Huawei has been preparing its HarmonyOS operating system - an alternative to Android following the restrictions imposed by the United States government - for some time, but it was earlier this week that the company finally showed the public its vision for what the software experience could be. Huawei wants HarmonyOS to be at the heart of as many devices as possible so that they communicate seamlessly and offer integrated experiences that are harder to get elsewhere.
To go along with that vision, Huawei also introduced the first few devices launching with HarmonyOS, two of which were the Huawei Watch 3 and 3 Pro, the company's first full-fledged smartwatch in four years. Huawei actually sent me the Watch 3 Pro a week before the announcement, and I've been using it ever since.
For its smartwatches, HarmonyOS is replacing Android Wear (nowadays known as Wear OS), which was used in the Huawei Watch 2 from 2017. Instead of the Google Play Store, you now have the Huawei AppGallery to install apps, and everything has a Huawei flavor. The platform certainly has potential, but it's hard to be thoroughly excited in these early stages of its existence. Regardless, the Huawei Watch 3 Pro has a lot going for it, so let's get started.
|Dimensions||48 x 49.6 x 14mm (1.89 x 1.95 x 0.55in); 63g (2.22oz) excluding strap|
|Material||Titanium casing, ceramic backplate, sapphire crystal display cover|
|Display||1.46-inch AMOLED, 466x466 pixels, 326ppi|
Smart mode (HarmonyOS): Up to 5 days; Ultra-long battery life mode: up to 21 days
|Strap||Swappable (22mm), Titanium (as reviewed)/Leather|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, 2.4GHz Wi-FI, Cellular (with eSIM):
Optical heart rate sensor
Ambient light sensor
Barometric pressure sensor
Design and display
Let's start with the highlight of the Huawei Watch 3 Pro, which is the design. Huawei is using titanium for the casing here as well as the included metal strap (though you can get a leather one if you prefer), and it feels incredibly premium. The watch just looks classy and expensive, which makes sense, seeing as it is. The titanium has a subtle look to it, so it won't draw much attention aside from the fact that it's pretty large.
The right side of the case has two buttons, one being the home/menu button and another being a shortcut button to any app you'd like, including the ones you install from the Huawei AppGallery. The home button also serves as a rotating crown, which can be used to scroll through pages across different parts of the UI, adjust media volume, and other controls that are suited to this kind of interaction. You'll also find a speaker on this side of the watch, and it actually gets surprisingly loud for a device of this size.
On the left side, there's just a small microphone hole and not much else.
The backplate is made of ceramic, and it feels really nice to the touch in addition to looking really good. I review a lot of smartwatches with plastic backs, so this is nice to see. Of course, the full suite of body sensors is here, but one thing that isn't is charging pins. The Huawei Watch 3 Pro (and the standard model as well) charge wirelessly. I don't often have issues with charging pins being too dirty for contact chargers to work properly, but if that's something that happens to you, then this will certainly help.
The metal strap itself feels very solidly built and adds to the overall premium feeling that I think Huawei really nailed here. Huawei also sent me a rubber strap that I always use when exercising or writing on my computer, because I don't like the feel of the metal rubbing against my laptop.
Turning to the display, Huawei has done a pretty good job here. The 466x466 resolution and 326ppi pixel density are some of the highest specs you can find in a smartwatch, and everything looks really crisp on this screen. Being an AMOLED screen has the usual benefits of true blacks and vivid colors, which also look great on this display. One difference between this and the standard Huawei Watch 3 is that this one has numbers on the dial around the display, but I find it kinda weird that the numbers go up to 24 instead of 12, since most analog watch faces will be based on a 12-hour cycle.
The watch supports animated watch faces, including the ability to set a video from your phone as the background - though at the time of this review, this doesn't seem to work. I can only use the default video included with the watch face and there seems to be no option to change it. Some watch faces even respond to touch, but these are more power-intensive, and they'll be labeled as such so you know what you're getting into. Of course, you can also set a more basic always-on display, which I never do.
