I started using an inexpensive fitness band – Honor Band 4 from Huawei. It is one of the lowest priced option for this product category from a well known brand.
Differences among Honor Band 4 NFC / Standard / Runner Edition and Huawei Band 3 Pro
It is hard to decipher the exact differences in the lineup just by browsing the product web pages. What I found is this:
- As far as I can see, the expensive Huawei Band 3 Pro is functionally almost the same thing as the cheap Honor Band 4, with the major differences being the aesthetics and the latter lacking a built-in GPS, which is not truly critical as I will discuss below.
- At the time of this post, the NFC function of the Honor Band 4 NFC model is usable only for Alipay e-wallet for specific transportation in some parts of mainland China. Reportedly it does not even work for Alipay Hong Kong, so I have to assume it is useless in the rest of the world.
- The non-NFC version is the one that I got and reviewed in this article. Other than the NFC, both are exactly the same. For most people I would consider this to be the best buy for a fitness band in this price class.
- The Runner edition is a strange thing – it can optionally be mounted on top of a shoe and give running recommendations. At half the price of the non-NFC standard version, it lacks the heart rate monitor and therefore all functionality that depends on heart rate. It is worthwhile to note that contrary to my initial expectations, the more expensive NFC or non-NFC standard versions do not give running recommendations (and cannot be mounted on a shoe). So, there is no single product in the line up that provides all the features.
Differences between Honor Band 4 and Mi Band 3
Mi Band 3 is even cheaper than the Honor Band 4 non-NFC version. Other than the aesthetics, the important differences are:
- The Honor uses a 6-axis sensor, while the Mi uses a 3-axis sensor. So the former tracks swimming but the latter does not, although I have not tried this feature.
- The Honor has a more sophisticated heart rate monitor, and is tested by another web site to give results much closer to a Polar heart rate monitor than the latter. It can also do continuous monitoring while the Mi cannot.
- The Honor has a TruSleep function that gives analysis of deep / REM sleep, etc. It gives an interesting graph and looks scientific but I have no way to verify how accurate it is. It also gives recommendations for sleeping. For me it only tells me to sleep earlier and do some exercise.
- The Honor has a color display with higher resolution, while the Mi has a monochrome display with lower resolution. This is not really important unless one intends to read messages using it – I do not.
It should be clear why I purchased the Honor and not the Mi band.
The Honor Band 4 has the following non-fitness features:
- Basic watch functions – date, time, weather (from Bluetooth connected smartphone), timer, stopwatch, etc.
- Reject calls – With incoming calls the band will vibrate (I find this useful because I often cannot hear my phone ringing) and allows one to reject a call from the band. One will still have to pickup the phone to answer a call.
- Messages – It is possible to read messages from the band but it is too unresponsive for me and the small screen is not really optimal for that. So I do not use it at all. I could get Whatsapp messages to display, but not LINE messages – but it could be an issue with the setup of my Mi 6 smartphone running MIUI.
- Camera trigger – Reported it only works with Huawei phones, so I cannot test it.
- Find phone – One may use the band to trigger the Bluetooth-connected smartphone to make a sound.
- As detailed before, the NFC function in the NFC model is useless outside mainland China at the time of this post.
The lengthy standby time in the marketing material is probably only valid when important useful features are disabled. In my case, with continuous heart monitoring and TruSleep enabled, it consumed 60% of battery in 3 days. So I expect it will work for more than 4 days at full capacity.
I read two reviews stating that the band requires two apps to work – Huawei Wear and Huawei Health, but I found this claim to be wrong or no longer true with my Android smartphone. I never installed Huawei Wear. I only installed Huawei Health and could link up with my band, do band firmware upgrades, and access all associated fitness features.
There are two ways to launch a running session. It can be initiated from the band. This way the band shows you the statistics of the running session, and can vibrate when reaching everything km of distance as estimated by the band. However, it does not link up with the phone GPS, leading to some reviews incorrectly claiming that smartphone provided GPS is not available with this band.
The best way to launch a running session is from the app. With Google location services and GPS enabled, the app does keep track of the trajectory of the running, contrary to the reviews stating GPS linkage is not possible. Obviously this requires the user to carry the smartphone when running. In this mode it also provides altitude information from the smartphone. What is surprising is that the band behaves completely different in this mode. It is locked in continuous heart monitoring without showing running statistics, which are only shown from the app. The per-km notification is now done by the app with an optional voice-based output, as the band no longer keeps track of it or vibrate for distance notification. In this mode, after running it contains results of per-km pace, heart rate chart, steps-per-minute cadence chart, and other statistics. Unlike the band-initiated running mode, this app-initiated mode does not show a chart of per-minute pace in the results, but this particular chart is useless anyway due to an inaccuracy of band-estimated distance as discussed below.
With my MIUI smartphone, I had to put the app in protected mode (lock it in task list) for the GPS linkage to not disconnect during I ran. When I ran indoors, the GPS location from the phone became wrong and it totally screwed up the trajectory.
Without GPS from the smartphone, the distance tracked by the band is hugely inaccurate for my running sessions. It overstated my running distance by 23% (compared to physical distance markers in my running path and the GPS, which matched perfectly), but this inaccuracy can be solved by only launching a running session from the app on a GPS-enabled smartphone, which counts the distance by GPS instead of relying of band estimation.
Step counting in a walking session is a few percent above the real figure, which I gather is fairly common in fitness trackers.
Another review compared the continuous heart rate monitor against a Polar chest belt and found the Honor to understate the heart rate by a significant amount during exercise, but I cannot verify this.
I can, however, compare the heart rate monitor when I am sitting perfectly still against an electronic blood pressure monitor which I assume is fairly accurate. I waited until the band heart rate monitor to stabilize and give a final reading, which takes less than a minute. In the multiple times I compared, one time it is off by a few percent, but four other times it almost perfectly matched the reference device.
I do not doubt there are better fitness trackers and more functional apps at multiple times the cost, but the Honor Band 4 does a reasonable job for its low cost and I am pretty happy with it.