Huawei's first Android Wear watch joins an already full roster, and manages to stand tall in the crowd.
The balance smartwatches need to reach between technology and fashion is a complicated one. Lean too far in either direction and you lose a significant chunk of your potential audience, and when you consider the third axis — a competitive price tag — every decision in the balance is immeasurably important. We've seen some manufacturers focus on price, some on features, and at least a couple decide to focus entirely on sport and fitness functionality.
Huawei has made its position in the smartwatch market clear from Day 1. It wants its watch to be seen as the most watch-like smartwatch out there, the one that wrist-computer people who wear watches would consider replacing their daily driver with. To get there, Huawei focused on high-end build materials and numerous options, and a little less on a competitive price tag, while striking the balance between technology and fashion.
When it was all said and done, the Huawei Watch was born. Here's our review.
About this review
Huawei provided Android Central with the Watch that I (Russell Holly) have been using for nine days. During this time, the Huawei Watch was paired with a Moto X Pure Edition and a Samsung Galaxy Note 5. The watch used in this review is the $349 stainless steel model with a leather strap, and is running Android Wear 1.3 build LCA49B.
Huawei Watch Hardware
From the moment you remove the jewelry box from its packaging, the Huawei Watch feels like a premium experience. When you compare it to the clear plastic blister pack-like casing or smartphone carboard packaging we see so many of the other Android Wear watches show up in, the initial impression is significant. The Huawei Watch also feels lighter than it looks like it should, and the stainless steel model used in this review is cool and soft to the touch as it comes out of the box. There's no plastic to remove, no obvious branding anywhere, and aside from probably needing to charge the Watch it is ready to go.
For the first time on a smartwatch, I didn't feel the need to immediately replace the strap.
The body of this watch is decidedly masculine, even in rose gold. It looks awkward on slender wrists — and yes that includes the female friendly model with support for smaller straps. It sits tall on your wrist, and the design of the lugs helps it take up quite a bit of space. It looks great on my wrist, but many of the people I handed this watch to with slender wrists couldn't deal with how bulky the watch felt. If you've got smallish wrists, you will absolutely want to try this before buying. (Which may be easier said than done.)
Affixing the Huawei Watch to your wrist quickly points out just how nice the included leather strap is. Every smartwatch I have ever worn — which if memory serves is now at nine — has come with a horrible strap. The sporty ones get gross quick, the metal ones are usually low quality or don't fit my wrist comfortably, and whatever it is Apple and Motorola are actually selling on the straps they label leather are strange an awful compared to a quality leather strap. For the first time, I didn't feel the need to immediately replace the strap on the Huawei Watch. It's a nice plush strap that feels great and doesn't get gross when I get sweaty. Best of all, it's a quick-release strap at the lugs, so if I wanted to swap for another color or something it will take seconds to get the stock one off.
It may seem weird to gush about a button, especially since every Android wear watch has essentially the same button, but the mechanism for the button — ahem, the crown — on the Huawei Watch is exceptional. It's a soft, squishy button with a gentle push to confirm you've pressed it far enough in, and feels great. There's no digging your finger into the side of the watch, pressing a small metal dot with enough force to leave a mark on your skin, nothing like that. The button is perfectly placed, and wide enough that you can hit the edge and still register a press. It feels like a well-made button, which is a big deal on a watch. Of course it's not really all that functional in Android Wear, but at least it works well, mechanically speaking.
The proprietary magnetic pin connector is ugly, and the magnet isn't quite strong enough to keep the two pieces connected.
The display is supposed to be the star of the show for something that is essentially a computer on your wrist, and the 400 x 400 resolution AMOLED display Huawei has packed into this watch is quite good. It's absolutely the best display on an Android Wear watch today, but in many cases you'd only know that by putting the two watches side by side showing them doing the exact same thing. It's a great display, in both color and ambient modes, and the switch between the two doesn't take too long.
