Huawei Watch GT hands-on review

Research Center: Huawei Watch GT

Huawei has spotted what it believes is a gap in the wearables market, and has created the Watch GT to fill it. What is it? It’s not a smartwatch that runs Google’s Wear OS, a hybrid smartwatch, or a fitness tracker. It fits somewhere in-between, and shows what Huawei has been working on while it takes a sabbatical from Wear OS watches. We’ve tried one on, played with the software, and have things to say about it.

The Watch GT isn’t a hybrid smartwatch because it has a touchscreen. However, it occupies the space between fitness tracker and full Wear OS smartwatch in a similar way. It uses Huawei’s own operating system called Lite OS, which looks a bit like Wear OS and Samsung’s Tizen, but not quite as pretty, and it’s unable to run apps.

Instead, it’s all about fitness, with a heart rate sensor on the back, GPS, and a wealth of exercise tracking programs, along with swim-proof water resistance. This makes it like a high-end fitness band, without the just-stepped-off-the-cross-trainer looks. The design is reminiscent of the Huawei Watch 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch, in that it’s sporty but with just the right amount of everyday wearability.

Battery and wearability

Huawei CEO Richard Yu recently commented on battery life being an issue with modern smartwatches, and sure enough, the Watch GT elevates itself beyond the regular smartwatch. The battery will last two weeks with the heart rate monitor active for about 90 minutes each week, which is excellent. For the more hardcore, the Watch GT’s battery will give 22 hours use with the screen active, GPS running, the heart rate monitor flashing, and a fitness program going too. Turn everything off apart from the screen and incoming alerts, and it’ll go for 30 days. That’s plenty of flexibility depending on your use. The Watch GT get a big tick next to the battery life box.

That’s what it does, so how does it feel? The case, which comes in stainless steel or black DLC (diamond-level coating), is only 10.6mm thick, so it feels like a traditional watch on the wrist. The face isn’t massive either, and it fitted our normal size wrist without a problem. The case back is made of plastic, which feels cheap and at odds with the ceramic bezel around the screen. The straps are a leather and silicone combination to resist sweat and prolong the lifespan of the leather. It was comfortable and looked good, plus there are quick-release bars to make changing the strap simple.

The case has two buttons on the side, rather than a single crown, which is an unusual style choice. It looks fine, but does take a little getting used to. The top button opens the menu, and the lower button deals with the fitness plans. On the wrist, we liked the Watch GT. It definitely wears better than you expect based on pictures. However, it doesn’t feel especially upmarket. This is a problem, because many hybrid smartwatches do, and while they won’t offer the same level of health tracking features, they do turn heads.

Fitness and software

You will buy the Watch GT for the fitness features, and unsurprisingly, Huawei has added artificial intelligence to make life a little easier. For example, it understands where it is on your wrist when taking your heart rate, which will result in better and more accurate results, plus it knows when you’re active and when you’re not, at which time it will switch the chip — designed by HiSilicon for the Watch GT — into low power mode to conserve energy. The Watch GT interacts with Huawei’s Health app, which is available for iOS and Android, and employs the excellent TruSleep 3.0 system for measuring sleep patterns.

The Watch GT isn’t a hybrid smartwatch because it has a touchscreen.

It all sounds good; but we’re a little concerned about Lite OS. Google’s Wear OS is hardly the best smartwatch platform out there, but it’s much better than Lite OS. We tried it on two different occasions, and found it performed differently each time. In our first encounter it was slow, jerky, and sometimes unresponsive. We’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and say it was a very early software build, as the second time it was better. Not perfect though, as bugs showed up in some places — switching between watch faces for example — and the menus were still jerky to scroll through. It simply wasn’t as polished as we expect from Huawei today.

It’s obviously early days for Lite OS, and it’s also Huawei’s first major try at a wearable platform. We’re disappointed to see it’s yet more scrolling through menu lists, busy drop down menus, and uninspired watch faces. All the worst aspects of Wear OS. We have not used the Watch GT when it’s connected to a phone, so we’re unable to comment on how it handles notifications.

Huawei knows smartwatches

Back on the positive side, the Watch GT incorporates GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo support for the best possible location tracking, which should please long distance runners. The charging plate uses magnets and two pins to clamp on the back of the watch, and is happily much more secure than the one for the Watch 2, but it’s still a boring piece of circular plastic.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We know Huawei can do smartwatches. The Huawei Watch still looks good today, the Watch 2 was innovative and feature-packed with a great design, and even Porsche Design didn’t tweak the looks much. The Watch GT is more watch-like, although it’s definitely masculine, and more wearable than a full smartwatch. The battery life promises to be excellent, and the fitness features will please anyone who doesn’t want to wear an ugly fitness band.

However, the software hasn’t made a good first impression. If we must touch and interact with a watch, it needs to be a pleasant experience, as pressing screens on our wrist is inherently unnatural. When it’s a pain, we don’t want to bother. We’ve not been itching to use Lite OS again, and that’s not great news. Let’s hope by launch it has been vastly improved, and the price is as sensible as promised, otherwise the Watch GT may be a misstep in Huawei’s so far impressive list of smartwatch endeavours.

Huawei Watch GT Compared To

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