I love gadgets and watches, so you can imagine my delight when I was asked by an old friend if I’d like to spend a week with the new Huawei Smartwatch, available through the gorgeous Huawei Watch website, particularly as I’d already been considering jumping on the wearable-tech bandwagon. Having a unique opportunity to trial a model for a week before making a decision was an unexpected surprise.
During the past week, the watch has drawn a bit of attention among colleagues and friends. I’ve had plenty of discussions regarding the pros and cons of the smartwatch concept, with the biggest question being, “Wouldn’t it be awful to be constantly connected to the internet, along with constant notifications?” That’s definitely been front-of-mind through the week and I’m happy to say that, overall, I’ve genuinely found that my way of life improved through having a smartwatch.
I set a lot of reminders on my iPhone, and – now that my wife and I have a baby – I’m very conscious of ensuring that I don’t miss messages and phone calls. Despite leaving the audio up and vibrate alert on, I’m often frustrated about how often I miss notifications. Imagine if you never had to worry about missing a notification again? In the end, that’s what sold me on a smartwatch.
First Impressions & Connecting to iPhone
The watch arrived at my workplace and drew a few onlookers as I opened the package. It comes in a very classy presentation box, like a fine piece of jewellery. You can imagine this making a very nice gift (small hint for my wife, there).
I was a bit dubious about pairing the watch – with its Google Android operating system – to my Apple iPhone 5S, as I’d been told it wasn’t as easy as just pairing via Bluetooth. The connection is made possible by first installing the Android Wear app from the Appstore (I don’t know if it’s required if you have an Android phone, but either way, here’s the Google Play link). Simply follow the connection process through the app instead of through your Bluetooth settings and you’re good to go.
Apparently it’s one of the few watches powered by Android Wear to work with iPhone. While I was researching other watches, I did notice that a competitor’s watch specifically said that it works on iOS but with limited features. That made me a bit nervous – who wants to pay full price for a smartwatch only to use a portion of the features? That certainly didn’t seem to be the case with this Huawei model.
The Android Wear app also allows you to change the watch’s face. You can do this through the watch itself, but it’s quicker through the app, plus you get access to designs made by third party developers (albeit only a few at this stage).
I took a quite amateur video of the Huawei Smartwatch’s un-boxing, charging (very cool – more on that below), watch face changing, and switching between faces.
Watch and Charge Cable Design
My watch was the base-model with a silver stainless steel face and black genuine leather strap. It has quite a premium feel while also feeling built to last, and its 1.4″ high-definition screen is protected by a raised bezel; you could put the watch face down on a desk or knock it against a door without the glass being touched.
At the risk of sounding cliché while talking about watches, it’s a very ‘classic’ design. The black strap works well with the wide variety of watch faces available to choose from.
It might seem odd to talk about the charging cable at this point, but it’s actually very well designed. No one likes messing with cables and trying to get USB micro/mini plugs to fit into sockets, so it was awesome to see that Huawei have made a charging cable that’s really easy to use.
Place the charge-point on your desk, hover the watch over it in roughly the right orientation, and a magnet means that the charging station leaps up to the back of the watch and attaches itself. It’s a pleasure to use.
The Huawei Smartwatch SF74 comes with all the usual functions that you’d expect from a watch that’s connected to your phone. If you use the Google Now app, you’ll be familiar with the ‘cards’ format that Google uses to display topical information based on your activities and interests, including sports results, weather forecasts, traffic alerts and all the usual app notifications such as messages, Gmail, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.
While it may look like more of a dress watch than a sports watch, the watch is also equipped with functions to suit those interested in fitness and losing weight. After adding your details – gender, weight, height, and age – the watch can tell you how much energy you’re burning each day, through walking, climbing, and running. You can also set a daily goal for your number of steps.
The watch also has a heartbeat monitor through sensors on its rear. It can keep a history of your heart’s bpm so that you can monitor your exercise routines or, in my case, entertain yourself by seeing if your heart rate increases after drinking triple-shot coffee (it did).
The vibration alert is very solid. There’s no audio but the watch does have a microphone, so you can use the ‘OK Google’ speech functions for accessing apps quickly, setting reminders and alarms, and also for Google Translate – very Star Trek. The speech function doesn’t allow you to dictate text messages but you can ask for Google searches, receiving a snippet of the result and an option to send the link to your phone in order to continue browsing. A nice touch is that this system is completely hands-free. Tilt the watch to wake it up and say ‘OK Google’ to start performing speech functions.
