(Pocket-lint) - The second-gen Huawei smartwatch, the aptly named Watch 2, arrives as part of the Android Wear 2.0 brigade and, therefore, with more features than its predecessor. The Watch 2 is also available in two finishes: Sport, as reviewed here, for the sportier type; and Classic, which is more reminiscent of the original.
Smartwatches have walked a strange path since they first appeared as they try to figure out exactly what they're supposed to be. Huawei, like Apple, pitched its first watch as a style statement. It was about lifestyle bling. That position has been reassessed for the second-gen device, however, moving to promote sport a little more.
Does the Huawei Watch 2 Sport change direction down a successful, sporty path? We've been living with one for some weeks to assess...
Huawei Watch 2 Sport review: Real watch ergonomics, questionable finish
- 48.9 x 45 x 12.6mm; 60g
- IP68 waterproofing
- Plastic casing, rubber strap
- Ceramic bezel
The thing we didn't like about the original Huawei Watch was some of the design. Not the overall look or the choice of materials, but on the wrist it felt like a watch designed by a technology company and not a fashion company.
There's a subtle difference that some will never appreciate: some watches are nicer to wear than others and it has nothing to do with price and everything to do with how it fits and how it feels when you wear it. By extension, it's also about how you feel when you wear it.
In that regard, the Huawei Watch 2 Sport does a lot right. The Metal ring to the back (the centre around the optical heart-rate sensor is plastic) adds a cool metal feel to things that gives a sense of quality, while the lugs have been designed to make the watch fit well on the wrist.
Strap it on and it fits like a watch, whereas some smartwatches don't. This is something that's being rapidly learned by technology companies and it seems to have paid off here.
The Watch 2's size is good too. Some commentators will tell you that every smartwatch is horrifically chunky, but this watch is no larger than a watch like the Rolex Submariner. It's 12.6mm thick and has a 45mm diameter, with lugs that take a bespoke strap.
The strap is contoured to fit into the body, although we daresay you could swap it out with a 20mm strap, or pins to equip the watch with a fabric strap. As it is, it's not as readily changeable as the Huawei Watch 2 Classic, which boasts a standard 22mm strap fitting.
Back to fit and fitting: the thing that's really wrong with the Huawei Watch 2 Sport's design is the choice of finishing materials. The plastic of the body doesn't quite carry off the "active" watch in the way that Garmin or Polar have for years. Additionally, that strap feels a little basic - like the sort of strap you'd find on a £30 watch, not a £300 watch.
That's all the huge shame, because the overall fit, looks and design of the watch are great, but the finish doesn't achieve the level it could. As we said, watches are about subtle nuances. In this instance it's the Huawei Watch 2 Classic - with its stainless steel body and leather strap - that looks the part, whereas the Watch 2 Sport doesn't quite make the team.
On the positive side the Sport is IP68 rated, so there's no need to worry about water or dust. Whether that's washing up, running in the rain or dripping with sweat - you're all good with the Sport.
There's also a ceramic bezel. This looks like the sort of bezel you get on a diver's watch and everyone we've shown it to has tried to rotate it, like you can on the Samsung Gear S3. On the Huawei it doesn't move, however, as the ceramic material is designed to reduce scratches. That's a traditional watchmaking decision and it's generally a good move, although it likely helped to push the price up too. The question remains whether you need that enduring protection on a smartwatch that you'll likely replace within two years, compared to a classic timepiece that you'll want to keep for generations.
Huawei Watch 2 Sport review: Two button control, 2.0 software advances
- Android Wear 2.0
- Two button control
The Huawei Watch 2, according to rumours, was designed before Android Wear 2.0's functionality was nailed down. While the LG Watch Sport offers a rotational crown, which is one of Android Wear 2.0's greatest new features, the Huawei Watch 2 misses out. This is a two button affair. As a point to note, the 4G version has silver buttons, the Wi-Fi version has black buttons.
The top button carries out your normal Android Wear actions: press it to return to the home screen or to your apps menu; a long press will launch Google Assistant, aiming to let you talk to your watch and get it doing things for you.
