After 18 months in the cold, Huawei is back in the smartwatch business β just not quite in the same way as we've seen it through previous generations.
Though the companyβs new Watch GT sits in the same carriage as the latest wares from Apple, Samsung and Fossil β arriving just before the holiday rush β itβs getting off at another stop. This time, Huawei is looking to appeal to a very different kind of smartwatch user.
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Gone is Google's Wear OS, limited battery life and the lofty price tag of the Huawei Watch 2. Instead, we're treated to the debut of Lite OS, Huawei's proprietary operating system that leaps from its fitness trackers and onto one of its smartwatches for the first time.
What does the change in OS promise? The claim of two-week battery life at an enticing Β£199 price. US pricing has yet to be confirmed by Huawei, but that works out to around $230.
It's a risky strategy being employed by Huawei. But by foregoing a battle with the smartwatch giants, it's able to stake its claim as 2018's best value for money smartwatch. Does the gamble pay off? We've been living with the Huawei Watch GT in order to find out. Here's our full verdict.
Huawei Watch GT: Design
Huawei has typically offered two slightly different versions of its smartwatch, with one being more suited to formal wear and another dedicated to sport. It's the same case again with the Watch GT, with this masculine-looking frame coming in a cheaper Sport variant, as shown throughout this review, and a Classic model that comes with a leather strap and silver finish.
We managed to get our hands on both initially, and, either way, you're getting a smartwatch that's more in line with the look and feel of the original Huawei Watch than the Huawei Watch 2. That means strapping on a smartwatch that looks less like a sports watch, and instead more like a traditional smartwatch with a touchscreen.
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Speaking of that display β Huawei has packed in a great one here. Sitting inside the chronograph bezel is a 1.39-inch, 454 x 454 AMOLED screen. To put that into perspective, the 1.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Watch packs a 360 x 360 resolution screen. It's among the best we've played with, comfortably matching up with the vibrancy and sharpness found on the Galaxy Watch and Apple Watch Series 4, and tarnished only by the odd bit of misting. This isn't a huge issue, and not one we suspect is widespread, but there's been more than a few occasions over the past few weeks when we've found ourselves having to wipe the same crescent shape on the screen that's misted up.
In terms of smudging, the Watch GT doesn't suffer any more or less than other smartwatches, though you can also get around the watch by using the two buttons sitting on the right side of the bezel. A little confusingly, the two offer the same functions most of the time, and you can't flick through the four main screens on Lite OS (home, heart rate, weather and activity) unless you swipe.
So, that's the essence of the device's look, but how does it feel to wear? Well, we'd say it ticks the comfort box too. There's no doubting that those with smaller wrists probably aren't going to appreciate the look as much, but this is considerably thinner than the 12.6mm Huawei Watch 2, and it feels it. Bottom line, we enjoyed wearing this one.
The straps are interchangeable, too, but we found it was comfortable enough to cover sleep, activity and daytime use without any hassle. The same goes for the leather Classic variant we tried on during our initial review, which actually features a rubber underside so it can be worn during exercise β nifty.
As we say, this is great if you're exercising and using the device's heart rate monitor, and matches up nicely with the Watch's 5ATM waterproofing, but you'll probably want to change out the leather strap if you're going for a dip.
Huawei Watch GT: Lite OS
So let's talk about Lite OS. As mentioned earlier, this is the company's first deviation from Google's Wear OS β a platform that while improving, is still being outshone by its rivals. Huawei says it's not ditching Wear OS and is simply offering up an alternative for fans of its smartwatches.
With its own iOS and Android-friendly operating system, Huawei has given users something completely fresh to look at. And while Google's issues have no doubt played a part in Huawei's decision to go it alone, it really feels more to do with a change in how it expects users to interact with the Watch GT.
Instead of standalone apps, music storage and a feature-packed hub sitting on your wrist, the Watch GT strips things back and focuses on the essentials. On the whole, we found it refreshing, but be aware that this is quite the contrast from other smartwatch operating systems you may have tried previously.
At the heart of the GT, and where you'll spend most of your time, are the four menu screens. It's really handy to be able to swipe just a few times and get information on the weather, heart rate (if you switch continuous heart monitoring to always-on, you get a really neat graph detailing your beats, as shown below), and your activity. Depending on your watch face β Huawei has 12 to pick from, though unfortunately these aren't customisable β you can also receive more detailed information.
Jumping into the menu is only really necessary if you want to start a workout (Huawei has 11 for you to pick from, including an 'Other' mode), look at your workout history or access other features, such as the compass, flashlight, timer, alarm or the stopwatch.
Swiping up from the home screen gives you a quick menu, letting you turn on do not disturb, screen lock, find your phone or the always-on screen. Swiping down gives you a look at your unread notifications. These can't be responded to, keeping with that barebones theme, but will pull in everything a connected iOS or Android smartphone throws at it.
As we say, it's a different idea of how to communicate with a smartwatch, but it's a positive one, overall. There's no software jitters or lagging through menus β that's thankfully been cleaned up since our initial review β and, providing you understand its limitations, you'll find Lite OS a pleasant experience on the whole.
