Huawei Watch review: sharp style at a princely price
When your principal standouts in the United States are fringe or affordable smartphones, debuting your first Android Wear smartwatch at $349 is an audacious move. Only one other wearable in the Google Store hangs out in the rarified air above the $300 mark, after all, and $349 is just entry level pricing for the Huawei Watch. Does the company –whose name has yet to ring out in any meaningful way in the United States– bring enough quality to justify the coin?
Let’s find out.
Huawei Watch Review Video
The Huawei Watch was designed to make an impression – and it does, before you even open the package. Rather than an oversized earbud case or a curious cylinder, Huawei went traditional here with a big, heavy presentation box featuring embossed faux-leather lining, cleverly hidden accessories, and metal accent studs that match the watch’s color. If we gave unboxing scores for smartwatches, the Huawei Watch would probably earn a perfect 10.
Our Huawei Watch review device is the $349 base model, but nothing about it says “basic.” The 42mm casing is 316L cold-formed stainless steel, mated to a 21mm black suture-stiched leather band that’s more traditional in appearance and more rigid on the wrist than the soft leather bands of the Moto 360 and Pebble Steel Time.
Every Android Wear manufacturer in 2015 seems to have alighted on the same strategy: de-emphasize the inherent geekiness of a smartwatch by amping up its style. At this, the Huawei Watch succeeds brilliantly. From its blended lugs to its brushed steel finish to its two-layer sapphire crystal, this is an absolutely beautiful wristwatch. It’s rated to IP67 for water and dust resistance, but it’s such a great-looking device you’ll probably find yourself taking it off before you get near either of those. If you don’t like the included bands, they’re easily swappable using spring-loaded latches.
About the only hardware complaint we have about its physical attributes is its thickness: at 11.3mm, the Huawei Watch resembles a slammer strapped to your wrist. But the Huawei Watch is hardly alone in this; Motorola’s new Moto 360 is even thicker, if only by a hair. A beefy build is just par for the course with most smartwatches today.
And you forget all about the thickness once the display comes to life: it’s a 1.4” full-circle screen at a resolution of 400×400, the highest you can find on Android Wear. Coming from a year wearing the first-generation Moto 360, the difference is striking: everything on the 286ppi Huawei Watch display looks incredibly sharp. The deep color saturation of AMOLED makes the on-screen graphics pop in full brightness, while its high contrast means the time is usually still visible even in power-saving mode. Toggling between the two is as simple as pressing the crown at the 2 o’clock position, which like everything else on the Watch feels very well-made. Unfortunately, there’s no ambient light sensor here; to change the display’s brightness you’ve got to tap and swipe your way to the settings menu. While this is pretty common for smartwatches, it still feels archaic on such an otherwise-advanced product.
When it comes to software, Android Wear is Android Wear; Google gives manufacturers precious little room for improvisation or expansion. To be candid, that’s probably a good thing – Huawei has seldom impressed us with its software design on smartphones. That said, there are a few bits of custom work here, most notably in the fitness suite. The Daily Tracking app is a straightforward way to keep track of your step count and calories burned, and Huawei says its heart-rate readings are more accurate than the competition due to its use of two optical sensors instead of one. We couldn’t verify that during our test period, but it does seem somewhat faster at getting a reading than some of its competitors. There’s also the usual 4GB of onboard storage, for joggers who want to leave the smartphone at home without leaving their music there too.
It’s strange to even think of the Huawei Watch in a “sporty” sense, though. This is a device that gets along much better with a business suit than a tracksuit, and Huawei includes over 40 watchfaces out of the box to make sure you can usually find a match for whatever fancy threads you’re wearing. As with any Android wearable you’ve also got the option to download and install any of the thousands of options in the Android Wear store – including the new faces with interactive complications.
No matter which face you choose, the Huawei Watch seems to have no trouble keeping up: the standard hardware loadout of a Snapdragon 400 processor with 512MB of RAM serves it well, making for very fluid interactions whether you’re swiping, tapping, gesture-scrolling, or giving it voice commands via its dual microphones. Where the Huawei Watch differs from a typical hardware loadout is in acoustics: there’s an unused speaker hidden beneath the casing. There must be some reason Huawei has included it, but for now, it’s one of those mysterious touches we have to assume is for future expansion. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for NFC, which is just as absent here as on most other Android Wear devices.
We’ve tested the Huawei Watch for six days, during which time it’s been paired with the Moto X Pure Edition. (The watch is also capable of working with iOS devices, but we won’t test this mode until the iPhone 6s lands on our doorstep later in the week.) Depending where you look, Huawei claims up to 2 days or 1.5 days of battery life – and in our testing, we found the latter figure more accurate. With the always-on display enabled but WiFi disabled, we managed to get about 18 hours on a single charge with moderate notification traffic. So most people will be charging this thing every night.
That’s kind of a shame, because charging the Huawei Watch is definitely a low part of the experience. Like the Apple Watch charger, the Huawei solution takes the form of a nondescript magnetic disk, but Huawei eschews wireless charging for a set of tiny pins that don’t always line up on the first try. The result is that sometimes the magnet will attach but the pins will not – and unless you remember to look for the tiny on-screen charging indicator you’ll be none the wiser until you wake up the next day to a dead smartwatch. That’s a lesson you only have to learn once, but really, that’s once too many – and for a watch this expensive, it would have been nice of Huawei to bundle a more convenient charger. Motorola’s new Moto 360 is $50 less expensive, yet it comes with a cradle in the box so the watch can double as a bedside clock.
The Huawei Watch is available directly from Huawei in three colors, with several options for bundled bands. Prices range from $349 for our steel-and-leather trim to $449 for the Black Sport option (done up in a Diamond-Like Carbon coating) all the way up to $799 for the gold-plated edition with gold-plated band and coin-edge bezel. Between the extremes are a handful of variations featuring different bands and finishes, with additional bracelets available in several 21mm and 18mm styles at similarly steep prices.
Is the Huawei Watch worth that kind of outlay? In short, yes – but only if you’re already sold on Android Wear as a platform. For some, the interface is still too confusing and the added convenience of an Android smartwatch still doesn’t offset the inconvenience of charging yet another device every night. For them, the Huawei Watch is likely just as ill-fitting as any other.
But Google’s wearable platform has come a long way in a short while, and nothing exemplifies that better than the Huawei Watch. It’s got the best display, the best industrial design, and the most elegant look and feel you can find in the Google Store right now. If you’re looking to kick off (or upgrade) your Android Wear experience, and look and feel matter more to you than anything else, it just doesn’t get any better than the Huawei Watch.
Wondering what kind of competition the Huawei Watch is looking at as it hits stores this week? Check out our preview coverage of the Samsung Gear S2, Motorola Moto 360 (2015), and ASUS ZenWatch 2 – and stay tuned for our full reviews on all of those watches as we roll into the holiday season!