The bottom button as standard launches Huawei's sports app, simply called Workout. You can use that button to pause a workout, which is convenient, but you can also reprogram it to launch any app you choose. Prefer music? No problem at all.
The buttons are well placed to and have a distinct action to them, acting as useful support for the touch-based control of the 1.2-inch display. That display responds well enough and it's just about big enough to take advantage of another of Android Wear 2.0's introductions: an on-screen keyboard. We just about managed to tap in replies to messages on the move, giving a whole load more flexibility than the previous software version.
Of course, one of the slight limitations that comes with this design encircled by the bezel is that you soon hit it when you swipe. That perhaps explains some of the larger watches and those that are bezel free: it makes touch feel nicer because you don't hit a physical barrier.
Huawei Watch 2 Sport review: Hardware rundown
- Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100, 768MB RAM, 4GB storage
- Optional 4G/LTE
- 1.2-inch, 390 x 390 pixels, 326ppi
The hardware load-out of the Huawei Watch 2 Sport is fairly typical of this type of device. There's a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset with 768MB RAM and 4GB of internal storage, available to let you take your music offline.
Some versions of the Huawei Watch 2 also offer a SIM tray hiding behind the strap connection. This is one of the biggest changes with Android Wear 2.0 and one of the appealing things about this model of watch - as you can go completely independent with it so you don't need your phone to be connected.
In our opinion, integrated 4G is one of the stars of the show here. There's a lot you can do with your watch when it has its own connection, like get messages when you're out running, find directions in Google Maps or ask Google Assistant things, without relying on your phone. You don't even need your phone present, as you can place calls from the watch.
Sure, there's a trade-off in terms of battery life - which we'll talk about later - but Huawei also gives you the option of turning the 4G radio off, so you're not unnecessarily draining the battery when you don't need to be.
There's that optical heart-rate sensor on the back and GPS support built-in, plus a compass, barometer and motion sensors. In other words, you're well supported on the hardware front, meaning this watch can be applied to a whole range of apps, gathering data to monitor your sports performance.
This is where the Watch 2 Sport fall into that grey area of what it wants to be, though. Huawei has thrown everything into this watch, but there's still the feeling that some of it is superfluous. The hardware loadout reads like a top-spec multi-sport watch, but there isn't really the software experience that they offer. That might lead some to question the spec sheet, as we're sure the price could have been more competitive if things were slightly lower key on the hardware front.
Huawei Watch 2 review: Performance and battery life
- 420mAh battery
- 2 day life (Wi-Fi only)
We've used both versions of the Huawei Watch: a pre-production version of the 4G model, and a full release retail version of the Wi-Fi model.
The Huawei Watch 2 is as fast and slick as other Android Wear devices running on the latest software. We've found that it worked reliably enough throughout our testing - faster to access those apps and reliable enough in connection to an Android phone, or a friendly Wi-Fi network.
For the 4G version, we had no problems connecting to the 4G network. Sure, it might take a little time to load in the latest maps, for example, but we found it to be solid enough. One thing to note about the 4G version particularly is that some apps you choose need to connect to a phone to sign-in, so although they'll run independently, they often need to be setup on a phone first.
The display of the Huawei Watch 2 has been bright enough and the Android Wear always-on option is great, although you can save power by turning this off so it only illuminates when you actually need it. There's also a "watch only" mode that will just give you the time and last far longer as a result.
Generally speaking, the Wi-Fi version of the Watch 2 has lasted through two days. This will vary with use, especially if you're using it for recording exercise with GPS tracking, where you're more likely to get about a day and a half.
The 4G version has been more variable. With 4G set to auto mode, we'd often put it down in the evening with some charge and find the battery drained by the morning. This could be because it's wasn't a final retail device, it could be that it needs better software management during downtime (like Android Doze), or - and most likely - it could simply be that 4G means it just doesn't last as long as Wi-Fi only.
However, the Wi-Fi version performs surprisingly well considering the 420mAh battery capacity. Yes, it will need charging every couple of days, but currently that's the going rate from a smartwatch.
