OnePlus Band Review: Don’t settle for this
OnePlus, once known for its ‘flagship killer’ smartphone models, isn’t the same company anymore. Deviating from its usual path of releasing just two ‘affordable flagships’ every year, the company, in 2019-20, diversified into several new segments; televisions, wearable audio and budget smartphones. OnePlus intends to follow a similar path this year and recently added one more segment to its repertory; fitness trackers. Say hello to OnePlus’ newest product; the One Plus Band. As of February 5, 2021, the OnePlus Band is exclusively on sale only in one country; India.
Who should buy the OnePlus Band?
As of February 5, 2021, the OnePlus Band is exclusively on sale only in one country; India. I should also add a bit of context here. The OnePlus Band is not an entirely new product and is a rebranded OPPO Band which is exclusively available only in China as of writing this.
But in the likelihood that this ever makes it to other markets, the OnePlus Band targets the same demographics as other affordable fitness bands do. So, basically, for anyone on the lookout for an ultra-affordable fitness band for around the EUR30 mark, the OnePlus Band should make for a good choice, right?
Well, that’s what I am about to tell you in the next few sections of this review. I have divided this article into two broad sections. Things I liked about the OnePlus Band, and the things I did not. Let’s start with the positives which, unfortunately, aren’t too many and to OnePlus’ misfortune, are also the positives shared by most of its competition.
Things I liked about the OnePlus Band
Features a pulse oximeter for SpO2 readings
Had it not been for COVID-19, a pulse oximeter would mostly have been seen as a gimmicky feature. However, with one of the COVID-19 symptoms being low blood oxygen saturation levels, pulse oximeters have played a key role in saving lives. Going forward, it is likely to be a key feature on fitness bands and smartwatches.
The OnePlus Band, perhaps, is among the few affordable fitness bands that offer a SPo2 monitor. In India, its sole target market, the only other band that offers a pulse oximeter is the Honor Band 5. This makes the OnePlus Band stand out from most of the competition. While the efficacy of a ‘cheap’ SpO2 monitor is debatable, there is no denying that the addition of this feature does help OnePlus check a much sought after feature-box.
Bright, usable AMOLED display
You know things look bad for the OnePlus Band already when one of the positives is the display.
Anyway, the AMOLED panel is truly very good and matches up to what the competition has on offer. It is the same size as that of most other Fitness bands with a diagonal length of 1.1-inches. The screen resolution is also pretty decent at 126 x 294 pixels. While there is no ambient light sensor that will automatically adjust the screen brightness, users do get the option to set the brightness levels manually, and it is easily accessible from the menu. One flaw I did notice was that the band did not have an always-on display option. However, this issue is offset by OnePlus’ excellent wake mechanism, which is quick to turn the screen on at a small flick of your wrist.
Intuitive, easy to use UI
Before I proceed, I must admit that I have not used many fitness bands before this and, therefore, I am not in a position to make direct comparisons. But I did get used to the UI on the OnePlus Band very quickly and am pretty sure that would be the case for most users. Even though the OnePlus Band lacks a physical button (unlike the Mi Band 5), the auto-wake-up function works pretty well, and in the rare occasion it doesn’t, a simple tap on the screen is enough to wake the band from sleep. Overall, users will face no trouble navigating the menu and using all the functions of the OnePlus Band. I did notice occasional lags, but these few too few and far between.
Extremely light, comfortable fit
At 21g, the weight of the OnePlus Band is on par with most other fitness bands. Wearing the band fresh right out of the box felt a little tricky and, dare I say, annoying. But every subsequent time you wear it, the process becomes easier and intuitive. The band is light enough to be worn all-day-long without an iota of discomfort. I also noticed that the strap was of high quality, and it looks like it is built to last. Thanks to the IP68 rating, you can comfortably wear the band while you take a shower or even take it to a pool if you happen to be among the lucky few who can still use a pool during COVID-19 times.
Note that OnePlus *forces* you to buy the band with the default Black Strap even if you do not want the colour. The other two strap colour options; Navy and Tangerine Gray are both additional purchases that cost Rs 399 (5 EUR)
What I did not like about the OnePlus Band
Heart rate sensor did not work for me initially
Ideally, the review you are reading right now should have been out last week. But I couldn’t test the band because one of the key features simply did not work for me. As explained in this detailed article, the heart rate sensor on the OnePlus Band could not measure my heart rate because of my dark skin tone. Now I am not throwing wild accusations at OnePlus without proof. To make sure this was not an issue with just the unit I had, I purchased another OnePlus Band and was able to recreate the same problem.
I eventually figured that the issue wasn’t inherently with the band’s heart rate sensor, but rather OnePlus’ own algorithm which prima facie wasn’t ‘taught’ to not ‘recognise’ people with a darker complexion. This was sort of understandable given that the OnePlus Band, for all practical purposes, is the OPPO Band which, you know, is only sold in China where it is rare to find a person with dark skin.
Nevertheless, I see this as a quality control issue on the part of OnePlus and something they should have taken into account before launching their band in a country as diverse as India. And it is not like this issue has not happened on affordable fitness bands for the first time. The Mi Band 3 also suffered from the same issue a few years ago. Thankfully, the issue was fixed within a few days via a software update, and the issue has not been widely reported.
