Huawei Watch Buds review
Much like the smartphone market, smartwatches have come to a period of relative standardization with similar designs and features over the last few years. Huawei decided to bring a breath of fresh air to the market with the Huawei Watch Buds – a full-fledged smartwatch with magnetically attached wireless earbuds inside its casing. The resulting product is not the first of its kind on the market but it’s the first one from a major tech brand and as such deserved our attention.
Straight out of a James Bond movie with the deployable earbuds cleverly attached below the screen, the Watch Buds offers a flagship smartwatch experience with Harmony OS 3.0, active health and sports tracking in a stainless steel casing.
The whole concept seems great for people who hate carrying their earbuds or have a tendency to misplace them. But how does the added functionality affect the smartwatch and are these tiny earbuds any good? Here’s what we found out.
Huawei Watch Buds is a large smartwatch and probably not suitable for those with smaller wrists. In fact, it’s the largest smartwatch we’ve had for review with its 47mm casing measuring 15mm in thickness. Of course, space comes at a premium and we have to factor in the presence of a pair of wireless earbuds inside the smartwatch, which are 10mm thick on their own. The combined package weighs 66.5 grams – more than the 46mm Huawei GT 3 Pro (54g) and even the chunky Apple Watch Ultra (61g).
The spacious 1.43-inch AMOLED display brings saturated colors and great viewing angles. Like most of the premium Huawei smartwatches, you get Always-On display (AOD) functionality and auto brightness control. The casing is made from stainless steel and while the watch feels hefty, the weight is balanced well.
The build is great and the materials used on the watch casing and strap are top-notch and did not show any signs of wear during the review period. There’s a clasp mechanism positioned below the 6 o’clock mark on the watch dial which props the screen up to reveal the earbuds. The mechanism is solid and does not open by accidental touches. The only other button on the casing is the crown button on the right-hand side. Unlike the crown element on Huawei’s GT 3 series watches, this one does not allow you to scroll.
Moving on to the more interesting bit – the compact earbuds housed inside the watch. They are bullet-shaped buds with a metal alloy casing that feels solid yet lightweight. Each earbud measures 22×10×10 mm and weighs 4 grams. They are remarkably tiny – as much as four silicone ear tips stacked on top of each other and it’s a true engineering feat how Huawei managed to fit the drivers, microphones, sensors and batteries in such a small package.
Watch Buds features an IPX7 rating in its closed state while the earbuds are IPX4 splashproof. That’s a compromise compared to most premium smartwatches which support proper water resistance ratings and allow you to go for a swim without any worries. Then again there aren’t that many watches out there that have a compartment inside them with a pair of wireless earbuds.
One personal gripe in terms of the packaging is the absence of a second silicone watch strap. Huawei should have added an extra strap in the box as this watch is geared toward runners and active people and the leather band will surely age poorly with an intense workout regimen.
As a smartwatch, Huawei Watch Buds offers the expected health tracking feature set including 24/7 heart rate monitoring and SpO2 tracking via Huawei’s TruSeen 5.0 optical PPG sensor just like on the Huawei Watch GT 3 Pro series. The eight photosensors and upgraded algorithms are said to deliver more accurate health data processing. In addition, you also get precision sleep and stress monitoring as well as breathing exercises to help you relax throughout the day. The sleep tracking option brings sleep apnea monitoring as well as detailed breakdowns of your sleep stages and an overall score.
Huawei Watch Buds supports tracking for over 80 sports modes with special running and marathon training programs to help you reach your specific goals. The watch has its own GPS module to help you track your runs and walks in real-time. You also get Vo2 Max measurements, workout recovery programs and the option to sync your runs to Strava if you are an avid runner.
A few words on the Huawei Health app – it’s available on the App Gallery, Google Play store and the App Store. It offers a good design layout for your health tracking records with more detailed metrics and charts for each category. You also get to manage the watch and earbud settings through the app under the device tabs. There’s a bevy of watch faces and you can configure some of them with complications of your choosing though most of them are paid. The earbuds tab lets you configure the EQ
Sadly the watch does not come with cellular connectivity or a built-in speaker but the added earbuds make up for the latter. NFC is present and works with Huawei Wallet though this feature is region dependent. You also get basic notification management with predetermined quick reply options. Other miscellaneous features on the watch include a weather app, music controls, a remote camera shutter and the ability to add several of your favorite contacts for easy dialing via the earbuds.
Moving on to the earbuds, you’re not compromising much compared to a traditional pair of wireless buds in terms of features. They support the AAC, SBC and Huawei-proprietary L2HD audio codecs. You also get an EQ adjustment option within the Huawei Health app for finer tuning over the audio output.
Active noise cancelation (ANC) is also on board and each earbud brings dual microphones to help block out unwanted noises. The ends of the buds feature capacitive touch control areas with programmable double and triple-tap options. They charge wirelessly in their cradle within the watch via two wireless charging rings that help deliver power to each of the 30mAh batteries within the buds.
You control the earbuds via programmable double and triple taps. These gestures work on the earbuds themselves as well as on the sides of your ears – you can tap almost anywhere on your earlobes and the buds automatically recognize the taps through their built-in sensors.
The other neat feature is the adaptive identification technology which means there’s no dedicated left or right earbud here – they can automatically switch between channels and work for both sides of your ears. The way it works is by calibrating the earbuds based on your head movement and body posture and it worked as promised during our testing.
