When it comes to being “in the loop”, sometimes you’re simply not able to keep checking your phone. So, for that those important messages or notifications, this is where the smartwatch has tried to help out. But is it all it hoped to be? Even after several updates and improvements?
This is not the first Huawei watch, their first model was actually one of the best original Android Wear smartwatches that went on sale. It had a circular design and metal finish, and really did look the part.
Huawei has gone back to the drawing board with their new version though. They’ve updated both the looks and the internal specifications to allow for Android Pay. It also supports the Android Wear 2 OS.
But is it really worth paying out nearly £230 to get notifications on your wrist?
Design and display
The design is always important. Ideally you want it to stand out and actually grab your attention. Sure, you may have the best product ever made, but if it doesn’t look attractive enough, people will just not buy the thing. This is not just in technology but in real life situations too.
The version I was sent by Huawei was the “Sport”, which came with support for 4G via a Nano SIM slot. This sits just under the battery strap. Handy for some things and I will cover that later on.
Looking at the device, you see the biggest change from the original – the actual front face has changed… a lot, and not for the better it has to be said.
The original had a shiny silver circle (take a look here as a reminder) with a single button and beautiful looks, however this newer model has changed to a thick black border with numbers and lines. It’s like a traditional analogue watch instead of a futuristic smartwatch.
The display is a circular 1.2 inch AMOLED screen with a resolution of 390 by 390. This makes it more than usable in daylight, but the thick bezel around the face either makes the screen look smaller than it is (compared to other smartwatches) or makes the watch feel bigger than it actually is.
It is clear that the Watch 2 design was aimed more towards anyone who likes to be “active” and track their activity throughout the day. This sporty individual can get notifications without having to look at their phone every few minutes. However, original W1 smartwatch looked so great and was a real beauty. It is hard to come to terms that this upgraded model took a big step back in the looks department.
The device has a metal frame all the war around and only has two buttons on it to control certain aspects of the software, everything else is done on the touchscreen, as you would expect with a smartwatch in 2018.
Looking over to the left side you will notice nothing standing out, this is because all the buttons are based over on the right hand side making it easier to control and keeping to the design of a normal watch you may have had before.
Head on over to the right side and you will see two large silver buttons, the top one is for power and the bottom one is a customizable button. This lets you select a workout app of your choice to track daily steps or calories burned through.
The other trick with this bottom button is that a double tap opens up the Android Pay interface. This means you can pay for goods in stores with a simple tap. Just set up the device with your card information to get started.
The issue I had with this design is that I was often pressing the wrong button for things, or needing to do a swipe instead to access something, it was just all too confusing and often really frustrating.
Up top and down below is where you get the strap connector, and yes, you can replace the strap on the Huawei Watch 2 I used. However it is not as easy to find replacements. I headed to Amazon UK who had a few on offer, so might be worth looking there if you want to personalise your Watch 2.
The strap that comes with the watch feels ok and was comfortable most of the time, but if you can find a leather or metallic strap to use instead, it definitely feels better to use.
Turn over to the bottom of the Watch 2 and you have a metal base with heart rate sensor in the middle, I actually found this very accurate and, as someone who suffers from high blood pressure, it was nice to be able to keep an eye on my pulse with a simple tap.
Next to this is the four pin connector which is what holds the rather boring charging connector to the watch. I say boring because it is just a long cable with an odd design.
It would have been nice to include a charging stand like Motorola did with their Moto 360 smartwatch, not only does it make it easier to charge, but it also acts as a great stand for using the watch as an alarm clock.
And last but not least was the 4G SIM tray, as yes there is a slot on this version of the watch to allow you to put in a Nano SIM and use the watch on a mobile network.
Strangely the SIM tray is located under the watch strap, meaning you have to take the strap off from one side to be able to put the SIM card in. It would have been better, if possible, to put the slot in the side so you can swap over SIM cards if you travel.
Once you have a SIM in you can set do the access setup in settings. However, I found my SIM was automatically detected and setup and I was able to use right away.
The 4G option allows you to download apps on the move, use mobile apps on the watch without a Bluetooth connection to your phone. It even allows SMS texting and voice calls to be made, plus you get the 4G speeds.