Huawei Smartwatch Battery Life
I gave the watch a full charge, left it connected to my phone at all times and on one of its brighter settings, while also leaving the screen in its ‘always on’ mode (which actually displays a much reduced version of your chosen watch face in order to save power, displaying the full screen again when you tilt the watch to look at it) and the watch lasted a full day and a half. Incidentally, this is exactly what Huawei claim on their website. It’s nice to know that they’re advertising a conservative figure that represents active use and brightness rather than less realistic minimal use.
Aside from the watch, I was worried that leaving the Bluetooth active on my iPhone 5S would mean that I’d have to charge my phone more often, but I didn’t really notice an increase in battery consumption. In one respect, I suspect that I’m using my iPhone less as I’m glancing at notifications on my watch instead of unlocking my phone. On top of that, I’m leaving my phone on silent as the vibration notifications through the watch – while discreet – are impossible to miss. Thinking about it, you may as well turn off both audio and vibrate functions on your phone while wearing the watch.
Charging the watch from flat while it was still on and active took around 90 minutes (the website says ‘fast charge your battery to 80% capacity in just 45 minutes), so I’d consider just taking it off to charge it after getting home from work, and wearing it again for the evening through to the next afternoon’s charge.
Living with a Smartwatch
In terms of actually living with a smartwatch, I was pleasantly surprised at how useful and unobtrusive I found the experience to be. I genuinely felt like my life was a little more efficient while also benefiting from a cool and stylish addition to my everyday wear.
With the smartwatch paired to my phone, I found that I was using my phone much less. Rather than take your phone out of your pocket to check notifications, you simply glance at your watch; a discreet gesture that you can get away with during meetings or at a meal, and a feature that means you can leave your phone on silent all the time. Perhaps the future is no more noisy – and even embarrassing – audible phone notifications? Your phone really does become more personal.
I also found that I was missing phone calls and messages less, if at all. I’m constantly turning my phone’s audio on and off and changing the volume settings, so I frequently miss text messages and phone calls. In its worst format, this means I sometimes miss the coffee run. That’s pretty serious!
With the watch, I get every notification and every phone call. I can even leave my phone on my desk and walk around the office – if my phone rings (on silent) I can check my watch to see who it is and decide whether to return to my desk to take the call or not. Pretty useful.
Being able to control music tracks (skip forwards and backwards, plus volume up and down) was also a nice feature. This would work well in the office or at a BBQ when your phone’s connected to a Bluetooth speaker (especially if you want to leave your phone on charge while you walk around) but even works in the car. Not especially useful for the driver but pretty cool if you’re a back-seat passenger. According to a video on the Huawei Facebook Page, it looks like you can also use a Bluetooth headset to listen to music via your watch.
Finally, I wear a full suit for my day job and I was pretty pleased with myself when I realised that I could choose a watch face design to match my shirt and tie! Although, to save battery, the full design doesn’t display until you tilt the screen or press the button.
- Premium design and feel, plus surprisingly lightweight
- Awesome charging station, good battery life and short charge times
- Makes you feel less tied to your phone – quickly glancing at notifications rather than pulling your phone out of your pocket or having your phone’s noisy alarm go off and interrupting others
- Great features for walkers/runners
- Lots of classy faces to suit a range of occasions
- Your most recent settings and watch faces appear in a quick-access list – a nice touch
- There’s no ambient light sensor, so you do have to adjust the brightness setting when either in a gloomy room or outside in the sunlight. When it’s active, it’s quite noticeable so could be distracting at an evening event or in the cinema. All-up, that’s something that would apply to most smartwatches, of course.
Would I buy one?
Ultimately, I found the watch to be very useful while at work or out and about. At home I’m often in and out of the garden or messing with the car, so I was more likely to leave it off. That’s not to say it’s not fairly robust – the glass screen is slightly lower than the silver bezel so actually it’s probably less lightly to get scratched than my other, more traditional, watches. Plus I wouldn’t wear any of my other nice watches in the garden either.
So yes, I’m converted. As this is my first look into the smartwatch world, I’d be keen to look at what competitors are offering before buying this particular smartwatch, but so far it feels like this would definitely be on the short-list, if not even the final choice itself. I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if I owned this watch – and that’s coming from a long term Apple fan boy.
The Huawei Watch is available from $649. I’d be tempted to spend the extra $150 to get the ‘Active Black Stainless Steel Link’ model.
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