HUAWEI had a field day, well more like a field year, throughout 2020 with its GT2 smartwatches. It began with the GT2 back at the end of 2019 and continued to the end of 2020 with the GT2 Pro. Thanks to their pros and irrespective of the cons, the GT2 lineup was a real success, and we recommended watches in the product family every time we considered they deserved it. Which they did.
In 2021, HUAWEI is moving away from the GT naming scheme, and instead of what logically should have been the GT3 lineup, we got the Watch 3. The new naming scheme suggests significant changes, and boy did HUAWEI bring some significant changes to Watch 3.
Fun fact, the original HUAWEI Watch from 2015 didn’t have a number, but the 2017 follow-up was the HUAWEI Watch 2. The GT lineup is the anomaly in the evolution of the watch, as we get back to the numbers with the Watch 3.
We’ll be looking at all those changes and how they might impact the company’s smartwatch lineup moving forward in our HUAWEI Watch 3 review below.
HUAWEI Watch 3 specs
|Dimensions||46.2 mm x 46.2 mm x 12.15 mm — 54 gr. without strap|
|Case||46mm, Stainless steel+ceramic|
|Buttons||Home Button (Rotating Crown) and Side Button|
|Chipset||HUAWEI Kirin A|
|Display||1.43-inch AMOLED, 466 x 466 resolution|
Optical heart rate sensor
Ambient light sensor
Barometric pressure sensor
|Connectivity||LTE, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC|
|Battery life||1.5-14 days|
|Price||£349.99 / €369|
Hardware and design
Remember the significant changes I told you about? Well, they’re almost evenly split between hardware and software. On the outside, the Watch 3 has a beautiful finish and in-hand (as well as on-wrist) feel. The combination of ceramic and stainless steel speaks premium and offers a tremendous sensorial reward. The first change you’ll notice is on the outside. You no longer have the two upper right and lower right buttons from the predecessor. This time around, you get a flat lower right button, which will not be accidentally pressed by bending your wrist during workouts.
The upper right button is now a rotating crown. If you immediately thought about that other manufacturer with a rotating crown on its watch, you nailed it. It’s a double-action button: you can press down on it, and of course, rotate it up or down to scroll through menus, lists, or content.
The glass protecting the display is nicely rounded towards the edges, and this 2.5D approach makes the already small screen bezels appear even smaller. Of course, the deep blacks of the AMOLED display help with that as well.
Speaking of the display, it’s probably the most beautiful display I’ve seen on a smartwatch. Colors are rich and popping, black is truly black, and somehow HUAWEI managed, yet again, to create that effect where you almost believe that content is floating on the glass itself. You don’t perceive depth between the glass and the display; things are just there, on the surface.
There are four versions of Watch 3. We’ve got the all-black Active Edition, but there’s also a Classic Edition with a leather strap, an Elite Edition with stainless steel strap (which is a recycle of the Porsche Design strap, literally), and a Classic Edition with nylon strap. The straps are interchangeable, of course, and you can finally purchase them separately.
The holes in the watch’s body are for the microphone and speaker (which is pretty loud) and for air to get in for the barometer and other sensors that might need it.
Flipping to the bottom of the watch, you’ll find the new and improved sensors, which are in permanent contact with your skin through the ceramic. Not only has the heart-rate monitor been improved for better pulse readouts and blood oxygen levels, but, true to the times we’re currently living in, HUAWEI added a skin temperature sensor as well.
Software and experience
The HUAWEI Watch 3 officially introduces HarmonyOS to the smartwatch. It ships with version 2.0 out of the box, but thanks to software updates (we’ve received two during our review period), it bumps the build number to 184.108.40.206.
While most, if not all of the interface design elements have been kept from the previous software, LiteOS, on the predecessors, this is an entirely new platform. The company had no choice but to build HarmonyOS because of the Trump administration ban. We won’t go into it again, as the horse is already dead and needs no more beating.
The first thing you’ll immediately notice is how fluid HarmonyOS is. It also helps that the display operates at a 60Hz refresh rate. All the animations and transitions are buttery smooth, including scrolling through lists or menus. Since we already mentioned the menus, the rotating crown isn’t the only Apple-inspired feature. Apps are also displayed similarly to how they show up on the Apple Watch, in a grid, but thankfully there’s an option to revert to the old vertical list, which we did for obvious reasons.
The two things I constantly criticized about LiteOS, namely the display of truncated notifications and the inability to act on them, have been partially addressed.
Notifications now display in the entirety of the message, and they’re straightforward to read and dismiss. Sadly, you still can’t act on them. Dear HUAWEI, why can’t I reply to a text message when HarmonyOS clearly has a keyboard, which is actually easy to use? I just used it to enter my Wi-Fi password when I set it up. I used it later to search the AppGallery. Why not allow me to text back a quick “OK”? You know we won’t be typing out our Ph.D. thesis; we just want to be able to send a quick one without running to wherever we left our phone, just to say, “On my way”.
AppGallery makes its debut on a HUAWEI smartwatch, which is something I salute. However, we have to understand that the app situation is still in its infancy, pretty much like it was back when nobody except people in China used it on their phones. The only helpful app (for me) currently in there is Petal Maps, which only made it on July 16.