Huawei Watch GT: Activity tracking
Lite OS may take away some of the deeper elements previously found in Huawei smartwatches, but there are areas it doesn't skimp on: activity, heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking. These three pillars hold up the Huawei Watch GT, and all can be explored further through the Huawei Health app.
As we've alluded to, the Watch GT is able to give you a number of trackable activity modes on the wrist β some are indoor, some are outdoor, but they all focus on either running, cycling and swimming.
The usual activity tracking staples apply here, meaning your steps, calories and distance are all available within the Huawei app. Generally, we've found steps to be in line with the Fitbit Charge 3 we've been testing the watch against, though some days we did find it underreporting. Calories, too, aren't taken throughout the day and night, giving you a complete look, and instead are only tracked from your activity and walking.
(Huawei Watch GT, left and middle; Fitbit, right)
With the Watch GT's impressive battery life, which we'll come onto below, the promise of tracking during the night is also a possibility. You'll need to enable round-the-clock heart tracking, naturally, but what you get in return is extensive and detailed sleep tracking.
However, while there's plenty of data for you to pore over, we do have some questions over its accuracy. When tested against a Fitbit β whose devices we consider to be the gold standard of on-wrist sleep tracking β we did find a fair bit of inconsistency.
Some nights were fairly in line with what Fitbit reports, right down to tracking a similar time in light, deep and REM sleep, though it too often had problems with wake detection (one night even getting to 14 hours before it realised we'd got out of bed β and we did, we promise) or over-reporting certain areas of sleep (for example, one night had us registering four hours of REM sleep).
It's a shame, too, because the data on offer through the app is, in some ways, more useful than the Fitbit. Not only do you get averages for your month (as Fitbit provides), but you also get them for individual weeks and the year, as well as things like a sleep score to help put it all in a glanceable figure. Even breathing quality, which, to be fair, isn't really explained too fully, is still interesting to take a look at.
Huawei Watch GT: Sports tracking
So how does it fare as a sports watch? Multiple sport modes are supported with running, swimming and cycling covered. Additional outdoor sports tracking includes the likes of hiking and cross country. Huawei has also included a mode called Running Course that offers up dedicated run-focused training sessions you can try out if you want to make the most of your running time.
As a point of comparison, we tested the Watch GT's outdoor running skills against an Apple Watch packing watchOS 5. On the watch itself, Huawei's system is informative and impressive. It's not likely you're going to be flicking through the five screens too much, but if you do you'll find everything from pace, heart rate, steps, cadence, climbing, distance and even a neat screen showing your progress against a ghost runner β one that's based on your distance and goal.
Compared to the Apple Watch, where you get music control and the highlights of your activity, it does win out. And not just on the wrist, either, with the app also delving into more informative graphs and details about your activity.
(Huawei Watch GT, left to right: map, chart breakdown, details)
(Apple Watch: map, details and heart rate)
In our run, we found the GPS of the Watch GT to lock on within around 10-15 seconds, which, while not as lightning quick as the Apple Watch, is still impressive. The two also only showed 0.1km difference in their tracking (despite the Huawei Watch tracking for a couple of minutes longer as we wandered around taking photos), which left us satisfied with its GPS accuracy.
Sports tracking on the general is good, but there is one gripe we do have. Data cannot be shared with third-party apps. All of your data can only live inside of Huawei's companion Health app. What we would have given for it to play nice with Strava, Endomondo and the host of third-party apps available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Huawei Watch GT: Heart rate monitoring
(Huawei Watch GT, left; Fitbit, right)
Heart rate monitoring underpins both of the tracked elements above, and, as you might expect, we found the accuracy follows a similar path: mostly accurate, but not without the odd issue.
We didn't get any wild spikes or dead periods, but we found that the Watch GT would slightly overreport resting heart rate in comparison to the Fitbit, while underreporting our lowest heart rate (found during sleeping). During exercise in the example above, it was roughly around 3-5 bpm below the Apple Watch throughout, though did manage to provide an average pretty much inline.
All in all, these are far from terminal problems, and you're likely to find the same amount of difference between almost any optical heart rate sensor.
Huawei Watch GT: Battery life
Huawei makes big promises in the battery department: up to two weeks with normal use, a complete day of GPS tracking and up to a month with features like always-on display and GPS turned off. And it delivers.
Going for a quick 5k run shaves hardly anything from the battery total, maybe 3-4%. Even with continuous heart rate monitoring turned on, we've only had to charge the Watch GT once during our three weeks of use.
We're absolutely confident that the Watch GT, with elements like heart rate, GPS and the display all nerfed, would be able to last a month. Heck, we're sure if you really wanted to, you'd be able to stretch it slightly longer than that, too.
Of course, with leading battery life comes sacrifices, like the ones we've mentioned above, but the trade-off doesn't feel harsh here. If you're not a smartwatch user that relies on apps or music, and your focus is instead on tracking sleep, the odd bit of activity and having a device that handles the basics, the fact you don't have to charge it for weeks at a time in order to receive this is something we've yet to see in touchscreen smartwatches. It's the kind of feature that Google and others would do well to imitate.
- Attractive design
- Excellent battery life
- Solid heart tracking
- Enticing price
- Masculine design
- No contactless payments
- No third-party app support
- Minimal customisation
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