At almost $300, Huawei's Watch 2 is one of the more expensive Android Wear devices. Despite that, its IP68 water resistance, astounding battery life, and feature-packed design make it easy to see past its few flaws.
When Pebble launched their first Kickstarter they opened up the market for smartwatches. Their first devices were incredibly popular and gained the attention of big players like Google and Apple who went on to launch their own devices. A few years on and the smartwatch market hasn’t taken off quite the way everyone expected. Even industry favorites Pebble were forced to shutter their doors as the company was acquired by Fitbit in December 2016.
In an effort to reignite interest in the platform, Google launched Android Wear 2.0 earlier this year. The operating system underwent a Material Design makeover and brought in new features. Alongside the revamped operating system, there were a host of new Android Wear devices launched to showcase the smartwatch platform. This included the Huawei Watch 2, a successor to the original Huawei Watch. Read on to find out what we thought of it, then enter to win our test model!
- Dimensions: Length: 48.6mm, Width: 45mm, Height: 12.6mm
- Weight: 40g (excluding strap)
- Material: Plastic
- Strap: Plastic, replaceable, 20mm width, wrist size of 140-210mm
- Color: Carbon Black, Concrete Grey
- CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100
- Operating System: Android Wear 2.0
- Memory: 4 GB Flash, 768MB RAM
- Positioning System: GPS, Glonass
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi: 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n, NFC
- Battery: 420mAh
- Water Resistance: IP68
- Sensors: Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass, Heart Rate, Barometer, Capacitive, Ambient Light
- Price: $250 on Amazon
Hardware & Design
Initial impressions are important because they set up expectations on the product you have in front of you. Huawei has taken that into consideration and the packaging for the watch feels premium. Opening the box reveals the watch presented face up, with a neat box next to it containing the proprietary charger and wall adaptor along with the usual manual and warranty information.
Unlike its contemporaries, the Watch 2 does not have a metal finish, with Huawei instead opting for a plastic body. This is likely a compromise to allow you to use it during any activity, and not primarily as a fashion accessory. There is an emphasis on the fitness benefits of the Watch, which is reinforced by its IP68 water resistance rating. This means that it can be immersed in one metre of water for up to 30 minutes without sustaining lasting damage.
There are two hardware buttons on the right side of the device. Pushing the top button opens up the circular app list, and long pressing acts as a shortcut to Google Assistant. The second button is a quick launch shortcut, initially set to Huawei’s Workout app. I changed this to Android Pay to make payments with the watch even quicker.
The Watch 2 has a bezel around the watch face that looks like it should rotate to allow you to scroll. Sadly, it doesn’t. It’s not clear what benefit adding the bezel has other than adding a small protective bumper around the screen. The Watch 2 has a proprietary charging interface rather than a standard USB port, likely due to achieve its IP68 rating. Luckily the charging connection is incredibly easy and guided with magnets on the back of the device.
Android Wear 2.0
Unlike the main Android operating system, Google has carefully controlled the Android Wear platform. If you buy any Android Wear smartwatch, the hardware and design will differ, but the software will remain the same. This is an approach that has served Apple well in the past, and continues to do so with the Apple Watch.
For the most part, using Android Wear is a pleasurable experience. Where the original release had a few pain points — poor navigation, connectivity issues, and reliance on your phone — Android Wear 2.0 has mostly corrected these wrongs. The entire operating system received a Material Design overhaul, with a darker color scheme and circular interface for round watches.
The Google Play Store can now be accessed on the watch, allowing you to install apps directly from your wrist. The most important addition is support for cellular connections. This allows Android Wear 2.0 watches to be totally untethered from your phone, making them more flexible and arguably gives the wrist-worn devices a sense of purpose. The standard Watch 2 doesn’t have cellular support, but the 4G Cellular variant does for $50 more.
AW 2.0 also added a watch-based built-in keyboard. In theory this makes sense, especially now that the watch can ditch the partnered phone. However, I found the on-screen keyboard to just be too small and fiddly to use regularly. Instead, I found myself opting to use voice dictation, or to just pull out my phone. This less-than-useful implementation shows that smartwatches need to be designed to be more than just miniaturized smartphones.
