Huawei has shown with its “Watch” series of devices, whether in the GT range or the “main” range, that it is good at building smart watches. The company offers a wide range of products in this category, at various price points, with something for every type of user. While Huawei has until now spoken almost exclusively to tech enthusiasts, it seems that the new Watch Ultimate wants to appeal to those who are also passionate about watches in general, not just smartwatches. This is a device that stands out, first and foremost, because of the materials from which it is made, being comparable in these respects to luxury watches. Moreover, the price is also starting to tend towards that category.
Huawei Watch Ultimate is the first smartwatch made of materials comparable to luxury watches
The longest discussion surrounding this watch should be about the construction, as this is the main element that sets the Watch Ultra apart from the other models in Huawei’s snartwatch range. The Ultimate is the first smartwatch not to adopt “traditional” materials for construction. Instead of an aluminium casing, Huawei has chosen “liquid metal”, an amorphous zirconium alloy, which is also stronger than titanium, the hardest material previously used on Huawei and competitor devices. This material is used on traditional watches in the luxury range, such as the Paneral Luminor or the Oskar Pascal OP48.
Liquid metal is 4.5 times stronger than titanium, 2.5 times harder and is corrosion resistant, making it ideal for many types of activities. Watch Ultimate is not only a manly watch design, suitable for wearing with a suit, for example, but can also be used in the ocean for diving, with dedicated functions for that, as well as on mountain trails, promising advanced software capabilities, autonomy and endurance in all kinds of conditions: wet, heat or extreme cold.
Another “luxury” material is HNBR (Hydrogenated Nitrile Rubber), used in the strap construction for the basic version of the Watch Ultimate. This is also the one we tested, with a dark grey case and a black bezel dial. There’s also a top variant with a blue bezel, delivered with a silver-coloured titanium bracelet. Both, however, come with a large rubber strap, made especially for those who want to use the watch for winter activities, or when diving, so they can attach the watch over their protective gear.
Also in the box is the magnetic charger with USB-A plug, but not a plug-in charger. Since the Watch is dependent on a phone, Huawei assumes you already have an outlet charger for that one. The Watch Ultimate also charges on Qi wireless chargers, or you can power the watch via wireless reverse charging from a compatible phone. The titanium bracelet model also comes with spare links to enlarge the bracelet.
The design is the closest yet to that of a traditional watch
All these elements make up a large 46mm watch, one of the largest smartwatches on the market, which is more suited to the hand of a man with thicker hands. Personally, I felt that this model would not fit me, as I have hands that are rather thin at the wrist, and every time I rested my hand on a table or desk, the impact of the watch with that surface could be heard. Thus, not infrequently during the testing period I had to be a little more aware of my surroundings when moving my hands, so as not to bump the watch against surrounding items.
However, the Huawei Watch Ultimate is the smartwatch that looks most like a traditional watch, and might “spark” some interest from those who have so far ignored the smartwatch space because of the “toy” design. Huawei already had traditionally designed watches in the Watch and Watch GT series, but this one is finally and built to be comparable. The attention to detail is surprising, and the watch feels “premium”, with every design element carefully crafted.
I’m generally a very detail-oriented person when it comes to products, especially in the premium range. The Watch Ultimate thus managed to catch my attention with the Huawei logo on all sorts of small elements, from the strap lock, to the digital crown and even the strap attachment system.
I also liked the fact that Huawei chose to improve the strap attachment and detachment system. The rubber strap version uses a “slider” system, whose “latch” is now larger and can be easily operated. You can change the strap in seconds. The ceramic back is pleasant to the touch, and this is a very important element, as this is the area that touches the skin permanently when you have the watch on your hand.
Next, the Watch Ultimate comes equipped with three physical buttons on its body. We have a digital crown, which can be used for navigating through menus, and pressing it is the universal action that returns you to the main dial. The other two buttons are dedicated to sports functions, with the bottom right one also connected to the ECG sensor.
The software on the Watch Ultimate hasn’t evolved much from the GT models
When it comes to software, the fact that the Watch Ultimate doesn’t use a very different operating system from the GT models could be both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on how you look at it.
On the one hand, Huawei Watch users will be familiar with the software experience and find all the features right where they expect to find them. The Watch Ultimate is equipped with all the sensors we encountered on the Watch GT 3 Pro, for example, with a pulse sensor, pulse oximeter, altimeter, thermometer, gyroscope, ECG, GPS and accelerometer, thus being able to monitor all kinds of sports activities and even the user’s health.
Like previous models, we’re talking about the ability to monitor sleep, stress levels and heart health, with Huawei watches receiving medical certification including in Romania for these functions.
