Those of you that have been paying attention for a while know that I’ve reviewed my fair share of smartwatches for the site, but when I’m done with them I’ve been going back to the Huawei or Honor line of watches, for the past year that has been the GT2 Pro, so when I heard Huawei was changing it up by swapping LiteOS for HarmonyOS, and adding a rotating crown, I was intrigued, is it better? Is it worth it? Read on.
- Gorgeous design
- Lovely Screen
- HarmonyOS is pretty good on its first outing
- Finally a digital crown
- Huawei's health-tracking features are great
- Battery Life is a significant downgrade
- Very expensive
- 46mm watch casing
- 1.43” AMOLED screen
- 466×466 resolution
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB ROM
- Bluetooth 5.2
- Wifi (2.4Ghz only)
- Qi Charging
- Harmony OS 2.0
After loving the hardware so much on the GT2 and the GT2 Pro, I was honestly a bit hesitant to move to the very different, much curvier look of the Watch 3, it is much more reminiscent of the Honor MagicWatch 42mm I reviewed last year than the GT2 Pro that I also reviewed recently. But I was glad to see that when it arrived, it still had the charm of the GT2 Pro, but the svelte slenderness of the MagicWatch 42mm mixed in made it nice and discrete, though I do wish Huawei had sent me the silver version, rather than the all-black version I have here.
The stainless-steel frame is sturdy and the curved glass on top melts into the frame, it makes using the navigation gestures a lot more fluid, but I will say I do aesthetically prefer the flat and chamfered glass of the GT2 Pro. On the right-hand side of the watch there is a pair of buttons, the lower one is by default mapped to open up the workout menu, but can be remapped in the settings. The upper button is actually a rotatable crown that can be depressed as a button. The crown can be used to scroll in certain parts of the OS and when you do, it has a nice subtle haptic vibration that feels like discrete steps. It isn’t quite as precise as the Apple watch’s Taptic engine, but I’ll be damned if anyone else has gotten closer. The lower button is much shallower than I’d like it to be and honestly feels like crap, it’s somehow mushy but also no travel, I genuinely hate it, and it is made so much worse by how good the crown feels. Below the buttons on the rear portion are the 4 openings for the speaker grille. The bottom and the left-hand side have nothing and on the backside of the top there are 3 small openings one of which for the microphone, the barometer is another and I am unsure of the third.
The rear of the Watch 3, at least my one is a ceramic plate, much like my GT2 Pro. there is a large bulb in the centre and this is where the sensor array is, it is protruding from the body so it makes closer contact to your skin and makes the light emitted less likely to seep out of the sides and give an incorrect reading, the sensors are heart rate, blood oxygen and most recently, skin temperature sensors, neat!
The exposed lugs follow the shape of the original GT2 and not the pro, these are spaced for standard 22mm quick release straps and the fluoroelastomer band that my one came with was nice and soft and of noticeably higher quality than some of the other silicone straps I’ve received on other watches. Whilst I would normally swap this out for a leather strap, in the current heatwave the UK is experiencing, the silicone strap is staying.
Software is where things have changed quite drastically. Whilst older Huawei watches have used Google’s WearOS, the GT series moved to a custom developed RTOS (Real-Time Operating System) Called LiteOS, the new Watch 3 moves to Huawei’s newest platform, HarmonyOS. Now HarmonyOS itself is a bit of a mystery, the phone and tablet version of HarmonyOS is based on Android’s AOSP. The Wearable version of HarmonyOS is an offshoot of LiteOS etc, so the experience won’t be too crazy if you’ve used a LiteOS device, but that’s not to say it is the same.
The interface paradigms are mostly the same, the “home screen” is your watch face, a swipe from the top to the bottom opens the quick settings menu, which has gained an extra row from the LiteOS watches. Swiping up from the bottom of the watch face brings you to the notification hub. You can open individual messages (and notifications from the same app open in a stack), you can swipe them away to dismiss them on the phone, but that’s about it, you cannot respond to notifications, this is triage only.
Swiping from right to left from the watch face gets you to your tiles, by default, those are activity tracking (your rings, in apple watch parlance), Your heart rate plotted on a graph, Blood Oxygen Saturation, and lastly skin temperature. There is technically one after that, but that’s the settings tile that lets you delete some of those or reorganise them. This is where we start to divest from the older UI. Whereas on the LiteOS watches, this was a carousel, if you swiped past the last one, you’d end up back at the watch face, not so here, once you hit the end, you’re at the end, going back to the home screen is as simple as swiping back, or more simply, pressing the crown. Swiping from the left to the right opens up the Celia assistant, for me, this basically just has the weather, but It’s nice to have the weather a simple swipe away.
