Honor Watch ES full review

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The Honor Watch ES represents a shift towards the fashion-focused tech fan, complete with an eye-catching tall 1.64in AMOLED display and a variety of customisable watch faces to choose from. Don’t let the good looks fool you though: it’s still a fairly capable tracker, complete with a built-in heart rate monitor, SpO2 monitor and more to help give you a holistic view of your health and fitness. But is it worth buying? It’s complicated.

Before I delve in, I need to first explain that the Honor Watch ES is, in most respects, a duplicate of the Huawei Watch Fit, although Huawei’s version has built-in GPS and one extra workout on its list of 90+ supported workouts. There are implications to this one-upmanship, which I’ll get into a little later.

Design and build

The Honor Watch ES is certainly a stylish-looking smartwatch, sporting a tall rectangular display compared to the square and circular displays of most available right now. It’s a 1.64in AMOLED display with a decent 280 x 456 resolution, and the bezels are pretty slim too.

It’s immediately eye-catching, with bright vibrant colours, and it’s easy to see even in bright sunlight. There’s also a wide range of watch faces that take advantage of the tall display, with colours popping thanks to the AMOLED tech. It’s nice to see an AMOLED panel in such affordable tech, and it no doubt helps provide the long battery life on offer from the Watch ES too.

That gorgeous rectangular display is encased in 2.5D glass and housed within a smooth aluminium body with a single side-mounted button, further enhancing the fashion-focused look of the wearable.

Honor Watch ES review

It’s also surprisingly compact, measuring in at 10.7mm thick and 21g, meaning you’ll likely forget it’s even on your wrist within minutes of putting it on. As with most wearables, the sensors are housed on the bottom of the smartwatch, and they’re covered with a matte plastic finish to help avoid sweat accumulation during intense workouts.

Crucially, the sealed design of the Honor Watch ES enables a 5ATM water resistance rating, meaning it’ll survive in water up to 50m deep. That’s great not only for swimmers (there are accompanying swim tracking modes on offer) but those that exercise in general, as you can simply take the watch off and rinse it off after a particularly sweaty workout.  

Though the silicone strap isn’t quite as fashion-forward as the rest of the smartwatch, it is comfortable and sweat-resistant – this is a fitness device first and foremost after all. You can switch out the strap if you want to change the look, but there is a catch; you can only use official Honor Watch ES (or Huawei Watch Fit) straps, opposed to other smartwatches that support standard 22mm straps.

The issue is that there aren’t any available on the Honor website at the time of writing– let’s hope this changes soon.

Honor Watch ES review

Fitness and health monitoring

Despite its relatively small form factor, the Honor Watch ES has a surprising repertoire of fitness tracking modes at a whopping 95, ranging from standard exercises like running, cycling and running to more nuanced workouts like Latin dancing, Tai Chi and even parachuting. You could argue that most of these aren’t going to be used by the average consumer, but it’s nice to see all bases covered where possible.

The metrics measured depends on the exercise you’re doing, but it’ll record metrics including heart rate (and target heart rate zones), calories burned, distance, Sp02 and average pace when running alongside exercise-specific metrics like stroke counts when swimming. Generally speaking, it’s accurate enough, although the heart rate reading from the Honor Watch ES was slightly higher than that of the Apple Watch SE that I was wearing at the same time.

Honor Watch ES review

The biggest downside, however, is the lack of built-in GPS, meaning you’ll need to have your phone nearby for accurate outdoor exercise tracking. It’s one of the vanishingly few differences between the Honor Watch ES and Huawei Watch Fit, but one that could be a dealbreaker for outdoor runners and cyclists that like to leave their smartphones at home when out on a run.

You can view the basic metrics at a glance via the smartwatch both during and post-workout, but for a full breakdown of all your stats, you’ll have to hop over to the Huawei Fitness app for iOS and Android. From there, you can get deep into the recorded data, including trends and even your recovery time, indicating how long you’ll have to wait before doing more exercise.

