The smartwatch industry has been stagnating in recent times, so it was good to see a big launch at MWC 2017 after months of very little activity. The Huawei Watch 2 was unveiled alongside Huawei’s latest flagship smartphone – the P10 – and at first sight, it looked very promising indeed.
But how is the Watch 2 now? I’ve been wearing it for the past few days and my first impressions of it are pretty positive. The battery lasts a full two days, it feels responsive to navigate and it’s comfortable to wear.
I have the Sport version on my wrist right now, which isn’t as attractive as the first Huawei Watch with its plasticky strap and largely black plastic watch casing. It’s quite chunky, too, at 12.6mm thick. However, it doesn’t dig into my wrist, it doesn’t feel particularly heavy and I rather like the smoky, glossy ceramic bezel that surrounds the watch’s 1.2in, 390 x 390, 326ppi AMOLED display.
Indeed, the bezel is the one design element that Huawei crowed most about at the launch. Each bezel, says the Chinese smartphone giant, is crafted using “23 different processes” and takes 288 hours to produce. The bezel is six times harder than stainless steel and abrasion-resistant, too, so it should retain its looks over time.
So while it’s a long way from the sleek, svelte original Huawei Watch, it really doesn’t look that bad – as long as you don’t choose the model with the bright orange strap. In fact, since this is supposed to be the sporty model and is IP68 dust- and water-resistant, it’s probably a good thing the strap is made of plastic. I’m just a mite disappointed that it isn’t properly swim-proof like the Apple Watch Series 2.
What I’m more bothered about is that there’s no equivalent here of the Apple Watch’s digital crown or the Samsung Gear S3’s rotating bezel for easier navigation. Instead, you get a pair of simple buttons on the right side of the casing. The top one is used as a shortcut to the watch’s app list and to quickly return home from anywhere in the UI, while the bottom button is employed as a customisable shortcut key to an app of your choice, the default being the Workout app.
I’m also a touch disappointed that, although the watch is supposed to be sporty, there’s no automatic exercise detection built in as there is with the superb Samsung Gear S3 Frontier. You have to manually kick off fitness sessions from the Workout app.
Huawei Watch review: 4G and Android Wear 2
The big sell with the Huawei watch is its full bank of features and sensors. In addition to smartwatch staples, the accelerometer and heart-rate monitor, there’s onboard GPS so I can track my runs and walks without having to take my smartphone with me; an ambient light sensor for setting screen brightness to an appropriate level automatically; and a barometer, too.
There’s NFC so I can use Android Pay with the tap of my wrist, and (on this model at least) 4G/LTE, with a nano-SIM card tray and slot hidden ingeniously beneath one of the strap lugs (some territories also get an eSIM model).
That means you can receive texts and calls directly to your wrist if you so wish. To do so, you can choose to use the rather scratchy built-in microphone and speaker, or (preferably) hook up a Bluetooth headset and avoid the embarrassment of having to hold your watch up to your face when speaking on the phone.
The phone and SMS features are surprisingly fully featured and usable, too. For phone calls, you can dial contacts directly, or tap out numbers using the (rather fiddly) onscreen number pad. During calls, you can adjust the volume, or even put your caller on hold.
For texting, thanks to Android Wear 2’s new message reply features, it’s pretty easy to respond on the screen of the watch itself, using either the canned responses and emojis or the surprisingly effective Swype-style keyboard.
If you don’t want to do either of these things, you can use the voice-recognition system. In fact, since this watch runs Android Wear 2, you get Google Assistant support built in, which I found far more effective and responsive than on previous Android Wear watches I’ve tested.
Don’t think you can cut the connection to your smartphone completely, however. Android Wear 2 does offer the facility to install apps directly to the watch so that they can operate independently from your phone, but not every app has this facility yet.
While you can read and reply to SMS messages and take calls, and install Google Maps to the watch, you can’t yet listen to Spotify, or triage and reply to Gmail or Slack messages without having the watch connected to your phone. Android Wear is still very much a companion system to full-blown Android.
Huawei Watch 2 review: Performance, core specifications and battery life
And now for the exciting stuff. Yep, you heard me. The EXCITING stuff… by which, of course, I mean the Huawei Watch 2’s CPU, RAM, storage and battery capacity. No yawning at the back, please.
It’s exciting because the Huawei Watch 2 is among the first wave of smartwatches to employ the new 1.1GHz Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset (the first were the recently announced LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style). Previously, most smartwatches employed the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, but this chip was never designed with smartwatches in mind. It was a cut-down smartphone chip, repurposed for life on your wrist, and an ageing one at that.
The Snapdragon Wear 2100 is altogether different. It’s a chip that’s optimised for efficiency – in fact, the Qualcomm says it’s 25% more efficient than the Snapdragon 400 – and with a low-power sensor management hub and support for 4G, it should be the processor of choice for the next generation of smartwatches.
Here, in the Huawei Watch 2, it’s accompanied by 768MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a 420mAh battery. The latter keeps the watch going for significantly longer than two days in normal mode, with Android Wear 2’s always-on screen feature enabled. That isn’t quite as good as Samsung’s Gear S3 Frontier, but it’s better than most smartwatches I’ve so far tested, and I’d expect it to last even longer with always-on screen disabled.
In any case, as I mentioned at the top of the review, the Watch 2’s battery-saver “Watch mode” will get you to the end of the day in most circumstances when you’re running dry. This mode disables all functions except the watch face and step-counting facility, and if you leave it in this mode all the time Huawei says the watch will last up to 21 days on a single charge.
Stamina does take a dive with 4G/LTE enabled, though, and I’ve only been able to eke 24 hours out of it with a SIM card in the slot. If you’re running GPS at the same time, Huawei quote ten hours’ continuous use.
Huawei Watch 2 review: Verdict
The Huawei Watch 2 is an impressive smartwatch in many regards. It’s packed with the full array of sensors and features, offers fully functioning 4G connectivity, and if you don’t like the sporty looks, the toned-down Classic looks a touch more attractive.
With decent battery life, the only hurdle, at least for the 4G and the Classic, is the price, which at £320 for the 4G version, and £349 for the Classic, is on the high side for an Android Wear timepiece. I’d recommend you opt for the regular non-4G version, which has now dropped to £280; that’s still quite high for an Android Wear watch that’s been out for nearly a year, though.
Aside from that, though, the Huawei Watch 2 is a more than decent smartwatch. I’d still recommend the Samsung Gear S3 above it for its superior exercise detection, fitness features and excellent battery life, but if you like the Android Wear way of doing things, this is the best I’ve seen so far.