Pressing the crown opens up the new design app tray, whereas before it was a simple vertical list, which is still there in the settings, it now defaults to an Apple watch aping app cloud, but whereas the square Apple watch has an amorphous/circular cloud, when you zoom out on the Huawei Watch 3, the app cloud is a 5×5 grid, it’s quite odd. The crown acts as a zoom button in the app drawer much like the Apple Watch, but it works well, so I can see why they did it. But I quite quickly reverted to the list, wherein the crown acts as a scroll wheel.
In all the ways HarmonyOS is different to LiteOS, it is making the good bits look or work nicer. The text looks sharper, likely due to the new text rendering engine and anti-aliasing. The scrolling is smoother, even when not using the crown as a scroll wheel. The gradients in backgrounds work better and look less jagged now. It’s a very “same same, but different, but still same” scenario here. If you’ve used a LiteOS watch before, you’ll know how to do everything, but it’ll just be nicer than you’re expecting.
What’s interesting, is that if you want a longer battery, going into the ultra-low power mode basically boots the watch into an older LiteOS more, with the same User interface and UI jank that that entails, the quick settings shade loses that top row, the tiles become a carousel again, the app drawer becomes the list and scrolling becomes janky again, but battery life increases from the quoted 3 days to almost 2 weeks.
Onto the App, the Huawei Health app has received a minor update, icons now have more gentle curves, colours are more gradient and the font has been altered to be more readable. The app lets you check your health records, including step count, sleep record, heart rate, blood oxygen, and now, skin temperature. The next tab lets you start a workout, and there is a large GPS aided map to start your workout. What’s nice is that this also has workout classes for you to work up to being a better runner etc, this is a great way to just get people started who might not even know how to get started, this gives them a time, a cadence, calories burnt and afterwards will tell you how exhausted you are and how long you’ll need to recover to perform optimally again, these little things are what make Huawei Watches so good for fitness nerds.
There is a tab for all your devices, which for me is about 3 of them (watch GT2, GT2 Pro and now the Watch 3) clicking on them gives you battery status, more notification control and watch faces, this is a powerful but not overwhelming way to set up and control the watch.
I’m not the biggest fitness nerd, and my workouts mostly include swimming, which has been harder this past year, and the occasional run, but with this current weather? I’m not going out for a run, but Cam Bunton, a friend of mine who writes for Pocket-Lint commented in his review how good the watch is for fitness and runs, comparing it favourably to his Garmin Venu 2 and Apple Watch.
This is the biggest downside for me, whereas the GT2 Pro and GT2 with LiteOS can eke out consistently nearly 2 weeks of battery life, with the same sensors and output, the Watch 3 is only rated for 3 days, and it goes down further if you use the eSIM, Always on Display and constant Sp02 and skin temperature tracking, which means that I’m charging this watch a lot more than my older one, and it just feels like a step back in every way.
What is odd is that I mentioned earlier that HarmonyOS for wearables is built off of LiteOS in a way, and the discrepancy is this large, it goes to show how much extra grunt is needed to pretty things up in software, and they really have prettied up the UI and UX here. If you need longer battery life, if you open up the battery settings there is an ultra-long battery mode that basically turns the Watch 3 into a LiteOS watch and those 3 days ekes back out into 2 weeks, funny that.
Thankfully for the Watch 3, charging it is easy, and you’ll be doing it often. it is a simple magnetic puck that attaches to the rear ceramic plate of the Watch 3 and it’s a 10w Qi charger. Any Qi charger will work, but because of the sensor hump on the rear, the official charger has a detent for it to slip into. One thing I dislike about the charger is that the cable is now permanently attached to the unit, whereas on the GT2 and GT2 Pro the puck had a USB-C port on the rear, this has a permanently tethered USB-A cable, gross.
So, should you buy the Watch 3? This is a hard one for me because it is a good time for the most part, but there is a lot that just doesn’t quite feel ready for prime time yet. There is an app store, but it is pretty barren, there is eSIM, when a lot of carriers, especially in the UK don’t support eSIM, there is the amazing fitness readout and health tracking with mediocre battery life, and it all comes in for a whopping £350, with the Watch 3 Pro costing £499, I’m just not sure this justifies that price tag yet.
What’s worse is that when this goes back, and I go back to using my GT2 Pro, there is going to be a lot of this that I miss, including the crown, the UI tightness and visual flair. Hopefully, the HarmonyOS update for the GT2 Pro doesn’t take too long or take too much of the battery away.