You can also answer calls on your paired smartphone by simply interesting the buds into your ears without having to touch anything on the watch or on your phone, which is useful if your phone is at the other end of the room.
The buds feature wear detection which stops or resumes media when they are inserted or removed from your ears. They also come with an ear tip fit test and a find my earphones feature which plays a loud tune to help you locate them if they are misplaced. You can also send songs to the watch for offline listening though this feature only works on certain EMUI and Android phones.
One big downside to the buds is that they only connect to the watch and your paired smartphone at the time of writing this review. Huawei did promise to expand the connectivity options to other devices like laptops and tablets with a future software update but the option is not available yet.
We’re glad to report that Huawei Watch Buds performs on par with the Huawei GT 3 series watches in terms of health tracking. This means you get accurate step and running statistics and that also extends to the heart rate, SpO2, sleep and stress tracking. Huawei offers some of the more detailed health and workout tracking metrics on its wearables complete with specialty items for runners. Runs get the added benefit of specialty metrics like pace, stride length, cadence and VO2 Max readings – all regular metrics on specialized runner-centric watches.
The onboard GPS tracker on the Huawei Watch Buds is accurate enough to map your walks and runs even in the dense city center and it manages to lock you location in a matter of seconds. You also get heart rate readings and heart rate zone readings for your workouts as well as recovery heart rate metrics right after you’re done with your sessions. As with all smart wearables, you should take the resulting data with a grain of salt as Watch Buds is not a medical device and only offers a mere indicator of your well-being and activity performance.
Harmony OS 3.0 feels smooth and snappy on the Watch Buds and the built-in apps all work great. Sadly there’s no way to install third-party apps unless you’re on a Huawei phone and even then the app selection is quite limited – Petal Maps, Spotify controller and a pill reminder app. This is not a smartwatch that will fully replace your phone like the Samsung Galaxy Watch or Apple Watch though you get all the basic necessities to make do – health and fitness tracking, call and notification management as well as the standard set of smartwatch apps and tools.
Notification management on here is not ideal as you only get to see incoming messages and alerts with the option to send out a short predetermined response which does not work across all apps. Connectivity on the Watch Buds was on point and worked well enough across Android, iOS and Huawei phones that I tested. My detailed health and workout data was readily available on the Huawei Health app with more details and the background sync worked well.
As subjective as sound reviews are, the Watch Buds earbuds sound impressively good for their petite size. They are no match for earbuds with larger drivers like Huawei’s own Freebuds Pro 2 though their small size deceives how well these tiny buds sound. The default sound profile is balanced without over-pronounced frequency bands.
Huawei is also offering the option to switch your EQ sound profile in the Huawei Health app with Bass boost, Treble boost and Voices profiles to help tune your sound according to these subsets. Call quality on the earbuds was good in quiet environments though people on the other end had a hard time hearing my voice in louder areas.
The buds also offer HD call which tries to enhance voice clarity during calls though I did not notice a big difference with it enabled. The gesture controls worked flawlessly in my testing and I was surprised that they were accurate most of the time even when I was tapping around my ears and not directly on the earbuds.
Active noise cancelation (ANC) is potent and delivers a noticeable drop in static noise around you. It’s nowhere near the level you’d get on pair of over-ear headphones but for a tiny pair of earbuds – it’s good enough. As an added bonus you get an EQ tuning option inside the Huawei Health app. The volume coming out of the earbuds is a bit lower than on most of the standalone buds we’ve reviewed in the past months.
Watch Buds brings a 410 mAh battery – that’s less than the GT 3 Pro (530 mAh) and you’re sharing that capacity between the watch and earphones. In my usage, I could manage one week’s worth of battery life with all health activity tracking options enabled on the watch with three workouts and constant notifications.
That’s quite impressive for a 2-in-1 device and comfortably beats the likes of the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watches. Using the earbuds more actively brings a big tax on battery life cutting the combined usage time to just three days, which is still more than Samsung’s and Apple’s offerings.
As a smartwatch, Huawei WatchBuds falls short on battery life compared to what the Huawei GT 3 Pro would get you on its own. A decent pair of earbuds could easily last you over 5-6 hours of usage with their charging case included while the buds on here will last you no more than 3 hours of playback.
Huawei is offering something no other smartwatch from an established brand can get you with the Watch Buds – a pair of wireless earbuds inside its casing. The earbuds are a real engineering marvel on their own and sound good, though not as good as the flagship earbuds in Huawei’s FreeBuds range. Their biggest downside is they are only usable with the watch and your paired smartphone.
In my time with the Watch Buds, I was more impressed with the sound from the tiny earbuds than the actual smartwatch bit. Watch Buds is basically a Watch GT 3 Pro but with a week’s less battery life and a substantially thicker and heavier casing to accommodate the built-in earbuds.
Huawei should consider pushing these earbuds to the market on their own just for their portable size and great sound as there are few alternatives from the established brands. From a dedicated smartwatch point of view, Watch Buds offers the standard array of features you’d expect but falls short of most premium watches in terms of durability due to the lack of waterproofing.
At €499/£449 , Huawei Watch Buds is a tough sell given that you can buy a premium smartwatch and have money to spare on a great pair of earbuds too. Most users would be better off buying their smartwatch and wireless earphones separately but those who are after a new take on smart wearables should consider splurging and try out Huawei’s 2-in-1 approach.