The Huawei Watch marks the Chinese company’s entry into the consumer tech big leagues. While its handsets can feel a bit “me too” or perfunctory, the Huawei Watch, despite arriving many months after its initial reveal, lands right at the top of the Android Wear pile. It’s not perfect, but many of its faults lie with Google’s Android Wear wearable operating system, rather than with Huawei’s solid hardware.
What Is It?
A round-faced Android Wear watch, starting at 399 Euros and going up to 699 Euros, depending on design. Though we’re still waiting on UK pricing, those prices convert to roughly £295 and £515 respectively, making the Huawei Watch one of the more expensive Android Wear devices out there.
Who’s It For?
Those who have been convinced that Android Wear is an operating system worth investing in. Fashion-conscious tech aficionados. Anyone willing to pay extra to get the current cream of the Android Wear crop (even if that’s loaded praise to give, given the so-so competition).
The Huawei Watch looks great. I’ve been testing the “Watch Active” edition, which has a black-plated stainless steel case and crown button, but I’ve set eyes on the “Classic” chrome stainless steel version and “Elite” gold plated option too. All are equally easy on the eye. With seven strap options, from a soft leather to a gold link chain (with 18mm wide lugs making it easy to swap in your own preferred strap) you can see that Huawei has put in real effort across the board to make this primarily a great watch before even considering the smart-gubbins inside. A “2pm” crown button sits on the right hand edge, but it doesn’t do much, despite rotating – a quick press will wake up the screen, while a long-press jumps to the apps list.
Weighing 61g with the leather strap I was supplied, the Huawei Watch has just the right amount of weight to make it feel solid, without weighing down your arm. It has a 1.4-inch AMOLED display, which, unlike the Moto 360 but similarly to the LG G Watch R (which for my money is its closest cousin) has a full-circle display, rather than the “flat tire” of the 360. Despite the face being a tad bigger than the LG G Watch R, it actually feels less cumbersome on the wrist thanks to a more streamlined bezel.
Tucked underneath that screen is pretty-standard Android Wear internals - a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage, as well as Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity and Wi-Fi, which lets the Watch receive notifications over a shared network even if it’s some distance away from the phone it is connected to. An optical heart rate sensor sits on the rear, with other built-in sensors including an accelerometer, gyroscope and barometer. An IP67 rating means the Watch can survive a splash of water or two, but you shouldn’t take it swimming and expect it to work afterwards.
In terms of tech specs, that’s all not dissimilar to other Android Wear devices. Which is why I was surprised to find that the Huawei Watch felt significantly more responsive than other Android Wear wristwatches, despite sharing similar processors. I’ll put that down then to the quality of the display – with a 400 x 400 resolution (for a high 286 ppi) it’s the sharpest Android Wear screen available yet and, paired with its reasonably large size and perfectly-angled bezel, was easy to tap and swipe across. It’s protected by durable sapphire crystal too, which means it should take a beating without getting scuffed or scratched (though admittedly I didn’t go stabbing it with a screwdriver to test these claims).
Android Wear devices need to be paired with a phone to work. This used to be limited to handsets running Android 4.3 and above, but has now been expanded to include iPhones running iOS 8.2 or above. Though it’s not a like-for-like experience using both mobile operating systems with Android wear, so long as you stick with core Google apps, iPhone users should be able to get their money’s worth out of Android Wear, too.
That said, Android Wear still isn’t all that feature rich even when paired with an Android phone, let alone an Apple one. Android Wear still relies on mini Google Now cards, which pop up contextually with notifications, reminders, calendar events, messages and the like. They appear over the bottom third of the Watch face; swiping up lets you scroll through awaiting notifications, tapping on them expands them, swiping right-to-left lets you see any possible interactions, while swiping left-to-right dismisses them. It’s not all that intuitive.
Sometimes these notifications are very useful – getting a heads-up on public transport delays when dashing to a meeting is invaluable for instance. But do I need a notification on availability of new stickers in a silly sketching app I irregularly use? Nope. Worse still, far too many notifications require that you open your phone in order to have any interaction with them – making that Wi-Fi feature all but obsolete. Android Wear is at its best with apps that work directly from your wrist – using Shazam to identify a song from the Watch for instance, or as a controller for Spotify with whatever device it may be playing from. But such useful uses are few and far between.
