(Pocket-lint) - In previous years the Huawei Watch has been home to several Android Wear smartwatch releases. With the Watch GT, however, the Chinese giant has produced a watch that runs its own operating system – similar in approach to the Samsung Gear and Apple Watch range.
The Watch GT therefore doesn't run WearOS (the updated name for Android Wear), waving goodbye to Google. It's platform agnostic, though, so you get all the same features whether you're using an Android or iOS device – and there's no absolute need to be using a Huawei phone.
So why the shift? Huawei promises incredibly long battery life that it couldn't achieve on Google's system. And with its all-colour OLED display, the GT has certainly got our attention. But does it genuinely deliver or is it less turbo-charged than its name suggests?
- 46.5mm diameter by 10.6mm thickness
- Black stainless steel case
- 5ATM water-proofing
- 46g (minus strap)
The Watch GT is has got a fairly wide case, with both glossy chrome and brushed matte metal finishes to make it look classy. You'll find an index printed around the bezel, showing the minutes in five minute increments, with an individual line to denote each minute as well as the traditional triangle at the 12 o'clock position. While this bezel doesn't rotate like the Samsung Galaxy Watch, it is considerably slimmer in the Huawei, which means more of that space on the front is taken up with display.
There are two buttons on the Watch GT's right edge, both with the same smokey dark grey colour and finish of the case. They're both simple, traditional-looking round buttons that taper down slightly towards the edges. They're easy to press, with a subtle yet pleasing click of feedback. The top one launches the features/app list (as limited as that is) giving you access to all the functions on the watch. The bottom one launches the workout list, allowing you to choose from a list of different exercises to track.
As well as that slim bezel, the stainless steel case is impressively trim at just 10.6mm thick. The protrusion housing the heart-rate sensors on the rear is minimal too. For reference, the new slimmer Apple Watch is 10.7mm; the Galaxy Watch 13mm – thus this Huawei fits in competitively.
Combined with the flexible silicone strap, all of that ensures the Watch GT is lightweight and comfortable to wear all day, all night. It's built with endurance and durability in mind too: there's waterproofing down to 50m, ensuring it's fine to take on your swimming sessions, even in open water. So it'll survive pretty much anything you can throw at it.
Display and interface
- 1.39-inch round AMOLED display
- 545 x 454 resolution
- Touch sensitive
Huawei has equipped the Watch GT with a brilliant, round OLED panel that's sharp, colourful and full of contrast. It looks great, part of which is down to the choice of colours and designs. The design team has used black backgrounds for a lot of the watchfaces, taking full advantage of the inky blacks from the OLED panel, while splashing bright colours here and there.
There is one issue with the screen: its frame rate. The screen refreshes slowly compared to most other displays of this type, meaning that – although the interface is responsive – the low frame-rate means that all animations look stuttery.
There's a good reason for that low frame-rate though: it's all down to trying to meet top battery life goals. Less refresh means less power outage. It's a logical compromise if you want a watch that's extra long-lasting, right?
As for the user interface in general: it's simple, clear and shows you the basics. Swipe across the screen from left to right, or right to left, and it'll scroll through the handful of screens. That includes the watchface selection, but there's also an activity ring screen, weather and heart-rate display. Swipe down from the top and you get the quick settings menu. Swipe up from the bottom and you get notifications. Tap-and-hold the screen and you'll get the selection of selectable watchfaces.
Sadly, there aren't actually that many to choose from and there's no way of adding more, so you can't really customise at all. There's no option to change the colour, or choose different complications to have on the GT's screen. Even Apple gives more flexibility in the customisation department, so let's hope Huawei has plans to change this.
Long-lasting, yet lacking
- iOS and Android compatible
- 2 week battery life (w/ HR)
- 30 day battery (w/o HR)
- Bluetooth 4.2
With the spec sheet boasting up to 30 days of battery life, alongside that all-colour OLED display, we assumed that Huawei had performed some kind of wizardry in the software optimisation department.
That's not exactly the terminology though: it has simply stripped out many of the features you'd expect to find in a bonafide smartwatch. That means there's no option to have an always-on display, like you get from pretty much every other smartwatch out there. The reason is obvious: what better way is there of limiting battery usage than not having the screen on all the time?
There is an option to have the screen on for five minutes (dig into the drop-down quick settings menu to locate that setting), but that's about it. To be fair to Huawei, you can activate the watch display by raising your wrist to check the time. That would alleviate the issue, if it worked consistently. Sadly, in our testing, it didn't – meaning we had to physically press one of the buttons to illuminate the screen.
As well as not having an always-on option, the notifications that deliver to the watch from your synched phone aren't actionable. You can tap on them to expand them, but you can't quick reply to a message by using preset onscreen messages, or by using your voice.
What's more, the notifications aren't the most useful, for two main reasons. Firstly, unless the alert comes from the Messages app, you can't tell where it's coming from, so there's no easy way to quickly check whether or not it's worth your attention. Every notification from every app, other than SMS messages, is delivered with the same default blue message icon. Secondly, the initial notification is cut-off, only showing a snippet of information that doesn't scroll on its own to display more of the message.
