The original Huawei Watch was one of my surprise favorites. It didn’t have an overabundance of features, but it ran Android Wear nicely and it looked good doing it. With the new $299.99 Huawei Watch 2, the company pivoted hard. It put an emphasis on function over form in an attempt to make it more of a fitness device rather than a casual fashion piece. That’s exactly what a number of other companies such as Apple, Samsung, and LG have done with their recent smartwatch attempts, but in the case of the Huawei, the result is a mixed bag.
To test the watch, I linked it with my primary Google accounts and wore it constantly, except when charging it or swimming. I wore it while hiking, running, playing basketball, and doing a couple of at-home workouts. I used it as a second screen for my phone, as an activity tracker, and even for tracking my sleep (via a third-party app) — you know, the stuff that smartwatches are typically used for. But before we get into how it did, let’s talk about what’s new in this model.
The big new feature is that the watch now has its own GPS radio. This means you can leave your phone at home, then go for a run or ride and all your important, brag-worthy stats will be recorded. It also has a built-in optical heart rate monitor that tracks your ticker 24/7; it should deliver a good look at your resting heart rate over time, which is an important metric for your overall fitness. It’s one of the few Android Wear watches that has a built-in speaker, which you can use for notifications and alarms, as well as playing music directly from the watch. You should, theoretically, be able to make phone calls through it, but the app crashed on me every time I tried it. The global version of the watch has LTE as an option, but unfortunately that model hasn’t yet made it to the US.
To accommodate these additional components, the body of the Huawei Watch 2 is 1.3mm thicker than the original (12.6mm vs. 11.3mm). That doesn’t seem like a lot on paper, but on a watch, you notice every tenth of a millimeter. One of the things the original had going for it was that it was fairly unobtrusive. It laid more or less flat against your wrist, and it wasn’t overly prone to catching on your cuff. The Watch 2 juts out more and makes it feel closer to the chunky GPS watches you associate with trekking — but at least those are typically waterproof to 50+ meters. The Watch 2 tops out at IP68, which means it’s water resistant up to a meter for up to 30 minutes. In other words: you can shower with it, but swimming is out.
The body of the watch is now plastic instead of metal, which gives it a decidedly cheaper look and feel. The biggest loss, however, is that the screen has decreased from 1.4 inches to 1.2 inches. At first I thought Huawei did this to reduce the overall size of the device, but despite the smaller screen the new version is larger than the original in every dimension. The Watch 2 has a thicker, more utilitarian-looking bezel encircling the screen (again, probably to make room for the additional sensors and such), so it’s possible that shrinking the screen was how it kept the watch from being even larger than it is. If so, it wasn’t worth it, as the display is very hard to read. Icons get jammed together and it’s extremely easy to over-scroll when swiping, or select the wrong item by mistake. For context, the Apple Watch has a 1.65-inch screen (square), and the larger Moto 360 has a 1.56-inch screen (round). Both are much easier to use. The Watch 2 also lacks a rotating bezel or crown, so all of your interaction happens on that tiny screen. The exceptions are the two buttons on the side: one is used to open apps and launch Assistant, and the other launches workout tracking.
The Huawei Watch 2 runs Android Wear 2.0, which is a big improvement over earlier versions. It can run native, standalone apps and even download them directly from the Google Play Store on the watch. Watchfaces can display far more complex data fields, and the notifications are easier to interact with — or they would be if they weren’t so tiny on this diminutive screen. I actually encountered a surprising amount of bugginess: apps randomly freezing on a couple of occasions, and the watch generally being slow to respond to input. The screen times out all too quickly, which forces you to navigate all the way back to the thing you just had up (though this may be an Android Wear issue).
While Google Assistant is built in, it seems that not all Google Assistants are created equal. I can ask my Pixel XL “What time do the Warriors play tonight?” and it’ll tell me they are playing the Spurs at 6PM tonight. When I ask the watch the exact same question, Assistant tells me, “Sorry, I couldn’t do that.” Go figure. Also, Android Wear still won’t let Google Voice users initiate an SMS conversation from their own Google Voice phone number, which remains infuriating for me.