Interestingly, aside from standard exercise tracking, the Honor Watch ES has a suite of 12 guided exercises, complete with on-screen animations and diagrams to help you get on your way. Each exercise, ranging from stretches to fat-burning workouts and core exercises, comes with a brief explanation of what it is and how it’ll benefit you, and at a maximum of 20 minutes per session, they’re easy to squeeze into your daily life.

It’s a fun little feature that gives you more guidance than standard fitness tracking, especially helpful if you’re trying out a new kind of exercise you’ve got no experience with. There are little buzzes to let you know when to start and stop, but I can’t help but imagine how much better it could be if you could hook up a pair of wireless earbuds and get audio cues as well as on-screen animations.

Still, it’s a nice touch and it’ll be interesting to see how Honor (or parent company Huawei) further develops the tech in future.

Honor Watch ES review

Alongside fitness tracking, you have general health tracking features on offer. There’s nothing too groundbreaking here, tracking metrics like calories burned, steps taken, hours standing and even sleep. There are more interesting metrics including heart rate, stress levels and SpO2 levels available too, the latter of which is impressive to see at this price point considering it’s the headline feature of the Apple Watch Series 6. And, like many competitors, there are rings to close on a daily basis to keep you fit and healthy.  

Software and battery life

The Honor Watch ES comes running Huawei’s LiteOS out of the box, and that means there isn’t the same compatibility with third-party apps and services that you’d get from a Wear OS-enabled smartwatch. You can’t locally store songs despite the 4GB of storage available, you can’t install any apps that aren’t pre-installed and although you do get notifications, there aren’t any quick reply-style systems in place.

However, LiteOS is refreshingly simple to use, you can control music playback from your smartphone via the Now Playing app, and there are plenty of customisable watch faces for you to choose from. You can browse and customise faces via the watch itself, but it’s easier and faster to do so via the Huawei Health app – it’s also where you can install other watch faces.

Honor Watch ES review

While it may not sound like the most feature-packed operating system for a smartwatch, LiteOS’s feature-light design provides incredible battery life, especially considering there’s a relatively small 180mAh battery on-board. Honor claims a 10-day battery life when it comes to the Honor Watch ES, and for the most part, I’ve found that to be on the money with the occasional workout and constant heart rate tracking enabled.

Of course, battery life will vary depending on how often you exercise, the length of your workouts and other factors like whether you enable the always-on display (doing so dramatically reduces the battery life on offer) but the good news is that it’ll go from flat-to-full in little under 90 minutes, limiting the amount of time away from your wrist.

Price and availability

The Honor Watch ES comes in at £119.99/$119.99, and while that is a decent price for what’s on offer, it can’t be recommended over the Huawei Watch Fit – it’s essentially the exact same as the Watch ES, but with the addition of built-in GPS, and it’s the same price too. The lack of GPS means it’s also bested by the Fitbit Charge 4, which currently sits at the top of our selection of the best fitness trackers.

If you’re still tempted by the Honor Watch ES, you can pick it up via the likes of Honor and Amazon, both in the UK and US. It’s actually discounted to just £99 in the UK right now, which may make up for the lack of GPS for some, but the discount ends at the end of October.

Verdict

The Honor Watch ES is a well-built, stylish smartwatch that boasts tracking for over 90 exercises alongside 12 guided exercises alongside standard health tracking capabilities. The 1.64in AMOLED display is gorgeous, and along with the lightweight nature of LiteOS, allows the Watch ES to last up to 10 days on a single charge.

The problem? There’s no built-in GPS on the Watch ES, but it is present on the practically identical Huawei Watch Fit, and it costs the exact same price too, making this near-impossible to recommend.  

Specs

Honor Watch ES: Specs

  • 46 x 30 x 10.7mm
  • 21g (without strap)
  • 1.64in AMOLED display
  • 456 x 280 pixels
  • Customisable watch faces
  • Optional always-on display
  • Tracks 95 different exercises
  • 12 exercise guides
  • LiteOS
  • HR monitor
  • SpO2 monitor
  • Sleep monitor
  • Stress monitor
  • 10-day battery life with 90-minute charge time

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