Honor Watch ES review: a fashion forward smartwatch that works well
Honor is a spin-off brand owned by Huawei Technologies. The company sells products at lower prices because it saves money by operating mostly online. It originally started off as a smarphone manufacturer but has, in the past few years, expanded into wearables.
This includes multiple generations of its smart fitness band, the Honor Watch range, Honor Watch ES and Watch GS. These last two were launched at IFA in Berlin a couple of months ago.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
I’ve been walking around with Honor Watch ES strapped to my wrist over the past 10 days. Here’s what I made of it.
Honor Watch ES review review: Design
Honor Watch ES is designed with fashionistas in mind. It actually reminds very much of Huawei Watch Fit in terms of looks, dishing up a tall viewing experience. Put the two together and you’ll struggle to tell them apart.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad thing. The timepiece offers a trendy, sporty look. A bit like the Apple Watch, but more vertically stretched out and slightly curved.
Similarities with Huawei Watch Fit include the exact same 1.64 AMOLED display that has a resolution of 456 x 280 pixels (326ppi). The ergonomic design dishes up a watch frame that is 46mm in height 30mm width, and only 10.7 mm in thickness. The weight is 21 grams which makes it one of the most lightweight smartwatches around.
This type of design makes Watch ES stand out from all the Apple Watch lookalikes we’ve seen over the past year or so. I won’t go into them here, but the list is long.
The benefit of having such a large display is that it is incredibly easy to read. This extends to when you are using it during exercise. I typically wear glasses when reading but there’s no need with Watch ES. The fonts are big, the screen legible indoors or out.
Like most smartwatches, the display is off by default. A quick flick of the wrist brings it to life. This can also be done by pressing the single physical button on the right. You do have some options such as defining how long the screen stays on before switching off.
Further navigation is done by swipping on the display. Left and right takes you through the home page, heart rate, steps, sleep and weather. Swiping down takes you to the settings page, swipping up takes you to notifications.
The display is very responsive and never fails to register a touch. This is particularly useful when exercising as you can navigate the screen as you intended each time you interact.
A press on the button takes you through to a longer menu which takes the form of a list. This includes Workout, Workout Records, Heart Rate, SpO2, Activity records, Sleep, Breathing exercises, Notifications, Weather, Stopwatch, Timer, Alarm, Flashlight, Find Phone and Settings. Tap on any of these to go through to further info and options.
I was actually pretty impressed with the design. It’s simple and functional. Not only does it offer an original form factor, but it actually works well. And most importantly – it looks great! This is despite the lack of a premium build – the case is made of plastic, the strap of silicone.
If you want to fancy it up you can always purchase a more expensive watch strap. It’s a breeze removing the old one. Simply detach the band with the two pins that hold it in place.
Or you can choose a different color body. The options include a Meteorite Black, Coral Pink and Icelandic White. The other customization possibility is the watch face. A long press on the screen spits out a choice of 12. If you’re not happy with any of those, many more can be installed via the smartphone app.
Honor Watch ES can be worn come rain or shine. In fact the 5 ATM water-resistance rating means you can use the device to track your swim sessions.
The combination of sensors that allows for this includes a 6-axis IMU sensor (accelerometer, gyroscope), optical heart rate sensor, capacitive sensor and ambient light sensor. There’s no built-in GPS so you’ll need to make do with Connected GPS. This is the biggest difference between this device and the Huawei Watch Fit. The latter has a built in GPS chip (and therefore a higher price tag).
Rounding off the excellent design is battery life. Honor Watch ES can keep going for up to 10 days on a single charge. That’s pretty decent considering the thing has a high-res AMOLED display.
This is not a WearOS watch, which contributes to the excellent battery life. Instead, the thing runs on Huawei’s LiteOS, an operating system that keeps things simple. The negative with this is that you can’t install third-party apps.
It takes about 100 minutes to refuel from zero to full. If you’re in a hurry, a 30 minute top-up will bump the battery capacity up to 70%. I found this tallies with reality – the watch really is very quick to recharge. You’ll probably end up letting it rest on the charger for a bit about once per week.
Honor Watch ES review: Features
Honor Watch ES is meant to be used with the HuaweiHealth app. This is the same software that is used for Huawei watches. Simply scan the device or add it via the Devices tab. Pair the watch and let it install any firmware updates it deems necessary. You’ll be set to go in a matter of minutes.
Some options you might want to tweak are accessable via the smartphone app. I would suggest you enable HUAWEI TruSleep – this allows for more accurate sleep monitoring.
Other options worth switching on include Continuous heart rate monitoring and perhaps high/low heart rate alerts. All of this will, of course, negatively affect the watch’s battery life. There’s also a heart rate limit warning option – in case you want to be reminded if your heart rates exceeds what you deem to be the highest acceptable value.
The final option I suggest switching on is the automatic stress test. With this enabled, the watch will take stress measurements when you are still. You’ll then see a chart showing your daily trends in the app.
Just like with the design, I was impressed with just how seemless everything is. The watch syncs nicely, the installation and pairing is easy, the app is well laid out.
When it comes to 24/7 activity tracking, you’ll get all the basics apart from floors climbed. The watch does not have an altimeter or barometer on-board so cannot track this. But you still get plenty.
