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Huawei Watch 2 review: Still a good value Wear OS smartwatch

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
329
Incl VAT

A smartwatch packed with sensors that looks good and has Android Wear 2 onboard

Pros 
Android Wear 2
Packed with sensors
Decent battery life
Cons 
Plastic strap looks nasty
Expensive
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When we wrote the original Huawei Watch review below, back in 2017, the Huawei Watch 2 became the best Wear OS smartwatch. Three years later, and it's still right up there. And although it's becoming increasingly difficult to buy new stock is often released onto the market during sales, so it pays to keep an eye out.

The Huawei Watch 2 is still a decent smartwatch, despite its age. That's perhaps more due to the reality that not many manufacturers are producing Wear OS smartwatches anymore. Samsung, Fitbit and Huawei have their own operating systems for new wearables, leaving Wear OS for the rest.

That said, if you're set on Wear OS, there are good alternatives. The TicWatch E2 is definitely better value at £146, but it lacks NFC and is far less stylish than the Huawei Watch 2. We weren't blown away by the Fossil Sport when we first reviewed it but it is better looking and super cheap at £99 today.

If you're prepared to abandon Wear OS, better options are available. Samsung's Galaxy Watch is the main contender, even if it's not a big improvement on its predecessor, the Gear S3. Alternatively the Huawei Watch GT2 and Honor MagicWatch 2 offer very good battery life for around £180. 

But the Huawei Watch 2 is still a wonderful wearable, and everything we written below holds true. You'll be very happy with it if you choose to pick one up in 2020.

Our original review continues below

Sales of smartwatches haven’t quite taken off in the way manufacturers would have liked them to, but Google, Apple and a host of third-party manufacturers keep plugging away, despite all that. Huawei is among those still game, evidence of which is found in its latest Android Wear smartwatch – the Huawei Watch 2.

Announced alongside the P10 and P10 Plus smartphones at 2017’s MWC technology show, the Huawei Watch 2 comes in a fitness-orientated “Sport” version and a more stylish classic variant. Both watches have largely the same core feature set, but with a few key differences.

The Classic has a stainless-steel body and comes with a leather strap, while the standard, sporty model has a plastic body and strap with a ceramic bezel and stainless rear, and adds the option of 4G connectivity.

READ NEXT: Huawei P10 review: The ultimate dual-lens smartphone gets a facelift

Huawei Watch 2 review: Price and competition

Originally reviewed at £329 and £379 respectively, the non-4G Sport is now available from Amazon for £251 and the 4G variant now costs £319. Both the sports watches and the £359 (once £409) Classic variant are available through select retailers.

Huawei Watch 2 review: Features, display and specifications

The headline feature undoubtedly is the Watch 2 Sport’s ability to work independently, without the need of a smartphone. Every version of the watch has GPS, so you can go on a run and have it track your pace and location accurately, but the 4G facility is the cherry on the cake here, allowing you to field phone calls and reply to text messages, too.

You need to install a nano-SIM card in the tray beneath the bottom strap attachment, but once you’ve done that, you can use the watch’s built-in microphone and speaker to dial out and answer calls, while Android Wear 2’s new smart replies, dictation and onscreen keyboard let you answer and send texts directly from the watch face.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why you’d want to answer the phone while you’re out on your daily run, but at least there’s the option. And if you don’t think you want or need the 4G connectivity, the non-4G version is cheaper and offers everything else you need for fitness tracking, with built-in GPS and a heart-rate monitor to keep tabs on your ticker.

And there’s plenty to like about the rest of the specification as well. Both variants have a circular 1.2in, 390 x 390 AMOLED display with an ambient light sensor that adjusts brightness automatically. This display is sharp and colourful – it’s just a shame Huawei’s stock faces are so unsophisticated in appearance.

Both variants are powered by the new 1.1GHz Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor – Qualcomm’s first dedicated wearables chip – and each has 768MB of RAM, which is plenty for a smartwatch.

There’s also 4GB of internal storage so you can store music on the watch and listen directly via Bluetooth headphones, NFC so you can use Android Pay from your wrist and, perhaps most important of all, a large 420mAh battery – delivering a 40% increase in capacity over the first-generation Huawei Watch.

Overall, I was pleased with the performance of the hardware. The screen is bright and sharp when you need it to be and it dims to a level where it doesn’t blind you in the middle of the night. And, largely, it’s a responsive device to swipe your way around. It’s prone to the odd pause and delay here and there, though, something I’m hoping a firmware update will resolve in time.

Battery life is fine, though. It isn’t quite as good as the Samsung Gear S3, which lasted two to three days in normal use, but I found that by disabling Wi-Fi and sticking just to Bluetooth, it would last two working days comfortably. It didn’t quite stretch to a full 48 hours, and enabling 4G dropped the battery life to around a day, but the watch’s ultra-battery-saving mode, which disables all functions apart from step counting and the watch face, will get you to the end of the day however long is left of it.

