(Pocket-lint) - Huawei's first smartwatch running its own operating system, the Watch GT, was an intriguing and promising product when it launched; offering a simple user interface, super-long battery life and in-depth fitness tracking.
The Watch GT 2 builds on that with two new sleeker designs, using the same simple user interface (UI) but with some added features. Huawei has tried to balance performance and battery life, while including plenty of features to keep fitness fanatics happy.
Two size options
- 45.9 x 45.9 x 10.7mm; 41g (46mm version)
- 41.8 x 41.8 x 9.4mm; 29g (42mm version)
- Stainless steel case design
- Waterproof to 50m (5ATM)
- 3.5D glass watch face
The Watch GT 2 picks up where the first generation Watch GT left off, although there are now two different models featuring unique looks. The larger, more classic model has a 46mm case and an indexed bezel around the watch face. The smaller 42mm model has a more curved screen with no bezel at all for a much more minimalist look.
About that "bezel" on the larger model though: it's all for show, not a separate piece of the design, as the entire front of that watch is one piece of glass. No metal ring, no rotation, nothing like that.
Huawei has used 3D glass on both models, giving it slanted edges on the bigger model, curved edges on the smaller one. It means the watch has this really attractive glossy look all the way around, which looks fantastic combined with the black, brushed steel case. It's only 10.7mm thin too, or 9.4mm for the smaller model.
Despite its minimal look, the Watch GT 2 still manages to fit in some core smartwatch features. There's a heart-rate sensor on the underside, and if you look closely at the sides you'll see tiny slits where the speakers and microphones live. On the right side is where sound comes out, the left is a much smaller opening where the microphone is, so you can effectively use it as a hands-free speaker for making calls.
Overall the Watch GT 2 is lightweight and therefore comfortable to wear all day and night. This is partly down to the lightness and thinness of the watch, but also down to the standard silicone watch strap which has a lot of holes close together for feeding the clasp through, making it really adjustable. What's more, thanks to 22mm quick-release straps, it's simple to swap this out for any other 22mm strap or band that you please.
- 46mm model: 1.39-inch (454 x 454) AMOLED display
- 42mm model: 1.2-inch (390 x 390) AMOLED display
It has to be said, Huawei's team of watch face designers really needs to have a rethink and come up with new looks for the various watch faces available. Partly because some of them are far too skeuomorphic, partly because - being Huawei's own custom locked-down operating system - there are no third-party options.
While Apple might let you customise the watch faces of its Watch Series 5 to heck, choosing your own complications, accents, background colours and styles to the nth degree, Huawei's options are a lot more limited. Many of the watch faces don't allow any customisation at all.
You can't even change the accent colour, let alone some of the textures or even what data shows up in the on-screen complications. We're also a befuddled that our favourite watch face from the first-generation Watch GT has been removed. Wah!
On the plus side, however, this year Huawei has enabled an always-on display feature, which it calls "lock screen". Sadly, rather than show a minimal, black-and-white version of the watch face you've chosen - the way Wear OS and Apple Watch handle it - you get a choice of two quite basic always-on options: analogue or digital.
They're monochrome, and obviously designed this way to conserve battery. In practice, you can understand why Huawei calls it a "lock screen". It's very similar in execution to the standby screen clock you find on many Android phones.
When it comes to the textures and gradients within each watch face, we think less is definitely more. As for customisation - more is more. There's still some improvement needed here to tip the balance the right way. Thankfully, you can install some others available within the Huawei Health app. Many of the options not installed on the watch by default are much simpler, cleaner and more effective.
The screen itself is really sharp and vibrant too, so everything looks vivid and contrasty, as it should on a smartwatch. The only negative aspect, as with the first-gen model, is the refresh rate.
Part of the reason this watch is so battery efficient is that the screen doesn't have a fast refresh, thus animations are often quite stuttery. It's not something you see when looking at the time, but you do notice when interacting with the watch, or when the animation pops up reminding you to stand up and do some moving about.
Less smartwatch, more fitness tracker
- Built-in GPS
- Heart-rate sensor
- Air pressure sensor
- Accelerometer and gyroscope
When you think of smartwatches, the traditional view now is one of the Apple Watch. It's the device that lets you interact with notifications, with a quick, fluid user interface that doesn't get in the way. Huawei's watch doesn't have this; it runs with a very stripped down approach.
There aren't wearable apps, and the notifications that come through are just mirrored notifications from your smartphone. You can't reply to them or interact with them in any way. You can just read them to see if they're important. In this regard it's much more like the smart fitness watches from Garmin and Fitbit. And once you approach it with that mindset, it's actually rather good.
You can customise the Watch GT 2 so that you have different widgets or screens when you swipe through from right to left. There's a daily activity screen showing you how active you've been, weather, heart rate, stress and music control.
Press the bottom button and you'll initially be asked to setup the default function. We chose running, so it meant quick-access to our most used workout tracking. You can go into settings, into the dedicated "down button" option to change this at any time.
