Do the Apple Watch sleep tracking apps beat a $40 fitness bracelet?

Do the Apple Watch sleep tracking apps beat a $40 fitness bracelet?
Not only is the Apple Watch the most popular wearable out there but it also enjoys the rare advantage of being cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration for two health-related features - its advanced method of monitoring the heart rate, and the Watch’s ability to detect and eventually notify the user of a potentially dangerous irregular heart rhythm.

While this unprecedented FDA designation is all fine and dandy, we've been hearing that Apple is prepping to turn the Watch into a sleep tracker, and yet this option is yet to officially materialize. While the belated feature may be a tangential proof that it might be putting the same rigorous research and statistical approach it did when it developed the ECG function, you as an owner may be a bit miffed that it's taking so long. What can one do?

Well, there are plenty of affordable sleep trackers out there, for once, but you can also roll one into the Apple Watch via third-party apps like Pillow or Sleep++. That's exactly what we did, comparing a night's sleep reading from honor's excellent affordable fitness tracker, the Band 5, and a freemium app like Pillow loaded on the Apple Watch.


Apple Watch vs Honor Band 5 sleep tracking


Honor's newest Band 5 can be had for less than $40, and is a direct competitor to the heretofore king of affordable fitness trackers - Xiaomi's Mi Band series. It, however, has more functions like SpO2 oxygen capacity tracking. Here's what we found after a week or so of carrying the affordable Band 5:


Pros

  • Great battery life - up to 10 days with smart heart rate and sleep tracking on
  • Useful SpO2 oxygen capacity stats
  • Rich activity tracking options, including free training and swim style reports
  • Call and message notifications

Cons

  • Screen not very responsive when wet, hard to switch off swim tracking
  • Awake time number is hit or miss


What we were most interested in, however, is how its dedicated sleep tracking mode compares to the Apple Watch with third-party apps loaded. Well, we'll save you the suspense, both do the job, with the caveat that for the Band 5 it takes negligible toll on battery life, whereas the Apple Watch drains quite significantly. Here are a few comparison screenshots:


As you can see, both honor's Band 5 and Apple's Watch recognized the times you went to sleep and woke up almost in lockstep. 

There are, however, differences in how the apps count REM/deep/light sleep ratios, as Pillow counts time in bed while awake, too, so the stats vary as a result. We'd trust the dedicated band more, as it gives more detailed breakdowns, while the final sleep quality verdicts that the Apple Watch gives are somewhat dissimilar depending on the app and its interpretations.

Long story short, there is a reason the Apple is still not adding sleep tracking towards the growing list of the Watch's abilities, and it's not because it can't do it, there are plenty of sensors on the back to go around. While sleep tracking will help Apple catapult the Watch as an indispensable health and fitness accessory, raising its profile even further, it will add to the drain out of the Watch significantly, and battery life is already a low point for the world's most popular wearable. 

In the meantime, while Apple squares that battery life circle, you can easily grab a smart fitness bracelet like the versatile Band 5, and sleep both better and more comfortable than with the Apple Watch on hand if you want to track your sleep on the cheap and easy.

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