Huawei Watch 3 review: To achieve perfect Harmony, you’ll need to commit to it

Huawei Watch 3 showing the "Classy" watch face

Huawei Watch 3 review: To achieve perfect Harmony, you’ll need to commit to it

“The Huawei Watch 3 is a beautifully designed, fast, and accurate health-tracking smartwatch, but you’ve got to get past a seriously off-putting setup experience.”

  • Great-looking and comfortable to wear
  • Accurate, in-depth health tracking
  • Fast GPS connection
  • Fluid, fast software
  • Short battery life with all features active
  • Limited eSIM support
  • Poor setup experience

MSRP $483.00

The Huawei Watch 3 isn’t just another smartwatch — it’s one of the most important products to come from Huawei in a while. The Watch 3 ditches the old software used on the Watch GT2 for HarmonyOS, Huawei’s self-developed operating system we’ve heard a lot about but until now have not had a chance to use.

The Huawei Watch 3 is the first device to officially launch with the software on board, and while it’s fast and well designed, it takes a great deal of effort and commitment to get it working with your phone. Assuming you’re prepared to put in the time, is it worth it?

Design

The Huawei Watch 3 is one of the best-looking smartwatches you can buy. It’s thoughtfully designed and very comfortable to wear, with a case made from 316L stainless steel and a ceramic case back featuring a high-quality, luxurious finish. Huawei has long proved it knows what it’s doing with design in both phones and wearables, and the Watch 3 continues that tradition. Its clean and understated, yet still exciting, style is highly watch-like and miles ahead of most Wear OS smartwatches.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The 46mm case suits my 6.5-inch wrist, and the 65-gram weight makes it wearable throughout the day, although I found it too big to wear overnight. The use of ceramic is important because it feels so good against your skin. It reflective nature looks classy and doesn’t get sweaty or itchy like plastic. On the side is an offset, neatly textured crown above a single button at the four-o’clock position. Neither dig into your wrist, but I did find the button is a little too low on the case, making it slightly awkward to locate and press.

You control the Watch 3 using the touchscreen and the crown. The 1.43-inch AMOLED screen with its 466 x 466 pixel resolution is beautiful, and is at its best when showing off colorful watch faces. It’ll sound strange to say, but the hardened glass used over the screen has a wonderful texture, and the 2.5D curve around the bezel makes swiping pleasingly tactile, while giving the front of the watch shape and visual interest. The crown’s stylish texture has grip and is therefore easy to rotate with your finger.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

If I was feeling uncharitable, it would be easy to turn the Huawei Watch 3’s positives into negatives, as most of the aspects that make it a winner — stainless steel, ceramic, low weight, textured crown, a single button, curved screen bezel — are the same ones that make the Apple Watch a winner. If anything, the Huawei Watch 3 is a fairly close depiction of what a round Apple Watch could be like, and the similarities with the Apple Watch don’t end there either, but we’ll come back to that.

The sum of the Huawei Watch 3’s parts work so well, I’m not going to come down on it because the design echoes the very best smartwatch you can buy, particularly because there are so many disappointing smartwatches out there and a good model should be applauded.

Software

HarmonyOS is Huawei’s response to being unable to use Google Services on its mobile products due to restrictions from the U.S. government that make it impossible for U.S. companies to work with Huawei. It’s an entire, Huawei-created software ecosystem, designed to work seamlessly across everything from internet-of-things (IoT) hardware to smartphones.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Huawei Watch 3 is the first device to use HarmonyOS 2, and you can forget all about Wear OS, or Huawei’s own LiteOS, which it has used on its wearables in the past. It’s a world apart and way better than both of them. The speed, fluidity, and smoothness is astonishing. There are no pauses and no slowdown, just instantaneous response, a lovely “bounce” effect when swiping between screens, and seriously fast scrolling. It’s attractively designed with bright colors, large icons, clear text, and some pretty watch faces, too.

I quickly slipped into using HarmonyOS on the Watch 3 without any period of adjustment or a necessity to learn new layouts or icon styles. While this is a good thing, there’s also a good reason outside of the fluidity, speed, and pretty design — HarmonyOS on the Watch 3 is a a bit like a “greatest hits” of wearable software.

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Huawei Watch 3 showing the "Blocks" faceAndy Boxall/Digital Trends
Huawei Watch 3 menuAndy Boxall/Digital Trends
Notifications on the Huawei Watch 3Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Press the crown to see the main menu, which is presented as a grid of circular icons and looks just like Apple’s WatchOS. You can even twist the crown to zoom in and out of the grid, complete with haptic feedback. This is the default setting, but it can be changed to a standard list layout if you’d prefer. Dig into other menus, like the workout list accessed using the lower button on the case, and options are shown as a vertically scrolling list that adapts to the circular screen, reminding me of Tizen on the Galaxy Watch 3. Swipe left on the screen and you get information panels, just like Wear OS and Huawei’s own LiteOS on the Watch GT2.

Granted, there are limited design directions you can take with software on such a small screen, which has to be used with one finger, but the similarity to WatchOS in particular doesn’t do it any favors. I changed the launcher to show a list of icons and spent time choosing the best watch faces, just so I could give the Watch 3 its own identity, which HarmonyOS 2.0 is slightly lacking at the moment.

Huawei Health app

The Huawei Watch 3 earns some goodwill through being attractive and having speedy software, and it needs every last bit of it, because getting it started and using the app can be very frustrating. It’s here where HarmonyOS 2’s newness is exposed, and we see the challenge ahead of Huawei if it wants to attract widespread adoption.

The Huawei Watch 3 earns some goodwill through being attractive and having speedy software.

To sync the Watch 3 with your Android phone, you have to download Huawei Health, but not Huawei Health from Google Play. That version is out of date, and doesn’t work with any brand-new Huawei devices. Instead you have to download the Huawei App Gallery and get Huawei Health from there. This means downloading an APK file, accepting system permissions, signing up with Huawei to use the App Gallery, downloading another new file, accepting other new permissions, providing notification and location access, and more.

It doesn’t stop there. To make Huawei Health work properly, you have to install another app called Huawei Core, though it isn’t really explained why. To keep Huawei Health up to date, you have to keep the App Gallery — an app that’s not very welcoming, to the point where you’re forced to look at an ad every time you open it — on your phone. It’s all very off-putting, and a massive barrier for anyone who isn’t familiar with sideloading apps and using alternative app stores.

The worst part is, if you miss a step or don’t activate the right permissions — which is very easy to do because of the fragmented, multistep setup process — the Watch 3 and the Huawei Health app will not work properly, and it’s very difficult to work out why. It’s a little easier using an iPhone, as an up-to-date Huawei Health app is available directly through the App Store. Huawei indicates you’ll get worse battery life connected to an iPhone, plus like any non-Apple Watch, it won’t support all features, including Apple Messages.

HarmonyOS 2

The fluidity of HarmonyOS 2 makes navigating the software pain-free, and there are apps for all the main featur

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