Following the recent rollout of Android Wear 2.0, a new wave of next-gen smartwatches have started arriving in their droves, including a new duo from Chinese brand Huawei. The flagship of which, the Huawei Watch 2, is what we've got on test here.
The Huawei Watch 2 is a fitness-focussed smartwatch in a similar vein to the LG Watch Sport or the Samsung Gear S3. It's bigger, bolder and far more sporty than the original, somewhat reserved Huawei Watch. With a mass of features and even the option of integrated 4G LTE connectivity, it's a watch that's about far more than just its looks.
We still don't have official UK or US pricing for the new watches, but we do know that they're priced up at €379 for the 4G Watch 2 we tried out and that jumps up to €399 for the stainless steel Watch 2 Classic.
So has Huawei jumped the shark? Should it have stuck to what was a winning (albeit too pricey) winning formula with the original? Read on to find out...
Huawei Watch 2: Build and display
Like sporty watches? Good, you'll need to if the Huawei Watch 2 is going to be your next smartwatch of choice. Like classic looking timepieces? Tough luck, that ship looks to have sailed from Port Huawei.
At 45 x 48.3 x 12.6mm and weighing 60g, it's a fair bit heftier than the original: 42 x 42 x 11.3mm and 55g.
Imagine the LG G Watch R and the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier combined and you've just imagined the Huawei Watch 2. Gone is the slim rim of the original and in its place is a rugged bezel with 5 second index markers. It's a non-moving bezel, by the way, so no gesture controls here.
There are also no Apple Watch-inspired twist navigation options using the buttons on the right hand side either. Instead, the top control acts as the main app button and the bottom button throws you straight into the watch's fitness menus (or any other app of your choosing).
That bezel (ceramic, six times harder than stainless steel, apparently) angles in at the 1.2-inch display, making the 390 x 390 display look even smaller than it is. The angle also makes it a bitch to use the Wear 2.0 keyboard. Sure, it's a touch fiddly on the LG Watch Sport and Style, but nothing compared to the experience on the Huawei Watch sequel. It's just too awkward, you won't bother after a few attempts.
The AMOLED display is nice though, albeit small. Actually nice is a bit light - it's one of the crispest screens we've seen on an Android Wear smartwatch so far with a PPI count of 326 (only the LG Watch Sport tops it).
Sticking with the positives and there's a nice subtle curve to the underside of the watch that helps fit the contour of your wrist, and the textured rubber strap is reassuringly locked in place thanks to a chunky metal buckle.
Android Wear 2.0 essential reading
- When Android Wear 2.0 is coming to older watchesDetails on Moto, LG, Asus, Fossil, Tag, Casio, Huawei, Polar, Sony, Nixon and more
- Setting up Android Pay on a Wear 2.0 smartwatchAndroid Wear 2.0 has a fancy new trick
- Apple Watch vs Android WearThe war continues to wage, and it's starting to get more interesting
Despite the materials used, the Huawei Watch 2 feels a bit cheap. Maybe cheap is harsh, but it just doesn't feel as premium as the original. Maybe our standards have been skewed as we've been reviewing the Huawei Watch 2 around the same time we got hands-on with the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 and the Montblanc Summit.
There are three colours to pick from, with a paint-flecked grey device lining up alongside a more traditional black model. It's the vibrant orange option that really caught our eye when we first got hands-on, with the bright, bold styling giving a sense of the Nixon The Mission's outdoorsy finish. Our review model was the all-black affair.
Instead of compromising the watch's look with an ugly cut out, the device's nano SIM has been hidden between the lugs. A smart touch that makes a big difference - and it's easy enough to pop the straps off to get to it, or just to change up the style.
Huawei Watch 2: Sensors aplenty
Android Wear smartwatches are quickly going the way of the smartphone you'll likely pair them with: big on the specs with everything you could possibly want or need thrown in. That's the model that the Huawei Watch 2 has followed, with the usual collection of accelerometers and gyroscopes joined with inbuilt GPS, a heart rate sensor, NFC (for payments) and 4G.
Read this: Living with Android Wear 2.0 on an iPhone
All of this combines with 4GB of internal storage, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 and 768MB of RAM running the show. RAM is boring, we know, but it's important. Only Wear's 2.0 darling child - the LG Watch Sport - has had a RAM count that high to date. It means for a zippy experience. Android Wear has never really been a laggy platform but you won't notice even a micro stutter with the Huawei Watch 2.
On the 4G front, you won't need a phone to hand to make and receive calls with a SIM popped in. What's clever, mentioned above already, is that the nanoSIM slot - it also supports eSIM - is built in between the lugs in a nice use of space. It's not ideal making and receiving calls from the wrist but, if you want to, you can. We tested it: it worked but it was weird.
With a SIM card inside, the Watch 2 is totally independent. Everything you can do while normally paired to a phone, you can do without. Magic. You can, of course, use it independently without a SIM, when hooked up to Wi-Fi.
Huawei Watch 2: Android Wear 2.0
Android Wear is Android Wear. Android Wear 2.0 is Android Wear 2.0. What we mean by this is, while we'll touch on some of the features of Google's smartwatch platform here, nothing is really unique to a Wear watch in terms of the OS.
