Smartwatches are not new. They’ve been around for a few good years but were mostly a tech-geek kind of toy. That was until about 2015, when smartwatches took a front seat in the wearables market. What Pebble and Samsung started, Apple, in typical fashion, improved and refined.
Usually, Apple out-designs its competition in terms of simplicity, UI, UX and takes command of the market share. In the smartwatch space, Apple probably didn’t expect that Huawei, the ultimate tech device underdog, at least to people in the Western Hemisphere, to outdesign and out-simplify them.
The Huawei Watch has been the talk of the tech scene since its release at MWC in 2015. It was only until IFA 2015 that the final specs of their watch were released. Since then, the watch has been receiving well deserved accolades in the tech scene, with some even placing it on the podium for best Android Wear watch.
About a month ago, Huawei sent me their watch and even though I’m generally an Apple guy, this device is definitely worth reconsidering my affiliations, well almost. To be fair, this is my first smartwatch. I’ve been hesitant to introduce another piece of tech into my life, especially one that could potentially disrupt meetings and distract daily interactions with people more than a smartphone.
— HuaweiDeviceUSA (@HuaweiDeviceUSA) December 23, 2015
After using the Huawei Watch for a month here are my thoughts. For reference, I had the watch paired with my iPhone 6 Plus. Here’s my hands-on review:
Unboxing and First Impressions
For starters, the sheer beauty of the device is impressive. No other words can describe it. Huawei clearly invested in mimicking the experience of receiving a luxury timepiece. In some ways, this is another way of how Huawei may have beat Apple in their own design/ experience / unboxing game.
Starting Out- Pairing with iPhone
Huawei is one of the first new Android Wear devices to accept and integrate the new iOS-compatible reality. Pairing the watch and phone was easy – after charging the watch and downloading the Android Wear app from Itunes, within a few minutes I was good to go.
The smartwatch really serves as an extension of the smartphone. To some, the Huawei Watch is just a notification center that definitely takes some getting used to, especially with the constant buzzing of notifications. So while the natural movement to look at a watch may be less intrusive, repeating this motion several times over the course of the day, or in one meeting, could be seen as rude or obsessive.
Granted, the Apple/ Android pairing means that my functionality was rather limited and the robust features that would come with an Android to Android device experience aren’t available to me but I’m ok with that (at least for now).
Flow and Operation
Every movement on the Huawei Watch is absolutely seamless, both in terms of style and operation. Smooth operations across the board. Most of my navigation is done with the swipe motion across the watch except for the side button, which is very similar to the Apple home button. The default setting of the watch is always on, which can easily drain the battery (more on that soon) but with the cool palming feature, I was able to put the watch to sleep or at least until I moved my wrist again.
Like the smartphone, smartwatches are also privy to a serious battery life issue. It’s probably the main reason people are hesitant to buy another device that needs constant charging. It certainly was for me before my Huawei experience. I vividly recall a somewhat comical scene on an airplane where a man was walking down the aisle with his Apple watch charging on his wrist via an external battery pack placed in the pocket of his jeans. Sorry, that’s the ultimate deterrent. No tech device is worth that look.
The Huawei Watch is charged by attaching a puck-like charger to the connection points on the back of the watch via a USB cable. These exposed connections remind me of the old cell phone chargers. Remember those? Especially on a watch, exposed charging nodes can only mean more user concern that sweat, dirt, and other particles will damage the device.
How did I do with the battery?
I charged the watch overnight probably once every other night. So even with my hyper-notifications (Calendars, tests, emails, some social media) and maintaining a decently active daily routine, I was expecting the battery to run out faster. Thankfully, it didn’t because I otherwise I’d turn into the guy on the plane.
Design and Quality
Generally speaking, first generation smartwatches have been infamously square, giving the device a look and feel of a gadget, thereby limiting the interest to only those within the tech scene. Huawei opted to go round and go big. Its large face and simple design makes the Huawei watch look awfully similar to classic analog timepieces.
Besides all of the tech specs that are impressive and superior to the current state of smartwatches, Huawei enabled its users to personalize with a wealth of customizable watch faces available that come standard and can be switched with a simple swipe (both on the watch or from the iPhone). Ok, for Apple/Android users you’re limited to 13 watch-face templates. For most people, that’s enough.
A Few Missing Pieces
Unlike Apple, the Huawei doesn’t have the NFC for mobile payments. For the runners and exercise enthusiasts like me, a built in fitness tracker is an important contextual capability. It means that I could potentially wear one watch throughout the day instead of switching between this and my running watch. But, without GPS, however, the Huawei loses some points for forcing me to change watches. Sorry but it’s definitely annoying.
So what’s my conclusion after 30 days with the Huawei? An exquisitely designed piece of tech. Huawei is definitely taking the smartwatch and wearable industry seriously. In comparison to many of the Android watches out there, the Huawei is clearly on par. Can it replace the Apple Watch? For Apple people probably not since even with Android Wear, the functionality was limiting basically turning the Huawei into a mini-screen-push notification board.
With the frequency of notifications, in just 30 days, I noticed that my wrist was transforming into a new place that I needed to manage. With each ping, I found myself flicking my wrist to see. Yes, I adjusted the settings. Each time I had adjusted, I sensed that the smartwatch was becoming a bit more of a nuisance than a convenience which is what I had hoped it to be.
For most people, the smartwatch’s fitness tracking would be appealing. As a runner, I’m going to stick to my Garmin GPS to track my running.
That being said, Huawei gave me a great opportunity and I appreciate it. This introduction to the wearables market has definitely piqued my interest. I’d be interested to see how the next gen of smartwatches redefine or reconsider the word smart. Why? Because in order to really penetrate the mass audience, companies will have to break an important barrier and that is to not simply extend the existing mobile phone or digital experience by displaying it on a smaller screen but by identifying ways to eliminate extra digital touch points.
About the Author
This review article has been provided by Mordecai Holtz, Co-CEO & Founder at Blue Thread Marketing. Make sure to also follow him on Twitter to stay up to day with news about technology and digital marketing.
YouTube: Huawei Watch: The timeless design story
Photo credit: Huawei and author owned