A bonkers idea that actually works but who exactly is going to buy one?
- Well engineered
- Earbuds sound quite good
- Capable smart watch
- Eartips are small
- Can be tricky to fit
- ANC is weak
There’s a famous scene in the James Bond film Goldeneye, where Pierce Brosnan uses a laser beam generated by his wristwatch to cut through the bars and make his escape from captivity. Huawei’s Watch Buds aren’t quite that exciting (or dangerous, depending on your outlook) but almost as off the wall.
You might have guessed what’s special about this product from its name but, to clarify, this is a smartwatch that also houses a pair of true wireless earbuds. Press a button at the base of the watchface and the dial pops open to reveal the buds, attached magnetically to the underside of the display.
Huawei Watch Buds review: What do you get for the money?
It’s a mad idea but one, I think, that makes sense from certain perspectives. If you’ve ever walked out of the front door without your headphones, you’ll know how annoying it is not being able to listen to music or podcasts on the way to work. Having a pair of earbuds inside your watch means you’ll never be without them. It also means that, as long as you keep your watch topped up, you won’t have to worry about keeping your earbuds charged since the watch acts as a wrist-bound charging case.
It’s expensive at £449 but this is a product that has been engineered with extraordinary flair and precision, too. True, the watch is a little chunkier than your average smartwatch, but it isn’t all that thick and heavy and I found it comfortable to wear even on my bony wrists.
The hinge feels sturdy when you pop open the lid, too. There’s no play or wiggle in it and when it’s closed there’s no rattle or movement and no sign of what’s inside. I wouldn’t want to have a fall with the lid open but, otherwise, I have no complaints about the build quality.
And there doesn’t appear to be much compromise in the watch or the buds themselves, certainly when it comes to features. The buds lack top-end features like spatial audio with head tracking but do come with active noise cancelling and an ambient aware mode so you can keep ambient noise at bay and still hear people talking when you need to.
Ignore the earbuds and consider the watch itself for a moment and there’s little difference between this and Huawei’s other wearables. It comes with all the sensors a good smartwatch needs to track your steps, workouts, heart rate, pace, distance and altitude, as well as some more advanced metrics like blood oxygen and stress.
It shows notifications from your smartphone, whether that be an iPhone or an Android handset. And it lets you control music playback and take phone calls on your wrist with or without removing the buds from their little cubby holes.
And it’s topped with a bright, colourful 1.43in 466 x 466 resolution AMOLED display with subtly curved edges and a responsive touchscreen. Unusually, there’s only one physical button – the crown on the right, which rotates but doesn’t appear to control anything while spinning – everything is controlled by tapping and swiping and, occasionally, clicking the crown in.
Huawei Watch Buds review: How good are the earbuds?
The earbuds themselves are absolutely tiny but, assuming you can get a decent fit, they’re surprisingly pleasant to listen to. There’s plenty of low-end punch and a decent balance that has plenty of detail but not at the cost of mid-range clarity.
Even with tracks that push the limits of listenability on poorly engineered earbuds, I found instrument separation was good, and there was a refreshing lack of muddiness and congestion. The multi-layered, distorted guitars on Six by Seven’s Eat Junk Become Junk, for instance, were delivered with absolute confidence and I enjoyed listening to the track more than I had expected to.
The main weakness is that treble sounds a little harsh at times. On Mastodon’s Show Yourself, for instance, the cymbals and tambourines sounded unpleasantly intrusive and no amount of tweaking via the preset EQs, which are selectable on the watch itself, seemed to fix this. I’m no fan of the microphones, either. They’re fine for the odd emergency call but the audio quality sounds clipped and unnatural to my ears.
More impressive is the way the earbuds integrate with the watch itself. Pull down from the top of the screen and, along with all the usual quick toggles you get for controlling do not disturb, screen brightness, settings and so on, you’ll also see battery levels for each individual earbud alongside the overall battery level of the watch. You can also switch between the various noise cancelling mode here – through off, on, and awareness – and initiate pairing with your phone, tablet or laptop.
And despite being the smallest earbuds I can remember using in recent times, it’s possible to take control over various functions without recourse to using the watch screen or your phone. You do this by tapping your ear: a double tap to the tragus or upper part of the ear activates play or pause, while triple tapping switches active noise cancelling on or off. Huawei is also promising you’ll eventually, via a firmware update, be able to switch sources in this way as well.
Huawei Watch Buds review: How good is the smart watch?
The watch itself is also an impressive performer. Battery life, in particular, is very good. Huawei rates it at three days in “standard mode” and seven days in “power saving mode”, although this will depend on how much you use the earbuds and the GPS for running.
I have found this largely tallies with my own brief experience with the watch so far. After charging the watch fully on Friday I found it lasted until the same time on Monday with 16% left on the gauge, with moderate use of the earbuds and no GPS use.
GPS and heart rate accuracy is hard to gauge thus far as I’ve only been able to run with it once, but on this short run, I didn’t see any big problems with either. The GPS compared well with my Stryd Wind running pod for total distance, with a difference of only 0.5%.
The heart rate monitor wasn’t quite as good – it reported an average heart rate that was 4.23% off what the chest belt I was wearing at the time said, while the maximum heart rate was a whole 10% short of what it should have been – but I saw no big issues such as cadence locking (matching my running cadence instead of my pulse). On the positive side, you can connect a Bluetooth heart rate chest belt if outright accuracy is your thing.
Elsewhere, there’s plenty to like with tons of sports and workout modes (more than 80, according to Huawei), training plans for various running distances from 3km all the way up to marathon, and the ability to follow imported GPX, TCX or Komoot routes.
Huawei WatchBuds review: What could they do better?
A number of things stand out as could do better features but the main limitation with the Watch Buds is that they’re not fully waterproof, so can’t be used to track your swims with. The earbuds are IPX4 rated, so they’re splashproof and the watch is IPX7 rated so it’s protected against rain showers and sweat, but you can’t submerge either and hope to get away with it.
One other irritation with the Huawei Watch Buds is that, if you’re using the larger ear tips, the buds have a tendency to get stuck in their bays, and prevent the screen from popping open cleanly. You can prevent this by keeping the tips, and your ears, absolutely clean at all times but I’d much rather Huawei had enlarged the cubby holes in which the buds live so they don’t stick quite so much.
The ANC isn’t particularly effective, either. There’s plenty of passive noise reduction through the seal the earbuds create in your ears but turning on active noise cancelling barely adds to this. If you need the silence and tranquillity a good pair of noise cancellers provides, you’re better off investing in a pair of Apple AirPods Pro 2 or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, which are the class leaders in this regard.
The last and, possibly most serious, issue is one of sizing and fit. Although the Watch Buds are supplied with three sets of rubber tips, these are medium, small and very small. If you’ve found yourself always opting for the largest ear tips when wearing earphones you’re unlikely to find a decent fit with these. I usually go for medium but even with these I found I had to wiggle the buds around a bit before I was able to get a firm seal and – therefore – decent levels of bass.
Huawei Watch Buds review: Should you buy them?
There’s no denying the Huawei Watch Buds are clever and convenient. The smartwatch is well engineered, comfortable, responsive and capable and the earbuds sound surprisingly good. If you like the idea of always having a pair of true wireless headphones to hand and make regular use of a smartwatch, they may prove right up your alley.
The broader question is whether you would be better served by purchasing a better smart/sports watch and better sounding headphones with more effective ANC for the same or less money. And the answer is that, yes, most people would. If the Watch Buds had a built-in laser cutter, however, it would be a recommendation from me all the way.
- You will be able to pre-order the Huawei Watch Buds from 15 February and they’ll go on sale from 1 March.