Introduction, display and design
Ask the average person on the street to name a fitness tracker and they’ll probably say “Fitbit”. The brand has become synonymous with the form factor, much like MP3 players became known as iPods to the general public. But Fitbit isn’t your only option.
The Honor Band Z1 is a useful reminder that Fitbit isn’t the only manufacturer catering for those who just want a simple fitness tracker. A number of companies are vying for that space on your wrist.
But the Honor Band Z1 has the bonus of looking like a watch, without you having to fork out the extra money for a smartwatch.
The Band Z1 costs £59 ($79.99, about AU$114). When you consider that it has the same functionality as the Fitbit Flex, which costs £79.99, it’s quite an impressive price point from Honor.
In a market full of smartwatches, however, it’s difficult to stand out – and almost every new smartphone is just as capable of tracking your steps and doing the other things a fitness tracker does. So does the Honor Band Z1 offer anything that the competition doesn’t?
The Honor Band Z1 has a circular 1.06-inch display. It gives you all the information you need from a fitness tracker in a compact design, as opposed to the chunkier build of smartwatches such as the Moto 360.
There’s a large bezel around the screen, though, and that means the display can feel a bit cramped – the Honor has a lot of information to fit in, and would benefit from a little more real estate.
Tapping once on the display brings up the essential information: time, phone connection and battery level. Or at least it should – I often found myself showing the device off to friends and tapping the display to wake it, only for nothing to happen.
That this should happen at all is irritating, but for it to happen regularly is downright annoying, and it’s not the only example of the Honor Band Z1 being temperamental – flicking your wrist to read the time should wake the display as well, but again this didn’t work every time.
And if such key features aren’t reliable, then I’m going to get frustrated and stop using it.
The screen is backlit, so you can lean over and use the Band Z1 like a clock in the middle of the night; however there were occasions when the device was on charge at night and the display lit up for no apparent reason.
If you’re tossing and turning in bed, trying to get to sleep, and you twig that little flicker of brightness out of the corner of your eye it can be irritating – again – to find no notifications waiting on the tracker.
Design and comfort
The Honor Band Z1 is refreshingly comfortable to wear. I enjoyed having it on my wrist, and at no point did I experience any irritation from the strap. I find myself taking most fitness trackers off at some point in the day because they hinder typing at my desk, but this rarely happened with the Z1.
The strap is made of a softer material than some other wearables, and it means that when you’re exercising it doesn’t get too sweaty – your wrist feels clean at the end of a workout.
The watch face itself comes in at 38 x 9.5mm and weighs 25g, so it’s very light on your wrist, unlike a smartwatch. I often forgot I was wearing a fitness tracker at all – and that’s a really appealing feature with these devices.
I personally prefer the look of the Honor Band Z1 to the traditional Fitbit-like shape. It could easily be mistaken for a watch, and most of the time I found myself using it like a watch, with the added benefit of being able to keep an eye on my steps and other info.
The Band Z1 is also IP68-rated waterproof, so you can head out for a walk or run in the rain without any worries.
It’s not sufficiently rated for swimming, but it does mean you can roll out of bed bleary-eyed and jump right in the shower without having to remember to take it off.
Interface, specs and performance
Interface-wise the Honor Band Z1 is easy to navigate – which it should be really, given that there’s not all that much going on.
It’s a simple case of tapping the display and flicking up and down to scroll through the various menus. These are represented by animated icons, and include watch faces, steps, calories burned, running, sleep, stopwatch and settings.
The watch face options are kept simple. There’s a digital clock surrounded by information (my personal favourite), a simple digital clock and two analogue designs.
After selecting the first option I did forget there were others, but if you like to mix things up it’s simple to switch with a flick of your finger.
The steps, calories burned, running and sleep screens all show limited amounts of data. It’s just the basic numbers, and you need to open the app on your phone to see further details, which makes sense with such a small display.
I found the stopwatch quite difficult to use. On many smartwatches it just requires a simple tap to start the stopwatch, but here you have to hold down on the bottom of the screen for three seconds, which isn’t exactly convenient for timing a quick workout.
The settings options are limited to switching watch faces or resetting your device. All in all, while the interface is simple to use it’s rather lacklustre if you’re looking for more in the way of functions and customisation.
The Honor Band Z1 comes with a Cortex M4 STM32G411 processor inside, and talks to your phone via Bluetooth 4.1. While using the device I didn’t encounter any big issues in terms of performance.
Some fitness trackers can get a little hot under heavy use, which is a problem given that you’re quite likely to be making heavy use of such a device.
I didn’t experience any heating with the Honor Band Z1 – but that’s likely because it isn’t actually doing all that much. There’s no heart rate monitor, and no GPS – it’s just going to tell you how far you’ve walked, and what that means in terms of calories burned.
The Band Z1 uses an accelerometer and a cap sensor to track your movements and sleep, but that’s all you’re really getting here; it may look like a smartwatch, but a lot of smartwatch functionality is absent.
The Band Z1 uses a G-sensor powered by a series of algorithms to record information, and I was getting similar data from my phone to that I got from the watch.
And that’s the problem here – the technology is all inside your phone, and fitness trackers themselves are becoming less and less relevant.
If you’re looking for a dedicated step tracker though, this will do the job as well as any similar device, but you won’t be able to do anything extra like GPS tracking or playing music.
