to get sound sleep. All of these data have been useful and I have been trying to get more sleep per night than ever before. One thing the Honor Band 4 does well, which Xiaomi Mi Band 3 cannot, is track sleep whether it is during the day or at night. It tracks through a 24-hour period starting at 00:00 hours, and lasts till 23:59 hours.
My colleague, who reviewed the Mi Band 3 last month, told me that Xiaomi’s offering does not breakdown data into information beyond light sleep and deep sleep. It misses out on REM sleep and does not offer more data about breathing. It also does not recognize your sleep during the day.
The continuous heart rate monitoring is also a great feature on the Honor Band 4. The thumb rule for such tracking is to wear the band tighter and behind the carpal bone, giving space of a finger. The optical heart rate sensor transmits signal through the LED and the sensor examines the light that bounces back. They rely on photo plethysmography, which says that blood absorbs light and the fluctuation in light can be read as heart rate. Science aside, the sensor is really convenient to measure your heart rate. With continuous monitoring, it breaks down the readings into latest, minimum and maximum. Doctors suggest that resting heart rate should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute. A value around 40 beats per minute stands for a healthy heart.
Most physicians suggest listening to your heart if you want to know how fit you are. The accuracy of these optical sensors are definitely subject to speculation and my doctor said they won’t be as accurate as say a chest strap that pairs with wearables from Garmin and Polar. But, the real point is that you have a device that is not only comfortable to use but recommends value with minor inaccuracy, if any.
Apart from heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking, the Honor Band 4 can also tracks activities like outdoor run and map it on a course using your smartphone’s GPS signal. It also has a mode to track indoor run on a treadmill. Other workouts that the band can track include outdoor or indoor cycle, pool swim and free training. You may have heard that “Sitting is the new cancer” and with Honor Band 4, you can make the band remind you to stop being sedentary after every hour. Does it do anything good for your health? No but it makes you feel good, which in its own respect, is sign of a good health.
Honor Band 4, at the end of the day, is a piece of electronics that you wear around your wrist. So it is only obvious that you need to charge it. Fortunately, you don’t need to charge it as often as you charge your phone. With the continuous heart rate monitoring and Huawei TruSleep turned off, I managed to use the band for nearly two weeks. When these features were turned on, the battery life dropped to under a week.
For instance, I last charged the tracker to 100 percent on Thursday evening and on Monday evening, the tracker has only 20 percent juice left. This means you can naturally expect six days of battery life with those two features turned on. If you do workout on a day to day basis then the battery life will only drop further. It is not as good as the days long battery life of Xiaomi Mi Band 3 but is much more than that of Apple Watch and is a solid option for the features and color AMOLED.
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Should you buy?
The answer largely depends on what you think about your health. Wearing the Honor Band 4 won’t change your health significantly, but it does add a sense of assurance that you are in control. In the last two weeks, I realized that I walk over 6 kilometers every day and take more 8,000 steps. In this process, I burn 200+ kilo-calories, a day I never cared to see on my phone. If there is one area where Honor Band 4 did not perform then it would be tracking climb. My work desk is at 20th floor and I have made it a point to climb up and down to 14th floor, where the office cafeteria is located. During the weeks that I spent using this device, the Honor Band 4 never once tracked the climb. It’s a disappointment but can be fixed with software update.
At a retail price of Rs 2,599, Honor Band 4 is a very small investment towards a healthy lifestyle. It features a comfortable design with beautiful display and tracks sleep and monitors heart rate as accurately as it can. Its battery life is not as marathon grade as that of Mi Band 3 from Xiaomi, but it makes for it by offering more granular data.