Huawei -- pronounced "wah-way" -- may not be the first brand that comes to mind when you think of luxury. The Chinese manufacturer is primarily known for its line of affordable Android smartphones. But your opinion of the brand may soon change. After seeing the company's first smartwatch, I know mine has.
The $350/AU$549 digital timepiece, simply called Huawei Watch, is one of the best looking smartwatches we've seen to date. Simply put, it's beautiful. Huawei also managed to pack in some extra features that help the watch stand out in an increasingly crowded market. The Huawei Watch has the highest resolution display of any Android Wear watch and is the first to feature sapphire crystal, which should make it a lot more difficult to scratch or break. And that display is always-on by default -- a nice change from other smartwatches, which generally require a screen tap or a wrist flick to light up the screen.
But despite all of its advantages, the watch falls short when it comes to functionality. That's a fault due mostly to its underlying Android Wear operating system, which is as confusing and messy here as it is on every other watch using Google's wrist-based operating system. But the Huawei Watch also sports less than cutting-edge hardware, and lacks some higher-end smartwatch features, like continuous heart rate monitoring and GPS tracking.
While we'd be willing to look past those issues if the Huawei Watch was as relatively affordable as the company's phones, its price tag is actually at the high end of the scale for Android Wear watches, and even with the Apple Watch's entry-level model. In the US it starts at $350 and in Australia it starts at AU$549 for the silver model with a leather band and up to AU$749 for the black-on-black with link bracelet. For comparison LG's new Urbane watch is AU$459 while the older G Watch R, also from LG, is AU$299.
The Huawei Watch looks more like a traditional watch than a smartwatch, and that's a good thing. Only once was I stopped on the subway by a curious bystander (who confused the watch for the), compared to daily questions when wearing an .
Not only does the watch look like a premium product, but it also feels like one. The Huawei Watch is built with cold-forged stainless steel. It isn't too heavy, but also not so light that it feels cheap. It feels good in hand, and even better when worn on the wrist.
The display on the watch is protected by sapphire crystal, a first for an Android Wear watch. This should make it harder to scratch and shatter the watch face, and that appeared to be true. While I didn't drop the watch on concrete or step on it, I did wear it for a two-week period and wasn't shy about bumping into side tables and walls. The stainless steel body and the screen still look perfect.
The 1.4-inch AMOLED display is a complete circle, which I liked a lot -- especially compared to the screen on the Moto 360, which has an unsightly black bar at the bottom. But the Huawei Watch does lack an ambient light sensor, something the new Moto 360 includes. This requires you to manually set the screen brightness, rather than it automatically adjusting based on your environment.
That round screen looks great, thanks to a 400x400-pixel resolution (286 pixels per inch), which is higher than any other Android Wear watch available today. Despite this high resolution, though, I still had difficulty seeing it in direct sunlight.
Under the skin, the Huawei Watch is nearly identical to every other Android Wear watch. It's powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, rather than a newer Snapdragon 410. There's also 512MB of RAM, 4GB of space to store music and apps, and Wi-Fi onboard, so you can use the watch even if your iPhone or Android smartphone is left behind.
The watch carries an IP67 rating, which means it can withstand splashing and showering (sans the leather strap of course), but you shouldn't go in the pool with it. This is true for all Android Wear watches.
The crown, which is located around two o'clock, is really just a button. While it looks nice, it doesn't spin or have much use. You can press the crown to light up the display or dim it, but it's not like the digital crown on the, which you can spin to scroll through apps.
An optical heart-rate sensor sits on the back of the watch, but it doesn't continuously check your heart-rate like theor even the Apple Watch. It's an on-demand function: , you need to manually check it in the settings menu, which I rarely did.
There's also a gyroscope, an accelerometer and a barometer. Unfortunately there's no GPS like on theand Moto 360 Sport. The Huawei Watch isn't really a workout watch, but it can track basic activities like steps, distance and calories burned.
Even though this is Huawei's first smartwatch, it doesn't feel like a new product. That's because most Android Wear watches are basically the same at heart. The hardware and a majority of the features are the same as the Android Wear watches from 2014. Huawei has clearly invested time and effort into the watch's beautiful design, but nothing's changed since it was first unveiled back in March.
I would have loved to see NFC, which both the Samsung Gear S2 and Apple Watch include for making mobile payments without the need for your smartphone. Of course, no Android Wear watch currently supports NFC, but mobile payment usage is on the rise. Google recently released Android Pay, an app that allows users with NFC-capable smartphones to pay for items at select retailers. I wouldn't be surprised if we see NFC supported included in future versions of Android Wear watches...just not this one.
Software: It needs work
The smartwatch market has changed with the release of the Apple Watch. I was content with Android Wear prior to the Apple Watch, but that has since changed. If you're not familiar with Google's watch-focused operating system, it's similar to Google Now on Android devices and the Google Search app on iPhones and iPads.