Huawei Watch GT 2 Smartwatch Review: Stupendously smart, but buggy
Apart from the special model in partnership with Porsche, the Watch GT 2 is the fourth smartwatch that Huawei has released in five years. Last year, the company released the Watch GT, turning its back on Wear OS in the process. Huawei is in good company by releasing smartwatches running an in-house OS, though. Unlike the smartphone sector, a study by market analysts Counterpoint has shown that the top companies in the smartwatch sector all rely on their own software rather than using Wear OS.
Apple remains on top of the pile with its Watch, which has benefits that include a steadily growing selection of apps from which to choose. Fitbit and Samsung have attempted to plug the app gap left by the lack of Google Play Store integration on their smartwatches with in-house app stores, something that Huawei has yet to do. The company would probably be better positioned to bring a competing app store to its smartwatches though, especially as it already bundles its AppGallery on other devices.
Then again, there is something to be said for prioritising software optimisation over getting as many apps to run on a device as possible. The former has been a strength of Huawei's in the past, but our review unit currently suffers from a flaw that spoils the whole experience of using the device.
|Specifications: Huawei Watch GT 2 - 46 mm|
|Display||1.39-inch AMOLED454x454 px (326 PPI)|
|CPU||Kirin A1 (Hi 1132)|
|Connectivity||Android 4.4 and iOS 9.0 or higher|
|Memory||4 GB ROM32 MB RAM|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, GLONASS, GNSS, GPS, gyroscope, optical heart rate, magnetometer|
|Weight||41 g without a strap|
|Telephony||via a smartphone|
|Other||5 ATM water resistance|
By contrast, the 42 mm version has a 1.2-inch display that operates at 390x390 px and has a pixel density of 326 PPI. The 42 mm model also has 16 MB of RAM and weighs 29 g.
- Magnetic charger
- USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable
- Quick-start guide, safety information & warranty card
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Initial set-up and unboxing
A quick glance in the box reveals that Huawei has included a small magnetic charger, which is travel-ready. The charger connects to a wall plug via USB Type-C, with there being a corresponding Type-C to Type-A cable in the box too. In short, charging the Watch GT 2 should be a cinch whether you are at home or on the move.
The Watch GT 2 is compatible with Android 4.4 and iOS 9 or newer. The smartwatch communicates with a paired smartphone via Huawei Health but also needs Huawei Mobile Services installed when connected to a device running Android. While a Huawei smartphone should come with both installed, we encountered an issue when installing the second app on our Google Pixel 3. Despite downloading Huawei Mobile Services from the Google Play Store, it only appeared in the app drawer once we had restarted the device.
The next steps for setting up the Watch GT 2 are almost identical to those of other fitness trackers and smartwatches. Huawei requires that you register or log in to an account, against which it will store your body and fitness data. You can sign in with your Huawei ID if you have one, though. Our review unit also needed updating during its initial set-up, which took a while.
Case & Connectivity
The Watch GT 2 is one of the more elegant smartwatches on the market, in our opinion. Huawei has covered the face of the 46 mm model with 3D glass, a first for the company. The glass spans the entire surface of the watch face, finishing with a hard edge against the chassis. Our review unit arrived with two dark silicone straps made of fluoro-rubber, which we found comfortable to wear during sports activities. We have included pictures below of the various versions that Huawei sells, some of which come with leather or metal straps.
We should point out that Huawei has designed the 46 mm and 42 mm watches for different-sized wrists. While the Sport Edition of the 42 mm watch will fit between 13 cm and 20 cm wrists, the straps for the Classic and Elegant Editions only span between 13 cm and 19 cm. Additionally, the 46 mm version covers between 14 cm and 21 cm regardless of which version you buy.
Huawei has equipped the Watch GT 2 with a microphone, situated on its left side, for making calls or voice commands. Your smartphone must be within reach to do the former, though. A speaker and two buttons sit on the opposite side, with the latter flanking the former. The top button opens the app drawer if the watch is displaying the time or returns to the watch face if an app is open. The second button has no default function, but you can assign it to open an app like the flashlight, or the music app that controls Spotify on an iPhone and the default music app on an Android device. You can also transfer music from the latter to the watch too. The buttons can function differently when exercising, such as starting and pausing a workout, or switching between training data.
The Watch GT 2 is also the first smartwatch powered by Huawei's in-house Kirin A1 SoC. The chipset is the first to be BLE/BT 5.1 dual-mode certified and features a 356 MHz audio processor that, combined with isochronous dual-channel transmission technology, delivers an impressive audio experience. Audio quality depends on the quality of headphones that one uses, but that should go without saying. Huawei also sells its FreeBuds 3, its latest wireless earbuds, if you are on the lookout for a new pair of headphones. Incidentally, the Kirin A1 debuted in the FreeBuds 3 earlier this year.
