Huawei and Honor have been some of the few companies to consistently release Smartwatches not running Google’s WearOS platform that I consistently really want to use, so when Honor showed me the Watch ES, I was intrigued. I’m not that much of a fitness buff, especially not since the swimming pools shut down, but the larger screen and animated workout guides on the ES got me very excited.
- Animated workouts are great
- Lovely Screen
- Doesn't feel cheap
- 10 Days of battery
- Notifications are still a bit weak
- Style won't be for everyone
- Charger can slip easily.
- 1.64” AMOLED Display
- 46mm tall, 30mm wide, 10mm thick, (12mm thick including sensor hump)
- 21g without strap
- Kirin A1 chip
- 20mm watch straps
- 10 day battery life
When I first saw the Honor Watch ES I was a bit worried, having such a large tall screen on my admittedly tiny wrists would look ridiculous right? Surprisingly not. The screen is quite large at 1.64” but it is a skinny tall screen so it really doesn’t look too strange thankfully.
The chassis is entirely plastic but I really don’t care. It doesn’t feel cheap and it allows to it be significantly lighter, and given that this is a fitness-focused watch, you don’t want it to bog you down whilst you’re running, swimming, cycling or whatever you might be doing with it. This is also compounded by the fact it comes with an incredibly soft and supple silicone strap that I like much more than I thought I would, despite not being a fan of silicone straps usually.
On the front of the Watch ES is the glass cover for the OLED screen, and they’ve done the pretty common trick of making sure the watch faces, for the most part, are dark so you can’t notice the edges of the screen and to conserve power, but if you go to one that does use a full face of colour, like the “summer” face you can see the edges of the OLED panel do not cover the entirety of the face and there is a bit of a larger chin than I was expecting there to be, but I didn’t notice it until I went looking for the edge of the screen, otherwise I just used it and was very happy with the size of the screen
Over the edges of the top and bottom are the exposed lugs for the Watch ES. The Watch ES uses standard 20mm watch straps, so use one of your choosing, but I will say I’m a big fan of this one, and I’m very shocked by it. The reason I bring up the lugs is that the Huawei variant of this, the Huawei Watch Fit, actually doesn’t allow you to swap the bands, the one you get with the watch is what you’re stuck with. Although that is a more elegant look, I’d much rather have the exposed lugs and be able to change the strap in case I break it.
On the right-hand side of the device is a home/action button, pressing it whilst on the watch face opens up the application menu, pressing it anywhere else brings you back to the watch face. Next to it is a tiny little hole which I would normally assume to be a microphone, but the Watch ES doesn’t have a speaker and as much as I can see cannot be used to take calls, potentially it is a hidden barometer for a future software update. The left-hand side is completely bare.
The bottom panel is either clipped or adhered into place, and given the IP68 and 5ATM water resistance I’m going to assume that it is a very strong adhesive keeping this back plastic panel on. Up at the top are two exposed pogo pins for charging and in the middle of those two pogo pins, underneath the plastic is some neodymium magnets to hold the charger in place instead of using clips. The only other thing on the rear panel, aside from the regulatory information is the sensor hump this houses the heart rate sensor and the blood oxygen saturation sensor, these work by shining different wavelengths of light through your skin and reading what bounces back, this is why occasionally you can see a green light under your watch, it is taking your heart rate.
I’m really happy with the Watch ES hardware. It is basic but not cheap despite being priced at a very reasonable £99 and it doesn’t feel like it is going to break on me in 6 months, which I also appreciate. But I think I need to mention the weight again, at just 21g without a strap or 32g with the included silicone strap, depending on how tight you wear it, you’re likely to forget you’re wearing it.
The software here is the same as the software on my GT2 and GT2 Pro, except that, of course, it is had all the UI elements modified for use with a non-circular screen. It works exactly the same as on the GT2 series, but I actually do quite like the extra real estate you get on this and some of the different ways information is shown to you.
Talking first about navigation, you start at the watch face, or “home” and can swipe in any of the 4 directions. Swiping down from the top opens up the quick settings panel, on the Watch ES there are 5 clickable buttons here. Starting at the top left is the Do Not Disturb settings, next is the “keep screen on” setting, below is Find my phone, then alarm settings, and lastly a large main settings icon. Above all of this is status info, is the watch connected to the phone, what the battery percentage and the date.
From the watch face and swiping up from the bottom gets you to the notification shade, here is a vertical stack of notifications you can open and that’s about it, depending on the type of notification you will get more or fewer details. Notifications are the sore spot for Huawei notifications and I really wish they’d alter the way notifications work a little bit.
