- Comfortable and lightweight design
- Android Wear 2.0 is a big improvement
- Plenty of sports sensors
- NFC and Android Pay convenience
- Small display
- Thick bezels
- Workout data doesn’t currently sync
- Uninspiring design
- Android Wear 2.0
- 45mm diameter
- GPS, heart rate monitor
- 420mAh battery, ultra power-saving mode
- Real-time workout guidance
- 1.2-inch 390 x 390 AMOLED display
- NFC and Android Pay
- IP68 rating
- Manufacturer: Huawei
- Review Price: to be confirmed
WHAT IS THE HUAWEI WATCH 2?
The Huawei Watch 2 is the follow-up to 2015’s Huawei Watch, and one of the first smartwatches to launch with Android Wear 2.0. Taking a leaf out of LG’s book, the Watch 2 is available in two models.
There’s the sportier standard Watch 2 model (€329) alongside an LTE model (€379), and a more traditional-looking Watch 2 Classic option (€399) that uses more premium materials. This is a reversal of LG’s Watch Style and Watch Sport pricing model, which puts the fitness-focussed watch as the more premium option.
All the Huawei Watch 2 models include the GPS and heart rate sensors that will appeal to fitness enthusiasts.
HUAWEI WATCH 2 – DESIGN AND SCREEN
Although there are two models available, there are far fewer differences between the two Huawei watches, at least in terms of features, compared to LG’s recent efforts. The standard model Huawei Watch 2 on test here is geared more towards a workout, whereas the Classic apes traditional watch designs.
As such, their constructions are significantly different. The standard option uses a thermoplastic case, with ceramic bezel, and interchangeable silicone straps that will endure the sweat of your workout. The Classic, on the other hand, uses stainless steel and comes with leather strap options. This makes the Classic model a tad heavier at 60.5g to the Sports’ 57g.
At 45 x 48.3 x 12.6mm, the Watch 2 is still quite chunky, but no worse than rivals such as the LG Watch Sport or New Balance RunIQ I was wearing at the time.
Still, for a watch this size, it’s super light and it’s barely noticeable when on your wrist. Its thickness is still an issue, though, and I found it getting caught in my tights sleeves fairly regularly. The strap is comfortable enough, although it feels rather cheap. Since the Huawei Watch 2’s straps are of the standard 20mm variety, you’re free to replace them if you want.
The watch is IP68-rated, which means it should be fine for 30 minutes in water up to a depth of 1.5m – but even so, Huawei doesn’t recommend swimming with the watch. This will limit its appeal against devices such as the Apple Watch Series 2.
Overall, the design feels like a step backwards compared to the original Huawei Watch. Its predecessor looked sleek and stylish compared to the drab offerings from the likes of Motorola and LG at the time. The Watch 2 doesn’t stand out this time around; not unless you pick one of the more eye-catching colours, such as “Dynamic Orange” – and even then it’s for the wrong reasons.
Both watch models have a 1.2-inch AMOLED 390 x 390-pixel display, which is bright and vibrant, and perfectly readable outdoors, with good viewing angles. It also comes with an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the brightness.
The display is too small for my liking, especially when put next to the LG Watch Sport, which has a 1.38-inch display and a higher resolution at 480 x 480 pixels. Even the original Huawei Watch managed a 1.4-inch display. Then there’s the thick, raised ceramic bezel, which manages an impressive double-whammy of displeasing looks and being a hindrance to the operation of Android Wear.
This is because the OS now relies heavily on swipe gestures from the edge of the display to navigate, which means in the Huawei Watch 2 the chronograph-style bezels can get in the way. Combined with the relatively small display, it all begins to feel more fiddly than I’d like.
In addition, there are certain interface elements in Android Wear 2.0 that occasionally use the bottom portion of the display – the section that used to form the “flat tyre” of early Android Wear smartwatches – as a shortcut button, which makes swiping up and down the remainder of the screen difficult. Google Fit’s workout shortcut button is an example of this (below).
The Huawei Watch 2 has two crown buttons: one for accessing your list of apps while the second can be configured to act as a shortcut. Out of the box, it’s set to access the Workout app, so you can begin tracking runs or workouts. Neither crowns rotate, which is a shame, since such a mechanism could possibly have avoided the problems with the bezel and swipe gestures. It’s also a shame that the bezel itself doesn’t rotate, which is one of the best features of the Samsung Gear S3.
