Review: Huawei Watch

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Gizmag reviews the Huawei Watch, a fashionable smartwatch that works with both Android phones and iPhones(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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Good looks can do wonders for any gadget, but when it comes to wearable gadgets, an attractive design can change everything. Meet the Huawei Watch: a familiar Android Wear experience on the inside, but the best-looking smartwatch design to date on the outside.

As far as function goes, once you've met one Android Wear watch, you've pretty much met them all. The Huawei (pronounced "wah-way") Watch is no exception, with the same software you'll find on predecessors like the LG Watch Urbane and Moto 360. A brand new experience this is not.

But when it comes to design – holy cats, is this one damn good-looking piece of high-tech jewelry. No longer is "good looking for a smartwatch" the best praise we can dish out. Hell, I might still wear the Huawei Watch if all it did was tell the time.

You start with its fully round, 1.4-inch AMOLED display. It has a solid 400 x 400 resolution (286 pixels per inch), and should hold up well to bangs and scrapes, as it's covered with sapphire (we've accidentally bumped it against several hard surfaces, and its screen is still in mint condition).

The Huawei Watch's display is less sharp than the Apple Watch's ~326 PPI Retina Display, and when we hold it close to our eyes we can notice some pixels. But Huawei's screen is by far the sharpest we've seen on a round Android Wear watch, and from a regular watch-viewing distance (about a foot or longer from the eyes), it looks gorgeous.

Its casing is made of stainless steel, with a much smaller bezel than you'll find on LG's two round smartwatches. We prefer this bigger screen/smaller bezel look: your eye goes straight to that sharp screen showcasing Huawei's beautiful (and complementary to the watch's design) default clock faces. The metal body serves as a simple, subtle and elegant frame.

At 11.3 mm (0.44 inch), the Huawei Watch's body is pretty thick, as smartwatch-makers haven't yet cracked the case of ultra-thin builds. We don't find it to be alarmingly thick by any means, but anyone who looks at it from the side is more likely to peg it as a smartwatch than they would from straight-on.

We don't think the 42 mm diameter of its face looks oversized on men's wrists (I'd call it "just right" on mine). But it would look a little big on many women's wrists: the smaller (38 mm) Apple Watch is still the only advanced smartwatch we've seen that doesn't.

Huawei sells several different versions of the Watch, including snazzy-looking stainless steel band options. We're reviewing the entry-level black leather band version, and the stitched leather has a thick and high-end feel that, unlike Apple's entry-level rubber straps, shouldn't look like a huge step down compared to pricier variants.

Similar to the Apple Watch, Huawei also gave its default bands a quick-removal switch. Just slide a little pin over to the side and easily remove each side of the band. It takes only a few seconds, no tools required.

Battery life is up there with the best we've seen among touchscreen smartwatches. With its always-on clock face setting turned on, and brightness set to 80 percent (setting 4 out of 5) it only drops between 3 and 4 percent per hour.

... that's with what we'd describe as "normal" use: notifications coming in every 10 minutes or so, using the occasional voice control, and spending the rest of the time in idle mode.

That averages out to around 25-33 hours worth of total uptime (and, again, remember that's with the clock face always on and brightness cranked up pretty high).

As far as software goes, you can revisit our 2014 Android Wear review and our coverage of its big updates from early 2015 and late 2015.

Of the three biggest smartwatch operating systems – a list that also includes Apple's watchOS and Samsung's Tizen – Android Wear is now the simplest and easiest to pick up from the get-go. It's organized like Google Now on smartphones: "cards" pop up for app notifications and other contextual alerts (things like reminders, daily steps, music controls and the current weather). When you're done, just swipe the cards away. It also gives you an app launcher that Android Wear didn't have at launch, and its Google Now voice control is fast and (usually) reliable.

Android Wear is also the best hands-free smartwatch OS. Not only can you summon voice control without touching your watch ("OK, Google"), but you can also scroll through your alert cards just by flicking your wrist. We often find ourselves either holding something or having messy hands while wanting to give a quick glance through recent notifications. This hands-free navigation is handy enough that we miss it when we switch to other types of smartwatches.

Android Wear's biggest recent development, though, is that it now works with iPhones. When it's paired with an iPhone you miss out on third-party app support, but the core Android Wear experience – smartphone app alerts and interaction with core Google services – is all there.

That means the Huawei Watch is now a direct competitor not only to other Android Wear watches like the Moto 360 and LG Urbane, but also to the Apple Watch. And we think it stacks up well:

The Huawei Watch seen in this review costs US$349. That's a 42 mm build (the only size the Huawei Watch ships in) with a stainless steel body, sapphire display and leather band.

To get an Apple Watch with 42 mm stainless steel body, sapphire display and leather band, you're paying almost exactly double that, at $699. For $349, you get an Apple Watch with a smaller 38 mm body made of aluminum, much smaller (and rectangular) glass display and a rubber strap.

Of course a product is more than the sum of its specs, and if you're pairing with an iPhone, the Apple Watch has the big advantages of tight iOS integration and third-party app support. But if you're content with using a smartwatch for core Android Wear services and notifications from all your iPhone apps, then the Huawei Watch is the better value.

... and if you own an Android phone, the Huawei Watch is our current pick for the best smartwatch you can buy – due to its combination of looks, battery life and Android Wear. The Samsung Gear S2 comes close, with its fun new rotating bezel and potential for a deeper experience on your wrist, but it lacks too many fundamentals to be our top pick. The 2nd-gen Moto 360 isn't far behind either, but has a (to our eyes) weaker design and slightly shorter battery life. We recommend putting the Huawei Watch at the top of your list if you're an Android phone owner, and you should still take a long, hard look at it even if you own an iPhone.

The Huawei Watch is available now, from Huawei's US store, Best Buy, Amazon (though some models are backordered there) and the Google Store. It starts at $349 for the leather band version you see in this review, and shoots up as high as $799 for a 22k gold-plated version.

Product page: Huawei

This article was updated on 10/9 with current context on how we see the Huawei Watch comparing to its biggest rivals.

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