With that in mind, it will inevitably grow as the company brings in more developers to populate the AppGallery, following the same recipe used for the smartphone situation.
With apps currently lacking, your smartwatch experience will be limited to a couple of tasks. Obviously, you’ll have access to information like the time, date, and weather conditions. You can review (but not act upon) notifications, except dismissing them, and listen (stream) to music through HUAWEI Music with the option of synching playlists to the watch.
One of the features I ended up using more than I anticipated was note-taking. Yes, we’ve had voice recorders and voice memos on our phones and other devices for quite some time, but honestly, I don’t know what made me use it on the Watch 3 more than previously.
You can take calls on your HUAWEI Watch 3 in two ways. One way most of you will likely take calls is to have the watch tethered to your phone and just take your phone call on your wrist instead of the phone.
The other way (which we couldn’t test out because of our carrier service limitation) includes activating your Watch 3’s embedded eSIM. Once that’s activated, you can get calls on your watch without the need to be in the proximity of your phone, as now the watch itself is connected to the network.
With the latest Petal Maps to the watch AppGallery, you can have your directions on your wrist, but, for me personally, it kind of defeats the purpose. I’d instead look at the bigger screen or just listen to the voice directions.
Navigating through screens, menus, and lists via touch is something we already know how to do, so I won’t describe it. However, the rotating crown is new to the Watch 3, which acts and feels exactly like the one on the “other” watch. It even offers haptic feedback when your scroll snaps into place to let you know you’re one tick down or up. This is extremely useful when your hands are wet since we all know wet hands and touch displays don’t work well together.
After a future firmware update, you will also be able to control some aspects of the watch with hand gestures, like clenching your fist and releasing to take a call or turning your wrist to the side to mute the call.
In terms of battery life, we had everything enabled to constant monitoring, and, with always-on-display off, we managed to go for two, sometimes two and a half days on a single charge. HUAWEI advertises three days for this scenario, but we simply couldn’t get there during our review.
Fully charging the watch takes anywhere between an hour or two, depending on the charger you plug its cable into. As with most recent predecessors, charging is wireless, and the watch snaps magnetically onto its charging plate, provided in the box.
Fitness and health experience
Like with previous models, all the information about your activities and vitals is synced to the HUAWEI Health app on your phone. It comes preloaded on HUAWEI phones, but you can download it from their respective stores if you use another Android device or even an iPhone.
The Health app becomes your centralized hub for everything the watch collects about you, and you can use it to track performance, health, stress, sleep, and many other metrics. We described the experience in detail in our Watch GT2 review.
When it comes to fitness, there’s nothing really to complain about. The Watch 3 takes what the GT2 lineup already did pretty well and just runs with it. It supports over 100 workout modes (still no Basketball mode, HUAWEI!) and reports fairly accurate heart rates. When it comes to calories burned, that’s another conversation, as all smartwatches estimate that metric based on other variables.
The step counter was pretty accurate and in line with our daily and workout routine averages reported by other devices. So was our heart rate readout.
Health management is done via monitoring four categories, and these can be set up to be continuous, 24 hours a day: blood oxygen and heart rate tracking, stress management, and sleep tracking. Without any easy way of verifying the data, we had no choice but to believe the reports, but luckily all measurements were within normal range.
New on Watch 3 is skin temperature tracking. One thing to note is that your average body temperature, between 36.5–37.5 °C (97.7–99.5 °F), is measured explicitly on certain parts of your body. Also, note that vital organs or large muscles reside will have a higher temperature than other regions.
All of this is to prepare you for seeing lower than “normal” temperatures when reported by the watch, as it takes the temperature of your skin on the wrist. These could be anywhere between 6 and 3 degrees centigrade lower than the “normal”. Last but not least, there’s fall detection with automatic emergency dialing.
Pros and Cons
+ beautiful design;
+ premium materials;
+ gorgeous display;
+ good battery life;
+ 4G via eSIM;
+ excellent health and fitness capabilities.
– you still can’t act on your notifications;
– some functionalities are not available outside China;
– no contactless payment in Europe;
– AppGallery is in its infancy.
The HUAWEI Watch 3 will set you back €369, or £349.99. That’s pretty much in line with what competitors are asking for their flagship smartwatches. It is an excellent choice if you’re looking for your first smartwatch. Still, if you have a GT2, we believe the changes are not dramatic enough for us to recommend an upgrade (unless you have to have Skin Temperature readouts and/or want to rub the rotating crown in your Apple Watch wearing friends’ faces). Maybe to the Watch 4.
As it is, I think it offers excellent value for the price. Though some features might be half-baked (sorry, HUAWEI, I will keep bringing up the notification topic until my keyboard breaks, and then I’ll buy a new one and keep doing it again until you finally do something about this), or not working (like contactless payments, Celia), the pros outweigh the cons by a large margin.
With the HUAWEI Watch 3, you get a beautiful timepiece that has a gorgeous display, plenty of watch faces to choose from, a cornucopia of health and fitness features, and you won’t have to charge it every day like with many of its competitors.