I have an admission to make: I’ve been using an iPhone as my daily driver for the past four months. While I love Android, the iPhone just gives me a different experience and I really enjoy it. Even when I tire of the iPhone and iOS, I have still stuck with it. Why? Because of the Apple Watch. I’ve never been big on wearables, but the Apple Watch is truly an excellent companion. I’ve been searching for something to rival the Apple Watch on the Android side of things and hadn’t found much.
Or so I thought.
During my search, I kept running across the HUAWEI Watch 2 Classic. For one reason or another, I’d always passed it over. The bezel looks a little too big in the pictures, the screen isn’t the size I want to it to be… It was alway something. But, the reviews finally won me over and I reached out to HUAWEI to see if we could get a review unit. Now, reviewing a device over a year after it hits the market is not the norm, but luckily the guys over at HUAWEI were able to hook us up.
And damn if I’m not incredibly impressed. Let’s start out with the physical construction and the sides.
Build and Internals
The HUAWEI Watch 2 features a stainless steel body with a ceramic bezel around the display. Huawei says that the ceramic bezel is six time stronger than stainless steel. That bezel features time increments like you’d find on a clock. This is a love it or hate it feature for me, but I find that I don’t mind it. I don’t particularly use it (I’m a digital kind of guy) but much like a notch on a cell phone display, I don’t notice it when I’m not looking for it.
The watch looks a bit big and hefty in pictures, but it’s a different story in person. I was surprised at how light it actually is. While some people will say that it makes the watch feel a little cheap, I love it because there’s zero fatigue here. Big bulky watches can get in the way (the Watch 2 Classic can easily slip under your shirt sleeve) and can weigh you down. You can tell that HUAWEI tried to keep this light so people would be more inclined to use it while they’re working out and they did a fantastic job of it.
The display is a 1.3-inch, 390 x 390 AMOLED panel covered in Gorilla Glass. I absolutely love AMOLED and HUAWEI put a fantastic display in the Watch 2 Classic. It gets incredibly bright for use on sunny days. Since AMOLED simply turns off pixels when it needs to show black, the resting watch screen and dark watch faces look fantastic.
The AMOLED display also helps to save battery. There’s a quick charge-enabled 420 mAh battery inside that provides anywhere from 36-48 hours of use depending on what you’re using your watch for. I don’t do a ton of health tracking so I tend to get closer to two days of battery life. I’m really happy with the battery life and find that if I throw the watch on a charger when I’m getting ready in the morning, I have more than enough battery to get through the entire day.
HUAWEI claims that the watch can be charged from dead to full in about 60 minutes so we did our own testing. Here are the results:
As we can see, Huawei’s claims miss the mark by about a half an hour. I generally head to bed with about 45% battery, throw the watch on the charger in the morning, and I’m good to go through the rest of the day.
Speaking of the charger, HUAWEI did a fantastic job here. If you remember back to the original HUAWEI Watch, the charger was one of the worst we’ve ever seen. The watch would routinely slide off the pins and just not charge at all. To fix this issue, HUAWEI redesigned the charger to make sure the watch would stay in place. In fact, the magnets have such a tight hold that I can hold the charger upside down and shake and the watch will still stay in place. If we’re not going to get wireless charging, this is the next best thing.
Inside the watch, we find a healthy smattering of radios. The standard Bluetooth and WiFi radios are here in addition to GPS, and on some models, LTE. Our model does not have LTE so we can’t take calls or stream music while untethered to our phone. That’s something we’re seriously missing when moving over from the Apple Watch Series 3 LTE, but if you get a model with LTE you should be set. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that model is available in the US, but you may be able to import one.
If you are into taking calls on your watch, the Watch 2 Classic will let you do that. Sure, you do have to be connected to your phone, but it’s still pretty convenient. The speaker is surprisingly loud but the microphone falls a bit flat. Those we were talking to could understand us but they could definitely tell we weren’t talking to them on our regular phone.
The HUAWEI Watch 2 Classic features a standard 22mm watch band configuration. The band that comes in the box a leather/silicon combo. The top is real leather and looks fantastic and feels great. The part that touches your skin is silicon and feels great even when you’re sweaty from your workout. But, if you want to switch it out, you can. We picked up a nice Milanese loop band and installed it in just a few minutes.
