Honor fitness bands tend to pass unnoticed by many people, just like some Honor phones. However, the brand’s bands are a great way to get more features for less money than you’d pay for, say, a Fitbit.

The Honor Band 4 is the most advanced fitness tracker from Honor yet. Highlights include a bright and cheery color OLED screen, good battery life and a lithe design.

Don’t expect too much from its more advanced parts, though. It can receive all sorts of notifications from your phone, which is great. But handling of WhatsApp messages and the like is clunky. And while sleep tracking purports to be advanced, it often misses those middle-of-the-night wake ups. Then again, so do many trackers.

There’s also a missing feature that limits its usefulness as a runner’s trainer. We don’t expect GPS at this price and size, but there’s no connected GPS mode either, which uses your phone’s location tracking to map your runs.

At $59.99 (£59.99, around AU$85), though, the Honor Band 4 is good value for those after a low maintenance wearable that can do more than a basic tracker.

Design

  • Three color choices
  • Glass-topped screen
  • 5ATM water resistance

The Honor Band 4 is a slim and light fitness band. A full display means it’s not quite as petite as the Fitbit Flex 2, but we think it looks more sophisticated than its fiercest budget fitness tracker rival, the Xiaomi Mi Band 3.

There are no bulbous parts that trip over their own attempts at a cutesy look. Its lines are sharp and curved in the right places, and the band’s thickness is roughly the same as the Fitbit Charge 3’s, at 11.5mm.

Interaction is not as basic as it may at first appear either. The little white circle below the screen is a touch panel, but the screen is touch sensitive too. You can tap items in menus directly, and the circle acts as a back button.

The Honor Band 4’s comfort is not perfect but, again, is better than it initially seems. Honor has used a fairly tough, only slightly flexible kind of silicone rubber here. It feels tough, but a softer, more stretchy material would let you achieve a tighter fit without a tight feel. Such a fit is important in a tracker like this that has a heart rate monitor.

This is a minor quibble this time, though. We have at times completely forgotten whether we were wearing the Honor Band 4, having had to pull up a sleeve to check whether it was there or not. If that’s not a gold standard of wearable comfort, what is?

The Honor Band 4 comes in all-black, and with either a light pink or dark blue strap. In all cases, the main unit is black. Get tired of one color? The rubbery strap can be removed and replaced. Such replacements are available online, although you might have to shop around to find them.

Water resistance is great for the price, at 5ATM. However, Honor advises against one of the most important uses for ‘full’ water resistance. It says you shouldn’t wear the Band 4 in a ‘hot’ shower. Sure, Wim Hof banging on about how he loves a dip in ice cold water is impressive, but we only have cold showers when the boiler is broken.

Screen

  • 0.95-inch 240 x 120 display
  • OLED panel with full color
  • Sharp, bright and vivid

A color screen is the primary upgrade over the Honor Band 3. The Honor Band 3 had a 0.91-inch 128 x 32 monochrome OLED. This tracker has a 0.95-inch screen with a far sharper resolution of 240 x 120 pixels.

The default watch face doesn’t show off this color and boosted pixel density all that well. But switch to the face that uses some 3D shaded graphics and you realize this is a great little display for an affordable tracker. There are only three faces, but each has a distinct personality.

This screen is covered by a pane of toughened glass, with ‘2.5D’ curved edges.

The Honor Band 4’s screen is not ‘always on’. Some OLED wearables use these panels’ emissive pixels to display a minimalist clock display 24/7. Here you twist your wrist to your face, or tap the screen, to bring up the display. It works pretty well, as the screen lights up in under half a second when you do so. 

Brightness is the real win here, though. The Honor Band 4 is clear in bright sunlight at its higher brightness settings. Outdoors visibility is often a weak point of cheaper bands.

Software and features

  • Swipe and touchpad interface
  • Optional NFC for contactless payments
  • Versatile notification support, but poor handling of them

Honor’s fitness tracker interface is fairly easy to understand. The Honor Band 4 has several home screens you flick through with up and downward swipes that take you through the tracker’s main features.

There’s dedicated activity tracking, recent messages received from your phone, heart rate, your daily step count, how much you slept last night, the settings menu and AliPay.

Your initial assumption may be that AliPay is just here as a leftover from the Chinese roots of the Band 4. However, this service, which has more than a jaw-dropping 700 million users worldwide thanks to its prevalence in China, can actually be used in the UK.

Like Google Pay or Apple Pay, it uses NFC to let you make wireless payments with the band. Before you get too excited, there are NFC and non-NFC versions of the Honor Band 4 and it looks like most UK retailers stock the non-NFC version. This, presumably, will lack this AliPay part.

Live in the US? The NFC version is readily available.

Notification support is the other key extra. The Honor Band 4 doesn’t just relay basic call and SMS alerts like some cheaper fitness bands. You choose the apps you want to hear from, and the band does the rest. As there’s a vibrate function built in you are given a proper heads-up too.

All the ingredients for an almost smartwatch-like experience are here, but Honor has messed up the job.

The Honor Band 4 is a bad way to keep track of WhatsApp, or other messenger conversations, because of the way it handles the data. You can’t flick between concurrent messages but have to head back to a big anonymous-looking list of notifications, and doing so is slow and clunky.

There’s also no way to reply to messages on the band. If it simply had a half-decent way to check out your missed messages while on-the-go, we’d be happy, though. It doesn’t.