With all that said, the lack of traditional smartwatch features does help to deliver battery life unlike what you'll see on pretty much any other smartwatch. Unless you go for something like the monochrome E-ink screened sportswatches from Garmin, nothing really comes close. Even when tracking three runs per week (with at least one of those being over an hour) we still managed to take it to the end of two weeks on a full charge, plugging it in after roughly 14 days with some 16 per cent remaining at the time (which likely means it would have lasted another couple of days).
When you do dock the GT into its cradle to charge, it refills within two hours. That's faster than many others. This long battery life, and the convenience of relatively speedy charging, make this a watch that's ideal for wearing week-in week-out, even during the night to track sleeping patterns. It can show when your sleep is light, deep or REM, as well as detecting motion or when you're awake.
Fitness tracking finesse
- Barometer, Accelerometer, Magnetometer and Gyroscope sensors
- GPS, Glonass and Galileo location tracking
- TruSeen 3.0 heart-rate sensor
As sports and activity tracking goes, the Watch GT is surprisingly accomplished. With built-in GPS, you don't need to have your phone with you to go out for a run and log your route on a map. Like most competitors, it also tracks your heart-rate, plus your steps and pace. It can even give you your VO2 Max score, keeping tabs on how fit you are.
What's impressive about Huawei's effort here isn't just that it does all these things, it's how it's built the interface to display it all. Yes it looks rather 'Apple', but this is our favourite interface of any sportswatch that we've tested to date.
During a running session, for instance, you get everything you could need all on the one screen. Somehow, despite this data-rich screen, it's not cramped and it's easy to read – even as you're trying to keep focused on your training.
In addition to displaying total time, current pace and distance, it has an arc across the top of the screen with five heart-rate zones, and an arrow pointing clearly to the one you're currently in. That means you don't have to swipe to find another screen with additional info, as it's all there, and it's fantastic for at-a-glance use.
Similarly, there's a watch-face called 'Dark Blue' which quickly became our favourite thanks to its data-rich yet uncluttered design. It shows a VO2 Max bar on the left, current heart rate on the top, battery level on the bottom, and a small daily goals selection of progress bars on the right (showing your steps, workout, standing hours and calories).
Once you've finished an activity the data syncs with the Huawei Health app on iPhone or Android, which can then show you a more detailed breakdown. This includes the usual map route, pace and elevation graphs, as well as your average heart-rate and fitness level.
Comparing the Watch GT to a Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (we tend to use that our default measuring stick), the results are mostly consistent. For some sessions the Huawei would measure 10-50 metres less than the Garmin; other times it was the other way around, with pace being within a few seconds per kilometre within each other. It was similar with heart-rate monitoring, proving to be accurate enough and measuring within 3-4bpm of each other, which is largely consistent with other wrist-worn trackers we've tested.
If you want, you can take part in training plans to improve specific types of running. For instance, you can train towards a time goal on a 10K, choose how many times a week you want to train and then just follow the plan put together for you over a period of weeks. In many ways, therefore, the GT is a very capable sportswatch.
And of course, it wouldn't be a modern fitness tracking watch without activity rings and badges. The latter is limited to just a few accomplishments at the moment, but the former is a useful way to quickly check how you're doing for the day.
What the Huawei Watch, or rather Huawei Health, is really missing is better support for third-party tracking services. You can pair it with HealthKit on iPhone, MyFitnessPal or UP by Jawbone, but there's no option to send the specific activity tracking to Strava, which has to be one of (if not the) most popular app for recording running and cycling sessions. Add a Strava tie-in and this Watch could be the one to take on Garmin's dominance in fitness tracking.
The Watch GT has so much potential. With its fantastic OLED display and all the hardware you could need to track virtually any activity, it's an ideal modern fitness partner.
However, the lack of interactive and well-presented notifications is a sore point. And despite how genuinely useful the Huawei Health app is, it would be great if more third-party activity-tracking services were supported (yes, Strava, you're sorely missed here).
Overall the Watch GT has great fitness features and a mostly fantastic interface. But we're still left feeling there are a few too many compromises made to try and extend the battery life. We never thought we'd see ourselves type this, but, we'd rather the battery life wasn't quite as good and that the watch was loaded with more of the features we'd come to expect from a smartwatch in 2018.
Alternatives to consider
Like the Watch GT, the Ionic is a cross between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker, offering a popular fitness platform, GPS, and continuous heart-rate monitoring. It only has five-day battery life, but it does have a watchface that's on constantly.
Samsung Galaxy Watch
Samsung's newest Tizen-based wearable is available now, works with both Android and iOS, and has better notification support. What's more, the interface is easy to use, the build quality is great and it even has both Wi-Fi and Cellular models to ensure constant connection. You might not get the same level of battery life, but four to five days is still good, and worth compromising for the extra features.