Apple isn’t the only smartwatch maker out there, and if you’re after something premium without needing to resort to thousand dollar pricing, Huawei’s Watch offers a very good looking take that could fill the gap.
Smartwatches may well be the next big area for mobile makers, and Huawei — a mobile maker — is trying one itself, with the arrival of the Huawei Watch. No extra codes or numbers here, as it — like the Apple smartwatch — is just called the “Watch”.
Inside the Watch, Huawei has equipped Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400, 512MB, 4GB storage, and Google’s Android Wear preinstalled. From the box, however, you don’t just need an Android device to get the Watch working, and can get the Huawei Watch working from an iPhone, as well.
Bluetooth and WiFi will connect the Watch to your phone or home network, and you’ll even find a smattering of sensors inside, made up of a six-axis motion sensor, a barometer, heart rate sensor along the under-side of the watch, with a haptic vibration motor rounding this off.
On top, there’s a 1.4 inch circular AMOLED screen providing a resolution of 400×400 and pushing out roughly 286 pixels per inch. This is protected with sapphire crystal, with the rest of the body completed with stainless steel.
One button can be found on the unit, along the side, while the circular screen is also a touchscreen.
The battery is built into the body and is rated for 300mAh. Charging for the battery occurs with a small magnetic circular charge block.
When you first see the Huawei Watch, you’ll wonder if what you’re looking at is a smartwatch or a real watch, which is kind of what happened to this reviewer.
The shop attendant changing the band length basically did just that, doing a double take and asking what the deal with this watch was.
“It’s a smartwatch,” I replied, “kind of like the Apple Watch, but it runs Android instead.”
And it is kind of like the Apple Watch, not just because there are bits and bobs inside that make it talk to your phone, but because it has a premium feel much like the $1100 mid-range Apple Watch.
While most smartwatches we’ve seen thus far have been made from metal, Huawei’s is the first to really make you feel like it has been made from metal, arriving with a large and thick stainless steel casing that’s super shiny and very solid, bringing a real heft to your wrist when you put it on.
The $649 model we’re checking out in this review even comes complete with a stainless steel band with two-sided clasp, and like a real watch, you have to take it to a jeweler or locksmith to get the band properly measured and taken down to match your wrist.
That’s kind of the first sign that Huawei’s Watch is a little different from the competition, and possibly a good metric for why it costs more.
Switch it on and you see the other metric: that screen.
If you’ve owned a phone from the past four or five years, there’s a good chance you understand the importance of good displays. Ever since Apple brought in its “Retina” panels in the iPhone 4 and pointed out that twice the resolution of standard smartphone displays (at the time) was actually better for our eyes, makers of these highly mobile devices have been rushing to show they know how to do it, too, and have shown some absolutely fantastic results as such.
Pixel densities in screens have never been higher, and depending on the phone you buy, it can be hard to pixel peep, resulting in clearer visuals and sharper text all-round when you hold the phone at arm’s length or a little closer, which is kind of the point.
The display on a smartwatch has a similar sort of situation to deal with, because it needs to be readable from that arm’s length, but still sharp enough when you bring it close to your eyes, as some people do.
That means the screen needs to be a suitable resolution and offer that similar “Retina” approach, which was originally factored as “roughly 300 pixels per inch for a mobile device”, though this wavers between 300 and 500 depending on the style of print in question and the quality of someone’s vision.
On smartwatches, the typical resolution we’ve been seeing is 320×320 across 1 to 1.6 inches, and that technically results in ranges of 270 and 290 pixels per inch, certainly sharp enough for most watches, but sharper is always better and definitely most appreciated, which is where the Huawei Watch display chimes in.
With a resolution of 400×400 on a 1.4 inch circular AMOLED display, Huawei has managed to produce one of the sharper Watch screens seen yet, and it looks stunning.