As far as the other sensors are concerned, we've found the GPS is fairly fast to locate; heading out the door to run, you'll usually need about a minute to get the workout app to lock on. Thereafter, tracking is accurate enough and the results in Huawei Health match our path with a fair degree of accuracy.
The same applies to heart rate. We've recently seen a number of devices that struggle to settle on an accurate reading in the early stages of a run, but the Huawei Watch 2 seems to work well in this regard. We've found it to deliver results within our expected range, with annoying extraneous results.
Huawei Watch 2 review: A note on Huawei Health and sports
- Huawei Health app
- Links to Google Fit, Jawbone, MyFitnessPal
- Accurate HR and GPS
From a performance point of view, this all makes the Huawei Watch 2 Sport rather good as a sports watch. Sure, the need to use the Huawei Wear and Huawei Health apps to get access to your data is a little clunky, but Huawei Health also offers sharing with MyFitnessPal, Jawbone and Google Fit - so there's the chance to connect things up more widely.
Huawei Health is where you can natively view the data from Watch 2, but it also wants to be a constant tracker on your phone, recording your steps as you walk around with your phone in your pocket. In some ways that's good, because it doesn't matter if you're wearing the watch or not, but the constant steps notification can't be turned off, which is a pain. Ideally, we'd prefer to disable the functions that revolve around tracking your phone and leave it to the Watch 2, but that can't be done.
On the watch itself, sports tracking is only a button press away and we've found it pretty good for run tracking. You can customise the view with a long press to have the information you want front and centre for metrics like pace, distance, time, or even a regular clock. A swipe to the left reveals the maps for route tracing and a swipe up will reveal a more detailed information panel with lots of information. You can pause a workout by tapping the screen, or by pressing the bottom button.
There's also the option to set goals for your workouts, whether a time, a distance or calories burned for your run. At the end of the run you're given a summary with a dial to show the impact of your workout on a scale, as well as giving you an estimate as to when you should next train based on your efforts. Run hard and you'll be told to give yourself a few days to recover.
It's not as refined an experience as you'll get from the likes of the Polar M600, and as sports watches go we'd sooner take the better endurance and app experience of a Garmin watch. But, that said, this Sport version of the Huawei Watch 2 will be perfectly adequate for a lot of people.
The Huawei Watch 2 is something of a surprise package: great for on-the-go independent control without a phone thanks to (optional) 4G, well built and full of top-spec hardware and features.
If anything the Sport version is not as showy and outlandish as it could be. Well, unless you choose the orange finish, but in black it's rather muted. Ignoring the plasticky strap and its bespoke fit, the fundamentals of the Watch 2's design are otherwise good, making it nice to wear.
However, as one of the first Android Wear 2 devices to launch, the Watch 2 has failed to incorporate the rotational input that's perhaps the biggest physical change in the new operating system. Huawei Health's constant alerts could be better managed too.
Overall, what the Huawei Watch 2 does is have a jolly good go at things. It misses the exuberance of the Casio WSD-F20 and it doesn't quite have the sporting prowess of the Polar M600 behind it, but as a smartwatch that will deal well with sports, it's actually pretty good in many areas.
Alternatives to consider
If it's sport that you're interested in, but you're determined to have the benefits of an Android Wear smart watch too, then the Polar M600 is one of the hottest choices out there. Unlike the Huawei, it's been designed with sports in mind first, so the design is a little less conventional and a lot more like Polar devices. The real advantage it offers is the integration with Polar Flow and the excellent exercise analysis that the software offers, but there's no 4G option and it's a little small compared to Huawei's option.
Read the full review: Polar M600 review
If it's the great outdoors that you're a fan of, then the Casio WSD-F20 blends outdoor skills with Android Wear smartwatch thrills. This is a little larger, making a bit more of a statement, but some of that comes from the solid protection this watch offers against the elements. It's fully featured, fast and fluid in operation, but it is expensive.
Read the full review: Casio WSD-F20 review