With the downfall of Huawei in the smartphone segment, the company had been focusing on other segments for growth and sustenance, with IoT being a key focus area. Huawei was one of the top three smartwatch vendors in H1 2020, but it could not sustain the growth and was the only brand among the top five to see a decline by H1 2021. But this decline hasn’t stopped the Chinese giant from innovating and launching new products. The launch of the Mate 40 and P50 series, Freebuds 4 TWS, foldables, and smartwatches among other devices, shows its resilience. In June 2021, the company launched Huawei Watch 3 and Watch 3 Pro models which were the first ones to ship with HarmonyOS 2.0.
With a price of £349.99 (roughly $500/€400), the Huawei Watch 3 brings a stylish new design, health-focused features, eSIM connectivity, and much more. Under the hood, HarmonyOS 2.0 aims to bring a more fluid experience over Huawei’s earlier LiteOS, while also competing with Google’s WearOS and Apple’s watchOS. But has Huawei succeeded? Here is my long-term review of the Huawei Watch 3 after using it for close to six months.
Huawei Watch 3: Premium Design, Sturdy Build & A Great Display
- 1.43-inch AMOLED screen, 46.2mm case.
- Features stainless steel and ceramic materials.
- 3D rotating crown with side button.
With the Watch 3, Huawei hasn’t changed the design philosophy and continues with the circular design from the Watch GT series. Huawei has moved to use high-quality materials, where you get stainless steel case and ceramic back, which not only gives it a premium look and feel but also offers a sturdy build. The black color model which I am reviewing looks classy and goes well with both formals and casuals. Also, the display glass is nicely curved around the edges with a piano black finish, which further adds to its look and feel.
A digital crown on the right is a good addition. A single press opens the app launcher, whereas rotating the crown lets you scroll through the screen, UI, and notifications. The experience is pretty good, especially with the haptic feedback that you get as you rotate the crown. Below the crown is a physical button that works as a shortcut for workout modes.
Upfront, the Huawei Watch 3 flaunts a 1.43-inch circular AMOLED screen with a resolution of 466×466 pixels. The screen is bright, vivid, and exceptionally sharp. It delivers accurate colors and deep blacks that make everything from widgets, watch faces, and the interface look great. It is also adequately bright offering great visibility indoors and outdoors. The Watch 3 also features 5 ATM water resistance allowing you to wear it in the rain, shower, or even in a swimming pool.
HarmonyOS 2.0: More Refined, But Still a Work-in-Progress
- HarmonyOS 2.0 is good, but the app-gap issue exists.
- Compatible with Android, and iOS with limited functionality.
- Wi-Fi and eSIM connectivity.
- Celia assistant (limited availability).
The Huawei Watch 3 is the first smartwatch to ship with HarmonyOS 2.0. Since its launch, Huawei has consistently rolled out monthly updates which not only added new features but also refined performance and fixed a lot of bugs. In terms of compatibility, the smartwatch can be paired with both Android and iOS devices. But for the best experience, Huawei recommends using it with their smartphones.
I tested the Huawei Watch 3 with three different devices – Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy Z Fold 3, and iPhone 12. Experience with Android phones was better than the iPhone, which was very restricted. Nearly all features work with Android phones, except for things like a camera remote shutter where you can see a preview of the smartphone camera viewfinder on the smartwatch before clicking a photo.
The default app interface is inspired by Apple Watch’s honeycomb grid one, but you can also switch to list view if you prefer. The UI is slick, and the app icons look refreshing too. One area where Huawei is lagging is the app ecosystem. The AppGallery has a very limited number of apps, most of which you may not even end up using. Having at least the most popular ones like Strava, Spotify, and MyFitnessPal type apps would be useful. There is also no easy way to sync fitness data with Google Fit (or other fitness tracking apps), which is most likely because of the lack of GMS in the Huawei ecosystem.
Navigating through the UI is simple. A swipe from top to the bottom brings up Quick Settings toggles for Do Not Disturb, Sound profiles, Settings, Airplane mode, and more. A swipe from left to right reveals a weather widget and quick controls for music playback. Swiping from right to left reveals widgets for health, continuous heart rate and SpO2 monitoring, skin temperature, and more. And lastly, swiping up from the bottom reveals notifications.
Wi-Fi connectivity and eSIM compatibility are other features that make the Huawei Watch 3 a good proposition over most competitor smartwatches. Wi-Fi comes in handy when moving around the house. Even if the smartphone is in the bedroom and you are in the living room or kitchen, out of Bluetooth range, the Watch 3 connects to the home Wi-Fi network so that you continue getting notifications without any interruption. Talking about eSIM (4G LTE) connectivity, it is limited to certain regions such as China, so I was not able to test it here in India.
Counterpoint Research senior analyst Sujeong Lim who tracks the global smartwatch market said “Smartwatch OEMs are still in the process of finding ways to provide users with a better user experience and use case. The Apple Watch is excellent in many ways, but it has its own shortcomings in terms of short battery life and OS compatibility. On the other hand, Amazfit’s GTS and GTR lines have a long battery life of about one week, but they do not support third-party apps, so their usability and functionality are limited.
After using the Huawei Watch GT2 Pro, I found that the Huawei smartwatch was well-balanced, neither more nor, less, in most ways. In addition, the front display using sapphire glass was more robust and luxurious than any other smartwatches. Therefore, I believe that Huawei smartwatches themselves are competitive and have great growth potential, but the lack of GMS and popular third-party apps even on HarmonyOS 2.0, will likely hamper growth in markets outside of China.”
