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Huawei Watch review: The best-looking Android Wear watch, but still just an Android Wear watch

The Huawei Watch features the highest resolution display of any Android Wear watch and is the first to feature a sapphire crystal display.

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Dan Graziano
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Dan Graziano

Associate Editor / How To

Dan Graziano is an associate editor for CNET. His work has appeared on BGR, Fox News, Fox Business, and Yahoo News, among other publications. When he isn't tinkering with the latest gadgets and gizmos, he can be found enjoying the sights and sounds of New York City.

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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.

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7.2

Huawei Watch

The Good

Comfortable to wear. Looks great. Features a high-res, fully round sapphire crystal display. Runs the latest version of Android Wear. Includes Wi-Fi for some phone-less functions.

The Bad

The watch is thick, battery life is short for a watch, and the Android Wear software still has a few drawbacks. The lack of an ambient light sensor means the watch can't automatically adjust brightness.

The Bottom Line

The Huawei Watch is one of the best-looking smartwatches out there, but the Android Wear operating system still feels like a work in progress.

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.

Hands-on with the beautiful Huawei Watch (pictures)

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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 $350 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. (Pricing and availability for the Huawei Watch in the UK, but the US base price converts to £230.) Absent a price cut, the Huawei Watch is best for fashion-forward Android phone owners with cash to burn.

Design

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 Moto 360 ), compared to daily questions when wearing an Apple Watch .

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Apple Watch , 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 the Fitbit Charge HR or even the Apple Watch. It's an on-demand function: , you need to manually check it in the settings menu, which I rarely did.

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There's also a gyroscope, an accelerometer and a barometer. Unfortunately there's no GPS like on the Sony Smartwatch 3 and 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.

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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.

The Huawei Watch will display personalized Google Now cards with information on weather, transportation, sporting events and more. You will also receive notifications for things like text messages, emails and calls from your iPhone or Android device right on your wrist. These alerts and notifications are very big and fill up the entire screen. Even when a new one comes in, it blocks the lower-third of the watch face. It can get annoying, especially since Huawei preloaded the watch with 40 unique and customizable watch faces.

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To give you a better idea of what it's like to use an Android Wear device, here's what I see when I look down at mine. There's an email from a coworker, a swipe down reveals how many steps I have taken today, a second swipe shows the score of the most recent New York Jets game, another swipe shows the weather in New York City, and a final one displays the stock prices of companies I track.

This is the problem with Android Wear. While I previously told Google that I was interested in the Jets, I don't want to see this card on a Monday afternoon while I'm at work. Some notifications are very helpful, such as traffic alerts when I am ending work, but others appear a random and can be more of a nuisance than a helpful tip.

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Even features that are supposed to improve your experience can sometimes leave to frustration. As I mentioned earlier, the Huawei Watch includes Wi-Fi, which means you can continue to receive emails and other notifications even if you aren't tethered to your smartphone. Certain actions work well -- I continued to receive notifications even though I left my phone behind. But some actions, such as trying to get directions in Google Maps require you open your phone -- the same phone you left behind.

You can't even set up a Wi-Fi connection on the watch without first entering a password using your phone. It would have been better if there was a way to type it in on the watch, or if it could sync pre-existing saved networks from your phone to your watch. The bottom line is that, while you can use some Android Wear features over Wi-Fi, you will still get the best experience when the watch is tethered to your smartphone.

Battery life: Don't forget your charger

Huawei highlighted how the 300 mAh battery would last a full two days even with an always-on display, which is pretty good for an Android Wear watch. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for me. While the watch lasted more than 24 hours on a charge, I never got close to a full two days.

As I mentioned earlier, the Huawei Watch doesn't include an auto brightness feature. There are five brightness levels, one being the lowest and five being the highest. I found that anything below level three was too dull for everyday use.

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I began my test on Wednesday morning with the brightness set to 5. The always-on feature was enabled, but that doesn't mean the brightness is always at its highest. After about 5 seconds of inactivity the screen on the Huawei Watch will dim to preserve battery life. Unfortunately, the highest brightness setting was too much for the watch and by Thursday afternoon it was dead. It lasted just shy of 30 hours.

I started a second test with brightness set to level 4 and saw similar results of around 30 hours. For my last test I dropped the brightness down to level 3. I began the test on a Monday at 3:30 pm. The watch lasted 24 hours (as expected) without issue, but by Tuesday at 5:30 pm it had dipped to 30 percent. Several hours later at 11:30 pm it was down even further, to 12 percent. At this point the battery had lasted for 32 hours, but when I woke up around 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the watch was dead.

The Huawei Watch will last you about a day and a half. These results are in line with other Android Wear devices and the Apple Watch, but are a lot worse than the Pebble Time Steel, which was able to last a full week. When I turned off the always-on display, battery life increased to about two-and-a-half days. But I preferred to keep the feature enabled and charged it on a nightly basis.

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The watch is charged using a magnetic dock that connects to four pins on the back of the watch. A fast-charging feature will get you up to 80 percent battery life in just 45 minutes, while a full charge will take you under an hour and a half. It gets the job done, but it's not as convenient as the Moto 360's wireless charging dock.

It can also be difficult to tell when the watch is actually charging. Huawei didn't include a full-screen charging indicator, opting instead for a small lightning bolt symbol in the battery icon that is only available on select watch faces. The Moto 360 and Apple Watch both enter a special nightstand mode when connected to the charger that transforms the watch into a bedside clock.

Size and options

The face on the Huawei Watch measures 42mm. The size looked good on my wrist, but some of my female colleagues found it to be a bit big on theirs. Interested in a smaller size? You're out of luck. The Huawei Watch will be available in only one size, which is a shame given that the Apple Watch and new Moto 360 can be had in two different sizes.

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The watch supports both 18mm and 21mm straps that can be swapped out for any regular watch strap of the same size. A quick-release mechanism makes it easy to swap out the bands; there's no need for a special tool. Huawei offers a leather strap, link bracelet and a mesh band, which looks quite similar to the one on the Apple Watch.

The watch is available in three models: silver, black and rose gold-plated. All models feature the same stainless steel body, heart-rate sensor and sapphire crystal display. The silver model with a leather strap is available for $349/AU$549, while adding either a silver link bracelet or mesh strap increases the price to $399/AU$649. The sleek black model with a black link bracelet can be had for $449/AU$749, while the high-end gold-plated model costs $699 with the leather strap or $799 with the gold link bracelet, neither of which have been announced for Australia.

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Conclusion

The Huawei Watch is one of the best looking smartwatches to date, but it's also one of the most expensive. It doesn't include GPS and there's no NFC for mobile payments. Aside from the higher resolution display and sapphire crystal, the watch is no different than last year's Android Wear watches.

While Google has improved Android Wear over the past year, it's still a work in progress. The operating system is confusing and notifications are messy. Huawei did a great job with the design of the Huawei Watch, but for $350/AU$549 you're just better off saving your money, waiting for the Gear S2, or buying an Apple Watch. If you really want an Android Wear smartwatch this year, look for one of the cheaper models.

Next year, though, I hope Huawei takes this same basic design and supercharges it with better hardware. That, coupled with an updated version of Android Wear, would be a promising combination.

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7.2

Huawei Watch

Score Breakdown

Design 9Battery 6Performance 7Software 6Features 7