Fitness tracking and app

  • Manual activity tracking
  • No GPS or connected GPS
  • Good performance for an accelerometer plus HR combo

The Honor Band 4 is a mid-tier casual fitness tracker in terms of features. It has modes for actual fitness tracking rather than just day-long step counting, including indoors and outdoors running, and free-form gym work. There’s a heart rate sensor on the back, which can either just sit back and wait for a tracked exercise to start or measure your rate 24/7.

However, there’s no stair-counting altimeter, no onboard GPS and no connected GPS, where the tracker borrows your phone’s location-tracking skills to imitate a full-blown runner’s watch.

An altimeter would add another fun metric for the casual crowd, and no true outdoor run tracking rules out the Honor Band 4 for serious marathon (or even 5K) training.

That said, the Honor Band 4’s low-key run tracking is actually surprisingly good for those who just want to see how far they’ve run mid-exercise, and how fast they are going. We tested the tracker on a 5K route we run a few times each week, and the points at which it pegged each kilometer seemed bang-on.

By default, it gives you a buzz at each kilometer you reach, which is handy for motivation. This can be customized, which you may want to do if your regular run is 10 miles, not 3-5K. As you run, you’ll see your distance, speed, calories burned and your heart rate, arranged over a few different info screens.

It’s either largely accurate because we have a typical stride length for our height, or because the 6-axis accelerometer the Honor Band 4 uses for this tracking is high-quality. Either way, it does a good job for a totally GPS-free solution.

The heart rate monitor is also fairly good. There are none of the frankly bizarre post-workout readings seen in mixed-intensity exercise, or during cool downs, that were common just a couple of years ago in wrist trackers.

All the data ends up in the Huawei Health app, and there’s no manual sync required. The data is migrated automatically when the Band 4 is connected, which is handy.

Huawei’s app is not as fun or friendly as Fitbit’s. And doesn’t have the tracking rigor of Garmin’s. However, it is solid. Huawei didn’t just make this for the Huawei and Honor fitness bands. You’ll find Huawei Health in most Honor and Huawei phones, and you can tell a decent amount of development has gone into making it useful.

Hate the design? You can sync your data to Google Fit, although some report issues with this feature.

Fitness tracking makes the most of the Honor Band 4’s limited sensors. However, sleep tracking is a bit patchy. This is a focus of the tracker too.

It separates your sleep into light, deep, REM sleep and wakeful periods. That’s great, and you get a pretty graph showing how you dropped into and out of each through the night. It’s hard to have too much faith in the results, though, when the Band 4 seems to miss times when you woke up the night before, and remember doing so.

We saw the same issues in the Honor Band 3.

Battery life

  • 5-6 days use with all features switched on
  • Wired dock charging
  • 100mAh battery

Honor says the Band 4 lasts up to seventeen days, but this is when you’ve turned off some of its most advanced features: proper sleep tracking and 24/7 heart rate. We turned these back on, because it’s how you should use the band if you want to see what it can do.

Stamina is still good, and roughly in-line with Honor’s own claim of six days of use with all the extras turned back on. This effectively means it works 24/7, rather than largely taking a break when you sleep. Expect five days of use and you shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s roughly what we get.

This is perhaps slightly less than the Fitbit Charge 3. But the Honor Band 4 is half the price.

You plug the band into a little plastic charger dock, which clips into the strap, when you need to recharge. This in turn has a micro USB slot. Just plug the included cable into your phone charger and the battery starts charging.

Verdict

The Honor Band 4 is a good lower-cost alternative to the Fitbit Charge 3, and a better-looking step up from the Xiaomi Mi Band 3. However, it’s a mixed bag in a few respects. It can receive all kinds of notifications, but its handling of them is poor.

Outdoors run tracking is surprisingly useful, but connected GPS would make it so much better for serious runners. And while the advanced sleep tracking is neat, it does seem to miss out the odd mid-night wake-up.

Fumbling of notifications is the biggie here, but the Honor Band 4 is still a low-maintenance, well-constructed tracker for casual runners and those who want Fitbit skills for less.

Who’s this for?

The Honor Band 4 is a good fit for those who find Fitbit prices a bit steep, but don’t fancy the look of the monochrome Xiaomi Mi Band 3, which is a bit of a budget star.

Should you buy it?

Make peace with the awkward approach to notifications and the Honor Band 4 is a good value tracker that doesn’t feel or look too cheap. Find it online for significantly less than its $59.99 (£59.99, roughly AU$85) RRP and it’s a true bargain.

First reviewed: December 2018

Competition

The Honor Band 4 is a decent budget option but it has got plenty of competition, such as the following three devices.

Xiaomi Mi Band 3

Want to go even cheaper? The Xiaomi Mi Band 3 is a budget fitness star, and still has a heart rate sensor, display and sleep tracking. It’s the biggest-selling wearable in India, as of late 2018.

However, it arguably looks worse than the Honor Band 4, the screen is monochrome and nowhere near as clear in daylight, and we find the heart rate monitor a bit temperamental. It’s a good low-cost buy, though.

Honor Band 3

The Honor Band 4’s predecessor may well still be available online as you read this, for less than half the price of the Band 4. Sure, it’s not as ‘nice’ a band, with a basic monochrome screen, but its current ultra-low price online makes it appealing.

The Band 4’s sharper screen is better for notifications, but we don’t rate the pricier band’s handling of them anyway.

Fitbit Flex 2

At this price you’re looking at the Flex 2 from Fitbit. And this is a very simple tracker. There’s no display, just five LEDs to show how near you are to your step goal. You don’t manually start exercises either, just let the auto-detection algorithm do its thing.

It’s the perfect tracker if you already have a watch and want something to wear and largely ignore, but the Honor Band 4 does a lot more.

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