The relatively young wearable market is already showing signs of slowdown. Sales are down 50 percent year over year, while current-era smartwatch pioneer Pebble was stripped down and sold off for parts in the face of mounting debt and declining sales. For fitness trackers and smartwatches (and there’s a lot of overlap), it’s becoming increasingly difficult to put together a competitive, successful product.
There’s still a place for fitness trackers, and over the past few years, a couple of companies have figured out how best to get there. The companies that have had success — Fitbit and Garmin, in particular — have done so by creating simple, easy-to-use devices with long battery lives. In other words, they do less in order to do the job of fitness tracking more effectively.
This year, Huawei tried to incorporate the lessons learned by the entire industry into a new fitness tracker called Huawei Fit. In stark contrast to the bulky, Android Wear-powered Huawei Watch, Fit is a thin, light watch with a comfortable silicone band and a battery-saving monochrome display. There are some smartwatch features like notifications, but they’re limited in scope — Fit is meant to excel in fitness and workout tracking. Ultimately, Fit lacks too many key fitness features to beat the competition, although its more affordable asking price could make it a good buy for some.
Huawei Fit is well-sized for a wearable, with a 1.04″ round watch face and an 18 mm band (any 18 mm band with spring-loaded pins can be used). One of the main complaints we’ve had about smartwatches and fitness trackers is that most of them have been prohibitively large for those with smaller wrists — the Fit doesn’t have that problem. It’s also very thin and light, and the stock silicone band combined with the lightweight aluminum case makes for a very comfortable device. It’s about on par with the Fitbit Charge 2 and less bulky than the Garmin Vivoactive HR.
Wisely, Huawei made the Fit IP68-rated, meaning it’s completely waterproof and dustproof. The Fit is to eventually be a viable tracker for swimming, although Huawei is still working on that part of their companion app. The watch did indeed survive being submerged, and when used in rain, the touchscreen has a nice hydrophobic coating that makes the water roll right off.
The Fit’s 1.04″ face features a 208 x 208 resolution touch display, which is a high enough resolution to make the information on-screen appear sharp. Despite being a low-power display, it gets bright enough to be useful outdoors, saving power by becoming much dimmer when inside. When not in use, the watch simply shows the time, which also helps save a bit of power. It’s only a black-and-white display, which is good enough for what Fit does — time, notifications, and fitness and workout stats. The Fit is efficient enough to wring out about six days’ worth of battery life from an 80 mAh battery. Getting that much from such a small battery is a big reason why Fit was able to stay so thin and light, so credit to Huawei for that. Better still, it only takes between 40 minutes and an hour to fully charge the watch with the included magnetic charger.
The Fit is equipped with the usual fitness sensors (accelerometer and gyroscope), plus an optical heart rate sensor that can continuously track heart rate during workouts. From my experience, the step counting was fairly accurate and consistent. The heart rate tracker (the LED lights you can see on the underside of the watch) worked very well — I didn’t see many of the sudden dips or spikes that mar less heart rate detectors.
In other words, what’s there works well. The problem is what the Fit lacks — namely, its own GPS chip. In 2016, most fitness tracker shoppers know exactly what they want, and GPS is usually on that wish list. It’s become a fitness enthusiast market, filled with people used to having a routine and sticking to it. Generally, they’ll opt to leave the phone at home if they can — that’s why fitness trackers with GPS have been so successful. Without it, a phone is needed to track routes and to track distance more accurately. But, if you’re not a runner and just want something that can keep tabs on your heart rate and VO2 levels while you’re swimming or at the gym, Fit becomes a little more competitive.
It’s a bit of a shame, then, that the interface and controls are a bit unintuitive. The touchscreen isn’t very responsive even with dry fingers — add sweat and rain, and it becomes difficult to use. That’s a problem, because there’s a lot of swiping involved — swiping up and down cycles through the watch’s functions (time, workout tracking, daily step tracking, heart rate measurement, training plan, settings, and notifications), and there are sub-menus and extra information that can be accessed by swiping left or tapping on the screen. Most of this stuff (heart rate graphs, settings) is better viewed on the companion app. The watch can be navigated using wrist gestures, but that’s never been a compelling or comfortable way to control wearables — turning your wrist four or five times to get to the information you need isn’t optimal. More and more wearables now have physical dials and buttons on the side now, and I think that’s the way to go.
Along with GPS, auto-detecting of exercise was another critical miss here. That’s not easy to implement, but with Fitbit and Garmin both managing it, it’s become a very attractive feature. With the Fit, you have to swipe up to workout tracking, then tap twice to start tracking a run. With the Charge 2 or the Vivoactive HR, you just start running (or cycling, swimming, etc). Fortunately, Huawei did make it possible to pause workouts, another key feature for anyone who’s ever been held up at a stoplight while running.
The Huawei Fit can also do sleep tracking. On most other fitness tracking wearables we’ve reviewed, this has been a half-baked feature at best — we’ve got plenty of memories of devices identifying sleep cycle fluctuations while sitting on top of a nightstand. The Fit is part of a new breed of fitness trackers that puts the heart rate sensor to good use in this respect. It uses both motion detection and heart rate detection to monitor sleep, meaning the watch won’t just make data up if you’re not wearing it to bed. Heart rate changes can help indicate shifts from light sleep to REM sleep, and Huawei’s managed to use that information to make a genuinely effective sleep tracker, as long as you’re willing to wear it to bed in the first place. Fortunately, it’s light and comfortable enough to wear it without it being a distraction.
Using the companion app, you can get basic notifications sent to the watch over a Bluetooth connection. You won’t be able to take any actions (aside from rejecting calls), but you can be notified about incoming calls, texts, and the like. Otherwise, there are no smartwatch functions here. That’s by no means a bad thing, although a lack of music controls does hurt the Fit a little.
The Huawei Fit works with the Huawei Wear app, which is a pretty good fitness app. You can easily check workout (running, walking, and cycling, with swimming coming in a future update) and daily goal progress at a glance, or do a deep dive and check out all the advanced stats like VO2 that the Fit makes possible. Particularly strong is Huawei’s run coach, which helps you put together a training plan to prepare for races (anything between a 5K and a marathon). This takes into account your current fitness levels and running ability, and can be a big help for anyone needing direction or motivation. If you’re already invested in another fitness app, your Huawei Wear account can be synced with Jawbone Up, Google Fit, or Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal — those are the usual third party suspects for fitness trackers. Not bad, although I wish it would also work with UA’s more running-oriented MapMyRun.