Huawei Watch 2 review: Reality doesn't quite meet expectations
Huawei's latest smartwatch comes with a sportier look, built-in GPS and 4G/LTE capabilities, and all the bells and whistles of Android Wear 2.0, but is it going to be enough to make you want to buy one? New Atlas takes a look.
The Huawei Watch 2 actually comes in three editions: the plastic-strapped, sporty-looking one we're reviewing here, the same model with added 4G/LTE support for standalone calls, and a premium-material, slightly heavier Classic model that drops the 4G/LTE option completely and replaces the plastic strap with a leather or metal one.
Besides what we've already mentioned, there aren't any major differences between the three, but we'll flag them up when relevant.
First of all, looks: With a number of new smartwatches now rocking Google's latest wearable OS, design matters, and while the Huawei Watch 2 isn't the most stylish option out there, it still looks good on the wrist.
The strap is plastic, but it's rugged and textured, and doesn't feel unnecessarily cheap, while the ceramic bezel adds a touch of class without adding too much bulk. The watch's sporty and masculine looks won't please everyone or suit every arm, of course, but I liked it enough to want to show it off rather than keep it covered up. If you want to change the look of the watch, you can swap in any 20 mm band (22 mm for the Classic).
The screen, a 1.2 inch, 390 x 390 pixel, 326 ppi AMOLED affair, is crisp, bright and clear, and easily readable in sunlight, assuming you have a decent watch face installed. Huawei has received flak from some quarters for shrinking the display from the previous model, but since the smaller screen means the watch isn't as big as it might have been, it's not a bad change in my book. As always with aesthetics, your mileage may vary.
One curious omission is the lack of a rotating crown or bezel, even though most newer smartwatches now include one or the other to save you having to do all your scrolling on the screen itself. That's what you're stuck with on the Huawei Watch 2, which is a shame – of course as soon as you lift a finger to start scrolling, you obscure half the display.
That smaller screen and lack of alternative input button makes entering text very difficult, even with the new smart keyboard in Android Wear. We found it's just about manageable, with patience and practice, but most of the time you'll be tempted to yank out your phone by the third or fourth letter.
For controlling the watch, there are two buttons on the right, one which takes you straight to the apps list or takes you straight back home, and one you can customize to act as a shortcut to whatever you like (it launches Huawei's own Workout app by default). Meanwhile, the watch is IP68-rated as well, which means it'll survive a brief dunk or some time in the shower, but you can't take it in the pool with you.
Perhaps the most appealing part of the Huawei Watch 2 is the number of sensors and options packed in here: GPS, heart-rate sensing, NFC (for Android Pay), and on the most expensive model, 4G/LTE calling. That last option lets you take calls on your wrist just as if you were taking them on your phone, and for carriers that support it you can even mirror the number – so if your phone dies half-way through the day, you can still stay in touch with your smartwatch.
A pretty impressive trick, but unfortunately the GPS is less promising: we found it struggled to get a lock, sans phone, around half the time on our various walks and runs. There's no point in Huawei including these sensors if they don't work, although this may be something that can be fixed via a software update.
There's a reason rugged, outdoor watches like the Garmin Fenix 3 are so chunky – getting good-quality GPS on your wrist isn't easy.
Despite the raft of sensors, battery life was very respectable, with our test unit usually lasting well into a second day with brief usage. Using features like GPS and keeping the screen on a lot does seem to reduce that pretty significantly though, so if you're out and about expect to have to charge this nightly.
One touch I did like was the battery-saving watch mode, which Huawei says can give you around 40 hours from the final 10 percent of juice, provided you're happy with the device just telling the time and counting steps. While that negates a lot of the point of having a smartwatch, it's reassuring that the device won't be turned into a completely useless bit of metal and plastic if the battery starts dropping.
On the software side, Android Wear 2.0 comes with plenty of improvements, not least the ability to install apps straight from the watch once you're connected to Wi-Fi or LTE, and a more intuitive menu system. Having Google Assistant on there is a definite bonus too, but I'm even less keen to start talking to my wrist than I am to try and type out text on it.
The Huawei Watch 2 makes a good first impression, with compact, sporty looks and – on paper at least – just about everything you could want from a smartwatch. The battery life is good, the screen is small but sharp, and it can live a full life without a phone. Like most modern Android Wear watches, it works with iOS too, though with limited functionality.
Unfortunately, the device doesn't quite live up to that promise, with patchy GPS performance and a few frustrations with the interface and control system. It's certainly a good smartwatch, but you should take a long, hard look at the Android Wear 2.0 competition before plumping for this option.
The Huawei Watch 2 is on sale now in select European countries and in the US, UK and Australia on an unspecified date in April. We don't have international pricing yet, but the European models are retailing for €329 (around US$360) for the basic model, €379 ($410) for added 4G/LTE, and €399 ($435) for the Huawei Watch 2 Classic.
Product page: Huawei