Whether you will want to make important calls on a watch in public is up to you. There’s the option of using a Bluetooth headset for more privacy, but personally I found it better to just use the phone, with the Bluetooth connection for apps and notifications.
The biggest issue for many with the 4G model is having to pay extra costs for a separate SIM card to just use in the watch. Even a basic cheap SIM adds extra cost monthly and I expect most people will do what I did – just Bluetooth to their smartphone (and yes the Huawei Watch 2 works with iPhones too!)
Performance and battery
Performance of a smartwatch is something you may not think look into when buying, but when your watch starts slowing down and takes an age to open even the most simple of apps; you will soon wish you looked into it more.
The Watch 2 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 Quad-Core processor and has 768MB of RAM. This is more than suitable for a smartwatch and is a specific chip made for the Android Wear range. The battery comes in at a respectable 420mAh in capacity, but it was something I started to get concerned with. I’d take it off a full charge at 11am, and by 3:30pm I was surprised to see only 31% left. That is not even with a lot of use!
I hardly ever used Android Pay on the watch, the fitness features weren’t a big point for me, apart from checking my heart rate. I didn’t use it for calls or replying to texts either, yet still, the battery seemed to be zapped… and fast.
You can disable features, such as the 4G if you use it, GPS and so on. However, the always-on Bluetooth connection to the phone seems to really be a battery killer.
It is hard to compare battery to a different Android Wear device as this was the only one I was able to use, so with that in mind, it is hard to confirm if this is the ‘norm’ or if this is just an issue with the device I was sent.
Now on to what is the most challenging part of this review, the Android Wear OS.
The review unit I was sent was running Android 7.1.1 with 8.0 being rolled out shortly, but that should not be a problem when it comes to a small wearable on your wrist.
The biggest problem for me was just how awkward and confusing the Wear OS was when I was trying to get around. I often found myself swiping to open apps but that opens the clock face selector instead. Pressing the top button opens the apps, yet a single press again took you right back to the main watch screen again.
Holding the top button opens the Google Assistant, and even that felt slow, awkward to use and sometimes did not even work at all, very disappointing.
Then comes the apps, and whilst there are quite a few available, the sheer struggle to load things in any decent time really started to annoy me.
For example loading the watch up with no apps in the background, it took a good 7 to 8 seconds from pressing Messages to even get a chance to do anything, Android Pay was even worse sometimes taking up to 15 seconds to do anything, and even then had the ‘Android Pay is unavailable’ error far too many times for my liking.
Apart from using the original Q1 watch, the only other smartwatch experience I have had was with Apple and their Series 1 and then Series 2 hardware. As much as this Android fan may hate to credit Apple, they really do need credit when it comes to the software and hardware experience.
The good news here though is the main issues with Android Wear can be resolved with simple software upgrades. The Huawei hardware side of things is pretty much solid and ready to be used on a daily basis.
Whilst the Watch 2 supported both calling and messaging, I hardly used this function as it was easier to use the phone. The watch, however, was handy for notifications and for paying for items via Android Pay.
I love the idea of smartwatches, being able to check all your notifications on your wrist and reply if needed is so handy. So is being able to pay contactless. Leaving your phone or wallet in your pocket, it’s great.
Unfortunately, even though I am a huge Android fan, to me Android Wear, even in it’s current updated version, still feels clunky and a bit of a chore to get things done.
I have to make the comparison to Apple and their very popular wearable – the Apple Watch. Whilst the company lacks some features and ties you into an ‘All Apple’ ecosystem, their product feels far more polished and premium.
If Apple made their watch work with Android, I would buy one within seconds. However, they don’t and instead, we have to rely on the competition to make great hardware with Google making the software.
If you have an Android phone and insist on getting a wearable, then the Huawei Watch 2 is a good choice, either the WiFi or 4G versions depending on your setup.
But if you are a switcher from Apple to Android and want the same experience, this is something you won’t be able to get.
Most of the negatives fall down to software and apps on the watch so is not down to Huawei. Unfortunately for Huawei, it is the poor Android Wear OS that lets it down, and that massive addition of the bezel to this, their latest product.