Left and right is a carousel, so whichever way you start you’ll end up in the same space. So swiping from right to left the first pane is heart rate monitoring, Stress monitoring, weather information, music controls, activity rings. In the settings you can change the order of these panes, you can remove ones you use less or add in another one (Sleep monitoring). I like that the carousel is changeable now, before it was static and if you didn’t like something you just had to cycle past it.
Pressing the action button opens up the applications menu and inside of it are these options:
- Workout records
- Heart Rate
- Activity Records
- Breathing exercises
- Find Phone
Clicking on these is an expanded view of what you’d find in the carousel. For Heart Rate for instance, you see the same main panel, but you can swipe up from the bottom to find out how much time you spent in each heart rate zone during the day, The same goes for the stress monitoring. I won’t speak about fitness in this part but there is a lot of preconfigured workouts already in here so it is highly unlikely you’ll find one not in there.
Last I want to go through the settings panel, where you can change the watch face, change the AOD watch face, change the carousel items, alter the brightness and change the screen auto timeout settings. In the “strength” setting you can change how powerful the vibration intensity is. The do Not disturb setting allows you to turn it on and off as well as schedule when it turns on and off, for example, if you wear the watch to sleep but don’t want any buzzes after 9pm until 7am you can set that. The next setting is for whether you want the watch to try to auto-detect that you’re doing a workout. System lets you restart the watch, power it down or reset the watch to factory settings. Lastly about tells you about the watch.
I’m going to post some side by side shots of the same thing on the rectangular Watch ES and the Circular GT2 Pro so you can see some of the UI changes, but I think Honor and Huawei did a great job here, not to mention all the watch faces had to be redesigned for this, not an enviable job.
Something I think needs improving is the sleep tracking and I’m almost certain it is a software bug or a hardware bug to my specific unit as the Huawei TrueSleep sensors and algorithm are usually stellar at tracking my sleep but this was just not, saying I had no sleep, but 40 minutes worth of naps when I had in excess of 8 hours of seemingly peaceful sleep. I’ll definitely keep an eye on this.
Fitness is a big part of the Watch ES, one of the reasons for changing the screen type was to enable animated workout guides, as of now there are 12 of them. These “Fitness courses” as Honor call them have short animated gifs showing you what you’re actually meant to be doing if, like me, you are a massive fitness noob.
What I like about these fitness courses is that they’re pretty in-depth and upfront. If we look at the “Re-energise” one, there is an information button beside it, clicking that shows up how long it is roughly going to take to complete, the difficulty level out of 4 stars, but below that is where it comes into it’s own. I’ll say what move you’re doing and the reps (amount of times you do it) but if you don’t know what “it” is, click on it and it’ll show the animated gif of the person doing it, this is so helpful for people that want to work out, aren’t all that into the lingo and feel embarrassed Googling it or asking someone, this should be applauded, plus, they’re all free!
Of course, there are all the other workout modes that the watch can track, 95 of them according to Honor, but I’m not putting those claims to the test. Whilst I would love to do my usual swim tracking stuff, due to COVID closing it and swimming pools being the perfect place for things like bacteria and viruses to proliferate I’m going to steer clear of those for a while.
I did set it up to track an outdoor walk through and on the watch itself I was able to set what my goals were, do I want to stop after I reach a certain distance? Or after a certain time had passed, or after I’d burnt a certain amount of calories. The fact all of this can be done on the watch without needing to interact with your phone if you don’t want to I think it is very important. As phones get larger and heavier taking them on fitness journeys is a chore, so the watch that can do this without the phone and then sync back afterwards for the full details is important.
Battery and Charging
This is the section that is rarely an issue for Honor/Huawei wearables, the 10 days is lower than that of the GT2/GT2 Pro but 10 days is still much longer than almost anything else on the market, especially with a screen as large as this. The battery will drop to about 7 days if you want to use the always-on display which is still better than most and a once a week charge isn’t terrible, but it is creeping down.
Charging is a simple affair, the charging cable magnetically latches to the rear with a nice snap but it is still a bit easier to dislodge than I’d like. This type of charge is a massive step down from what we have on the GT2 Pro or even the GT2, thankfully, you won’t have to charge it that often or for that long, I found that 90 minutes was enough to top it up to 100% from when the 10% warning came on.
I’m going to come straight out and say I love the Watch ES. It is a simple fitness first tracker and makes no qualms about that, sure it can control music on your phone, tell you about notifications etc, but this is for fitness, it doesn’t care if you’re a triathlete or a newbie it’ll try to help you out. And for the insane price of just £99 I think Honor has a hit on their hands here.
I’m personally going to go back to my GT2 after this review because I’m much less of a fitness nerd than I’d like to be and that can track my fitness just as well, it just looks a bit more traditional, but it also cost a lot more. Good job Honor, this was fun.