A few months ago I bought a new smartwatch; a Huawei Watch 2 Classic.
Being the geek that I am, I did a ton of research into smartwatches before making the purchase. I thought it would be easier than it was, assuming that all smartwatch makers would have watches that met my functional needs and all I’d really have to do is pick which style suited me. I was wrong.
What I discovered was that I needed to decide what features I wanted, and then try to find the watch that had them all. Prior to this smartwatch, I hadn’t worn a watch of any kind for years. Generally speaking, a smartwatch connects to your phone, via bluetooth or some other method, and then acts as an extension of your phone; passing on messages and notifications to your wrist and giving you access to applications without having to pick up your smartphone. Nearly all smartwatches, like those geared toward fitness, will collect data as you go about your activities and then transfer it to apps on your smartphone the next time they’re connected. So if you put your phone in the locker at the gym and then go workout with your smartwatch on, your workout data will transfer to the health tracking app on your phone the next time the two are within proximity to each other.
I carry a smartphone with me pretty much all the time and I just got in the habit of looking at my phone for time, messages and calendar appointments. So to me it didn’t make sense to have a smartwatch if I still had to have my phone on me. Therefore, my watch had to be a standalone device that provided the geek inside of me with some value beyond my phone. Thus began the list of features that I needed. Here’s the list of the key features that I wanted my smartwatch to include (and not include):
Android Wear 2.0
I have always been an “Android Person”. From the very first Motorola Droid to my current Google Pixel 2 XL, I’ve always owned Android phones. Therefore, my watch also had to run on Android so that my phone and smartwatch could have all the same apps and work together as flawlessly as possible. In keeping with my “stick to your tech ecosystem” mantra, my watch had to run the latest version of Android Wear (now branded “Wear OS by Google”). This eliminated quite a few smartwatch options from the list like the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear, FitBit and others that use their own operating systems.
Some watches allow you to have cellular service, and you can receive calls and send text messages from your watch without having your phone with you. It requires having an LTE chip in your watch and your cellular provider will probably charge you extra for another device on your account (we’re talking an extra $5 or $10 a month). On some watches the addition of the LTE chip can cause the watch to be a little thicker and bulkier in order to accommodate it, plus it will use precious battery life. I just do not need LTE on my smartwatch. I do not need my watch to be my phone. That’s what my phone is for. Therefore, no LTE.
I want to be able to receive emails and use apps over Wi-Fi without having my phone nearby. A smartwatch with Wi-Fi means I won’t (necessarily) have to have my phone with me around the house or office.
NFC (Near Field Communications)
I’ve come to use Android Pay (now called Google Pay) on my phone a lot, especially when I travel. The convenience of “tap-to-pay” technology with my phone, and then automatically getting a receipt emailed to me, is awesome. I knew I’d want to be able to pay for things at checkout with my smartwatch too. As a side note, I’ve come to discover that paying with my watch is even easier than paying with my phone.
Nice-to-haves: GPS and heart monitoring
Although they weren’t show stoppers, having a watch with built in GPS and heart monitoring would be a plus. I’m not a marathon runner, far from it in fact, but I do go for bike rides and walks and if my smartwatch has GPS and heart monitoring, then I get the benefit of having those activities show up on Google Fit with maps of my journey without having to carry my phone. If you’re a jogger, hiker or biker I would think you would probably want this feature.
Battery life, water resistance, style and other things
After the above short list of features, the rest of the things were just a matter of comparison. I wanted the best battery life I could get. My watch didn’t have to be water proof but I wanted a basic amount of water resistance from splashes at the sink and that sort of thing. I also didn’t want a gigantic bulky watch on my wrist that would catch on shirt sleeves or be uncomfortable at my desk working.
With this list of requirements I began searching, shopping and reading reviews. What I discovered was that very few Android smartwatches offer NFC for payments. And the combination of no LTE, Wi-Fi and NFC pretty much eliminated all affordable Android Wear 2.0 brands except the Huawei Watch 2 models (pronounced hoo-wah-way). I say “affordable” because Tag Heuer makes some amazing Android smartwatches if you don’t mind spending upwards of $1,200 or more for them. As it turned out, the Huawei watches also had really good reviews.
The two basic models are the Huawei Watch 2 Sport and the Watch 2 Classic. They’re essentially the same watch except the Sport has a bit more rugged design with more color options, and it also has LTE which was a no-go for me. But if you are into LTE, then the Sport would be a great choice, as it supports 4G.
This narrowed it right down to the Huawei Watch 2 Classic. The bonus is that it has everything I wanted, including the nice-to-haves of standalone GPS and heart monitoring. I thought about it a couple days, even reading up a little bit on Huawei the company (which in itself is pretty interesting). Finally I decided to pull the trigger and ordered the watch, an extra charger (one for home and one for work), and a new band on Amazon.
After a few months of wear I really like it. Even to the point that I kick myself if I leave it on the charger and walk out the door without it in the morning. It lasts a couple days on a single charge and I’ve come to count on the handy display of messages and notifications. Like any smartwatch, with the swipe of your finger you can switch between all sorts of watch faces that suit your need. I’ve landed on the Microsoft Outlook watch face because I really like the way it displays email notifications and calendar appointments at work. When I’m not at work I switch to a cool, blue, hi-tech looking watch face where I can configure the components I want displayed.
If you’re in the market for a watch then the advice is simple:
Start by making a list of what you think you need first. There are so many options that it’s easy to just go buy something that’s popular and find out you’re missing features you really wanted. Things like LTE, NFC, GPS, Wi-Fi, heart monitoring, battery life and water resistance are all top features that you should think about and determine how important they are to you. If you only need something for health monitoring and workouts, then there are all sorts of models specific to that too. The fewer things you need, the more smartwatch models you’ll be able to choose from.
If the OS matters (like Apple or Android) then stick to your ecosystem. If you’ve got an iPhone, get an Apple watch. If you’re an Android person like me then get something running Android Wear 2.0. If you don’t care then you have options like Polar, Fitbit and Samsung Gear that do their own thing.
Finally, do some research. Go to the manufacturer websites and read the technical specifications page. Most of all, read the reviews from other people. Amazon and YouTube are great places to go to find out what other people think of things. I watched several YouTube reviews of my smartwatch before I decided to buy. Frankly this is the best advice no matter what you buy.
I thought buying a smartwatch would be easier than it was. It ultimately turned out to be easy because (at the time) there was only one watch that had everything I wanted. But I only discovered that after hours of research.