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Huawei Watch 2: Less Premium, More Fitness-Ready

Tech Reviews Huawei Watch 2
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Huawei Watch 2: Less Premium, More Fitness-Ready

When Huawei debuted the Huawei Watch approximately two years ago, there was little competition in the Android Wear space. The Watch’s use of premium materials along with its elegant design made it arguably one of the best smartwatches on the market. Now, the company has released a follow up, aptly called the Huawei Watch 2.

The Huawei Watch 2 is available in two separate models—a sportier Huawei Watch 2 and a more refined Huawei Watch 2 Classic. While both models share the same internals, the Classic makes use of more premium materials, like the original Huawei Watch, and comes with a stainless steel case and a leather band. The model that we’re reviewing is the standard Huawei Watch 2, which is targeted at the fitness market, and comes with a more lightweight plastic case and rubber straps. In other markets, Huawei will also offer 4G LTE-capable variants, but the company has not announced any plans to bring a Watch 2 with cellular capabilities to the US.

Fit for Sports

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Although the Huawei Watch 2 is available in a variety of bright colors internationally, Huawei chose to limit the Watch 2 to a more understated palette for the US. Our review unit comes in a blacked out Carbon Black, and there is a more playful Concrete Grey option that looks like the watch has gone through paint splatters. The all-black Carbon Black makes our review unit looks like an understated sports watch.

With an emphasis on sports and fitness, Huawei’s goal was to make the Watch 2 as light as possible, Huawei US VP of Devices Vincent Wen informed me. To accomplish this, the standard (non-Classic) Huawei Watch 2 is constructed from several different types of materials. The watch case is made up of plastic, while a stainless steel cover is found on the rear.

At 2.08 ounces, the Watch 2 feels very light on the wrist, and although I initially thought the rubber straps felt cheap and plasticky, the construction makes the watch very comfortable. The straps are thin and very flexible, unlike the thicker rubber straps on the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 or the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE. After using the Watch 2 for a few weeks and working out with it, I can appreciate the choice of materials here—it feels more agile and breathable, and the thinner straps didn’t dig in when I am moving or flexing my wrist. The straps come with a quick release mechanism, and if you want other options, you can swap the rubber straps for any 20mm watch band of your choice.

On the front, you’ll find a ceramic bezel with etchings for markings for the minutes, along with numerical values for every five minutes. Unlike Samsung’s Gear S3, the bezel is stationary and can’t be rotated to interact with the watch’s software. However, the ceramic construction means that the bezel is less prone to scratching and can handle some abuse, and the raised bezel will help protect the display from scratches if you happen to accidentally brush your wrist against a hard surface, like a wall.

And while the ceramic bezel eats into the display—if the watch didn’t have a ceramic bezel, Huawei could have equipped the Watch 2 with either a larger display or make the overall watch body even more compact—it does serve some functional purpose. The bezel hides a light sensor, which is used to automatically adjust the watch’s screen brightness when you’re moving from indoors to outdoors. The sensor does a good job, and even outside under bright sunlight, I never struggled with being to read the watch display. The bezel also houses some antennas for the wireless radios.

There are two buttons on the side. If you choose a watch face with three smaller dials or complications on the inside, the Huawei Watch 2 looks a nice, sportier chronograph. Unlike the LG Watch Sport, neither of the hardware buttons serve as a digital crown, so you can’t turn the button to scroll through Android Wear’s menu. Huawei executives defended the decision to omit a digital crown stating that given the Watch 2’s focus on fitness, they didn’t want sports-minded users to accidentally turn the crown during a workout.

The top button is a multifunction button. If you’re within an app, it will take you back to the main watch face. If you’re already on the watch face, pressing the top button will bring up your list of downloaded apps. Navigating around Android Wear is primarily down through screen taps. By default, the bottom button launches the Huawei Health app. In addition to Huawei Health, which tracks basic steps, the Watch 2 comes preloaded with Google Fit, but you can also download other third-party fitness apps for more specific workouts.

The Huawei Watch 2 is IP68 rated for water resistance, so you’ll be able to shower with the watch and even do quick laps around the pool. IP68 means that the watch can survive water up to 1.5 meters for up to thirty minutes.

The face itself is protected by Gorilla Glass. Although the watch has a more compact 1.2-inch display—which is smaller than the 1.3-inch Samsung Gear S3 or 1.38-inch LG Watch Sport 45 × 48.3 × 12.6mm, the Huawei Watch 2’s size feels comparable to recent smartwatch releases from LG and Samsung. While it sits comfortably on my wrist, the sizable bezels make the Watch 2 feel and appear larger than it actually is. However, once you start interacting with Android Wear 2.0, the smaller display size becomes very noticeable as your fingertip will block most of the screen when you start tapping.

Tic-Tocking for Days

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Battery life has long been a pain point for wearables, and fortunately, the Huawei Watch 2 has one of the longest battery life on a smartwatch with some caveats.

In standard operational mode, Huawei rates the 420 mAh battery for up to three days of use. In my testing, I got just over two days of battery life, which is pretty good for a smartwatch but nothing out of the ordinary. If you’re using the watch to track runs outdoors with the GPS, battery life will drop considerably.

