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(Pocket-lint) - Huawei has made some great strides in the wearable market, becoming one of the top sellers. The key has been to offer watches that are capable fitness trackers, but also keep the price lower than much of the competition.

In the Huawei Watch 3 the company has taken what it learned from the Watch GT series and evolved it. The promise, eventually, is having a 'proper' smartwatch that also has good battery life and fitness data, without losing the interactivity some customers expect from a smartwatch. 

It's also one of the company's first products to run on HarmonyOS. So how much impact does this have, for better or worse?

Our quick take

The first HarmonyOS watch is a clear evolution beyond the Watch GT devices that came before it, positioning Huawei to start competing properly against the likes of the Apple Watch and Google's Wear OS watches. 

By offering 4G connectivity, opening up to third-party developers, and adding the AppGallery and music streaming, it's clear that the aim in the future is to offer a comparable feature set to any of its competitors.

Right now, without the same level of third-party support (particularly when it comes to music streaming) and without contactless payments in Europe/UK, it's still a little way off that dream. 

Despite that, it still offers what makes the Huawei Watch attractive: in-depth and affordable fitness tracking and the potential for great battery life. All with a user-friendly and attractive interface and lots of watchfaces. It's great smartwatch overall, so long as you accept some of the small absences at present.

Huawei Watch 3 review: A perfect Harmony?

Huawei Watch 3

4.0 stars
For
  • Stylish design with premium materials
  • Long battery life
  • Vivid and sharp display
  • Works with Android and iPhone
Against
  • Third-party support quite limited at launch
  • Only Huawei Music available for streaming
  • No contactless payment in UK/Europe

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Design 

  • Leather, metal link, silicone and nylon straps available
  • 46mm stainless steel case (48mm for Pro model)
  • 22mm quick-release strap

True to form, Huawei's latest watch is completely round. No temptation to go square here - and that's something the company has stuck to since its Wear OS days (or Android Wear as it was called back then). 

Pocket-lintHuawei Watch 3 initial review photo 9

There is a notable change here compared to the GT 2 Pro and GT 2e though: the angled bevel has been replaced with a hardened glass lens that rounds at the edges. That gives the illusion that the watch is much rounder than before, although the stainless steel casing still retains its straight edge. Saying that, the polished finish is definitely a change from the brushed look on offer in previous years.

One of the two buttons on the right side has been replaced by a rotating crown and, yes, it looks very much like the Apple Watch's Digital Crown. It acts like one too. Rotating it will scroll up and down lists on the screen or zoom in and out of the new grid-style app view in the interface. You even get subtle haptic feedback when you interact with it, which is a delight.

The bottom button, meanwhile, launches workout mode from the home screen so that you can quickly launch into a run, walk, HIIT session, or whatever else you fancy tracking. 

Huawei has thankfully avoided using its pretty (yet impractical) seamless lug design in the Watch 3. That means you'll be able to switch out that strap for any universal watch straps. The one that ships in the box features a quick-release catch, so it's super simple to remove it and replace for something that's more your style.

Pocket-lintHuawei Watch 3 initial review photo 1

If you're going to be using the Watch 3 primarily as an activity tracker and you do multiple workouts a week, we'd definitely recommend getting either a nylon or silicone option. The brown leather we were shipped - which with the  pure polished silver certainly makes for a timeless combination - just isn't suitable for long runs on hot days. It'll soak up your sweat and become stained. 

The underside of the Watch 3 bears a striking resemblance to the Watch GT 2 Pro, which is no surprise. It's dark and glossy with a domed centre featuring a neat collection of sensors and LEDs. It's a seamless finish that has no external contact points which, in turn, means wireless charging is possible.

The charging cradle is a rather simple plastic disc that snaps on securely. The magnets feel strong enough, like it'll actually stay connected even if you knock against the watch while it's charging, which is good news.

Display and software

  • 1.43-inch AMOLED display, 60Hz refresh, 326ppi
  • HarmonyOS operating system

The AMOLED display on the Watch 3 measures 1.43-inches diagonally (on the classic model) and features a pixel density of 326ppi. It's bright, vivid, and sharp enough for something that's constantly arm's length away from you. 

Unlike its predecessors, the display can reach the dizzying heights of 60Hz refresh rates, which means animations on screen are much smoother than they were on the previous Watch GT. It definitely feels more responsive to gestures and touches too. Even simple things like raise-to-wake are a lot quicker. 

Pocket-lintHuawei Watch 3 initial review photo 3

That, plus the sharpness and great colour, means it's capable of higher quality graphics in the user interface (UI). It's fitting then that this new UI comes with new software: HarmonyOS. 