READ NEXT: Best Bluetooth headphones and earphones – our pick of the best of 2017

Huawei Watch 2 review: Design

Both the Huawei Watch 2 Classic and Sport have a slightly bulky design and I find it odd that Huawei hasn’t included a rotating bezel or crown, instead offering two push buttons on the right-hand edge of the watch casing. It’s a slightly odd design choice from the Chinese manufacturer since the Android Wear 2 interface has specifically designed with this type of hardware in mind.

Still, the Watch 2 is attractive to look at. The Watch 2 Classic is the best-looking variant, all encased in brushed stainless steel, but I also have a soft spot for the sports model’s glossy black ceramic bezel. There’s something brooding and high-tech about it that the standard watch just doesn’t have.

I do find the Watch 2 a little bulky, though. Despite being lightweight at only 40g for the Sport and 47g for the Classic (without straps), the Huawei Watch 2 is 12.6mm thick and it looks bulky on my wrist.

And the straps don’t look great either. There are several different colours available – Dynamic Orange (4G), Carbon Black (4G and non-4G), Concrete Grey (non-4G), while the Classic comes with Titanium Grey (non-4G) – but whichever you choose, the textured plastic doesn’t look very nice.

Another surprising design choice by Huawei was to reduce the visible screen size from 1.4in down to 1.2in in the Watch 2. It’s a small difference, but noticeable if you compare the two versions together.

READ NEXT: Huawei Watch review – an excellent smartwatch with impressive battery life

Huawei Watch 2 review: Android Wear 2

The smaller screen also puts a bit of dampener on the Huawei Watch’s next great feature: Android Wear 2. That’s because among Wear 2’s best new features is an onscreen keyboard that allows you to swipe out words, just like you do on your smartphone.

In general, I’ve been impressed by Android Wear 2’s ease of use and accessibility. It’s much more intuitive to use than the previous version, and it’s relatively simple to understand how things work.

Its biggest update, however, is standalone apps. The theory here is that by installing some to the watch directly, you’ll be able to use the watch on its own without the need for a paired smartphone at all. For example, you’d be able to listen to your online playlists or get your email even if you left your smartphone at home. Useful if you own the 4G version of the Huawei Watch 2, or for iPhone owners who want to use something other than an Apple Watch.

This won’t make its presence felt fully, however, until more developers start producing apps that can be downloaded and installed locally. While the Huawei fitness app worked on the watch without a phone present, and I was able to install Google Maps to local storage and use it for directions, Spotify refused to work without my smartphone being present and Gmail couldn’t be installed directly, either.

One thing that will make an impact from the off is the way Android Wear 2 now supports Android Pay from your wrist. Once you’ve set this up and authenticated the watch, you can access the feature with a double-press of the bottom side button. I found this worked but was a little slow on the uptake, particularly in comparison to Apple Pay on the Apple Watch. It took a little longer than I’d like to read at contactless payment terminals. I also found it to freeze from time to time, making it slightly frustrating to have to re-launch the app.

I also love the Google Assistant implementation in Android Wear 2. In particular, it seems far more responsive than the voice recognition on previous Android Wear smartwatches I’ve worn, and the dictation feature, which can be used in preference to the keyboard feature for replying to and writing texts and other messages, works absolutely beautifully for the most part.

READ NEXT: Huawei P10 Plus review: A gorgeous phone despite the hefty price tag

Huawei Watch 2 review: Fitness features

Despite having an onboard GPS and heart-rate monitor, fitness is an area where I’m not entirely convinced by the Huawei Watch 2. It comes with its own Huawei-branded fitness app that delivers everything from training plans to on-watch guided workouts. It tracks all sorts of metrics, displays a neat graph on the watch itself of your heart rate during exercise and estimated VO2 capacity (among other things), and it works well in conjunction with the watch’s heart-rate monitor and GPS sensor.

However, for all its fancy features, I found the Huawei Health app misses out one key thing: it doesn’t make any attempt to auto-detect fitness activities. While this isn’t a problem if you’re planning on using it to go running with, as that’s a distinct and easily defined activity, you want activity such as brisk walks to be detected without intervention, since you don’t always know when a light stroll will turn into something more demanding.

I often found myself starting a walking activity using the Huawei fitness app, but then forgetting to terminate the session and only putting a stop to tracking hours later. That has obvious implications for battery life, but it’s also not great if you want to gather a more detailed picture of your overall fitness and activity. This is why I currently rate the Samsung Gear S3 as a better smartwatch for overall fitness tracking.

READ NEXT: Our pick of 2017's best smartphones

Huawei Watch 2 review: Verdict

There are some irritations, then, with the Huawei Watch 2, but in general, I like it. The battery life is good, I like the look of both variants, and it’s packed with all the sensors you could possibly need.

Android Wear 2 makes it simple to use and adds the ability to use Android Pay, and despite the weaknesses of the Huawei Wear app, it is undoubtedly a boon to be able to cut loose from your smartphone and go on a run without it.

The only fly in the ointment is the price. At £329 for the non-4G sports version, £379 for the 4G sports watch and £409 for the classic, it is a little pricey for a smartwatch.

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