Review: Huawei's stripped back Watch GT goes light on function, long on battery
If you strip the smartwatch back to its most basic functions in pursuit of an exceptional battery life what might that look like? For some, it will look like a clunky fitness tracker that doesn't cut the mustard, but for others it will look like a perfectly capable companion that spends the majority of time on your wrist, right where it belongs. This is the fine line Huawei is walking with its Watch GT, but does it get the balance right?
Huawei has foregone the Android Wear OS featured on its earlier Watch 2 in favor of far more basic software developed in house called LiteOS. First things first, this comes with some pretty significant compromises. It means no Wi-Fi and no 4G, no contactless payments, no voice commands, phone calls or outgoing text messages, no music control, no third-party apps and no customizable watch faces.
Through the companion smartphone app, however, the watch can be configured to push any notifications that land on your phone to your wrist as well, though there's no way of interacting with them. For us, this was no dealbreaker as this kind of thing verges on overkill in this hyperconnected era, but this will come down to a matter of personal preference.
Here's a little of what the Watch GT does have, starting with the key specs. It packs 16 MB of RAM and 128 MB of onboard storage. The 1.39-inch AMOLED color screen is bright, perhaps too bright at times, and supports slide and touch gestures that work smoothly and reliably as a way of navigating the menu, along with the two physical buttons jutting out of the side. Bluetooth 4.2 connects the device to your Android or iOS phone, while location tracking comes by way of support for GPS, GLONASS and GALILEO systems.
The device is charged wirelessly by a magnetic charging puck, which does a good job of holding the phone in place while juicing it up. Huawei lists the charging time as two hours or less, and in our experience we found this to be on the generous side, with around an hour or a little more on the puck bringing the watch to a full charge.
It also lists the battery life as 14 days of typical use, which outstrips many competitors on paper. In reality, we found it to come up a little bit short, with the watch requiring a recharge every seven to 10 days. As Huawei rightly points out, battery life is going to depend on user habits, and even in our case the battery life is clearly the watch's biggest strength.
And it's not one that should be disregarded either. If you're shopping for a smartwatch you are likely looking to build some kind of picture of your overall health through heart-rate and sleep data. Not having to place the watch on the charger every night or before you head out for a jog or cycle, and instead leaving it to live on your wrist 99 percent of the time will have great appeal for some. And with 5 ATM water resistance, you can even take it into the shower.
Whether you want it on your wrist full time is another thing. We tested the Watch GT with a saddle brown strap and are quite fond of the aesthetic. It's not overly heavy at 46 g (1.6 oz) without the strap, but the watch face is certainly on the larger side and can feel bulky.
In any case, we put its sleep monitoring capabilities to use every night over a number of weeks, and found it returned a some pretty reliable data. Given its very purpose is to track the time that you are drifting through dreamland, it's always going to be hard to say exactly how precise the measurements are, but we found the numbers to be more or less in line with our perceived sleep and wake times.
The continuous heart rate data, too, we found to be rather informative, accessed through either a simple swipe of the watch face or through the Huawei Health smartphone app. There is a glaring flaw in all of this though, and that is the lack of synching with Strava, or even an ability to export the heart rate data for your own use.
If you're a regular Strava user this may well be enough to turn you away from the Watch GT and towards one of the many smartwatches that come with built-in support for the fitness app. In reality it's not too difficult to find a workaround – if you're heading out for a run or cycle, it means you'll need to start up the Strava app on your phone as well as start a workout session on the watch independently to get all the data you're after. But how nice it would be if they simply put their differences aside and spoke to one another.
All in all, we found the Watch GT to perform its functions well, but whether that's enough for most people is the real question. As we can see, it falls well short of the functionality of a typical smartwatch, but in reality it never pretended to be anything else. And with all signs pointing to big growth in wearables, it may just be unique selling points like an exceptional battery life that allows devices like the Watch GT to snaffle a slice of the market.
Product page: Huawei