Daily activity is easily tracked and happens automatically in the background. Whether it's steps, exercise or your resting/average heart rate, it all happens while you're going about your business. The same is true of sleep tracking at night. Given that the battery lasts so long, you can wear it to track how well you're resting, and Huawei's in-depth data on this is actually very good.
Sleep is broken down in to light, deep and REM sleep, with guidelines on how well you're resting across all three metrics, plus, the watch seems to do a great job of even detecting when you take a short nap during the day.
Despite the positives of a simplistic approach, we have found the responsiveness of the watch quite lacking, so any attempt at anything on the screen was a little frustrating. It might take a few taps of the screen to wake it up, for example. You can have the raise-to-wake feature instead, but that's not an option when the always-on screen is active.
- Pace, distance and cadence
- VO2 Max
- Training plans
- Medals for achievements
- Sleep tracking
We loved the fitness tracking capabilities of the first Watch GT. Much of that is present in the second-generation device too. It has built-in GPS and a heart-rate sensor, while your smartphone connection will offer a lot of insight into your overall daily health.
When using the GT 2 to go running, we found some slight discrepancies when comparing it with the Series 4 Apple Watch. The first thing was how the Huawei took noticeably longer to lock on to our GPS position - it would often take between 30-60 seconds of standing still outside before it located us.
The second thing is that we found it didn't stay consistent with the distance shown on our other watch. For instance, on one of our regular 5km routes, the Huawei Watch GT 2 had only tracked 4.96km, some 40 metres behind the Apple device. It's not a massive difference, so it didn't irk so much. On a 10km run we went on, however, the difference was 150 metres. Again, not huge, but noticeable. That said, it is consistent, and matches up with the Huawei Band 3 Pro.
Otherwise the detail and level of depth you get from the app once you've completed a run is great. You can view charts showing your pace, heart rate, cadence and altitude at different points in the session, or dig deeper into the details screen. Here you'll find performance metrics like aerobic and anaerobic effort, VO2 Max, and the recovery time before you should try it again.
The home screen of the Huawei Health app gives you a more generalised snapshot of your daily health. Here is where you'll see things like your current heart rate, previous night's sleep, weight and stress, as well as your steps and exercise minutes for that particular day.
Then there's the "Me" tab where you'll find medals you've earned by completing a number of different challenges, alongside various other bits of data. You can dig into your weekly and monthly progress if you want too.
Huawei, like others, also lets you pick a training plan. And it'll recommend some based on your current fitness. Despite being able to run 10-15km, Huawei used our rather low VO2 Max to inform us that we should attempt an easy, get-in-to running type course, which wasn't insulting at all.
- 14 days typical use (46mm)
- 7 days typical use (42mm)
A lot of the compromises that come from having Huawei's Watch GT 2 as a smartwatch - no apps, no true always-on screen, slow refresh rate - are there for one major reason: battery life. With typical use, including exercising, Huawei thinks you can get up to two weeks between charges, and that's with wearing it to track your sleep every night.
In our testing of the 46mm model, we don't think that's far off the mark. Even with the lock screen switched on, we still managed to get through a full week before plugging it in. Even then, it still didn't actually need it.
In essence, what you get from the Huawei Watch GT 2 is battery life more equivalent with the likes of Garmin's watches, and those (apart from the new Venu) don't use colourful, bright AMOLED displays. So Huawei has a bit of a one-up here.
Another bonus from the battery related side is charging: it's not wireless, so it's pretty fast. Once depleted, just an hour plugged in should see most of the battery refilled again, and the magnets in the cradle are nice and snappy, so the watch won't just randomly fall off.
The Huawei Watch GT built a reputation for crazy-long battery life and great health tracking data. The GT 2 continues with that ethos, adding a couple of new features like the always-on lock screen and loudspeaker, making for a great fitness watch. However, the lack of interactivity and stuttery experience means it's still not a fantastic smartwatch.
There's a lot to like overall though. The GT 2 looks fantastic from pretty much any angle, whether you go for the bigger 46mm or the smaller 42mm version. The fact it has a full colour AMOLED panel and can last to two weeks between charges is just killer.
Add that to all the impressive data you get from regular daily activity tracking and exercise, and what you really have is a watch that rivals Garmin and Fitbit. Huawei may market this as a smartwatch, but really, it's just a very smart and capable fitness tracker. That's not a bad thing, but with a couple more improvements, it could be both.
This article was first published on 21 September and has been updated to reflect its full review status.
Fitbit Versa 2
There are better smartwatches out there in terms of interface and third-party app support - for iOS users, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the same price as the Versa 2 with built-in GPS, great fitness tracking and more apps, for example - but the Fitbit platform is excellent and the Versa 2 is a great performer with a good battery life, some great features including excellent sleep tracking and at a decent price point.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active has a lovely premium design, built-in GPS, sleep tracking, good activity tracking and good heart-rate monitoring. It also has an excellent screen and nice interface, though the Samsung Health platform isn't as easy to use as the Fitbit platform and sleep tracking isn't as data rich either