I've worn several smartwatches now and, for the most part, they've been somewhat different in appearance. Some square, some more rectangular and a couple round watches. They've all had their strengths and weaknesses but few have satisfied my timepiece lust like Huawei's new Huawei Watch. And though this is the first generation of this device from the Chinese manufacturer, it's a very strong first effort with more pros than cons.
If you're pressed for time, check out our Quick Look of the Huawei Watch, then read the full review below!
Anyone who's ever purchased a moderately priced timepiece will feel right at home when they first crack open the new Huawei watch. The jewelry-style case that the Huawei watch comes in is reminiscent of a fine watch box and elicits that sense that you've purchased a premium product. And, quite frankly, you have. At $350 or more, one of my complaints with competing watches has been some of the materials that OEMs have been using. In this case, when you remove the watch from it's case you'll notice the premium quality of the leather watchband. It isn't a cardboard-like, thick leather strap but a thin, soft leather that compliments the overall refinement of the watch. Even if those straps aren't your "thing," Huawei has taken care to ensure that removing them is a lesson in refinement, by including spring-loaded pins in the 18mm wide straps to allow you to easily remove them without the need for tools. And you'll find a bevy of aftermarket straps to fit since 18mm is one of the most common lug widths. But the attention to detail and materials doesn't end there.
The look of a watch is only part of its allure. People who enjoy wearing them, often labor over the materials they're made of and for those into traditional watches, the fact that Huawei used sapphire crystal for the face is a pretty big deal. Even the design of the watch body, and the way the face is sunken into the bezel shows the attention to detail on Huawei's part. It may not seem like a huge thing but the resistance to marring that sapphire crystal has, matched with a face that's sunken to add an extra layer of protection is a pretty sound design choice that is also aesthetically pleasing.
Another pleasing design choice is the use of an AMOLED panel as opposed to an LED display for the Huawei watch. They're not the first to use AMOLED but, among the current crop of "must-have" Android Wear wrist watches, they're the only ones using the technology and it does make a difference. The 1.4-inch, full circle AMOLED display sports a 400x400 screen resolution at 286 ppi. Colors are vibrant and, most importantly, even outdoors in direct sunlight with Ambient Mode on, you can still easily read the display. For those new to Android Wear, you can think of Ambient Mode like a screensaver on your traditional computer. Only, this mode is made to save you battery life by dimming the display and leaving only the time, or other relevant information on-screen. In some Android Wear watches, this leaves the info on the screen in Ambient Mode barely visible in direct sunlight. With the Huawei watch, you'll suffer no such issue.
The Huawei watch body is made from 316L stainless steel and that's actually an important distinction when it comes to stainless steel. You have your standard grade and the 'L' version and the difference is essentially corrosion resistance. With the "L" version, you get greater corrosion resistance than standard grade stainless steel, which means that you won't have to worry too much about the daily rigors of getting the watch wet when you wash your hands, or if you live in a humid climate, or if you live in a particularly rainy climate. Some in the field of metallurgy will say that the difference in corrosion resistance between the two grades is minimal, to get down to the science of it, it really is all about the amount of carbon content in each grade. Less carbon equals less chance of corrosion at weld points. On something I'm potentially wearing every day, I'm going to take the stance that it's better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
On the right side of the watch body at the 2 o'clock position, you'll find only one button. The button has a few functions: wake the display, put it to sleep, long-press quick launch to the apps/contacts/Google Now screen. You can also double-click it to turn the screen off, similar to Theater Mode.
The underside of the watch body is where you'll find the charging pins and heart rate monitor. The Huawei watch uses a PPG (photoplethysmography) heart rate monitor that in my testing works much better with the watch face worn facing the inside of your wrist. Wearing the watch in the traditional fashion netted very inconsistent results and became an exercise in frustration, while I was exercising. For those unfamiliar, photoplethysmography is a technology which essentially uses light to measure blood flow, beneath the skin. So, as your heart pumps blood through your system, the photo sensors see that flow and pick up on increases, or decreases, and present that information back to you in the form of your "heart rate." At the time that I tested, I was wearing the Huawei watch and another HRM whose quality I've verified. Once I moved the watch to the inside of my wrist, the measurements were within a few beats of each other from both devices.
One of the items I would've like to have seen included in the Huawei watch is wireless charging. There are some very nice iterations of inductive charging on some competing devices but Huawei went with a magnetic pad that uses pogo pin type charging interface. It works well but you just have to make sure that when you're placing the watch on the charging pad that you're connected properly. You'll know you're good because the watch will give you a small vibration and you'll see a lightning bolt icon somewhere on the watch face, depending on the watch face you're using. While we're looking at the charging, let's take a look at that 300mAh battery. My biggest issue with most smartwatches, Huawei's being no exception, is battery life. Being a fan of traditional watches and someone who's never stopped wearing them, my pet peeve will pretty much always be battery life. In the case of the Huawei watch I was getting anywhere from 26 to 31 hours of use. Day one I was off the charger from 2pm - 4pm the next day, but it was a day of unusually heavy use. My next measurement was 4am-1pm a day and a half later which meant a whole 31 hours of use before it died. That said, if you're looking to purchase this device, I'm going to say that you're going to need to place it on the charger nightly. Go ahead and just settle that in your heart now. Otherwise you'll wind up with it dieing in the middle of the day and that is no fun!
Last, but most definitely not least, is the subject of water resistance. Now, I know that with a microphone that enables you to speak your Google Now commands to the watch, I can't expect water resistance to 4 atmospheres but a couple would be nice. That said, the Huawei watch does offer IP67 which means you're protected at depths of 1 meter (approx. 3ft) for up to 30 minutes. Now that doesn't mean showering with the watch on is a good idea because being immersed versus jets of water shooting at the device are actually two different kinds of water pressure. At least this means you can wash your hands without worrying if you're going to have problems with your watch afterward.
Ultimately, what you get with the Huawei watch is a premium feeling device with some great refinements. Thanks to the 1.5gHz Qualcomm processor, the watch never feels like it lags. Notifications pop up and are dismissed in a very smooth fashion and the action button situated at 2PM is responsive. The cost of the watch isn't a small thing though. It's definitely an investment and it is only Huawei's first effort- albeit an excellent start out of the gate! If you have the disposable income to be an early adopter and want to pick one up, I don't see a great deal of buyer's remorse in your future. That is, until Huawei puts out a second generation version. With this strong a start, it will definitely be interesting to see what their second effort looks like. That said, as of the publishing of this article, I'd have to say that Huawei's watch sits atop the pile of Android Wear devices and would be my first choice in purchasing one, today. There are more watches coming though, so we'll see how long they can hold that spot.
Disclosure: Huawei provided me with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.