Encased behind the very-hard-to-scratch sapphire crystal front element, it’s a stunning little display that is razor sharp and very easy on the eyes, boasting excellent brightness and solid colours, both things we’ve come to expect from AMOLED panels.
Under the hood, Huawei hasn’t changed the formula, and if you’ve seen an Android watch in the past year, you’ve probably seen the same template Huawei is using from a component point of view, offering up the 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 that has become par for the course for controlling these things, as well as 512MB RAM, 4GB storage, and Google’s Android Wear.
As a result of these specs, Android Wear mostly flies, partly because it doesn’t have to do a lot, and talking to a phone over Bluetooth and/or WiFi is really all the smartwatch does, receiving notifications, telling you who is calling and who you can swipe away to dismiss, controlling music playback, and that thing you might expect a smartwatch to do: tell the time.
There’s no speaker or microphone in the watch, so don’t expect calls to be made here, and outside of the heart-rate tracker that can look at your pulse on the underside of the watch, there are no special tricks like the GPS in Sony’s SmartWatch 3.
Instead, you’ll find Huawei’s Watch is a clean and fashionable take on what the Android Wear smartwatch could be.
It’s almost as if Huawei said “let’s make a smartwatch that looks more like the sort of watch someone might want to wear”, which is exactly what this is.
Huawei has even gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide a supply of watchfaces, providing — we kid you not — 39 faces.
Some of these are stock Android Wear, but others aren’t, and while few are really customisable, many give off the impression that you’re wearing a proper mechanical watch, which is a neat illusion.
Beyond the time, Android Wear still doesn’t do much, and notifications alongside music control are pretty much the big deals here, though a few apps are beginning to roll out, with fitness being key.
Over on the comfort side, we didn’t find too many problems with wearing the watch, though if you’re not used to a heavier wristwatch, this isn’t the timepiece for you.
We normally prefer a thinner body — hell, we’ll flat out say it: we much prefer a thinner body than what Huawei is offering — but despite the larger size, the Watch never feels cumbersome, but just that it exudes heft.
That’s not a bad thing by a long shot, and we’re sure there are some people out there that find the Apple Watch too thin and light. If that’s you, the Huawei Watch is worth taking a gander at.
Compatibility is also strong out of the box, and now that Android Wear has an iOS app, you’ll find that this watch works with either the Apple iPhone or any Android phone the moment you take it out of the box.
That’s great news for people on the iPhone who want a smartwatch but don’t necessarily want to buy Apple’s because this one will fill that gap nicely.
We reviewed it on Android, that said, but it will pair up with an iPhone without problem, though you may not get to add in all the extra watchfaces after it’s installed or play with the Android Wear apps that you can add in, and that’s an iOS thing, as many of these aren’t currently available on Apple’s App Store.
If you have an Android phone, however, you can download extra watchfaces and watch-connected apps until your heart is content and your mobile phone is full, because this supports the same app ecosystem as other Android Wear devices, meaning you can run Jawbone’s Up app, custom watchfaces via a watchface-making app, and generally expand on the smartwatch idea past checking the time and looking at mobile notifications.
Keep in mind, however that this may end up affecting your battery life, which is one area where Huawei’s Watch gets it both right and wrong, and it can go very wrong quite dramatically.
We get it: smartwatches are never going to last as long as their not-so-smart analogue or digital counterparts, and thanks to the WiFi and Bluetooth chips, the processing, the screens, the battery, and all that jazz, you should only expect a maximum of a week or two depending on who makes the watch.
A week or two is highly unusual at the moment, however, and your first night with the Huawei Watch, won’t even deliver you a full day of battery life. Not even close, actually.
In fact, at twelve hours, our battery had diminished to just seven percent. From 100 to 7 in 12 hours. Crazy.
Fortunately, it gets a little better later on in the following days, and if you’re not exactly Mr or Mrs Popular, you’ll find a day and a half is possible bordering on two days, though we’d charge nightly just in case.
