Honor Band 5 Fitness Tracker Review: A Xiaomi Mi Band 4 alternative with hardly any weaknesses
The Honor Band 5 and its predecessor look almost identical. Honor has added blood oxygen monitoring with its latest fitness tracker though, along with new activity modes and an overhauled UI.
The Band 5 currently retails for between €30 (~US$33) to €35 (~US$39), a price that we can only find from third-party importers. Currently, the Band 5 costs more than the Xiaomi Mi Band 4, but prices could fluctuate over time. We would recommend researching the pitfalls of importing devices from China before you buy the Honor Band 5. One of the greyer areas is warranty coverage, with it likely that you must return the device to return for a warranty repair or exchange, which could prove costly.
Honor lists the Band 5 on its HiHonor shop but does not currently sell the fitness tracker directly. Instead, only Amazon currently sells the device in Germany. The Band 5 costs about €45 (~US$50) on Amazon, for reference.
Case - Waterproof up to 5 ATM
Honor rates the Band 5 for up to 5 ATM against dust and water, so you should be able to wear it in the shower safely or when swimming. The Band 5 weighs just 23 g (~0.8 oz) too, making it comfortable to wear all day in our opinion.
Like the Xiaomi Mi Band 4 and Samsung Galaxy Fit e, the Band 5 has a display unit and a silicone wristband. The latter is well made, feels comfortable on our wrist and is long enough for even those with thick wrists.
The 0.95-inch panel fills most of the display unit, which Honor covers with protective glass. The company does not specify which glass it has used, though. Below the OLED panel sits a capacitive control sensor, just like many other fitness trackers. The one in our review unit worked perfectly during our tests.
Connectivity - A fitness band with only Bluetooth 4.2
The standard version of the Band 5 has a heart rate monitor and a 6-axis accelerometer to record steps. Honor also sells a version with an NFC chip in China that is compatible with Alipay. However, since this payment solution has hardly spread beyond China, this variant will have limited utility outside of China. Some retailers in Germany like Galeria Kaufhof, WMF and dm, accept Alipay, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
The Band 5 also has a haptic vibration unit and an OLED panel, but more on that in the Display section of this review. The fitness tracker communicates with smartphones via Bluetooth, but only with the older 4.2 standard. By contrast, the Xiaomi Mi Band 4 can utilize the newer Bluetooth 5.0. The Band 5 has an alarm clock, timer and find-your-phone functionality built-in, for reference.
Software - Compatible with Huawei Health
The Band 5 can connect to devices running Android 4.4 and iOS 9.0 or newer. You must install the corresponding Huawei app to pair the fitness tracker with your smartphone though, which you can download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
The Huawei Health app also contains various settings for adjusting the Band 5 and viewing user data. The app contains plenty of alternative watch faces too.
Functions & Operation - Step recording with the Honor Band 5 is unrealistic
The Band 5 is operated via its capacitive OLED panel with swipe gestures. Swiping from top to bottom opens the menu, while a swipe from the left brings up recent notifications. The Band 5 presents the latter as a preview or a whole depending on the app, but its processor is a little too slow to display the transitions between missed messages smoothly. Correspondingly, we noticed some stutters during our tests.
Honor has also incorporated a touch-sensitive sensor below the display that allows you to perform back commands. The device can also be woken up with a brief tap on the sensor. You can also activate Raise-to-Wake within the system settings to wake the Band 5 when you raise your arm.
One of the biggest criticisms after Honor launched the Band 5 in late August was its lack of music controls and the unavailability of its blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) measuring functionality. Honor has since added both to the OS as of version 220.127.116.11, though.
The blood oxygen saturation functionality worked well during our tests, but we cannot judge the accuracy of its measurement. Honor states that it did not design the SpO2 monitoring for medical uses or to diagnose illnesses, but only to serve as a personal guide. Blood oxygen saturation is a crucial indicator of the oxygen supply within your body and an indicator of whether your muscles are being supplied with enough energy.
As with the Honor Band 4, TruSleep sleep monitoring and TruSeen 3.0 real-time heart rate monitoring return. The latter of which can be left running permanently, which is handy. Both worked well during our tests and convinced us subjectively. Our review unit matched our short wake phases and changes in heart rate that we noticed during our test period. We were unable to compare its results against a professional tool though, so we do not know how accurate they were. Incidentally, the Xiaomi Mi Band 4 recorded more or less the same results as the Band 5 did.
However, the latter cannot keep pace with the Xiaomi Mi Band 4 when counting steps. The Band 5 uses its 6-axis accelerometer to do so, but its results are unrealistically high. By contrast, the Xiaomi Mi Band 4 counts about half the steps that the Band 5 did. Perhaps, Honor will rectify this with a future software update.
Display - A fitness tracker with an OLED panel
The Band 5 has a 0.95-inch AMOLED panel that has a comparatively high pixel density of 283 PPI thanks to its resolution of 240 x 120. The display in our review unit has good image quality and reproduces colors accurately too.
Honor has integrated five brightness levels through which the Band 5 can cycle according to changing lighting conditions. The fitness tracker has an automatic dimming mode too that proves useful at night. It cannot be set to turn on at a specific time, though.
While we often found ourselves using one hand to provide some shade to read high-contrast content in bright direct sunlight, you should have no readability issues in daily use. In short, the Band 5 has a bright enough display for most use cases.
Battery Life - Good runtimes with the Band 5
Honor has integrated a 100 mAh battery, which it claims can last up to 14 days on standby. The Band 5 should also last around 6 days when continually measuring heart rates and monitoring sleep patterns.
However, our review unit dropped by between 8% and 12% charge per day when connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth but with heart rate detection disabled. Its runtimes varied based on how frequently its vibration motor notified us of incoming messages. We also left sleep monitoring active during this time. The Band 5 will last around one week between charges if its TruSeen 3.0 real-time heart rate tracking is left running too.
The Band 5 has two pins on the reverse of its display, which it uses for re-charging. Unlike the Xiaomi Mi Band 4, the Band 5 can be charged with the silicone strap still attached, which will probably prove more practical in daily use.
Verdict - The Honor Band 5 looks good, but it works even better
Honor has shown with its latest fitness tracker that it can compete with Xiaomi, the current top-dog, and its Mi Band series. The Band 5 is well made, has long battery life, and measures blood oxygen saturation just like the Xiaomi Mi Band 4 can. The decisive difference between the two fitness trackers, in our opinion, is software. The Honor Band 5 has a nicer-looking UI with fancier animations, while the Huawei Health App has a more structured and visually appealing layout than its Xiaomi counterpart; currently at least.
Despite its weaknesses, the Honor Band 5 is more than just an alternative to the Xiaomi Mi Band 4. However, if accurate step counting is your thing, then another fitness tracker would be a better choice.
However, the Honor Band 5 makes one big faux pas, its unrealistic step-counting. Our review unit not only overestimates our steps, but also handles notifications harshly, while the lack of Bluetooth 5.0 integration is disappointing.
In our opinion, Honor must make the same improvements as Xiaomi must for the next generation of its fitness tracker. Both OEMs should integrate a dedicated GPS chip, along with an always-on display of sorts. Moreover, the screen-to-body ratio of both fitness trackers could be improved too.