Software and features
As I mentioned above, this smartwatch is the launchpad for HarmonyOS, Huawei's new operating system for a wide range of devices. While coming in to compete with Android and iOS smartphones is a tremendous challenge, I think the wearable market isn't as set in stone yet, and Huawei definitely has some room to grow its presence here.
HarmonyOS offers a lot of features you might expect from a full-fledged smartwatch. You get notifications from your phone or from apps installed on the watch, you have an app store you can use independently from your phone, and there's even a smart voice assistant in certain regions. You can also control music playback on your phone from the watch, or play music on the watch independently.
If you swipe left from the watch face, you can see the current weather and see the currently playing music on your devices, while swiping to the right shows you a series of tiles for your activity records, heart rate monitoring, oxygen levels, and skin temperature. This is somewhat limited right now, and even stress monitoring can't be added here, even though the feature is available as an app.
Speaking of apps, the app list on HarmonyOS is shown on a grid that resembles Apple's watchOS (though you can change it back to a list), and the built-in apps are what you'd expect from a Huawei smartwatch, with things like heart rate monitoring, stress monitoring, SpO2 measurements, along with more unique things like a Notepad app that lets you record voice clips to save for later. This time there's also a skin temperature sensor that might be able to help you identify potential fevers.
I think the most interesting built-in app is Huawei Music, because it actually lets you access the online music service from Huawei, so you can stream music from the internet. Since there's LTE support, you can even do it without having to take your phone with you. Playlists created on the phone are accessible on the watch, so you can create them with a bigger screen and then just enjoy them on the watch. You can also download those songs and save them on your watch's storage if you don't want to use mobile data. This is probably one of the more smartwatch-style features you can get out of the box.
A lot of the promise of HarmonyOS is based on the premise of having multiple devices in the ecosystem, which I don't, so it's hard (or impossible) to judge all the things Huawei is promising. It's also going to be heavily dependent on what apps are available, and considering I'm using this watch so early on, there's not much to choose from. Even on a phone, Huawei's AppGallery is already missing a ton of well-known Android apps, let alone on a newly-launched smartwatch. I haven't really found an app that's useful to me, and the ones that could be, like a GPS app, don't seem to sync up with my phone all that well.
I should also mention that the built-in weather app, and even a third-party one I installed later, consistently fail to locate me no matter where I am. I've asked Huawei about this multiple times and the company tells me it's looking into it, but there has been no solution so far. I've also found that the workout app takes a long time to get a GPS signal at the start of a workout, so there may be some underlying issue with the sensor here. What's interesting is that the weather widget next to the watch face says I'm in Silì, a location on the Italian island of Sardegna that I didn't know existed until now.
Editor note: Huawei responded that they believe the above example is related to a network issue rather than a problem with the software, R&D could not reproduce the problem.
I think HarmonyOS is at least a visually attractive operating system. The notifications panel and quick controls have a nice translucency effect, and there are tons of little animations that help make the UI feel more alive. But it's kind of hard to look at it as a real smartwatch when the apps you can get are still so limited. Also, you still can't take any action on notifications coming from your phone, which is one of the things I'd look forward to the most with a true smartwatch.
I will say Huawei at least got one thing right compared to Google's Wear OS: I don't have to reset my watch to connect to a different phone. As long as you have the same Huawei account on both phones, you can always switch from one phone to the other without losing your data, and it honestly baffles me that Google still hasn't figured out how to do this.
All of this is referring to smart mode, but Huawei also includes an ultra-long battery life mode, which essentially makes this work very similarly to something like the Huawei Watch GT 2. You still get custom animated watch faces and access to all the health tracking features, just not some of the "smarter" things like Huawei Music and apps from the AppGallery.
There isn't a whole lot that's new with health tracking on the Huawei Watch 3 Pro compared to the myriad of other Huawei watches and fitness bands in the past. You get the usual heart rate and stress monitoring, sleep tracking, and all-day SpO2 monitoring which I first saw on the Huawei Band 6. I do like the insights I can get from the Huawei Health app with all these sensors, and sleep tracking specifically has fairly detailed information about the different stages of sleep.