That’s a little better than average, but again, mileage may vary, so if you expect to be receiving a ton of notifications, you may not make it through the day, so just be aware of this.
What we suspect is making this happen is a combination of factors, and they’re both good and bad.
For starters, there’s that screen, and while we’ve already heaped praise on the 400×400 screen — which is one of the nicest smartwatch displays on the market with a level of clarity few can match — it sure is showing a lot of pixels.
Powering more pixels is always worse for batteries, but so too is the omission of an ambient light sensor.
In case that term leaves you a little puzzled, an ambient light sensor is exactly what it sounds like: a small sensor that picks up on the amount of light in a room and tells the device to change the brightness of a display if less or more is needed. The more brightness you have, the more impact there is on a battery, and so ambient light sensors can help a great deal.
Unfortunately, they also tend to cut out a portion of the circle on a smartwatch, which is the reason why the Motorola 360 didn’t use a totally circular display, including that brightness sensor at the bottom of the screen.
Here on the Huawei Watch, you’re pretty much running with consistent power regardless of what the ambient light looks like where you are, which means if you had it turned up all the way earlier in the morning, it will stay that way until you turn it down again. You can do that, mind you, but few will.
If you do, you should see a bit more life, but the Huawei Watch also flicks itself on regularly, too, and the most basic of movements with your wrist or arm will light the smartwatch up, even if you’re only scratching your head.
Fortunately, you can switch it off quickly by covering the watch with your palm, and even turn off the “always-on screen” to help out.
Unfortunately, the screen — as good as it is, as great as it is — is basically useless in sunlight, so make sure to seek out shade or cover your watch with your hand if you need to view it in direct sunlight.
Unlike Samsung’s latest AMOLED displays, Huawei’s don’t quite have that excess power reserve that turns on the screen full blast, and while the Watch display is lovely, it’s no Note 5 or S6 Edge screen.
Our other quibble with this one is price, and it’s one of those values that makes us think you’re paying for the materials and design more than you are the technology.
We’re not going to mince words here, because under the hood, this is the same smartwatch Asus has made, and LG has made, and Sony has made, and even Samsung has made. This is the template that Google practically designed, and Huawei hasn’t really made it better or worse, merely following it from a spec point of view.
What you’re paying that $549 minimum price for appears to be the style, with a thick metal body and heft that oozes “watch” rather than “toy”. Even the strap feels like it’s made from a good quality metal, though it is a little annoying knowing you need to take it to a jeweler or locksmith to get mounted on your wrist (Huawei’s Watch does support standard straps, however, so if you have something that matches its 18mm size, you can install it).
It still feels a little too much, mind you, not just because it’s going up against the similarly priced entry level Apple Watch, but also because Huawei isn’t yet a common enough name for people to match that sense of quality to. Half the people in the office can’t even pronounce it properly (it’s “wah-way” in case you were curious).
If this were a hundred or so under the asking price of an Apple Watch, we could see this making more sense.
An iPhone owner might think “I want to invest in a smartwatch, and the circular design looks more like a watch, plus the cost is better”, and it would be no contest, but nearing the same price makes it a harder ask. Android owners necessarily have that same dilemma, and to them, this is just a very premium smartwatch.
But Apple owners definitely do, and while the entry-level Apple Watch’s materials don’t really hold a candle to what’s being offered here — aluminium casing and ion-strengthened glass on the Apple Watch vs stainless steel and sapphire crystal on the Huawei Watch — it’s still an angle and argument that would give us pause.
One of the nicer looking smartwatches out there, Huawei’s Watch is easily worth a look if you fancy a smartwatch but haven’t been impressed by the styles of devices you’ve seen thus far.
Truth be told, there isn’t a lot that separates what Huawei has done from the competition outside the screen quality and body design, but sometimes that’s all it takes.
Ultimately, if the idea of a clean yet thick smartwatch is appealing, you’ll like what Huawei has built.