Slick and schmick: Huawei’s Watch reviewed

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.

Features

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.

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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.

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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.

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Performance

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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