We need to talk about the OnePlus Health App
To connect the OnePlus Band to your phone, you will be required to install the OnePlus Health app on your phone. At the time of publishing this review, the OnePlus Health app was only available for Android devices. While OnePlus did promise an iOS app “after launch”, almost a month later, there is still no sign of the app. There are scores of people who ended up buying this band and simply cannot use them because they own an iPhone. This reflects poorly on a company with the stature of OnePlus.
As for the app itself, it is basically a rebranded HeyTap app that OPPO uses for its smartwatches and fitness bands. The UI and the navigation is identical to the OPPO app that I had talked about in my OPPO Watch review a few months ago. While I liked the overall design, font and navigation of the app, I am told that it falls short on several features that the competition has to offer.
The Mi Band and the Mi Fit app, for example, offers menstrual tracking and stress monitoring features. Personally, I think the lack of the first feature is inexcusable for fitness or a health tracker. And considering OnePlus did not need additional hardware to implement these features, I once again see this as a massive oversight. One thing that OnePlus is good at, however, is issuing comprehensive software updates and I am hopeful that this issue can be fixed via an update.
While not a major flaw, you will need to manually turn on continuous heart rate monitoring from within the OnePlus Health app. This feature is turned off by default to conserve battery life. The app also lets you set the band to track blood oxygen saturation levels while you sleep. You can also set alarms, control media playback, or use the band as a stopwatch. The band also features a native “find my phone” feature. One useful feature I found was the camera trigger button that lets you take pictures without having to hit the shutter key on the phone.
Watch face options lack polish, limited customization options
The OnePlus Band currently offers several watch face options. Upon closer inspection, you will see that several of them are the same designs in different colours. Some of the watch faces seem to have been designed with no thought given to the tall display of the band and seem to distort. Thankfully, there are some good ones too.
Another issue that will annoy you is that the band can only accommodate 5 watch faces at a time. To add a new one with all the five slots filled, you will need to get rid of one from your existing lot to add a new face. The actual process of watch face download and install takes around a minute – thanks to the super slow transfer speeds over Bluetooth.
GPS tracking and SPo2 readings iffy
For a band this affordable, it would be too much to ask for an integrated GPS receiver. While I cannot comment about the performance of other fitness bands without integrated GPS, I can vouch that the OnePlus Health app did face a lot of trouble logging accurate GPS data. Without proper GPS tracking, parts of my morning runs were completely omitted, and I was left with incomplete data. For those of you planning to buy this band for GPS dependent outdoor activities, it is advisable you stay away.
On the flip side, the band was daily accurate at counting steps, and for tracking indoor activities. OnePlus offers a lot of workout and activity modes that range from indoor running and fat burn run to indoor cycling, elliptical trainers, rowing machine, yoga, and free training.
Another thing I noticed with the OnePlus Band was the amount of time I continuously managed to hit 100% on blood oxygen saturation levels. While I did not have a dedicated pulse oximeter with me at this time, I am sure I have never hit 100% ever on better quality, dedicated pulse oximeters. I am doubtful, therefore, as to how accurate the pulse oximeter on the OnePlus Band really is.
Battery life and charging mechanism need improvement
The OnePlus Band gets a small 100mAh battery. This is smaller than the 125mAh battery on the Mi Band 5, or the massive 200mAh battery on the Samsung Galaxy Fit 2. While OnePlus Band claims a standby time of 14 days, I was only about to eke out around 7, 8 days of battery life with the brightness set to 50% and with continuous heart rate monitoring off. I am sure the battery life would be even lower if I turn continuous monitoring features on.
While a week’s worth of battery is good enough, it falls much short of OnePlus’s own claim of 14 days. You have already read how Ben was impressed with the Samsung Galaxy Fit 2’s 20-day battery life. The OnePlus’ battery life pales in comparison. On the flip side, the small battery size means charging time is really quick.
Things do not end here, however. One of the major flaws of the OnePlus Band is its charging mechanism. Like most other smartwatches and fitness bands, you will need to use a charging dock to charge this band. However, the design of the dongle is such that you might be required to detach the band from the strap and have only the body attached to the dock.
With some effort, I was able to get the band to charge without having to remove the strap every time – but the whole contraption looks ungainly. Then there is the length of the dock itself.
It is comically short and seems to have been designed keeping laptops in mind. Surely, OnePlus could have designed a much better charging mechanism here.
The OnePlus Band itself features capable hardware, looks good and is comfortable to wear. The inbuilt tools and modes work fine and should satiate the demands of users who do not venture out too much for their fitness regimen. The SpO2 monitor is a great feature to have.
Unfortunately, OnePlus’ ecosystem surrounding the band is still work in progress. It’s almost as if OnePlus wanted to beta test the band in India before it releases an upgraded version elsewhere with all the issues ironed out. The lack of an iOS app, the carelessness with which the algorithm wasn’t tuned for collecting data from people with darker skin tones, the watch faces that look unfinished, unpolished and incorrect (or rather no logging) of GPS data; there is a lot going against the OnePlus Band.
To add to OnePlus’ troubles, almost all other fitness bands in this sub EUR 30 price segment have ironed out most of these issues. It is, therefore, difficult for me to recommend the OnePlus Band at this juncture. For Indians, I recommend going for either the Mi Band 5 (which we haven’t reviewed yet – but has earned good reviews elsewhere) or the slightly more expensive Samsung Galaxy Fit 2 – which is a really good product for the price.