One thing that's new here is the skin temperature sensor, which is meant to provide some guidance for your body temperature so it can help you spot fevers, for example. Because this is measured on your wrist, it's easily affected by your environment and how tight you wear the watch, so it's not actually all that useful. This data isn't synced to the Huawei Health app, at least not in the current version, which adds to that feeling.
There are also over 100 workout modes, covering indoor and outdoor sports. Some are more detailed than others, but I do think Huawei provides a good amount of detail with its workout reports. or things like bike rides you can see your full path during the ride and things like your average speed, heart rate, altitude changes, and overall aerobic stress for the exercise.
There are also 13 running courses, which are guided running workouts with different levels of intensity so you can train your way up to more intense runs. This is not new for Huawei, but it does make it that much more useful as a professional workout tool.
Performance and battery life
Performance isn't usually something that needs to be discussed with other Huawei watches because they run very simplistic operating systems that are extremely light on resources. With HarmonyOS, though, it's a little different considering we have a more fleshed-out operating system that can theoretically do a lot more.
Unfortunately, the news isn't great in this regard, in my experience. Most of the time, the Huawei Watch 3 Pro does perform fine, aside from the issues I've already mentioned with how long it takes for the GPS to determine my position. However, I've had a few situations where the interface slows to a crawl. The first time I tried to stream music directly from the watch was one such case, with songs often failing to load or being interrupted constantly. That could be chalked up to a poor internet connection (which I didn't have), but then it slowed down the entire interface, even outside the music app.
Editor note: Huawei says it has experienced no such software issues of this nature to date with this watch, anywhere worldwide.
I've also had it happen where the watch took several seconds to respond to me pressing the buttons when I was trying to end a workout, and the watch has slowed on other occasions. For a smartwatch with 2GB of RAM, I find this surprising, so I think some software optimizations might help with this in the future. In addition, the watch simply seems to have very slow connection speeds, and installing apps from the AppGallery can be a chore.
Battery life is solid, though. I've only used the watch in smart mode, and even though it was a short review period, it will usually last me about three days of moderate to heavy usage, which is a little below Huawei's five-day promise, but I believe my usage patterns were a little more intensive due to me trying to install different apps and testing different things. Of course, you can always enable ultra-long battery life mode, and that can get you up to 21 days on a charge, which is awesome.
Charging is a bit slow compared to what I'm used to. Charging pins can have their own disadvantages, but I've grown accustomed to the much faster charging speeds I usually get from that, where an hour or two will get me back u to a full battery. With this, I have to wait quite a while before putting the watch back on. If you charge your watch overnight, though, that's not a problem.
The Huawei Watch 3 Pro is a stellar piece of hardware that feels classy and premium, and it has a lot of promise inside it. All the body sensors you'd expect, Wi-Fi, LTE, and NFC support, an app store that could eventually let you install lots of useful apps, and the promise of cross-device connectivity that would be enabled by HarmonyOS.
But a lot of that promise is limited by software that's very much in its early stages - with little app support to truly make it useful - and the fact that I (and most people) don't have an established Huawei ecosystem to use it in. You could say that's my fault for not having more Huawei devices, but then you're effectively expecting every prospective buyer of this watch to also buy a phone that doesn't have Google services, which, for most people right now outside of China, brings its own set of unacceptable limitations.
There are also a few things that simply didn't work well in my experience with the watch so far. Having the watch slow down so much when trying to stream music is a major deterrent to using that feature, and the fact that the GPS doesn't seem to be working all that well for me is also a bummer. Plus, I still wish I could take action on my notifications from the watch.
Asking for over $500 for a watch that can't do a lot of things that you can do with cheaper devices is a bit too much, even if it does feel very premium. I can only hope that HarmonyOS will get some updates and garner more developer support in the future, but I can't in good faith recommend that anyone buy the Huawei Watch 3 Pro right now when other smartwatches can do so much more. Unless you're really into the premium look, you ought to look elsewhere.
Editor note: Huawei did get back to Neowin about some of the software issues mentioned in this article, these have been noted above as Editor notes. Due to the fact the author has left Neowin, we aren't in a position to test the claims made by Huawei.
According to Huawei, no other units have reported similar issues, so we may have received a faulty unit. However, we chose to keep our review score in line with our own experience.