I wouldn't go so far as to say this feels like a $350 watch on my wrist, because real watches that run $350 are a hell of a lot nicer than this, but this is by far the nicest feeling Android Wear watch out of the box, and it looks great on the wrist without any strap changes or anything. The Huawei Watch charger is the most unfortunate part of the hardware experience. The proprietary magnetic pin connector is ugly, and the magnet isn't quite strong enough to keep the two pieces connected if one gets jostled. Setting the charger down and placing the watch on top of it, on a flat surface, is your best bet. Given the experience from the rest of the Watch, it's unfortunate that the charger so abruptly breaks the feeling of quality you get from the rest of the watch.
Android Wear, and nothing else
Huawei Watch software
This may come as a surprise to anyone who has every used a Huawei phone, but there's really not much to say about the software on the Huawei Watch. Android Wear 1.3 comes pre-loaded, and it performs exactly as it is supposed to. This is the best possible thing you can say about an Android Wear watch, where the environment is completely controlled by Google and the manufacturers are really only allowed to add apps and watch faces.
At no point during the experience so far has the watch hung on any interface option, and in no way did the user interface feel it was lacking. When looking at the core interface, from voice commands and wrist gestures to the animations as notifications arrive, it all worked exactly as expected.
Huawei includes three apps with the Watch, and all of them are fitness oriented. The heart rate monitor has a single button or grabbing your heart rate and a second page for your last recording. Daily Tracking is a well designed watch app for tracking your steps, organized into activity types and including a rough guess at calories burned in the process. Like Google Fit, you can set this to keep you motivated towards a daily goal and see your progress at a glance. Fitness tracking is a separate app aimed at specific fitness tracks. You can set up a workout goal and have it run in the background, counting your steps against a timer. Goals in this mode are set by time or calorie count, with a vibration on your wrist when you reach either.
What you see in the software on the Huawei Watch is Android Wear, plain and simple.
What the Huawei Watch lacks in extra software — and to be clear that is not a bad thing at all — it more than makes up for in watch faces. The overwhelming desire to make this a watch for everyone means there are dozens of traditional watch faces in a variety of color schemes, each with its own unique ambient mode to complete the design. None of the included Huawei watch faces offer any of the new interactive modules Google offered in Android wear 1.3, and unlike some of the stock faces in the LG Watch Urbane there's no illusion animation to make it seem as though the faces are real. These are strictly default watch faces, and while many of them look nice it won't take most people long to wander into the Play Store for something new.
The only thing missing from the Huawei Watch interface is a better way to confirm the watch is charging. There's no charging screen like you see on so many other Android wear watches, and as a result the only thing you have to tell you the watch is charging is the tiny white icon that floats in the middle of the screen when a connection with the charger is confirmed. Because the magnetic connection to the charger is questionable unless perfectly seated, and there's no real charge screen, I've woken up several times to put the watch on only to discover there's only 10% of the battery remaining.
What you see in the software on the Huawei Watch is Android Wear, plain and simple. For better or worse, there's not a lot of extras to look at here. It's a nearly perfect representation of Android Wear as a platform, and that works for Huawei since their primary focus is on the outside.
A complete thought
Huawei Watch experience
It's not enough to look at an Android Wear watch from the outside, drag a finger across the display a few times, and say you know what this watch is all about. Huawei's big message for this watch is that you should feel like you are wearing a watch. When you look at most of the other Android Wear offerings, it's clear you're wearing a watch-shaped computer. Huawei wanted this to feel like a premium product on your wrist, something that didn't necessarily feel like technology.
For my wrist, Huawei nailed the comfort of a watch.
For my wrist, Huawei nailed the comfort of a watch. The strap feels nice, the watch body isn't too heavy, and the display is clear enough that it doesn't always register I'm looking at a display when glancing at the ambient display for the time. It is, by far, the most watch-like of the Android Wear watches out of the box. You can get reasonably close to this experience with a Watch Urbane and a nice strap, but the display difference in ambient mode is what really seals the experience.
There's no auto-brightness on this watch, so for most of the time it has been used the Huawei Watch lives at brightness level 4 — out of 5, for those unaware — and that seems to work well. The watch isn't quite bright enough to enjoy in direct sunlight, so 4 ends up being bright enough for just about everything. The lack of auto-brightness means you're stuck manually setting the brightness if you're driving at night and the light is too much or you're in a dark room and haven't enabled theater mode. Having used the Moto 360 for so long, the lack of auto-brightness is a little disappointing but doesn't pull too much from the overall experience.
