(Pocket-lint) - Huawei’s been investing heavily in sports, health and fitness over the past couple of years. It’s built a new campus in Shenzhen dedicated to learning and research, all with the eventual aim of making its smartwatches as accurate and reliable as possible - regardless of whether you’re using them to track running, swimming, climbing, tennis or other sports.
Despite this general focus, one of the company's latest wearables, the Huawei Watch GT Runner, is a device that’s very much focused on the experience of the runner - as the name indicates. It does track plenty of other activities, of course, despite this attention on running, and there are also plenty of smartwatch-style features that should make it a more attractive proposition than the standard running watch.
Does that prove true after testing? And how does it compare to the competition? We've been using the Huawei Watch GT Runner over the last few weeks in order to to find out.
While it doesn't stand up to the smartwatch experience provided by devices like the Apple Watch, Huawei is showing itself to be a genuine competitor to the likes of Garmin in the world of sports tracking. Its investment in sports research and analysis is clearly paying off.
With the GT Runner, Huawei has created a compelling watch for runners that ticks a lot of the right boxes. It has long battery life, super health monitoring, accurate run tracking and a lightweight, waterproof design that makes it ideal for wearing all year round.
The key things that count against it are the lack of support for music and payments. Most of Garmin's alternatives, for example, offer very solid support for contactless payments, while also offering offline listening from popular music streaming platforms. Huawei offers neither of those things, and it really detracts from the smartwatch experience.
Naturally, this means the GT Runner isn't a device that will suit everyone. Considering the price, we'd still recommend something like the Garmin Venu, Venu 2 or 2 Plus over it, but there's no doubt this is a solid alternative to consider.
Huawei Watch GT Runner
- Lightweight design makes it ideal for exercise
- Bright and colourful AMOLED display
- Dynamic running plans are very useful
- Accurate fitness and workout tracking
- Decent battery life
- Limited contactless payment support
- No support for music streaming
- Third-party app selection is poor
- 46.4 x 46.4 x 11mm
- 38.5 grams without the strap
- 5ATM/50m waterproof
- Rotating crown/button
- 22mm quick release strap
There's no doubt that the GT Runner's design looks and feels a little cheaper and stripped back when compared to the company's Watch GT 3 and Watch 3 models. In a way, though, it would be doing Huawei's design team a disservice if that came across in a negative way.
While the other Huawei Watch devices go for the metal, premium look, the Watch GT Runner is more about function than form. Where the others have materials like stainless steel or titanium, Huawei wanted to make the GT Runner as lightweight as possible, while also designing it in a way that lets it do its job well.
The result is a plastic front and case, which is impressively light - to the point where you can easily ignore the fact that it's even there. That's exactly what you need in a watch that's primarily designed for running.
Of course, it's moisture-resistant, too, and to pretty high levels. With waterproofing up to 5ATM (or 50 metres), the watch won't just survive your runs in the rain, or sweaty workouts, but can be taken swimming, as well.
It also retains the key elements from the previous handful of watches. For instance, on the underside, the rounded hump containing the optical sensors is designed in a way to help sweat run away from the sensor during workouts, keeping it clear and helping accuracy.
There's also the simple, two-button physical control system. This features the primary/power button, which launches into your app view from the watch face, or takes you home from anywhere else. It's also a rotating crown that you can use to navigate lists and screens when you don't want to use the touchscreen. The second button is a simple 'function' button. It launches you into workout mode from most screens.
It's an easy control system to get used to, and one we've become quite familiar with, having tested more than a few of Huawei's wearables in recent years. That consistency should stand the company in good stead.
The last thing worth mentioning is the strap, which is a major part of why the watch feels so light. It's thin, doesn't weigh much, and has enough holes along it to make it very adjustable. However, thanks to having quick-release mechanisms, it's very easy to switch it out for something else if you'd like to.
Display and software
- 1.43-inch round AMOLED screen
- 466 x 466 resolution
- HarmonyOS 2.1
There's not much new to say about the display on the Watch GT Runner. It is, in essence, the same as what's on the Watch GT 3. It's a completely round, bright and colourful display with a pixel-dense 466 x 466 resolution. It measures in at 1.43-inches, and is therefore suitably large.
This combination of size, resolution and being a vivid AMOLED panel means it's a great display capable of making detail clear, leaving enough space so that you can see all the relevant data when you're in a workout.
On the software side, those wanting a proper smartwatch experience may find the HarmonyOS-based system on the GT Runner a bit lacking. For instance, you don't get fully interactive notifications.
You can reply with preset quick replies to messages, and even add your own in the app, but you can't just use your voice or an onscreen keyboard to respond with a manually-created message.
HarmonyOS does mean that, technically, you can have third-party apps on the watch installed via App Gallery. Sadly, however, there's very little in the way of third party support here. There are only a handful of apps available, and arguably the only useful one is Huawei's own Petal Maps app for navigation.
That means no listening to offline music from your favourite streaming service (although you can add music files via the app if you have them), and there's no support for contactless payments, either.