Incidentally, even the battery life of up to 14 days is similar to what we’ve seen on the Watch GT 3 Pro. From my own experience, the watch consumes less than 10% battery in a typical day. It’s important to note that I’m not exactly a “heavy” user for such a smartwatch, as I generally don’t do sports activities, don’t go on mountain expeditions, and have never been diving. In fact, I don’t even know how to swim. So, in terms of sports monitoring I don’t have much to say. Probably not many of my colleagues will be able to test the Watch Ultimate’s more interesting capabilities, such as diving or hiking. For that reason, it seems to me that all of these advanced features are very niche, and only those who do such activities constantly could speak to how good they actually are. Given that Huawei already has many years of experience in the field and that its products are among the best sellers on the market, I can assume that those who use them are happy with what they offer. The important thing to remember is that when you use all the sensors, such as GPS, altimeter, gyroscope and those for health monitoring together, the range will decrease. Huawei estimates about 65 hours of battery life in expedition mode, so you can be out for more than two days on the mountain without requiring a charge with most of the sensors running.
However, on the flip side, the fact that a watch costing from 3,500 lei upwards has about the same features as a half-priced watch might not attract too many users to upgrade. The big differentiator is the diving mode, something that is not exactly a popular activity in Romania. Also, the expedition mode, which can record mountain runs, was not available during testing. Huawei promised an update adding this mode, but it didn’t come in time before writing this review. Incidentally, the watch could only be tested on Android and HarmonyOS via a beta app, and then the official app after an update. The iOS app refused to connect the watch even with the latest software version. Most likely, this issue will be fixed once the watch is released in stores and a new version of Huawei Health is available.
But there are other software limitations caused by the operating system on GT models. It provides high battery life, indeed, but the selection of compatible apps is very limited, somewhere in the dozens, not hundreds or thousands. The function of being able to reply to messages on chat apps via a keyboard or dictation has still not been implemented, with only “quick replies” available from a predefined list of messages, which is also customisable, and integration with Strava and other sports services is via a third-party smartphone app, no direct integration with those apps. Thus, there are some extra steps in using them.
The Watch Ultimate does indeed have a very large 1.5″ screen and 1,000 nits brightness, making it easy to read in sunlight, but it has other drawbacks such as the lack of a working payment system in the UK. In other countries, Huawei offers integration with the Curve payment system, which can be integrated into the Wallet app. In Romania, however, the Wallet app is not available (or so says the Huawei Health mobile app, as Wallet can be opened on the watch, but without a way to add cards). Nor is there a 4G variant that would allow the watch to take calls or provide access to navigation functions, or stream music, without a smartphone.
And one question mark remains, to which Huawei hasn’t offered a concrete answer: the software support period. We don’t have a firm promise of 2, 3, 4 or more years of updates. Traditionally, Huawei has offered several years of updates on its watches, but those models have never been this expensive in the past. When you spend 200-300 euros on a watch, maybe 1, 2 or 3 years of updates is enough, but already when you spend towards 800 euros on such a device, the promise that it won’t fall behind quickly is definitely a must. I hope we get an official statement to this effect, reassuring potential customers who don’t want to risk being left with an outdated watch.
All in all, I can’t say I’ve disliked wearing the Watch Ultimate on my hand for the past few weeks, but I can’t say I’ll miss it much either. For me, the experience compared to previous Watch GT models hasn’t been much different, and paying with the watch is a feature that matters more to my use case than access to an advanced dive mode or fancy build materials. In fact, the fact that this model is larger made me a little uncomfortable in some situations, as described above. I think a smaller version with similar features, and even a female version (I suspect it’s not just men who dive or go mountain diving), would be welcome.
When I draw the line though, it seems to me that the evolution from GT 3 Pro to Watch Ultimate is not a major one. Those who are really passionate about watches and want a “smart” one, built as well as possible, and with a design closer to traditional watches, will find in Watch Ultimate a unique product: a smartwatch that looks and “feels” like a “real” watch. On the other hand, those who want a device that can record dives of up to 100m, but is also suitable to wear with a suit to an event, don’t have much choice. Instead, smartwatch fans can get a similar experience from cheaper models, and those who want features such as 4G connectivity, payments and a wider range of apps have other brands’ watches, which come with their own drawbacks, such as significantly less battery life.
Huawei seems to be choosing the Watch Ultimate path of a “niche”, exclusive product with a small but well-defined audience. Those users certainly won’t be disappointed with this product. In fact, I’m glad there are such devices on the market, as other manufacturers will probably try in the future to create competing models with similar capabilities, and in the race for the “best product”, it’s always the customers who win.
The Huawei Watch Ultimate is available at launch in a special bundle, which also includes the FreeBuds Pro 2 headphones, at the same base price, plus some bonuses on the Huawei Store.