The market sees more and more smart watch products coming to it, and the bulk of them run off the Google Android Wear platform. Here I want to share my impressions of my first – after Pebble – smart watch by Huawei.
As I mentioned multiple times in the past, I like Pebble for its simplicity, ample functionality and low price. However, Pebble has one serious problem, design. At first I did not care, since the cumulative positive effect of all its positive factors well outweighed the dour appearance. Then in this May Pebble rolled out the next generation of its watch, that you’d have hard time telling from the old one. It looks like Pebble’s designer has a life tenure and could care less.
That made me look elsewhere and try something new. I did not even think twice of iWatch from Apple – they are too much for pretty face and nothing useful inside. Besides, I hardly use the iPhone.
Of all the vast selection of Android-based offers I most fancied the Huawei. I spotted it when it was first announced – over a year ago – because they looked nice and promised much function-wise. Once they became available in Canada I placed my order.
The first impression was very pleasant. The device is light and nice to the touch. It even does not differ that much from the heavily adjusted advertisement photos and presents itself very well, on my hand or on my table.
Functionality also was just as promised, however during the year that passed since the time of the initial Huawei announcement most competitors acquired very similar and broad range of options and functions. Whichever product you take, you will find pace and calorie counters, heart rate meters, etc., etc. That made Huawei good, but not startlingly good.
Same with embellishments. All these endless switchable faces with endless combinations of displayed data are not unique and are available with any platform. If you cannot find a free solution, you can always find one for a price. And the price will be negligible.
I was also pleasantly surprised with energy consumption. Single charge makes it last for almost three days. Even when used very heavily with nearly the brightest 5/6 screen setting, the battery survives for 2 days. Which is good enough for me.
Actually, the more portable gadgets I use the more I think that 2 days for the battery life is the optimal term. Especially for the urbanites like myself, who are the main users for such devices. Going to bed in the evening you plug it in or put into the docking station, and pull it out fully refreshed in the morning. Two days is a protection against forgetfulness, or an extra capacity in case you have a peaking usage, or just plan to spend a weekend away from home and do not want to bother with the charger. With a longer battery life it is much easier to miss the point when you have to charge it. And the gadget fails when you need it most. So in this regard, the Huawei watch strikes a perfect balance for me.
Nice design, comprehensive set of options and the battery are the most positive aspects of the Huawei smart watch. Now we get to the bad stuff.
The main handicap is served by the Android Wear platform itself. I realize that Huawei did not have much choice with it. Apple is off-limits due to its proprietary nature. And gods bless them for that, as compared even to Android Wear Apple is a gnome standing next to a giant, in terms of the provided functionality, flexibility and customization. Developing your own platform is cost- and time-consuming effort (although Pebble mastered that). And there are no more others in sight.
Android Wear became that proverbial spoon of tar that spoiled the jug of Huawei honey. It is one of the most illogical, awkward and counter-intuitive systems I’ve ever met. Add to that its nasty habit of constantly erring (often cured by rebooting only) and you have a very sour user experience. Notifications are funny too – only one of several shows up. And the system does not treat all apps equal, randomly choosing to work with some of them and ignoring others. Even after a week of digging into and experimenting with the notifying logic I cannot find any.
Here’s how Pebble did it – go to settings, mark up apps that you want to see notifications from, and – that’s it, it works! You only see notifications from the apps you chose. Android Wear is different though – you have to work through several menus and apps, phone and watch settings… and still the result is not guaranteed. Android notifications operate on its own principles, without a tie to any particular app and displays notifications at random, without any regard to my wants and needs.
For example, on my phone I use CloudMagic for emails. It is one very simple and handy app. But regardless of how I try to set up the new message notifications, the watch flatly refuses to display them. But when I open the watch and go through the list of updates, the messages are there…
Another shortcoming of the system is it being over-complicated and requiring to go through several steps to get some result. For example, you want to use Shazam to recognize a tune on the radio. For that you disable the energy-saving mode in the watch, go to the app list, find Shazam in it, then start it. By then the tune is over. And it is just one example.
The Android Wear function that has the most potential is its voice control.
I’d say that voice control is a cornerstone technology for any wearable device and a must have for anybody hoping to gain wide popularity in the market. And here lies another – main – problem. The system is not very well implemented. Command recognition happens at best with one in ten attempts. I cannot say whether it is a problem with Android Wear, with the watch or my accent is impenetrable. But the fact is – it works very poorly. Functionality is rather limited as well, and outside of basic commands like “send text message” or do some very basic search there is not much to it, and there is no way you as a user could adjust it to your needs.
So either Google developers clean this function up and make it work, or OK Google will follow the fate of Google glasses. In any case, the way this function works – or rather it does not – spoils the whole user experience from using the Huawei smart watch. To be fair though, Pebble has not progressed much further with their voice recognition feature. Despite much hype, they have a long road to go before it becomes remotely usable.
Continuing the list of gripes, the BT communication between my phone and the car stopped working when the watch connected to the phone. When I’d have had an incoming call in my vehicle, the call would be directed to the watch, rather than to the car loudspeakers. Same with Spotify and other apps. It cured itself when I rolled back the watch to the factory settings. Funnily, when later I reinstalled my remote settings, everything worked just fine. Magic…
Using the watch when working out or exercising, I never had an issue. As I mentioned in the beginning, the watch is very light and are barely felt on the wrist. I swapped the wristband to a metal one with the magnetic latch for even better comfort though. The only shortcoming with the Huawei is that it is not technically watertight. You can wash your hands or get caught in the rain and everything will be okay. But swimming will be too much to ask of the Huawei. Pebble fares much better on this front. But one should bear in mind that Pebble was designed and advertised as the smart watch for sporty-outdoorsy types.
So here is the conclusion. If Huawei had Pebble’s functionality, it would be unparalleled. But even as it is, with all bugs and problems I had, I liked the product in general. Besides, I tend to blame the operational system rather than the watch itself.
After two weeks of testing I switched over to Huawei from Pebble as there is no any “much better” on the market now. I still keep the old Pebble, mind you – I use it when I engage in watersports, where Huawei can suffer from water ingress.
In about 6 months I plan to revisit the topic and make a more detailed user review with more models.