Huawei’s brand has a much stronger presence in Asia and Europe than it does in the United States, being a company that seems to launch a new product every other week in a different market with frequency equal to that of Samsung. But, in 2015, Huawei reshaped its strategy to put more focus on global products as well as ones in North America. The Huawei Watch is a real sign that Huawei is committed to being competitive in the United States just as it is elsewhere in the world. This is a premium smartwatch, powered by Android Wear, sold in every major market. Huawei announced its first smartwatch at MWC 2015 in February and then spent the next seven months refining the hardware and software to create something that finally merges smarts with aesthetics.
The Huawei Watch is meant to look and feel as good as it operates. Why else would pricing start at $349 and touch $799 at the top? Plastic, rubber, and aluminum are missing. Huawei is using cold-forged stainless steel, fine leather, and sapphire crystal on a smartwatch that mirrors a regular watch. Even 22K gold is an option from Huawei. We’ve never seen a smartwatch quite like this. And it’s met with Google’s wearable platform that has certainly matured wisely since its inception last year. So everything seems to result in the Huawei Watch being a brilliant beauty; it only takes real life use to have a definitive answer.
Calling the Huawei Watch a beautiful smartwatch is unavoidable. Made out of stainless steel, the Huawei Watch measures 42mm wide and is 11.3mm thin. It’s not massive or heavy on anyone’s wrist. To me, the Huawei Watch was made to be a unisex accessory so men and women could choose whichever model they want. It’s both industrial and elegant at the same time, never skewing one way or the other. The finish is lightly brushed while not shining at every angle. You can wear the Huawei Watch outside raking up those fall leaves or on occasions that require formal attire. Men and women alike will find that the Huawei Watch works in casual and formal environments.
The round 1.4-inch display, too, keeps Huawei’s smartwatch subtle and attractive because it’s on the smaller end of the spectrum for smartwatches. The display size allows the smartwatch to blend in with the rest of your clothing. Some smartwatches, when a notification activates the display, cause people nearby to give a look of sorts. When the Huawei Watch’s display turns on, people won’t stare. You’re not walking around with a giant display strapped onto your wrist. You’re wearing a watch that happens to have a live, backlit display. Adding to the resemblance of a regular watch, specifically for the black models, is its bezel. The Huawei Watch’s bezel has little markings to indicate the hour. Paired with certain watch faces, this will put the Huawei Watch as close to a regular watch as possible. The stainless steel models have completely smooth bezels while the rose gold models’ are rigid.
Shielding the display with sapphire crystal glass makes it difficult to inflict any scratches or nicks on the Huawei Watch. I intentionally did a little key-on-screen scratch test and the Huawei Watch resisted leaving a mark. The Huawei Watch is as durable as the stainless steel body and sapphire crystal glass-covered display would have you believe. There’s no need to walk around being overly vigilant with the smartwatch on.
Huawei doesn’t mind if you get its smartwatch dirty or wet, either. The IP67 certification represents dust and water resistance, the latter of which keeps the Huawei Watch alive in up to 1 meter of water for thirty minutes. The IP67 certification is a bonus for the Huawei Watch’s durability as I doubt you’ll be submerging it in water.
What you won’t find on the smartwatch’s face is an ambient light sensor. The display’s brightness can only be controlled manually. Huawei probably made the decision to forgo an ambient light sensor to ensure the Huawei watch’s round display is a true circle. Motorola, on the other hand, believes that an ambient light sensor is necessary with smartwatches; however, the Moto 360 display has a ‘flat tire’ because a considerable amount of space is required to allow automatic brightness. Companies have not yet figured out a way to implement an ambient light sensor on a smartwatch that has a reasonably sized bezel. Huawei is pleasing eyes while Motorola is making people scratch their heads.
The Huawei Watch comes with a leather or stainless steel band, depending on which model you get. The leather bands come in black, flat black, and alligator-pressed brown. The stainless steel bands come in black or silver (link or mesh). Huawei plans to sell each band separately, with prices ranging between $79-$169 each. They will all be sold on the company’s Get Huawei site. If you merely want to resize Huawei’s stainless steel link bands, the SE JT6305A is recommended.
You could use your own watch band, of course, as long as it is 18mm. Being that 18mm is a pretty common size, finding one to your liking will be easy. Either go to your local jeweler or hop on Amazon. Pop the old watch band out with the little quick-release switch (like the Moto 360) and insert a new one to give your Huawei Watch a slightly different, personalized look. I stuck with the black stainless steel link band because it perfectly matched my Huawei Watch’s body and getting it to fit was simple. Plus, I’m not a leather kind of guy. Huawei isn’t offering customization like Motorola does with Moto Maker, but you have choices.
The sole physical button is positioned at the two o’clock mark. Singles presses brighten and dim the display. Holding the button down takes you to Android Wear’s menu. And double-pressing it turns off the display, only returning to a visible state when pressing the button again.
Like most smartwatches, the Huawei Watch receives its power through wireless charging. But I have to warn you that the connection pretty weak; make sure that your smartwatch confirms charging before leaving it behind. Underneath the smartwatch are four pogo pin connectors that grab onto the included magnetic dock. The cable attached goes directly into the charging cradle, unlike other smartwatches that feature a micro-USB connector. The other end is a traditional USB 3.0 connector that can be inserted into the many wall outlet charger heads you have lying around. This is a proprietary charging cradle, meaning that you’re going to need to purchase the exact same one if you break or lose it. While Huawei isn’t selling the item yet, the Google Store has the charging cradle for $39.