This includes steps, distance, sleep tracking, heart rate tracking, stress monitor, pluse oxygen and a female cycle tracker. This is all laid out on a health dashboard. Clicking on any metric takes you through to more detailed info. All of this can be viewed on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
The heart rate sensor works well, especially during exercise. Having said this, I did find it to be slightly on the high-side when it comes to estimatting resting heart rate. Typically 5-6bpm higher than other devices. My guess is that this is less to do with the sensor and more to do with how Honor calculates the metric.
Sleep tracking estimates awake time, REM sleep, Light sleep and Deep sleep. You also get a Sleep Quality score and a little summary on how you’ve done. For example, this morning I was told “You woke up 2 times last night, but the quality of your sleep was good”.
In general, I found that sleep tracking works well. This is not an exact science with wearable tech, but the values on “bed time” and “rise time” tallied with reality. As far as sleep stages, as this scientific study points out, you can’t really trust those with any wearables. At least not yet.
Finally, you also get a Breathing Quality score. This is on a scale to 100.
Stress tracking is also a nice little add-on. You can view how this has changed from hour to hour, from day to day. Everything is clearly labeled so you know where you stand. I was mostly in a relaxed state. First time setup does require a 30 second calibration, but after that everything is automatic. The calibration also requires you to answer a set of questions.
If you find you could do with a chill session, open the Breathe app on the watch. This will guide you via an animation on when to exhale, when to inhale. It lasts about a minute. At the end you’ll get your initial bpm and the average bpm during the sesson. That way you can compare how much you’ve managed to lower your heart rate.
Last but not least are SpO2 readings. We’ve seen a plethora of devices introduce this in 2020. This can only be measured on-demand. It takes about 30 seconds for a measurement to complete. I was typically in the range between 95% and 100%. This is considered healthy.
It would be nice if Honor adds an option to enable blood oxygen saturation measurements during sleep. A number of other companies have done this. I imagine it could be done quite easily via a firmware update.
As far as sports tracking, Honor Watch ES has a total of 95 workout modes. Who knew that many existed! I suspect that, beyond a core few, many of them will have similar performance stats. There’s also auto-exercise recognition for six types of workouts.
As an avid runner, to me run tracking was of most interest. And this is where my positive impressions continued.
A session can be initiated from the smartphone or the watch itself. The watch taps into the smartphone signal for GPS and this usually takes a few seconds to complete. From that point on you are good to go.
I’ve tested many watches and fitness bands with connected GPS. One would think the quality of their distance tracking is dependent on the quality of the smartphone’s satellite signal. But that is not always the case. With some devices you get large discrepancies.
I tested Honor Watch ES against the Garmin Forerunner 935 and NURVV run, both of which have built-in GPS. The end result as far as distance was nearly identical with all three devices. Which means if you don’t mind carrying around your smartphone, Honor’s device is a perfectly decent run tracker.
This also extends to heart rate tracking. For example, I did a 5K run this morning. My Garmin gave me an average heart rate during the session of 149bpm. Watch ES pinned me at 147bpm. It doesn’t spit out a maximum heart rate value so I was unable to compare this.
The negative with Honor’s device is that you don’t get any advanced performance analytics. So no Vo2Max, recovery score, any Firstbeat-type analytics or the ability to connect to Strava (or other platforms). You also cannot pair an external heart rate chest strap.
The run stats are limited to duration, average pace, average steps (cadence), total steps, calories, average speed, average stride length and average heart rate. You also get a few charts. This might seem like a lot, but hard-core runners will be left wanting more. Anyone else will be quite happy.
An interesting addition are animated workout courses. There are 12 of them. I suspect this is more about showcasing the long high-res display. I must admit the animations look georgous, even though I doubt I would use them beyond the initial few times out of sheer curiosity.
Rounding off this review are smart features. As mentioned, the watch runs on Huawei LiteOS.
This section will be pretty short as the smart ability only extends to displaying and allowing you to reject calls, seeing but not interacting with smartphone notifications, looking at weather and Find Phone. There is also a Stopwatch function, timer and alarm.
But there is no music storage (despite 4GB of on-board memory). There is music control, as long as you are not connected to an iOS smartphone. The watch has a microphone, but neverthless there’s no ability to answer telephone calls from the watch itself or connect to Alexa.
A nice addition that I have not come across elsewhere is the flashlight. Tap on this and the screen will light up in a very bright white color. Useful to have in case of emergency.
Honor Watch ES review: The verdict
It is clear from this review that I was very impressed with Honor Watch ES. It packs a nice set of features. Everything from the lightweight, sporty design that is pleasing to the eye, to decent fitness and sleep tracking and excellent battery life make this a wearable to seriously consider.
The omissions are the lack of a barometer for a floor count and built-in GPS. Nevertheless, the timepiece functions well as a run tracker – if you don’t mind carrying your phone for GPS.
The smartphone app does the job and it even has around-the-clock stress tracking. Blood oxygen saturation readings can be done on demand.
Honor Watch ES
All things considered, Honor Watch ES offers excellent value for money. It’s an affordable way to get into the fitness gadget craze. What I like is that the timepiece doesn’t try to do too much. But what it does, it does well.
The highlight for me is the design and the fact that everything simply works. Most wearables have one or two things that annoy me. I have struggled to come up with negatives for this one.
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