Everyday health and features
- Sleep, HR and Stress tracking
- TruSeen 5.0+ sensor
- Gyroscope and Accelerometer
- Air Pressure sensor
At the heart of Huawei's recent crop of fitness-focused watches is a sensor system called TruSeen 5.0+. While the brand name may be terrible, what it actually delivers is superb.
With extra LEDs and sensors in the array, the GT Runner is very good at reading heart rate from your wrist. We've found in all of our tests - regardless of exercise - that it reads changes quickly and accurately, so you shouldn't find that HIIT workouts confuse it like they can do some other trackers.
By default, the watch reads your heart-rate 24 hours a day (including when you're sleeping), and can use that - along with other data, like movement during the day - to determine how well recovered or rested you are. Using your last workout, it can also work out how much time you need in between that and your next workout to ensure optimal recovery.
This same set of hardware is useful for the standard collection of daily fitness tracking abilities. Whether you're just wanting to meet your step goal, keep an eye on your heart rate, or blood oxygen saturation, or you want to see what's going on in your sleep, it's all there.
Sleep tracking is detailed, with lots of data points analysed to show you where you can improve. In fact, if it detects you were restless, or your breathing quality was low the night before, you'll get a notification in the morning to tell you so.
One thing we really like is how holistic Huawei's approach is. There's a 'Healthy Living Shamrock', which can be used to focus on some key fitness or health points. You can use it to ensure you drink enough water during the day, to remind you to take your medications every morning, or just simply get into a good sleeping routine by having consistent wake-up and falling asleep times.
For the runners
- Dual-band five-system GPS/GNSS support
- Running/coaching plans
There are a number of individual features designed to help elevate the experience of runners using this watch. It’s not just about the tracking accuracy, or the lightweight design, because this also has a lot to do with the software offering, training plans and what Huawei Health does with that data.
Speaking from a hardware perspective first, the GT Runner has been designed to offer very reliable and precise GPS location tracking during outdoor activities. Not only does it have multi-band GPS support, but it also has an unusual internal antenna design.
Rather than have this antenna built into the case of the watch, it runs out into the strap lugs, away from all the other components, to give it a clearer signal. That makes it less likely to drop out when out on the road, Huawei suggest, and, in our experience, means it’s quick to find you at the beginning of an activity.
Just in tracking alone, then, the GT Runner performs really well in terms of accurately tracking routes, distances, cadence and pace. It has all the hardware required to track whatever you need, and is, in our experience, just as reliable as any Garmin we've tested in recent years. It even has the ability to help you navigate back to your start point if you're in a new area, or you get lost on an exploratory run.
It's not just hardware that makes it a compelling option, either, as we say, with training plans also a big part of the experience.
Technically, Huawei's had training plans as part of its Huawei Health offering for a couple of years, but they've always been limited to the phone app, and they wouldn't automatically load onto your watch. That's changed now. And they're much smarter plans, too.
Before you'd be able to sign up for a pre-set 5k, 10k, half or full marathon plan, but the new plans are dynamic and adjust to you and your own performance.
When you first go to set up a training plan, you answer a few basic questions about your current abilities and what you want from the plan. It can then give you an idea about what kind of pace you should be able to reach, and then build you a plan with 3-4 runs per week (depending on your availability).
Once set up, it loads automatically to your watch, and there's even a dedicated data widget that shows you where you are in your plan and what's next. As you work through the plan, it learns your performance levels, and your running ability, and then can adjust the plan on a week-by-week basis.
All of this is calculated using data like your VO2 Max (how efficiently your body uses/replaces oxygen), lactate threshold (the intensity of workout you can cope with), as well as standard data points like heart rate, pace and so forth.
The best part is that, at the beginning of the training plan, you go on a few easy runs that focus on your heart rate and effort more than pace, so the watch then learns how much effort you put in at different paces. That means, if you're a beginner and find just jogging for 60 seconds is hard, the watch will learn that.
Once it has a picture of your running ability, it gives a handy 'Running Ability Index', which gives a helpful graphic to show how good a runner you are, but also gives you predicted times for 5km, 10km, half and full marathons that are based on your current running fitness.
Performance and battery
- 14 days of typical use
- 4GB storage
- Magnetic wireless charger
Huawei's been making watches with full-colour screens and long battery life for a while now, and that's not changing with the GT Runner. It can comfortably go for two weeks between charges, and that's when using it to track workouts and exercise a few times a week and using it while connected to your smartphone for notifications.
Now, it is worth noting that you do need to have the always-on display feature switched off in order to reach this battery life. If you enable the always-on screen, that does eat into the battery a little. Still, even with this enabled, you'll get a lot more than your typical smartwatch.
When it's empty, it's really easy to refill again, thanks to its supplied magnetic wireless charging disc. It snaps on easily and stays connected thanks to featuring some pretty strong magnets.
With the GT Runner, Huawei has created a compelling smartwatch for runners that ticks many of the right boxes. It has long battery life, super health monitoring, accurate run tracking and a lightweight, waterproof design that makes it ideal for wearing all year round. However, it's not without its omissions.