If you've used the Huawei Watch GT, it will feel immediately familiar. Parts of the interface are virtually the same. There are differences in how HarmonyOS feels compared to LiteOS. The added background layers and richer animations and graphics elevate the experience, making it more interactive, without changing a huge deal from a usability point of view.

What we like is how easy it is to get to the information you need. Each dedicated fitness function has its own 'app' which you can launch just by tapping on the little round icon in the app grid. 

When notifications come through on a paired phone, you see them mirrored on the watch. But just like LiteOS, HarmonyOS only mirrors them and doesn't let you do much else. There's no option to reply, for example, so if you see something important flash up, you'll need to go grab your phone. 

Pocket-lintHuawei Watch 3 initial review photo 4

It's more the cross-device capabilities that have the potential to make it a new experience. For instance, the eSIM support will mean that you can receive notifications and calls while you're not connected to your phone. Similarly, Huawei Music subscribers can stream music on the fly. Well, you could if eSIM was supported by your carrier - at the moment it isn't in the UK. 

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What's more, the watch has AppGallery now pre-installed and Huawei hopes to entice third-party developers to join its platform. Some already have, but the big-hitters like Spotify and Strava haven't yet - and those could both be deal-breakers for some prospective buyers.

Performance and battery 

  • 3 days battery life claimed
  • Wireless charging

So with a fancy new display and more power-consuming capabilities, it's no surprise that this watch's battery life is shorter than the GT 2 Pro that came before it. In regular smartwatch mode the Watch 3 can last up to three days according to Huawei. That's without the always-on display activated though.

In our daily use we comfortably got it to three days with the default settings. If you enable the always-on display, that battery life is far less impressive - with the watch face constantly showing, even with its limited animation, it would barely make it into a second day. 

However, you can enable something called 'ultra-long battery life'. This deactivates the cellular and Wi-Fi connections, limits some app access, and reduces screen refresh rate, but keeps the Bluetooth connection active and still lets you track workouts using GPS. In essence, it turns the Watch 3 into a Watch GT-a-like, but gives you up to two weeks battery in exchange. 

Pocket-lintHuawei Watch 3 initial review photo 11

In essence, it's almost like the Watch 3 has three different experiences. If you want full-whack features with the display always on, constant SpO2 reading and sleep tracking all night, it'll be a 24-36 hour watch. If you leave it the way it is out of the box and only have the display wake up when you lift it, you'll get three days. If you put it in 'Ultra-long' mode, you'll get two weeks. 

Having tried all three modes, we decided we didn't want to compromise on the interactive feel and capabilities of the watch, so disabled always-on, and left it as fully featured as we could. The raise-to-wake function is surprisingly reliable, and so whenever we wanted to see the time, we could.

Fitness and health

  • Heart-rate, SpO2 blood oxygen, Stress, Temperature, Sleep
  • 17 'Professional' tracking modes

When it comes to fitness and health tracking, the Huawei Watch 3 is loaded with pretty much every sensor you'd likely need. That means heart rate, GPS, and motion sensors for tracking your performance during exercise activities.

But there's more too. It wouldn't be a modern fitness tracker without SpO2 (blood oxygen saturation) sensing, so it has that, can also track your sleep quality automatically every night, and measures your stress levels throughout the day.

There's also a temperature sensor that helps detect signs of illness/infection. How accurate this is versus using an oral thermometer or any other kind of established temperature measuring device is yet to be seen.

A big part of Huawei's health and fitness is the Huawei Health app that you download to your phone. It's available for iPhone and Android and is pre-installed on new Huawei phones and tablets (the EMUI ones without Google Services). 

We've used the app with previous watches and found it to be thorough and useful, particularly for tracking running. It can even offer dedicated running courses if you'd like to train towards a certain distance or time, regardless of your running level. 

Running is just one of the 17 'professional' tracking modes installed on the watch. These modes are the ones with advanced data and tracking capabilities. For running that means things like VO2 Max (maximal oxygen consumption), fatigue levels, rest duration guidance, as well as the usual pace, cadence and heart rate. 

In addition to that there will be 85 custom workout modes. That list contains activities from dancing through to skateboarding and all manner of other physical exercise. You just don't get quite the same level of insight into them. Not that you particularly need it. 

To recap

The first HarmonyOS watch is a clear evolution beyond the Watch GT devices that came before it, positioning Huawei to start competing properly against the likes of the Apple Watch and Google's Wear OS watches. 

Writing by Cam Bunton.