Overall, we really like how the HUAWEI Watch 2 Classic is built and what it was able to fit inside. Hell, there’s even an IP68 rating so you know it’s not going to get ruined if it gets wet. But, the story isn’t all great here.
Both the original watch band and the side of the watch have a gigantic HUAWEI branding. To make matters worse, where the branding is on the side of the watch is plastic instead of stainless steel. It looks tacky and cheap in our opinion. We’re guessing that the plastic is there to help radio transmission, but other watchmakers are able to pull it off without something like this so we’re left to wonder why its really there. Hopefully, HUAWEI redesigns this in its next generation watch.
(Editor’s note: Huawei has reached out to us to let us know that indeed, that plastic portion is to allow LTE radios in the international version to better communicate. Please note that the U.S. version does not have LTE.)
We’re also not in love with how the digital crowns work. The top crown is programmable and can do things like open up your apps or launch Google Assistant. The bottom crown opens up some fitness tracking features when pressed. But neither of these crowns allow you to scroll when you turn them. That’s a big miss in our opinion. HUAWEI says that they didn’t include that because they feared that the crowns could break from usage. My response to that is, do better. I have big fat fingers and its hard to see the screen when I’m scrolling through things. A crown that allows you to scroll through menus is a great option and we’d like to see them add this at some point.
I’ve never been a massive fan of Android on wearables. There’s either not enough functionality or it’s a convoluted mess half the time. Google seems to be rectifying this recently. After a bad first impression, I’m firmly back on the bandwaggon.
It’s not all peaches and gravy, unfortunately. The notification cards are all the same color and there’s little to distinguish them at a glance- something that’s needed on a wearable. It’s still a little hard to tell what is going to work on the watch, and what isn’t. But Google does seem to be moving in the right direction. On device apps now work whether you’re tethered to a phone or not, a major pain in earlier releases.
We’re not going to get too into the weeds with Wear OS here because the software experience is generally the same across on Wear OS devices. What we are going to talk about, however, are the health tracking features.
Now, I’m not a big health guru by any means. I’m trying to work back to fitness after some pretty bad back problems and this is what made me fall in love with the Watch 2 Classic.
With just the push of the bottom crown, you’re in the workout screen. Here you can select a number of exercises including an outdoor run, indoor run, cardio, walk, outdoor and indoor cycle… all with their own goals for the day. These goals are set by you in the app settings.
Huawei also included a “Training Plan” feature that lets you set your desired distance and then will help you train up to that. If you’re looking to run a half marathon this year, the watch app and the Huawei Health Android app are a great start. The Huawei Health app syncs with your watch to show you all of the data it has collected in an easy to consume format.
If you’re looking for a health-focused wearable, you currently have a few choices. You can go the Fitbit route, but your choices are between trackers with crappy notifications or smartwatches that feel like their infancy. Or, you can go with a wearable like the Polar M600 or the HUAWEI Watch 2 Classic. It should surprise no-one that Polar is leading the pack in the Android Wear space when it comes to fitness tracking. But, what most don’t realize is that HUAWEI is a close second. Plus you get the advantage of your watch actually looking like a watch.
If you’re looking for a Wear OS watch right now, I think the search has to start with the HUAWEI Watch 2 Classic. Sure, there are other watches out there that may offer things that it doesn’t, but it is the closest thing we have to a complete package right now.
The branding on the side of the watch is just bothersome. It just looks and feels cheap on a great device. But, we can generally get over that once we put the watch on. We’d love to see a rotating bezel like the Gear S3 or a more useful crown in a future version to expand the watch’s functionality.
This is also one of the first Wear OS devices I’ve used where there’s no lag during normal use. When the battery gets pretty low there seems to be some throttling to save energy and some stutters can be seen. But in normal day to day operations, it functions fast and flawlessly. That is extremely important because the function of a smartwatch is to make my life a little easier. Any issues, even something as minor as some lag, destroy the watch’s purpose for being.
There are other little things we love like a very nice vibration motor that is the cherry on top. We’re also encouraged by how well the watch held up during our testing. We were uncharacteristically hard on the watch during our review period and it held up well. After several hits on door jams, car door windows, and in other places, the watch still looks just like it did when we pulled it out of the box.