If you want to have the option of built-in LTE, then unfortunately, the Classic design isn’t the watch for you. LTE is particularly handy for those who prefer to leave their phone behind without worrying about losing connectivity – when going for a run, for example. LTE is present in the Sport model, however.
Combine the built-in LTE with NFC and Android Pay and it’s perfectly feasible to rely on only your smartwatch to get around. Thankfully, the likes of NFC, GPS, barometer and the heart rate sensor are available on every model.
HUAWEI WATCH 2 – PERFORMANCE AND ANDROID WEAR 2.0
Inside the Huawei Watch 2 is one of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 chips running at 1.1GHz, paired with 768MB of RAM and 4GB of on-board storage. The latter should mean you won’t run out of space for watch apps and will be more than adequate to load up some music to accompany your next workout. There’s also Bluetooth 4.1 and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n.
Of course, one of the star attractions for the Huawei Watch 2 is its Android Wear 2.0 operating system. It’s a much cleaner and more intuitive OS than its predecessor. Everything you’d expect to see with Android Wear 2.0 is present here. There’s the new Google Assistant, available by holding the top crown button; standalone watch apps available from the Google Play Store directly from your wrist; and new input methods too – among other improvements.
Using the new on-screen keyboard proves a little fiddly – again, a result of that small display. Jabbing away at the small keyboard requires more precision and concentration than I’d like and using swipe gestures doesn’t really help.
The Huawei Watch 2 isn’t infallible to a little slowdown, either. Overall, navigating generally feels slick and responsive, although firing up an app can mean a little waiting. There were occasions where I’d hit a stutter, where a touch input didn’t necessarily register as quickly. This would leave me thinking that the app had crashed, only for it to spring back to life. Scrolling through Huawei’s Workout app is an example of this, but Google Fit was on occasion susceptible, too.
There are moments where having an Android Wear watch on your wrist feels super-useful. At the MWC trade show in Barcelona, following a Citymapper map on my wrist was far easier than having to whip out my phone every few minutes.
Asking Google Assistant questions and receiving a response was a true convenience, too, although its context-based answers weren’t always on the money. For instance, asking “What’s the pound to Vietnamese Dong exchange rate?”, followed by “And what’s the time there?” only gave me my local time. Refinements will come with time.
Otherwise, the tweaks to Android Wear 2.0 are very welcome, especially in terms of how notifications are displayed, with smaller icons and more space for actual information. Watch faces can also be customised with different “complications”, presenting more information without the need to dive into apps or menus.
Annoyingly, though, not all of the preset watch faces include a visual notification indicator to let you know there’s something awaiting your attention; you have to swipe up to view, or hope you catch the buzz of the watch’s vibration. Still, you can easily pick a better watch face, or add more from the watch itself.
HUAWEI WATCH 2 – FITNESS AND ACTIVITY TRACKING
Where previously manufacturers were struggling to set a purpose for smartwatches, they’ve seemingly found one in integrating fitness tracking – just look at the Apple Watch Series 2. As such, it isn’t surprising to find fitness at the core of the Huawei Watch 2 range.Huawei has incorporated a number of features from its other wearable, the Huawei Fit, to bolster the Watch 2’s fitness-tracking credentials. Similar to the Fit, you have access to training plans – such as building up towards a marathon – which you can access daily to determine your training schedule for any given day, whether that be attempting to add some distance to your run or having a recovery day.
However, I couldn’t actually get the training plan function to work on the Huawei Watch 2. Trying to open the feature from the Workouts app on the watch, it recommends that you download and install Huawei Wear and Huawei Health apps on your smartphone to set up the feature.I installed the Huawei Wear app just fine, but the latter doesn’t appear to exist in the Google Play Store, or at least it wasn’t available to me on my OnePlus 3T. Some quick research suggests that I’m not the only one to encounter this missing app problem.The other issue is that the Huawei Wear app doesn’t curretly have an option to add a Huawei Watch 2 as a connected device – just the original Huawei Watch – so none of my activity data has synced across. Fortunately, Google Fit integration is present for your activity info, so those steps aren’t completely going to waste.
Essentially, right now there’s a reliance on looking at your data from your wrist, unless you want to use Google Fit. Huawei has its Activity Tracking and Workout apps on the watch, which display the usual metrics such as steps taken and your previous workouts.Of course, with standalone apps now available, you’re free to use your own workout app of choice – such as Strava, which has a version available for Android Wear 2.0 devices.Google Fit itself is also much-improved on Android Wear 2.0, and integrates a degree of rep-counting for activities such as its “Squat Challenge” – which in testing counted reps as expected.But for the purposes of this review, I continued to use Huawei’s own app. It’s nice and clean and quick to get started, with a number of preset workouts such as running, indoor cycling or walking. Then there are more specific workouts such as Fat-burning and Cardio.
