Huawei first showed off the Huawei Watch 2 (herein the HW2) in Barcelona back in February, when it debuted alongside the Huawei P10 at Mobile World Congress. I eagerly rushed to the booth to get some hands on time, only to be disappointed, finding that most of the devices were tethered to security cables, or Huawei staff. Rather fortunately, some of the Huawei staff were sympathetic to my cause and allowed me to try one on.
Since then, I knew I wanted to have one, and Huawei were sympathetic to that cause, too. In fact, I came home from Barcelona with a pre-production model which I wore for a few weeks, and when the P10 launched locally, I picked up a retail-ready model (albeit for the US) and I’ve been wearing it pretty much ever since.
With the retail launch arriving in Australia next week, I have mixed emotions; I’ve known this watch for a solid six months now, and it’s only just reaching the market here. It’s a bloody great watch, and one of the only ones available in Australia which supports NFC (for Android Pay) and built in LTE (so you can use it without having to have your phone nearby).
For its brilliance, there are some downsides though; chief among them is that the screen is just a smidge too small, and the pogo-pin charger is a pain in the ass when the competitors feature wireless charging docks which are simply the best way (bar none) to charge a smartwatch.
What’s it got?
As alluded to above, the two main features of the HW2 are its inclusion of LTE/cellular capability, and the built-in NFC which allows you to use Android Pay with your watch. Separately, these features aren’t exactly new; we’ve seen LTE watches in other markets, but they’ve generally not shown up in Australia. LG’s Urbane had a LTE variant which didn’t make it here, for example.
NFC for Android Pay
Android Pay for Android Wear is a bit of a newer beast, only arriving earlier this year with the advent of Android Wear 2.0; however, there’s been precious few watches released that can actually support it … and HW2 is one of them.
In fact, this was one of the first things I tried out, pairing my ANZ Visa Debit card to the HW2 so I could try it out. It didn’t work so well in Barcelona, but as soon as I got home to Australia, I was tapping and paying everywhere I could.
It worked pretty much all the time, though I noted Android Pay can be a bit slow to load sometimes (and yes, it must be loaded before you can pay) so to make good use of it, you need to load Android Pay on the HW2 before you approach the checkout, rather than when you’re asked to pay … unless awkward waits don’t bother you.
As a feature, it’s awesome. Combined with the LTE feature (below), you can leave your wallet and phone at home, and mostly stay in touch and be able to pay for things too — just from your wrist.
LTE in the HW2
What’s this mean? Basically, you pop a nano-SIM from your carrier (or a prepaid one from another carrier) in your watch, and it turns into a little mini Dick Tracy-style connected watch.
The LTE feature took a little longer to grow on me, because it comes with a significant drawback; if you use it took regularly, your watch battery will be dead within a work day easily, and quite likely, before you make it home to your charger. It does, however, offer a pretty neat feature. All of a sudden, Android Wear (mostly) works without a phone.
You can chuck your watch on, go out, and still make/receive calls, send/receive SMS, get all your notifications on your watch, and reply to them as well. For example, if you get a Facebook notification pop up on your phone at home, it will also mirror to your watch wherever you happen to be, and you can use your watch to reply to it, like it, etc.
Where the feature gets even more useful is where you install a stand-alone app on the HW2. Telegram is a great example; you can install the stand-alone app and then your phone can be wherever, or even switched off, and you’ll still be able to stay in touch wherever you happen to be.
Of course, there are limitations; the small watchface on the HW2 means that – realistically – your only meaningful way to interact with your watch is with voice, and even that’s a bit hit and miss. Typing on the on-screen keyboard is next to impossible, and should basically be forgotten about as an option. This makes the LTE-connected HW2 little more than a passive receiver of all but the most critical communications.
Unlike the US where carriers offer a number-cloning feature that means your phone and watch will ring with the same number, in Australia, your watch will most likely have a different number. This means for people to get through to you if you leave your phone behind, they’ll have to know and dial your watch number… a big ask for most.
What brings it down?
Quite honestly, the inclusion of Android Pay and true wireless connectivity are the major selling points of the HW2. In fact, they could be just about the only ones. That’s not to say they’re not enough to make the HW2 a good purchase, because it absolutely is.
However, there’s some compromises to be made, as ever, and some of them are a bit frustrating.
The first is the battery life. Without LTE/cellular turned on, battery life isn’t too bad, but this is definitely a watch you’ll need to charge nightly unless you cripple the watch quite significantly. Turn off the display, turn off WiFi, disable cellular, and you might get a couple of days out of it … but you might as well wear a dumb watch.
What I found most telling, and most surprising, was Huawei’s own executives criticising the battery life. One of Huawei’s board of directors, Wan Biao, observed at MWC that the battery life wasn’t where he thought it should be … and it hasn’t improved since. It’s a true shame.
Following on directly from this is charging the battery. Like the first generation Huawei Watch, the HW2 charger uses pogo pins and a little clip on charger. It works, of course, but the ease of use isn’t even close to the magnetic/wireless charging docks offered by the likes of Motorola and Samsung. Wireless charging docks almost belong on your nightstand, and make the nightly chore of charging a smartwatch bearable. Huawei’s silly clip-on charger (combined with the semi-rigid watch band on the HW2) mean that charging the HW2 really is a pain in the ass.
This brings me to the third complaint. As good as the HW2 is, the physical design is really lacking. For starters, the display is just too small, especially for the average male wrist.It needs to be about 5mm greater in diameter, with a more substantial band, too. The supplied rubbery/silicone band isn’t awful, but it isn’t great. Mostly it’s too thin, and holds just a bit too much shape meaning the HW2 can’t sit flat when charging, so you end up clipping on the charger and kind of sitting the watch on its side to charge.
The HW2 is a watch of contrast; it offers two of the most in-demand features that smart watch users have been clamouring for, adn they work really well. If you’re buying a smartwatch and living on the bleeding edge is your thing, then today this is the watch to buy. You can’t get these features in any one other watch in Australia without importing it yourself.
On the downside, though, you will experience frustration with charging the HW2, it’s meagre battery life, and somewhat lacklustre included bands. Yes, they’re a standard fit so you could swap them out easily enough for something else, but it just won’t look like it belongs.
You’d think, with these complaints, I wouldn’t recommend the HW2. That would be a reasonable assumption. However, you’d be incorrect.
Despite its flaws, some more obvious than others, the HW2 is probably the most versatile, useful, connected smartwatch you can buy today. You will experience some frustration, but that’s a given with most technology these days anyway. One would hope that the positives would far outweigh the negatives for the would-be buyer, and I certainly think that’s the case.
It did for me.
Ausdroid has been reviewing the Huawei Watch 2 for the last few months, and as it could now be described as "well used", we have been allowed to retain it.