Huawei really likes using the phrase "cold-forged stainless steel" in its marketing for the Watch, and the goal there is to try to convey a sense of durability and quality. Stainless steel is fairly durable, but it's not impervious to scuffs and dents. The top of my Huawei Watch has fallen victim to the same wrist bumps and accidental taps as every other Android Wear watch I have worn, and unlike those other watches you can see some clear battle damage on this Huawei Watch already. None of the marks on the top of this watch were intentional or the result of an aggressive contact with another surface, and that's a problem when considering my Moto 360 has had a car door slammed on the face and doesn't have a scratch on it. The Watch still looks nice from a distance, but when you get up close the results aren't pretty.
The proprietary charger on this watch is awful, there's just no two ways about it.
During a full day of use, putting the watch on at 5:30 a.m. every morning and taking it off at 10 p.m. every night, paired to a Moto X Pure Edition the whole time, the Huawei Watch never once got below 25 percent battery. Huawei claims this watch can get a full day, and it does exactly that. You'll need to charge it every night, but during the day you shouldn't ever need to worry about this watch, and that's how it should be. Eighteen hours should be table stakes for a smartwatch that does everything an Android Wear watch can do, and Huawei seems to have pulled that off.
As watch-like as the Huawei Watch feels on your wrist, that's how gadgety and miserable the Huawei Watch feels when you take it off. The proprietary charger on this watch is awful, there's just no two ways about it. The magnet isn't strong enough, and waking up to 10 percent battery remaining instead of it being charged like you expected would have completely ruined the experience if this watch didn't charge from dead to 100 percent in just about an hour. Fortunately you can discover the problem, fix it, and by the time you're ready to leave the watch will still get you through the day.
A solid first effort
Huawei Watch The Bottom Line
There's a lot to like about the Huawei Watch. The efforts to make this wrist computer feel like a nice watch are unmatched in the Android Wear ecosystem, and with Google in control of the software the interface is only going to improve from here. It's a thoroughly enjoyable experience overall, with the charger being the only real downside in day-to-day use.
The question in need of answering after having used this watch for a while is whether the experience is worth the $349 price tag for the base model. Earlier I mentioned being able to get reasonably close to this experience with a Watch Urbane and a nice strap, and that combination would run you roughly $325 depending on where you shopped for a nice leather strap. So is the Huawei Watch really $25 better than the LG Watch Urbane? I think so. The display is fantastic, the ability to charge in under an hour is handy, and this watch feels ready to handle the next few versions of Android Wear without issue. This is not a product for someone on a strict tech budget, it's a watch for someone who wants the nicest looking Android Wear watch you can buy today. And that's even more true as you ramp up all the way to the $699
Should you buy it? Probably
I would recommend the Huawei Watch to anyone who wants the nicest smartwatch that looks like a watch, but this is clearly not for everyone. Slender wrists are going to feel overcrowded with this design, and compared to the wireless charging and auto-brightness of the Moto 360 2015 it's not the most capable of the Android Wear watches out there. This is all about form over function, as long as it fits your wrist. If you fit in that group of users, this is absolutely the watch for you.
Despite the original listing showing all of the variants of the Huawei Watch, it appears as though Amazon will only be selling three of them. If you are interested in using your Prime membership to get it quick, you can pick from the basic stainless steel with a leather band, the stainless steel with steel link band, or the black stainless with black stainless link band.
Best Buy will be selling a number of configurations for the Huawei Watch from the standard stainless steel and black leather band to the black stainless with black stainless links.
Huawei will be selling all of the configurations of its new smartwatch, from the basic stainless steel with black leather band to the rose gold and gold link band. Huawei is offering free shipping on any order of $100 or more. Huawei's site will be the only place you can purchase all of the configurations that are available.
The Google Store will only be offering the stainless steel with stainless mesh band configuration, which is priced at $399. As usual, the Google Store is also offering free shipping.