Operation & Software
As mentioned above, Huawei relies on an in-house OS for the Watch GT 2. The smartwatch lacks an app store, so you are left with those that the Chinese company has preinstalled. Apart from the sports and fitness apps, there are tools like a compass and barometer, flashlight, music player, timer, and a weather app.
While incoming calls pop-up with the data from your address book, the Watch GT 2 can only initiate a phone call from the contacts in your favourites or call history. You must also assign your favourites and transfer these across before they will appear on the watch. During a call, the screen turns off or returns to the standby dial as a smartphone would. However, while it only takes a touch of a button or a light tap on the display to bring the device back to life, we found the display would switch off again before we could, say, mute the microphone or end the call. The functionality works overall, but its execution can be frustrating if the display turns off before you can perform a desired action.
If you want to rely more on your watch to make calls than your smartphone, then we would recommend assigning the configurable button to one of the two apps that can initiate a call. Otherwise, you must scroll through the app drawer that Huawei alphabetises until you find the call history or favourites app. The app drawer cannot be re-organised either.
Incidentally, it is impossible to immediately call someone back when you receive a notification of a missed call. While you can decide which notifications appear, you cannot interact with them. Initially, we encountered a bug that caused the same notification to appear multiple times. While this has since been fixed, seeing up to 11 identical notifications was not ideal.
Health & Training
While not being an avid runner, we did our best to put the Watch GT 2 through its credentials as a fitness tracker. During our hikes through the Austrian Alps, the built-in barometric sensor deviated by up to nine metres from fixed geographic heights. Oddly, our review unit stopped tracking us for about an hour during one of our hikes, without letting us know that it had done so.
The Watch GT 2 also recorded each hike with an image of the recorded route. Incidentally, one cannot accidentally re-start or end a paused workout when the screen is off. The watch even saves accidentally terminated workouts too, so we cannot explain why our review unit stopped tracking us on one of our hikes.
Confusingly, Huawei provides two hiking modes. One of them is specifically for mountaineering, which the company has distinguished from the other hiking mode with a slightly different icon. However, the accompanying smartphone app lists mountaineering routes as climbing routes for some reason; literally a steep incline. The distance covered is right on the money, though. The smartphone app can enlarge diagrams from the third screen too.
Despite these issues, the digital fitness coach has plenty to offer. Its fitness functions go far beyond just workout out, ranging from optimising training plans to determining the time needed for recovery. Spinning, swimming, triathlon and the increasingly popular rowing-machine modes are included too. The combined recording of the different activities, including the transitions between them, remains out of the scope of fitness trackers like the Watch GT 2. If you need this level of functionality, then we would recommend considering something like the Garmin. Huawei divides each of the 13 activities by skill level too, so beginners, experienced amateur athletes and even professionals have the chance to hone their skills.
Huawei has also included trendy health features like sleep analysis and even a stress monitor. Answering a personal questionnaire reveals a chart of the symptoms of your stress that day directly on the watch face. The Watch GT 2 organises practically everything this way too, except when displaying GPS-based routes.
Battery & Runtimes
Last year's Watch GT can last from one to two weeks on a single charge, a feat that only one version of the Watch GT 2 can manage. While the 46 mm version has a 455 mAh capacity, Huawei has equipped its smaller sibling with a 215 mAh cell instead. Accordingly, Huawei rates the latter for up to one week and the former for two weeks. Our review unit lasted for around 9.5 days on a single charge, but we were wearing it 24/7 with the heart-rate monitor left on. We also used the GPS for about one hour a day too. We did not activate the simplified time display either.
While the Watch GT 2 does not last two weeks between charges as Huawei claims, we can live with charging the device every nine days or so. Huawei places great emphasis on the energy efficiency of its Kirin chips, and the Kirin A1 does not disappoint. Huawei claims that the chipset consumes just 10 uA / MHz, a third of what the market average consumes, according to the Chinese company.
The Huawei Watch GT 2 is like a top gymnast that goes down with a rough dismount. While the watch is functional, long-lasting and beautiful, its workout tracking leaves something to be desired. This should make the Watch GT 2 a no-go for any athlete, especially a triathlete.
Overall, the software tarnished the fun of using the device. The multiple identical notifications and the finicky in-call display behaviour among others are all things that can be fixed by updates, but they should not be present in a retail product. Huawei has already fixed the former and claims to have improved system stability to its credit, but we cannot say whether the crash during one of our hikes was a one-off or something that has already been resolved.
The Watch GT 2 is a beautiful and functionally sophisticated smartwatch. Its software shortcomings prevent us from being able to rely on it, though.
On the other hand, its triathlon, training programs and stress-mapping functionalities are useful, if somewhat of a band aid for the watch's shortcomings. We should not underplay its battery life either, which is excellent. Overall, Huawei has priced the Watch GT 2 appropriately, but one must keep in mind its shortcomings before purchasing it.