Going for a run, the Huawei Watch 2 achieved a GPS lock very quickly, so there wasn’t that annoying standing around in the cold before I could set off. During the run I wore a Fitbit Charge 2 on my opposite wrist alongside a Jabra Elite Sport in my ears for its heart rate monitoring.Once you hit start, you get a 3-second countdown before you set off. The display then shows your heart rate, time running and, in prime position on the display, your choice of data metric such as pace, cadence, altitude or steps. Just touch and hold the display to choose what you want at-a-glance access to and the data points can be swapped around.Your heart rate is clearly shown across the top of the display, against a clear colour wheel to show which heart rate zone you’re currently in – a useful tool if you focus on heart rate zone training.During my run, I found the heart rate detection was pretty close to the Jabra Elite Sport that was taking readings from my ear. The Huawei Watch 2 would occasionally struggle to keep up when there were rapid changes in heart rate – such as short sprints to overtake pedestrians, or zipping across a traffic intersection – but eventually, the results would level out within around a 3-5BPM range. Not bad for an optical heart rate sensor.
The distance covered was what you’d expect for a watch with GPS. Annoying as it is, different GPS sensors will result in different readings for a number of reasons – poor signal being one – but the Huawei Watch 2 wasn’t far off my phone’s readings.Post-run and you get some useful analysis beyond the basic distance and pace. A Training Effect score indicates the level of your effort; a VO2 maximum estimation provides an idea of your overall fitness level; and a recovery time needed measurement lets you know how long before your body is back at peak performance.These are all genuinely useful for those looking to improve performance, so are compelling reasons to persevere with Huawei’s own running watch app. I presume the syncing issue will be fixed before general release, but I’ve reached out to Huawei for comment.For the more basic activity tracking element, I found the step-counting was consistently around 200 steps behind the Fitbit Charge 2. You do get move reminders each hour if you’ve been sedentary for that period, including some that have you perform stretches; an animated avatar on the watch takes you through each movement. There’s no built-in automatic sleep tracking from Huawei, or from Google Fit, but third-party apps are available.
HUAWEI WATCH 2 – BATTERY LIFE AND CHARGING
With a 420mAh battery, the Huawei Watch 2 is rated at having around two days’ battery life, which in testing was spot on – if not perhaps a little reserved in its estimation. You’d want to charge before your second night in any case, since it won’t quite make it to the morning.
During a workout, you can expect about 10 hours of battery life with continued GPS and heart rate tracking, which is very good. Interestingly, there’s a “Watch Mode” available as an app you can run at any time, or something that kicks in automatically when the battery is critically low.This simply displays a analogue watch face with your step counting as a basic complication. The always-on display is also turned off. If you turned this on with a freshly charged battery, you should expect more than 21 days of battery life – although, of course, you’re missing out on nearly all of the smart parts of your smartwatch.
If you let it kick in automatically when the battery is critically low, you should get another day. It’s a handy feature for anyone who, like me, has felt the pain of being asked the time when wearing a dead smartwatch.The watch is charged via a magnetic charging dock, which attaches easily without fuss. It doesn’t really prop up your watch, though; I prefer watches that can double as a bedside clock when charging overnight but it is at least very secure.
SHOULD I BUY THE HUAWEI WATCH 2?
If your focus is predominantly on fitness tracking and you want a smartwatch to accompany you on a run, the Huawei Watch 2 ticks a lot of the right boxes thanks to its feature set. It’s lightweight and comfortable, and even looks fairly attractive for a sports watch.However, if you’re coming from the original Huawei Watch then chances are you’re going to find it a step backwards in terms of design; it feels generic and uninspiring. The small display appears worse because of that thick bezel, which means you’re dealing with a large watch casing that offers no benefit.The Watch 2 is also unlikely to have much appeal to those with smaller wrists due to its chunky design.As one of the first few watches to launch with Android Wear 2.0, however, it’s a promising start – but not quite the ultimate Android Wear watch I was hoping for.
The Huawei Watch 2 has plenty to appeal to runners, but a bland design and small screen means it falls just short of the podium.