How the Huawei Watch GT 3 shows what an Apple Watch for Android would be like

Unless you own an iPhone, you can’t use the Apple Watch, because there’s no way to connect it to a smartphone running anything other than iOS. But what if Apple suddenly made it possible for Android phones to connect to an Apple Watch? Having used the Huawei Watch GT 3 recently, I’ve been given a glimpse into what that may be like, as I came to terms with using the Huawei smartwatch, which definitely prioritizes Huawei phone ownership, with a non-Huawei smartphone.

Understanding the Watch GT 3

The Watch GT 3’s software is HarmonyOS 2.1, Huawei’s own platform that’s suitable for a wide range of connected devices, which links with Huawei’s Health app on your phone. This is needed to sync and update the Watch, and also acts as the hub for all your health and activity data collected by the smartwatch.

Huawei Watch GT 3.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

When you start the watch for the first time, it tells you to download Huawei Health, which is available through Google Play and the App Store, so that’s how most who don’t own a Huawei phone will try to obtain it. Except the Huawei Health app on Google Play doesn’t support the Watch GT 3, and you are forced to then download the Huawei App Gallery from outside Google Play to update the app to the latest version.

This requires multiple steps and altering a variety of permissions in Android, such as letting Chrome install apps and granting Huawei Health access to your phone and notifications. It’s all immensely off-putting to the average person, who may not be aware any of this was possible at all. Once you’ve done all this, the Watch GT 3 does connect without issue, but it’s a long-winded process that is not the experience new owners will expect. However, if you own a Huawei phone or even an iPhone, none of these extra steps apply, and it’s all smooth sailing.

Huawei Watch GT 3 on wrist.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

But if you own an iPhone, you should be buying an Apple Watch, and it’s probable you don’t have a new Huawei phone either, due to the general lack of availability globally, the Huawei P50 still missing in action, and the P40 series being 20 months old. That leaves you almost certainly owning an Android phone, where you’re met with the awkward setup process above. Worse, the Huawei Watch 3, released in July, was exactly the same, so there’s obviously no rush on Huawei’s part to change things.

If Apple decided to give the Android hordes access to the Apple Watch, you can bet it would also require similar hoop-jumping. The question then becomes, is it worth going through all this initial bother?

Wearing the Watch GT 3

Like the Apple Watch, the Watch GT 3’s hardware is very tempting. Huawei knows how to design a great smartwatch, and the Watch GT 3 is a considerable step up from the old Watch GT 2. It now shares the same look as the more expensive Watch 3 with its rotating crown at the two o’clock position, and a single button at the four o’clock position. It’s a far more modern style than the Watch GT 2. It comes in two different case sizes — a 46mm and a 42mm model — which is excellent, and there’s a choice of three versions with different straps and colors.

Huawei Watch GT 3 on wrist
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The case is made from stainless steel with glass over the screen, and although it’s primarily a plastic case back on the GT 3 rather than the full ceramic found on the Watch 3, it’s still smooth, glossy, and cool to the touch. It’s far better than the scratchy plastic found on some other cheap smartwatches. I’ve been wearing the 46mm model, and the lengthy lug-to-lug measurement means it dominates my 6.5-inch wrist. Despite this, I’ve worn it all day without a problem, even with its 42-gram weight, but have never wanted to wear it at night for sleep tracking. It’s just a little too big and bulky to do so comfortably.

Huawei Watch GT 3 case back.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The extensive collection of watch faces available for it makes customization simple, but be aware a great deal of them have to be purchased, and the 22mm strap can be easily changed, making the Watch GT 3 very watch-like to own and wear. The battery life is solid, and I’ve got seven days’ use with all the tracking sensors switched on, and the always-on screen active too. Huawei says if you turn these off, the battery life will stretch to 14 days, but I don’t really see the point in doing this under normal circumstances. You may as well make full use of the smartwatch if you’re going to wear it.

Using the Watch GT 3

When you start to live with the Watch GT 3, you start to notice further problems with not using a Huawei phone, which then becomes annoying as HarmonyOS 2.1 is slickly designed, fast, and really pretty to look at. In other words, this is a great smartwatch to use. The 1.43-inch AMOLED screen on the 46mm model (a 1.32-inch AMOLED sits on the 42mm model) is bright enough to be seen in all lighting conditions and very colorful, making the most of the Watch GT 3’s wonderful card-based menus.

From the relatively pointless but really attractive moon phase card to the animated health data screens and sharp text, HarmonyOS 2.1 is a visual feast. The Watch GT 3 doesn’t pretend to be a traditional watch, it fully embraces the power from the processor and ability of its screen, but never overloads you with data on a single page, making it both easy and relaxing to use. I like the varied health-tracking features, and all the results tended to match what I got with my Apple Watch Series 7, suggesting both are similarly accurate.

But despite this, there’s always the nagging feeling the Watch GT 3 would be much happier if it was connected to a Huawei phone. Tap the symbol for Huawei’s Celia virtual assistant, and it obstinately tells you it needs a Huawei phone to operate. On a non-Huawei phone, you can’t respond to incoming messages from the watch at all, not even with canned replies, and there’s no mobile payment support despite it having a Wallet app installed.

There are 30 apps available through the Health app, but really it’s only Petal Maps that’s of any consequence, and to use it on the Watch GT 3 it also needs to be installed and used on your smartphone. Again, that’s fine if you have a Huawei phone with HarmonyOS, but few will want to choose it over the default Google Maps app on an Android phone.

If Apple decided to give the Android hordes access to the Apple Watch, you can bet it would also be constrained, feature-wise, and require the installation of multiple apps to operate. In the same way, we don’t recommend buying a Wear smartwatch to go with your iPhone, it’s hard to recommend using a Huawei smartwatch with an Android phone because you aren’t getting the true, full experience for your money. It’s unfortunate as the Watch GT 3 is very good, and if you do own a Huawei phone, then it’s a great purchase.

Should you buy the Watch GT 3?

There’s room for a smartwatch like the Watch GT 3 to really clean up. The Apple Watch is only for iPhone owners, and good though the Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic are, we’re still waiting for the Wear platform to make it to other smartwatches to offer choice. That leaves us with a range of decent, cheap smartwatches, but wanting for something of higher quality with a better design and better software. The Watch GT 3 would fill that gap if it didn’t seem so half-in-half-out due to Huawei (understandably) prioritizing functionality for HarmonyOS smartphones.

Huawei Watch GT 3 on wrist
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

If you’re willing to get past the irritations, at around 230 British pounds/$305, the Watch GT 3 is the better Huawei smartwatch option over the 350 pound/$463 Watch 3, particularly if you don’t own a Huawei phone. It’s available now directly through Huawei’s online store, or through retailers including Amazon, but would need to be imported to the U.S.

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