Next to the pogo pin connectors underneath the Huawei Watch is a heart rate sensor that you’d never know was there unless you looked. It blends in perfectly with the rest of the smartwatch and gives a capability normally included with high-end activity trackers. The heart rate sensor works by flashing green LED lights onto blood vessels in your wrist and monitoring the flow of blood. The method, which is used by an increasing number of companies, is called photoplethysmography. Better write that down if you plan on entering any spelling bees.
The Huawei Watch comes in the following varieties:
- Stainless Steel with Black Leather Strap ($349)
- Stainless Steel with Stainless Steel Mesh Band ($399)
- Stainless Steel with Stainless Steel Link Band ($399)
- Black Stainless Steel with Black Stainless Steel Link Band ($449)
- Rose Gold Stainless Steel with Brown Leather Strap ($699)
- Rose Gold Plated Stainless Steel with Rose Gold Plated Stainless Steel Link Band ($799)
The third wave of smartwatches with Android Wear comes from ASUS, Fossil, Huawei, Motorola, and TAG Heuer. Other offerings that launched in the second half of the year come from Samsung and Pebble. And still lingering around is Apple’s first foray in the market. Of all the companies mentioned, Huawei has itself the best design considering build quality and price. Can you get a ‘nicer’ piece of hardware from TAG Heuer? Sure, but you’ll be spending $1,500 and no smartwatch is worth that amount of money. Is Fossil’s Q Founder cheaper? It’s also heavier. By no means are any of those poor smartwatches, though. Huawei struck gold — somewhat literally — with the Huawei Watch’s design and I proudly call this the best-looking smartwatch available today.
The Huawei Watch features a 1.4-inch (400×400) AMOLED display with sapphire crystal glass, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, a 300mAh battery, a heart rate sensor, IP67 certification, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, and WiFi 802.11 b/g.
Huawei is using the highest resolution ever seen on an Android Wear device’s display, standing mighty at 400×400 and equaling 286 pixels per inch. Admittedly, I am not impressed by the resolution despite it being better than the competition. Text and animations aren’t exactly the sharpest, and everything just looks fuzzy to me. Pixels are discernible but that’s the case with many smartwatches. The Huawei Watch’s display picks up ground with colors and brightness. Huawei elected to use an AMOLED display, one that excels in contrast ratio. The display can quickly go from a deep black watch face to the assortment of popping colors in Google Fit. Having accurate, rich colors reaffirms the resemblance of a regular watch. Whether the display has been illuminated or is dimmed in standby, the Huawei Watch is visible and lively.
Pushing pixels around and running the show here is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 processor. This one, of the quad-core layout, is paired with 512MB of RAM. The Huawei Watch hasn’t had any hiccups during my time with it and I applaud Huawei for spending the time to optimize the entire smartwatch. Not all companies care enough to deliver a clean, speedy experience. Seven months is a long time for a device to go from announcement to release; it paid off very well for Huawei. Launching voice commands for search and swiping through Android Wear is a breeze.
Bluetooth isn’t the only way that the smartwatch sends and receives data. The Huawei Watch is one of the first and few smartwatches to support a WiFi connection. So you have the option to use the Huawei Watch with your phone or ride solo from WiFi connection to WiFi connection. Still, you’ll need your phone to initially latch onto a WiFi connection. It’s handy for when you want roam free around the house without your phone while keeping track of notifications coming in.
Most smartwatches, especially ones of the Android Wear variety, aren’t going to last a few days before needing juice. The Huawei Watch’s battery is 300mAh and the company estimates a single charge should last for about 1.5 days, pretty much an average-if-not-better estimation. That estimation, however, is with Ambient Mode turned on. If you’d like to get 2 days out of the Huawei Watch’s battery, turn off Ambient Mode to only have the display illuminate when needed. With the simple things I did with it, I’d say Huawei is telling the truth. My Huawei Watch actually did a tremendous job conserving battery life while unused; therefore, my sporadic use throughout the day didn’t force me to look for that dreaded proprietary charging cradle until I was home for the evening. And Huawei’s able to take the smartwatch’s battery from 0% to 100% in less than 90 minutes.
Because this is a review of the Huawei Watch and not Android Wear, we’ll keep our focus on the smartwatch’s software implemented by Huawei itself.
Huawei included a very small amount of its own on-device apps and features, all of which are focused on health and fitness. Daily Tracking is your all-in-one activity tracking hub while the others do things like real-time workout tracking and heart rate monitoring. Data collected gets organized and that information becomes presented neatly in the Daily Tracking app. On your phone, everything can be viewed in Google Fit; however, there’s also the option to use Jawbone’s UP platform. Huawei partnered with Jawbone for the TalkBand B2 and the Huawei Watch also benefits. So you can wear a Jawbone activity tracker during more intense, sweaty workouts before switching to the classier Huawei Watch. That switch, because they’re all connected to the UP platform, won’t mean you’re missing out on tracking anything.
The supplied watch faces, which total almost fifty unique choices, give you a way to personalize the smartwatch. Need more? Dive into Google Play and you’ll find a lot of additional watch faces to choose from. During the holidays, I enjoyed having Santa Claus as my watch face. And now that Plantz vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is inbound, I think it’s time to put those cartoon zombies on my wrist. Or I can just stick with one of ustwo’s many calm, beautiful watch faces. You get the point: there’s no shortage of watch faces with Android Wear.
By now you probably realize Huawei has the best Android Wear smartwatch available today. Actually, the Huawei Watch also belongs in the conversation for best smartwatch in the world. Simplicity is at its core: elegant on the outside and smart on the inside. It’s not at all a flashy device. People aren’t going to see the Huawei Watch on your wrist and be me mesmerized. Huawei made the Huawei Watch stylishly subtle.
Smartwatches aren’t anywhere near complete, but the Huawei Watch feels close to being there. The Huawei Watch is a sign that even better things are on the way.