Early last year I checked out the Huawei Watch. It was Huawei’s debut smartwatch, and the Chinese company went for style, using metal builds with colors like gold to try to create a smartwatch that would actually look good with a nice outfit.
I wasn’t totally convinced. Part of that was because of Android Wear, which was not user-friendly at the outset. But, I was also skeptical about the company’s attempts to make the watch fashionable — smartwatches, because of all the hardware that needs to be stuffed into them, are going to look too bulky for most wearers. Even if smartwatches were slimmer, I don’t think a glowing screen will ever be a good look with formal or even dress casual attire in the evening.
Huawei might have come to the same conclusion. After releasing additional Huawei Watch models that ran at the fashion angle even harder, Huawei has done a 180 with the Huawei Watch 2. Both the Huawei Watch 2 and the more expensive Huawei Watch 2 Classic embrace the bulk, going for a sportier look. With the addition of a full complement of fitness features, plus the much improved Android Wear 2.0, Huawei has ended up with a more functional smartwatch this year — even if it’s never going to get a Swarovski edition.
Note: This is a Huawei Watch 2 review — I won’t speak to the Huawei Watch 2 Classic, which differs slightly in design and mostly in the materials used for the case.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d never guess the Huawei Watch 2 is the successor to the Huawei Watch. The metal build and the leather straps are out, and plastic and silicone is in (although the bezel is ceramic). It feels cheaper as a result, but it’s hard to fault the watch for it — this device is serving a completely different purpose this year, and the materials were changed accordingly. This is a watch made more for the gym than a night out, so Huawei made something you can sweat on (or swim in — it’s IP68 waterproof). It’s also worth mentioning that the watch is a bit thicker this year, probably because of the added hardware under the hood this year.
The Huawei Watch 2 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset with 768 MB of RAM. The takeaway there is that the watch runs on a chipset made specifically for wearables and wearable software, instead of just using a low-tier smartphone chipset. Paired with the much more streamlined Android Wear 2.0, it makes for a watch that responds very smoothly.
This is a watch built for exercise. The optical heart rate sensor returns, and is accurate as long as the watch is worn tightly enough. Like before, it can track basics like steps taken and distance traveled, then use that data to approximate stuff like calories burned and even VO2 max (lung capacity, roughly). Those sensors are joined by a GPS chip, which is huge for runners. With standalone GPS, it’s possible for runners (and cyclists) to track both their runs and their routes without a smartphone. You’ll even be able to see a map within the watch’s Workouts app showing the route once you’re done. Not that it’s for exercise, but NFC for contactless payments is a nice feature to help make the watch useful independent of a phone, too.
But, for the exercise set to really feel comfortable leaving their phones at home, the watch has to play music, too. The Huawei Watch 2 has 4 GB of storage and outgoing Bluetooth connectivity. Wireless in-ear headphones can be connected to the watch, so tunes are covered without the need for a phone, too. The watch has its own set of passable (and surprisingly loud) speakers, too, which is more practical for indoor exercise.
The mics are pretty good, and with Android Wear 2.0 introducing Google Assistant, that’s good news. Google Assistant can usually understand voice commands, letting you send texts and calls from the watch (as long as it’s connected via Bluetooth to your phone — the United States will not get an LTE model). The watch was even able to understand my Mandarin Chinese when I used the translation app, so kudos to Huawei on not cutting corners here.
Speaking of Android Wear 2.0, it does wonders to help make this watch more appealing than the previous generation. Whereas Android Wear demanded tons of tapping and swiping to navigate apps and notifications, Android Wear 2.0 is more streamlined. The app list is now on a single screen that you can scroll through quickly, and notifications are much more well organized. There are also watch-specific apps that can be downloaded from the watch’s Google Play store, which is a nice little bonus.
Probably the least popular change to that hardware this year is that the screen is smaller — 1.2″, down from 1.4″. I don’t think this would have been a problem if Huawei had added more physical controls, but alas, they didn’t. There are two buttons — one for home (and Google Assistant with a long press), and one that can be customized. I used that button to launch the workouts app, but I still needed to use touch controls to start and pause runs. The good news is it’s still an AMOLED display, and gets bright enough to be used in direct sunlight.
With a display that small, and with sweaty fingers after exercise, it can be difficult to do exactly what you want to do. Having physical controls like a crown or a rotating bezel, which many other smartwatch makers are now adding, would have helped a lot. Even not having a physical start/stop button for runs puts Huawei behind something like the New Balance RunIQ. But, when those fingers are dry, touch controls end up being surprisingly accurate for the screen size.
Battery life was good on the Huawei Watch, and it’s only gotten better with the Huawei Watch 2. The 420 mAh battery is pretty big for a smartwatch, and it was a great choice. On a normal day, I usually had between 60 and 70 percent battery left by the time I was getting ready for bed. On days when I had a long run, that went down below 50 percent, but I was never worried about having the watch die on me before getting home.
Part of that efficiency comes from Huawei’s addition of an ambient light sensor, which can dim that AMOLED display to conserve power as needed. If the battery does start to run low, the device can be switched to watch mode, which will limit it to telling time and tracking steps. In that mode, the watch can last up to three weeks, so if the battery is almost dead, watch mode will probably pull you through those last couple hours until you get home.