Huawei Watch 3 reviewed and tested

It is no secret that Huawei’s smartphone business was decimated by the entity restriction. This restricted Huawei’s access to US-related technology and companies. The Chinese tech giant, however, has quickly shifted its focus in the face of difficulties. It is also involved in developing and investing in other product categories, as well as expanding into new ones like smartwatches.

It is not a coincidence that the Huawei Watch 3 and Watch 3 Pro arrived. With the move away from Android – after losing support for Google Mobile Services on its internationally-released smartphones – Huawei doubled down on its efforts to build a platform of its own and what it came up with was HarmonyOS (a.k.a. “HongMengOS” in China).

Huawei showcased a variety of hardware at the HarmonyOS 2.0 launch event on June 2, 2021. The Huawei Watch 3 was not just the long-awaited successor to 2018’s Wear OS powered Huawei Watch 2. It’ll also likely be the first time HarmonyOS users from outside China come in contact with it.

Design and construction

Both the Watch 3 and Watch 3 Pro share the same design and display size. However, the standard model has softer lines and more round elements while the Pro model is bolder and features sharper edges.

The 42mm Huawei Watch GT 2’s standard Watch 3 closely matches the standard Watch 3, which has a cushioned toughened glass front, tapered lugs and a rounded 42mm case. It shares the predecessor’s quick-release 22mm bands, and 5ATM water resistance.

This generation of Huawei does not include a smaller 42mm version, so the “Active” model of the Watch 3 with its black case and matching fluoroelastomer band is the lowest-profile option in the line. You can also choose from a Classic or Elite model of the Watch 3, which both have a silver case and either a brown or stainless steel link strap.

Going Pro allows you to trade up to sapphire glass on the front. The 316L stainless steel of the regular Watch 3 is replaced with more premium titanium alloy, similar to 2020’s Watch GT 2 Pro.

This new generation of Huawei smartwatches features a ‘3D rotating crown’. If you have ever used an Apple Watch, this should be familiar. This new interaction is backed by Haptics, which are precise ticks and taps on your wrist when you press and twist the crown to provide sensory feedback.

A variety of LEDs, photodiodes, and a sapphire-clear lens (collectively called Huawei’s TruSeen sensor 4.5) are embedded on the watch’s back. They enable continuous heart rate monitoring, SpO2 monitoring, sleep tracking, and even continuously log skin temperature. This is something that’s only available in the Fitbit Sense consumer wearable space.

The Watch 3’s durability is perhaps the most striking feature. I have lived with it for several months. The watch has survived repeated drops, scrapes, and knocks, and it looks almost unaffected. Both the metal case and the pillowed cover glass protect against micro-abrasions.

For a timepiece that isn’t marketed with any sort of ruggedisation or hardiness beyond its water-resistance/swim-proofing, the Watch 3 weathers incredibly well, even with daily wear.

Display

The 1.43in AMOLED circular display is hidden behind the cover glass. It promises a sharp 326ppi. This is comparable to both Apple’s and Oppo smartwatches. It’s also bright enough and clear enough to see in bright outdoor conditions.

There are over 30 preset watch faces that can be loaded to the watch. Many of these include animated elements or customisable complications. All of them have some level of always-on functionality, which reflects their active design. However, enabling always on mode can cause battery life to be cut in half.

One of the best things about the display experience, in fact, is the transparency and control it offers over its feature list. Each of the installed watch faces comes with a power consumption rating so that you can see which ones will drain more energy before you settle on one.

Display settings include always-on functionality as well as tilt-to-wake (which I prefer over always-on mode even though it initially felt sluggish), a torch, automatic brightness control and the ability lock the screen to ‘on for a specified period (up to 20 mins, in five minute increments).

You can also download additional watch faces from the Huawei Health app paired. This feature gets its own curated store with official and user-created watch face designs, as well as both paid and free options.

Audio

Huawei Watch 3 also has an integrated speaker. This is useful for relaying important health information during exercise, including heart rate and pace, usually every ten to fifteen minutes depending on the activity.

It has surprisingly good sound quality and can even play music. However, I wouldn’t recommend anyone using the Watch 3 to actually enjoy Doja Cat on-the-go.

A smartwatch can be loud enough, but you can connect headphones via Bluetooth to hear your tunes. You can store them locally or use the streaming service Huawei Music, which also supports offline playback.

You’ll use the microphone experience most often to interact with Huawei’s digital assistant, Celia. It’s a bit less reliable. It is difficult to understand simple questions, such as checking the weather, or recognising the “Hey Celia” wake command.

Software and other features

It echoes aspects of both Apple and Google’s wearable platforms in terms both of look and feel. Although the approach is not original, some may find the final result more rich than others. Not to mention that everything runs much smoother than Huawei’s series.

Wear OS users will feel right at home with HarmonyOS 2 on Watch 3, with the watch face serving as the central hub and features being grouped into four spokes.

Celia assistant can be accessed by swipes to the right or a button press away. Notifications are unlocked with a swipe up. Tiles – widgets that allow users to quickly access features such as weather and heart rate – can be accessed by swiping left (nearly identical to Wear OS’s tiles). Quick settings, including Find my Phone and the torch function, are hidden behind a swipe downward.

A press of the 3D rotating crown brings up an app grid, which is a departure from the Wear OS tropes. This grid closely mirrors Apple’s watchOS grid view. Twisting the crown allows you zoom in and out of grid just like on an Apple Watch.

The Watch 3’s text entry system is quite competent. It has an on-screen keyboard which impressed me with its ability to read my large fingertip and identify the letters I was trying to type. If you prefer, voice input and quick responses (which can be managed from the Huawei Health App on your connected smartphone), are also available.

The Watch 3 can connect to Bluetooth and WiFi. This is useful for streaming music and downloading apps from AppGallery. It also works with loyalty cards, NFC, and other similar cards that you may have added to the Huawei Wallet app.

Unlike Apple’s wearables the Watch 3 is affordable and comes with eSIM functionality. This means that buyers don’t need to pay extra for a compatible contract if they wish to ditch their phone occasionally.

Tracking and fitness

The Watch 3’s extensive feature set is primarily focused on health and wellness. It’s the only smartwatch that can monitor skin temperature, which is a useful metric for stress detection. However, it also has the ability to track heart rate and SpO2 (blood oxygen saturation), as well as sleep.

A trio of key metrics are used to measure general daily fitness. They are represented by blue, orange, and red crescents. The Watch 3 tracks your activity, steps, and hours during the day with the goal of filling those crescent-shaped segments by the end of the day. An easy way to see your activity over the course of a 24-hour period. The watch also features a barometric pressure sensor that measures altitude.

Performance and battery

Similar to the Oppo Watch 3, the Huawei Watch 3 uses a dual-chipset architecture to achieve high-end performance and low power consumption. Dual-channel GPS is also available on the Pro model. This is a rare feature in the wearable space. It was first implemented by the company inside the Kirin 980 chipset that powered its Mate 20 series smartphones.

Longevity

The Watch 3’s battery life is three days in ‘normal’ mode and 14 days in ‘ultralong battery life’ mode. This is similar to the Watch 2’s Lite OS-powered watches. The Pro can last up to five days with regular use, while the Watch 3’s battery life is extended to 21 days when in power-saving mode.

Verdict

The Huawei Watch 3 and Watch 3 Pro are, without a doubt, the most feature-packed and capable watchable experiences that company timepieces have ever offered.

HarmonyOS is a new way to enhance the Lite OS smartwatch experience from Huawei. This makes it feel more competitive with premium competitors like Samsung and Apple. The Watch 3 is the only premium alternative to the Apple Watch for now.

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