Using the “OK Google” voice trigger, you can tell the Watch to carry out different tasks for you, hands-free, from setting alarms to replying to messages or taking notes. For the most part, the voice recognition is accurate, but it’s still pretty dumb if you veer away from Google’s suggested commands, making speaking naturally a bit useless. For instance, Android Wear perfectly picked up the fact I was saying “set an alarm for ten minutes time” at 1pm, which you’d think would have set an alarm for ten minutes past 1pm. Instead, it set an alarm for 10pm. But, when I said “set an alarm IN ten minutes time”, it got it right. The difference a single word makes...
40 watch faces come pre-installed, from styles that simply tell the time, to others which include battery and step monitors. Personally, I’m not all that taken with many of Huawei’s faces – like its phone UI re-skins, lots look a bit busy and childish. But, out of the 40, there were enough to suit my needs, and plenty more on the Google Play store to download, highlighting a significant point with wearables – they’re more personal than many other gadgets.
The Huawei Watch is expensive, but at least it feels worth the added expense over other Android Wear watches. No matter what style you go for, the Huawei Watch range feels like a set of proper, premium timepieces. Compared to the LG G Watch R, it’s a little less chunky, and the bezel doesn’t have the unsightly markings that limited LG’s device.
A year’s worth of improvements hasn’t seen Android Wear come very far. Granted, there’s better app support (Spotify is a notable addition, as are the improvements to navigation apps such as Google Maps and Citymapper), but you’ll still end up having to take your phone out of your pocket for many tasks that seem simple enough to have been carried out on your wrist.
It’s also a shame that continuous heart-rate monitoring has been overlooked, as has GPS tracking, limiting the Watch’s usefulness for runners looking to leave their phones at home. There’s no NFC either, which could prove frustrating if Android’s mobile payments options go mainstream. You have to wonder what, if anything, was added to the Watch between its March reveal and this Autumn’s launch.
- The disc-like charging pad is a little ropey. It’s just a tad too small for the watch, which rests on top of the pad’s four magnetic power pins. This means that it can be a bit fiddly to line the watch up to charge, unlike the G Watch R’s enveloping charging pad, which hugs that smartwatch in place. In the case of the Huawei watch, it meant that it slipped one night, leaving no battery charge left at all the next morning.
- That said, the battery life is definitely “good enough”, and easily comparable to the Android Wear competition. I breezed through most days with the Huawei Watch, which even outlasted my respectable LG G4 phone on occasion. Mileage will vary of course – Huawei quotes a day and a half’s battery life, and if you’re not receiving a constant buzz of notifications and messages, that may be the case. But then, if you’re NOT getting loads of messages and notifications, an Android Wear watch is probably wasted on you anyway.
- The lack of an ambient light sensor is an oversight that could have increased battery life a smidgen. As it stands, the “Ambient Mode” on the Watch (the screen has a white-on-black low power consumption face when resting, springing to life when you raise your wrist) does all the battery conserving.
- Android Wear still makes for a great remote camera trigger, letting you preview what your phone's camera sensor is seeing, on your wrist. Trying to take a photo of the feature using my phone ended up with the cool "Phoneception" image you see above.
- I think the step counter may be a little too sensitive. I had a flued-up day in bed during the testing. I’m guessing my violent sneezes must have seemed like several thousand steps to the watch, despite my being near-comatose all day. Most other times it seemed accurate, but that anomaly had me questioning every other reading it gave.
Should You Buy It?
I really like the Huawei Watch. It’s comfortable, good-looking and responsive, with a relatively complete feature set, as far as Android Wear goes. It’s set to be expensive, but a premium build quality justifies that. For now, I’d say it’s as good as Android Wear gets, especially considering the many styles on offer.
But that’s an accolade that has to be put into context. Android Wear, more than a year into its life, still feels half baked. Though there have been some small improvements over the past year, I still get frustrated by the many apps that lack features that common sense would seem intuitive to include, or by the temperamental voice recognition which the Android Wear experience really balances on. If Android Wear continues to improve, the Huawei Watch is great hardware on which to see that evolution take place. For now though, Google’s take on wearables remains too limited to really recommend ANY Android Wear device.
Huawei Watch Specs
Operating System: Android Wear
Screen: 1.4-inches, 400 x 400 AMOLED
Processor: 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400 processor
Memory: 512MB RAM
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1
Dimensions: 42 x 42 x 11.3 mm
Price: TBA (Expect prices to start at around £295)