Where the Watch 2 really shines is if you activate Huawei’s proprietary Watch Mode feature. If you’re running low on battery, Watch Mode works in a similar way to the power savings mode found on many modern smartphones today, extending battery life to approximately three weeks of use. With Watch Mode enabled, the device will disable power intensive features, like your GPS and other radios, but you’ll still be able to get the time and track your steps. It’s a good alternative to those who prefer to wear a wristwatch and a basic activity tracker to measure steps.

With just 10 percent of battery left on the Watch 2, enabling Watch Mode would take the Huawei Watch to another 40 hours of use. This makes wearing a smartwatch feel less constraining. Even if you’re running low on power, you can still make it through an evening on the town and still have a functional watch to display the time—notifications are disabled to conserve what little juice there is left on the watch before it needs to be recharged. If you don’t need to be so aggressive with battery management, you can also use a smart power saving mode on the watch, which disables the always-on watch face and lowers the screen brightness.

Power and Performance

Powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 2100 processor for wearables, the Huawei Watch 2 is packed with a barrage of sensors and radios to help you keep up to date with your digital life and measure your fitness performance. In addition to GPS to track your runs, the Watch 2 is packed with an accelerometer, barometer, gyroscope, heart rate sensor and geomagnetic sensor.

To intelligently manage notifications, the watch uses a skin sensor to tell if it’s worn. If you take the watch off, for example, the watch will switch off notification alerts, so you won’t get constant chimes, rings and vibrations throughout the night when the watch is charging on a nightstand.

I found that the Huawei Watch 2 is fast and fluid, for the most part, and I rarely encountered any slow downs. Occasionally, when downloading apps or navigating through the Google Play Store on the watch, the Watch 2 may encounter a few lags, but that was rare.

Marching to the Beat of Your Own Music

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The Watch 2 comes with a built-in speaker—which gets surprisingly loud given its small size on a compact wristwatch—along with a microphone. These audio components allow you to activate Google Assistant, which can be summoned with a long press of the top hardware button, and to place and receive speakerphone calls when the watch is connected to your smartphone.

For music listening, the speaker on the Huawei Watch 2 gets loud, which allows you to use your watch to play jams if you forgot your earbuds during a workout. During a demonstration, Huawei was able to fill a medium size workout room at a local San Francisco gym streaming music from Google Play to the Huawei Watch 2 without any problems.

The Huawei Watch 2 comes with 4GB of onboard storage, allowing you to store your music on the watch, so you don’t need to carry your phone with you. For a better listening experience, however, you can pair Bluetooth headphones—like Bragi’s The Headphones that we reviewed. Additionally, if your watch is connected over a Wi-Fi network or tethered to your phone, you can use the watch to stream music from services like Google Play Music or Spotify.

Google Assistant

Google Assistant made its debut on Android Wear smartwatches with the release of Android Wear 2.0, and the digital assistant functions as expected on the Huawei Watch 2. On the Watch 2, you can call up Google Assistant in one of three ways. You can launch the app, press and hold the top hardware button or raise your wrist and say “Okay Google.”

At this time, although you can use voice to search with Google Assistant on your watch, search results can only be displayed on the screen. I hope Google will update Android Wear in the future to allow Google Assistant to return search results with speech.

Going Native

Like other Android Wear smartwatches on the market, including the luxury Tag Heuer Modular 45, the Huawei Watch 2 comes with Google Play Store on the watch, a hallmark feature of Android Wear 2.0. This means that if the watch is connected to a Wi-Fi network, or 4G LTE on select models, you won’t need your phone to download additional applications. This brings even greater compatibility for iPhone users who prefer Android Wear’s round watch designs over the square Apple Watch.

Another change is that select apps now reside natively on the app, which makes them launch quicker.

Verdict

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Huawei should be commended for coming up with a solution to address battery life on smartwatches. With an aggressive power management mode, you can limit the Huawei Watch 2 to basic timekeeping and step monitoring for nearly three weeks of battery life, a commendable feat.

However, the Huawei Watch 2 isn’t without its own compromises. A small display and, unless you get the Huawei Watch 2 Classic edition, plastic body make it feel less premium than the original model that it succeeds. But perhaps, this is a testament to the high standard in design and craftsmanship that Huawei was able to set in its first smartwatch. Huawei could have offset the limitations of having a small display on the Watch 2 by giving the smartwatch a digital crown or rotating bezel, but these features are notably missing. Google Assistant’s inability to deliver search result via speech is a problem that plagues all Android Wear smartwatches and is not an issue Huawei has control over.

Still, even with its limitations, the Huawei Watch 2 manages to be comfortable and lightweight, and it’s a wearable that, true to Huawei’s claim, is designed for fitness enthusiasts. If you’re a more serious athlete, you’ll likely gravitate to dedicated sports watch, but the Huawei Watch 2 will still help motivate beginners to stay fit and deliver notifications. And if you’re on the market for a smartwatch with endurance, the Huawei Watch 2 is peerless.

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