Sure Huawei has baked in some proprietary fitness features - more on that in a bit - but it's very much a vanilla Android Wear 2.0 affair.
That's a good thing mind. Wear 2.0 is a major improvement on the previous version and it's the killer features of the upgraded platform that you'll be using most often on the Huawei Watch 2. So that's standalone apps, Android Pay, dedicated home screens with custom complications and so on.
We're happy to report that all work as they should on the new Huawei flagship. Android Pay on Android Wear is a revelation. Again, it's not unique to the Huawei Watch 2 but it really is a fantastic feature that was badly missing up to this point.
Google Assistant is also on board so, should you wish to strike up a conversation with your smartwatch, that's an option too. Voice controls worked well on the Huawei Watch 2, no complaints there.
Huawei Watch 2: Running and fitness
Huawei has decided to embrace fitness in a big way packing in an optical heart rate sensor, built-in GPS and taking some of the fitness tracking skills included in the Huawei Fit.
Our experience with the Fit wasn't the greatest, and thankfully things do improve with the Watch 2, but it's still not perfect. You've got your pick of storing fitness data in either Google Fit or the Huawei Wear app but there's an additional Huawei Health app you need to download to get this all up an running.
Read this: The best GPS running watches to buy
Once you're ready to go, you'll be able to record some pretty standard fitness tracking details (steps, calories, distance, elevation) and it's displayed on the Watch a bit like Apple's activity rings. Dig a little deeper and there's some additional info including resting heart rate and altitude. We put it up against the Fitbit Flex 2, Jawbone iPhone app and TomTom Spark 3's fitness tracker and found step counts were pretty much in line with the other devices. At most there was a difference of 500-600 steps.
There's no sleep tracking on offer here but there are some inactivity alarms to help keep you active during the day. It'll suggest a series of stretches to perform, which is perfectly reasonable when you're at home but not when you're working at the office. While it's a pretty feature-packed approach, it's lacking in one crucial area and that's helping you to understand trends. Huawei isn't the first to fall foul of this and hopefully that's something that can be improved in the future.
For sports tracking there's plenty going on as well. The bottom physical button on the Watch pushes you into workout mode where you can track a whole host of activities including running, cycling and treadmill running. With the heart rate sensor on board you can even tap into fat burn running workouts and see a breakdown of heart rate training zones. Like the Fit, you can also build running training plans, which can be synced to the Watch.
Left to right: Huawei Watch 2, Polar H10 and TomTom Spark 3
Locking onto a GPS signal is pretty quick although when we swiped across to the map tracking screen there was nothing to see unfortunately so we don't have any mapping data to show. We do know it did still track but recorded lower distances in comparison to the Polar Beat app using our iPhone's GPS and the TomTom Spark 3 GPS running watch.
To test the reliability of the heart rate sensor we put it up against the Polar H10 chest strap and the TomTom Spark 3's very reliable optical heart rate sensor. There was more in common with the average bpm readings on the Spark 3 and the Huawei Watch 2, but the maximum heart rate reading was significantly higher on the Android Wear watch. It was a similar story when compared to the chest strap. Average and maximum bpm were both higher. Unfortunately, it looks like this is another optical heart rate sensor that throws up some unreliable numbers based on our experience.
Left to right: Huawei Watch 2, Polar H10 and TomTom Spark 3
The data breakdown in the Huawei Health app is pretty comprehensive though. You're getting everything from average speed, a training results score, recovery time advice and VO2 Max score. If that metric means nothing to you, check out our guide to VO2. In simple terms it's about oxygen and the maximum volume someone can consume during exercise to help indicate a level of aerobic fitness. We're still carrying out some testing with this to find out how accurate and reliable the data is, but it's definitely a plus to have it thrown into the mix.
Huawei Watch 2: Battery life
Ensuring those inbuilt cellular skills don't haemorrhage battery, the Watch 2 has been equipped with a 420mAh power supply, an addition Huawei claims will last two days between charges on the 4G model, and three days on the non-4G option.
We're happy to report that the battery performance is, while perhaps not a full two days, easily the best we've encountered on Wear so far. A charge overnight Sunday to Monday would easily mean juice left in the tank on a Tuesday evening.
There's also a nifty Watch Mode feature. When you notice you're running short on juice, enabling this will extend the device's staying power massively.
Sure, it'll turn off key features such as GPS and Bluetooth connections, but you'll still be able to tell the time - and isn't that the key to why you're sporting a watch in the first place? Enabling Watch Mode when you've got just 10% charge left will keep the watch going for a further 40 hours, with your step count continuing to be racked up too. From a full charge it's said to last around 20 days in this mode but it'd be a bit weird to buy a smartwatch and do just this.
The Huawei Watch 2 is a watch that'll stand up to a weekend in the woods too, with an IP68 water and dust resistant rating making it capable of being submerged for 30 minutes to depths of 1.5 metres.
- Packed full of sensors
- Battery life is impressive
- Android Wear 2.0 out of the box
- Plenty of fitness/tracking data
- Loses the charm of the original
- Fiddly to use
- Build quality feels a bit cheap
- Questionable heart rate data