In what is a distinctly Samsung-esque move, the default fitness app on the Watch 2.0 is Huawei’s Workout. This is despite Google bundling Google Fit as an integral part of Android Wear. The lack of branding or clear signage that the Workout app is Huawei’s own gives the distinct impression that it is designed to mislead you. It doesn’t integrate with Google Fit, and even requires you to download a companion phone app to view the data — something which isn’t made clear until after you have already begun using the watch app.
If you are already invested in one or more of Google’s products then you have likely made a decision that you are comfortable with Google recording your personal information. This may not be a tradeoff that you are happy to make with Huawei. According to Play Store listing it allows you to pair your device, view data, and manage paired devices — which are all things that can be done with Google’s Android Wear app. One of four main features of the app is to “share data with Huawei Health for more detailed statistics”. If you can get past the data collection, it is an unnecessary and complicated addition to the Android Wear experience.
Despite clear improvements in the Android Wear operating system, the Watch 2 still has some frustrating performance issues. The Watch 2 uses the Snapdragon 2100 processor, which has been designed for use in wearables. Its thanks to the 2100 that you can have 4G connectivity, improved battery life, and always-on screens.
However, the Watch 2 experiences at least a couple of seconds of lag on many actions. This isn’t something you expect from a premium device. It is particularly frustrating when trying to use Google Assistant — the lag removes some of the convenience of using the Assistant in the first place. It isn’t immediately clear whether the processor or Huawei’s design are at fault here though. An issue that can be laid at Huawei’s door is the lack of sensitivity on the touchscreen. This was most annoying when trying to unlock the device using a pattern. It would miss parts of the pattern and you only have three attempts before the device locks for a period of time.
There were also annoyances that couldn’t be explained away. Some apps would randomly not load when requested. Android Pay would suddenly and unexpectedly crash just before payment. I never managed to get the Google Feed to load. The lock screen would only intermittently lock with no apparent regularity — sometimes I would have to enter my pattern, other times not. While apps are preloaded onto the watch, when requesting directions for the first time Google Maps opened a journey summary. It then asked me to download the full app for turn by turn directions. This odd setup could be catastrophic if you were reliant on Maps.
In the lead up to its release Huawei had emphasised the improved battery performance over the original Watch. Nearly every technology manufacturer makes similar statements though, so it is easy to be skeptical of their claims. Given that, I was very surprised to find out just how good the battery life is on the Watch 2. It could comfortably last three days with moderate usage.
While we reviewed the Wi-Fi version of Watch 2, if you purchase the cellular model the constant wireless connection is likely to reduce the battery life. One of my main issues with Android Wear when it first launched was that the constant Bluetooth connection would severely drain my phone’s battery. Thanks to a combination of factors — better hardware, new battery management features, improved Bluetooth specifications, and updated software on both the watch and the phone — this is no longer an issue.
Over a four day period, I left the watch connected either via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi but not on my wrist, and the screen set to always on. By the fourth day the battery still had an impressive 32% remaining. If you wanted to squeeze a little more longevity from the battery you could put the watch into Smart Power Saving mode. This disables Screen Always On, and reduces the brightness in a similar way to Android’s Battery Saver mode. Huawei has also added Watch Mode, which turns off all connections and forces your Watch 2 to operate just as a timekeeping piece. Unsurprisingly, this dramatically improves the battery life, but does slightly defeat the point of a smartwatch.
Should You Buy It?
The attractive design firmly cements the Watch 2 as a fashion piece rather than a bit of technology to strap on your wrist. Quick access to Google Assistant is also invaluable if you are that way inclined. It is one of the more expensive Android Wear devices but it is an incredibly feature packed device allowing you to track workouts, do contactless payments, use your favourite messaging apps, and access Google Assistant.
The IP68 waterproof rating — along with an attractive design — means that you can wear the watch for any occasion. You also don’t need to worry about adding another device to your nightly charging routine as the battery will last at least a couple of days. If you are the type that wants to decouple from your phone — but still maximize the potential of modern technology — then the Watch 2 might be the perfect device for you.
Do you think Huawei have done enough to revive Android Wear? Have you a fan of smartwatches? Are wearables even exciting any more? Let us know in the comments!