A Reliable Fitness Tracker in Smartwatch Form Factor
- Over 100 workout modes with automatic detection.
- Handwash detection, SpO2 monitoring, sleep monitoring.
- Fall detection and SOS alert feature.
The Huawei Watch 3 is more of a fitness tracker first, and smartwatch later. It comes with over 17 professional workout modes such as basic walk and run modes, fat-burning run, and aerobic endurance run among others. Each of these modes, for instance, basic walk, has pre-defined time and phases, such as alternate speed walk for 3 minutes and jog for two minutes for 22 minutes.
Then there are outdoor and indoor runs, cycling, and walk modes where you can pre-define a goal, seven-kilometer cycling, or five-kilometer walk for instance. You can also pre-define time for how long you want to walk or set the number of calories you want to burn during the walk.
Similarly, in the case of swimming, there are two modes to choose from – open water and pool swim. For open water swimming, you can set goals like distance, time and calories burned. And in the case of pool swim, laps, time, or calories.
In terms of accuracy, I compared it with the Apple Watch Series 6, and the readings were similar. For heart rate reading, there was a difference of 3-4 beats per minute max, which I think is good enough. Even for a pedometer, the Apple Watch had a step count of 1136 steps whereas the Huawei Watch 3 logged 1116 steps, which again isn’t a big difference. I also wore both watches while cycling and the GPS distance logged by both barely had a difference of 144 meters, which could be the result of factors like GPS reception, but the reading was more or less similar, thus, offering performance and accuracy closer to the Apple Watch series.
Lastly, given the prolonged COVID-19 scenario around, Huawei has added a couple of handy features that make the Watch 3 an interesting proposition. These features include SpO2 and skin temperature measurements, allowing you to keep track of your vitals. I compared the reading taken by the watch with a pulse-oximeter available over the counter and there was barely any difference in both readings, making the Watch 3 reliable again.
There are other features like handwash detection, fall detection (which I could not test), and sleep tracking as well. When you are sleeping, the Watch 3 can track different parameters like your bed time and rise (wake-up) time, along with other details like deep sleep, light sleep, awake time, breathing quality, and awake times.
Good Battery Life, But Not as Great as Previous Huawei Smartwatches
- On normal usage, the battery lasts up to three days on a full charge.
- Ultra-long Battery Life mode offers close to eight days on a full charge.
- Reverse charging to charge the smartwatch using compatible wireless charging enabled smartphones.
The biggest highlight of the previous Huawei Watch smartwatches has been the multi-week battery life. When my colleague reviewed the Huawei Watch GT2 Porsche Design smartwatch, he was left impressed as the battery lasted nearly two weeks on a single charge. Unfortunately, the same isn’t the case with the Huawei Watch 3 running HarmonyOS 2.0.
One observation over the years has been that the smartwatches powered by high-level OS do not offer a great battery life. While the Apple Watch battery can barely make it through a day, the Samsung smartwatches with Tizen OS have enough juice to last two or three days. The Huawei Watch 3 offers a similar battery backup for about three days, and sometimes even four, when there are not too many notifications popping in (on weekends). But if you do a lot of fitness activities like running, cycling, outdoor walks, and more, the battery will drain faster.
Huawei has also included an ultra-long battery life mode, which turns off Wi-Fi and cellular networks, while also restricting access to some features. With this mode turned on, the battery lasted for a little over a week. Talking about restrictions, you will continue getting notifications from apps like Messages and Telegram, but there is no option for replying.
Unlike the competitor smartwatch platforms that fully restrict most functions in power-saver mode, it is good to see that the Huawei Watch 3 offers access to key features. These include a bunch of watch faces, continuous heart rate monitoring, SpO2, and skin temperature measurement. Along with these, you do get access to workout modes like indoor and outdoor walk, running, cycling, and swimming among others. And GPS also gets activated during these activities to track your route. This is a nice differentiation over the competition.
On-board Storage for Listening to Offline Music During Workouts
The Huawei Watch 3 comes with 16GB internal storage to store your music, apps, watch faces, and more. Out of the total space, around 9.5GB is available while the rest is taken by the OS and default apps. Now, while you can transfer songs to the watch for offline listening, it only works when paired with an Android smartphone. Transferring can be done via the Huawei Health app where the songs need to be present on your smartphone, and you need to connect it with Huawei ID. But do note, as it will be transferred via Bluetooth, it takes a bit of time.
To give you a rough idea, it took five minutes to send two MP3 tracks with a total size of 21MB. So, if you are transferring your entire music library, it may take hours. Ideally, it would be better to transfer 10-15 songs each day, if your library had about 100 or more songs. You can then connect your TWS to the smartwatch, go on a run and listen to your favorite songs without having to carry your smartphone along. There is also Huawei Music built-in the watch, allowing you to stream online music from the library, provided you have a Wi-Fi or eSIM connection enabled.
Huawei Watch 3 Review – Key Takeaways:
- The Huawei Watch 3 is a sleek and neat-looking smartwatch with reliable and accurate fitness tracking capabilities.
- It features impressive monitoring tools such as skin temperature measurement, SpO2, sleep tracking, and fall detection to name a few.
- Lots of interesting watch faces and compilations to choose from, giving a more personalized touch to the experience.
- The choice of comprehensive workout modes that Huawei is offering is impressive, complete with guided and animated instructions.
- While the hardware is impressive, HarmonyOS 2.0 is still a work-in-progress with a lot of room for improvement.
- The lack of third-party apps on AppGallery is a concern, and having apps like Strava for running and cycling, and Spotify for music streaming would greatly benefit the ecosystem.