Companion app, compatibility and battery life
To make full use of the Honor Band Z1 you’re going to need to download the Huawei Wear app to your phone. This app can connect up to other services such as MyFitnessPal or Runtastic if you want it to.
Syncing the app with your phone is a simple process, and once it’s done the app will keep you supplied with all the data you need.
When you open the app you’ll see a simple graph showing the amount of steps you’ve done that day, calories burned and a graphic showing you how near to your goal you are. Scroll down and it shows all the different bouts of exercise you’ve done.
The app is simple to use, with all the information you need clearly and logically presented, and it’s one of the best things about the Honor Band Z1.
Among other handy features you can see an overview of a single day or periods of several days, showing your peak times for exercise.
The Honor Band Z1 has broad compatibility, and will work with most smartphones as long as they’re running Android 4.4.4 KitKat or above, or iOS 7.0 or above.
However there’s no support here for Windows Phone/Windows 10 Mobile devices, and there’s no word on whether Honor is looking to roll that out in the future.
Battery life is another highlight of the Honor Band Z1. The marketing information claimed three-day battery life and I was a little skeptical, expecting it to be closer to two days, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I consistently got a solid three days out of a full charge.
It was nice to not have to remember to put the Band Z1 on charge every night without fail – although I’d recommend a nightly top-up, as I sometimes forgot about charging it altogether, and ended up with a lifeless fitness tracker on my wrist for half a day.
Some days when I was exercising the battery didn’t seem to drain any faster than on a low-activity day, and charging was surprisingly fast – it took no more than two hours on the Z1’s dedicated pad.
Sadly you won’t be able to use Qi charging here – you have to use the supplied Honor charging pad, which means it’s going to be difficult to find a compatible charger when you’ve left yours at home.
So what about alternatives to the Honor Band Z1? The fitness tracker market has grown exponentially in the last few years, and there are a host of similar devices to choose from. Here are a few of our favourites.
Fitbit Charge HR
The closest thing to the Honor Band Z1 that you’re going to get from Fitbit is likely the Charge HR. The design of the Fitbit is quite different to the Band Z1, though, throwing the whole watch idea out the window in favour of a band without an obvious face.
There’s a small screen along the top of the device, but it doesn’t use up too much battery as it’s so small, and you’ll get a whole five days or more from a single charge.
You can wear this one to bed as well, and it’ll be constantly tracking you even when you’re not on workouts.
The Charge HR is quite a bit more expensive than the Honor Band Z1, and it doesn’t have the Honor’s waterproofing; but it does have that excellent battery life, and a few extras features you should check out before making your decision.
Microsoft Band 2
The second version of Microsoft’s Band comes with a lot of improvements, and it might be a better choice for you if you’re looking to focus on your health.
Here you’ve got a gorgeous AMOLED display to look at – although that is going to drain a lot more battery, so don’t expect this to last you the three days or so the Honor Band Z1 will.
But there are a lot more sensors packed into Microsoft’s tracker, so you can do a variety of exercises and have all your data picked up by the app.
You are restricted to what features you can use on the Android and iOS apps, and again the device isn’t waterproof – but if you’re looking for fitness tracking rather than just step tracking, this may be a better choice than the Band Z1.
Looking for a fitness-focused device? Maybe you need something a bit heftier than the Band Z1. The Garmin Vivosmart can be a little more expensive than others on the market, but it does offer a lot more fitness functionality.
It has a comfortable design, and boasts a lot more fitness tracking functionality than the Honor Band Z1; you can even pair this one up with the RunKeeper app. It’ll also give you a lot more phone notification options than the Honor Band Z1.
In my opinion fitness trackers are becoming less and less useful every time a new one is announced. Many smartphones now offer basic fitness-tracking features, and as smartwatches grow in popularity I can’t help but see dedicated trackers going the way of the dodo.
The only market that is likely to persist is people who wanted a cheap pedometer a few years ago – and the Honor Band Z1 does that exact job, and not much else.
If you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful tracker rather than one with lots of features, this could be the choice for you.
The design of the Honor Band Z1 is its most appealing feature. It’s one of the classiest-looking fitness trackers on the market right now, and that’s partly down to the fact that it takes a lot of its design cues from current smartwatches. The waterproofing is a welcome touch too.
The tracker app seems to work really well, and the Huawei Wear app is very useful, showing a lot of information compared to some others you can get right now.
The Honor Band Z1 doesn’t offer enough functionality in my opinion. I’d rather have a full-on fitness tracker here and spend a little extra money. It’s a shame that Honor has apparently opted for a lower spec to hit this price point.
The sleep functionality isn’t very useful at all. I found it inconsistent, and I couldn’t really trust what the Z1 was telling me.
The lack of a heart-rate monitor feels like a major omission. It’s a shame that Honor hasn’t put more into the Band Z1, and made it an all-round fitness device.
The Honor Band Z1 is satisfactory if you’re looking for a pedometer-like fitness tracker. It’s at the level of the cheapest Fitbit you can buy, and if you want a device and a display that looks kind of like a watch, the Z1 is a much better choice.
The Z1 is comfortable to wear for long periods, and Huawei’s Wear app works really well, as long as you’re not planning on doing a lot of varied exercise.
I just wish Honor had put a bit more functionality into its first wearable. All in all it’s fine, but it’s not going to inspire you get out of bed every morning and go for that much-needed run.
First reviewed: February 2016