May 25 update below. This post was first published on May 22, 2023.
When Huawei revealed its premium smartwatch and called it the Ultimate, I was impressed by its specifications and its handsome design. Here’s what I found out about the Huawei Watch Ultimate after weeks of testing. And, across the board, there were innovations from metal finish to health monitoring that other smartwatches can’t beat, not even the Apple Watch Ultra.
The Ultimate isn’t on sale in the U.S., though it might appear on Amazon in due course. It costs $869 (£699) for the black version, $993 (£799) for the blue. For comparison, the Apple Watch Ultra costs $799.
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May 25 update. One of the best things about tech is that gadgets can get better with age. So, software updates add features, improve performance or change the experience.
Huawei has released several software updates for the Watch Ultimate since it was originally launched in March (the global release followed after that). Most of these were active in the watch when I was testing it and these included extra diving modes such as scuba diving and gauge modes. There were also additional and different categories of reminders and alerts—all important when you’re underwater. And there were apnea training tools so you could customize training courses to monitor blood oxygen and heart rate in real time. Other features in early updates including an option in settings to allow the connection of a new device by Bluetooth.
There were also additions to the Exploration mode to allow users to add places automatically and note points of interest, along with enhancements to return route features.
More recently, though, Huawei has added performance improvements in its latest firmware update, which is 220.127.116.11 if you like knowing such details. I’ve been testing this now. The truth is that the performance was already impressive, and remains so with the new update. Huawei claims greater system stability comes with this firmware though I have found little to complain about in these terms anyway.
Huawei’s release notes specify other details, such as a feature to change the gas in technical dives. Optimizations to how this works have also been added. Huawei says it also “improves the display in certain diving scenarios for a better user experience”. Technical dives are also improved by better gas reminders and extra accuracy of CNS data. The update was extremely quick and easy to install, by the way, arguably simpler than on the Apple Watch because you don’t need to return the watch to the charging puck as Apple requires.
One other item: the Huawei Watch Ultimate has a night mode similar to the one on the Apple Watch Ultra with red text, though Huawei favors a slightly more orange hue. I mention it now as I’ve been getting a lot more use out of it and it’s great, with multiple faces including a compass that gets the night-orange treatment, which looks splendid.
Huawei Watch Ultimate: Design
The look of the watch really leaps out at you. It comes in two versions, Expedition Black and Voyage Blue. Both look great, but the blue version I’ve been testing is just beautiful.
Where its closest obvious rival, the Apple Watch Ultra, has an already-fancy titanium casing, the Huawei models use a Zirconium-based liquid metal case, which is especially luxurious—and something Apple hasn’t yet matched. Huawei says it’s the hardest light alloy available.
It looks great and is stronger than stainless steel, for instance, and can cope with high temperatures. The blue version looks especially snappy, as classily built as a high-end traditional watch.
The 1.5-inch circular display is protected by a sapphire crystal lens. While 1.5 inches may not sound big, it really is, the biggest circular display on a smartwatch.
It means the watch is big, but that display is very inviting, so much so that you may forget to notice how hefty the watch itself is. It’s also detailed and bright, which both contribute to its success.
While it’s true that the rectangular display of the Apple Watch is better for putting maximum text onscreen at a time, there’s something very pleasing about the traditional circular design here.
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Huawei Watch Ultimate: Health Features
Huawei has routinely included advanced health and fitness features in its wearables, often beating rivals. There’s the Huawei Watch D which measures your blood pressure using an inflatable strap like a standalone pressure cuff, for instance.
This watch doesn’t have that, but it builds on previous Huawei wearables, including sleep tracking, stress monitoring, ECG, blood oxygen monitoring and more. Of course, there’s heart rate monitoring and it measures your heart rate all day long.
If you use your watch for tracking your runs, you’ll be glad that the Ultimate has dual-band GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) compatibility, as this makes for greater accuracy and quick signal acquisition. So, no waiting around for the GPS to kick in. This quick signal-grabbing is something the Apple Watch has done for some time, though only the Ultra has dual-frequency support, but rivals have often struggled.
You can also use the Huawei Watch Ultimate to measure the state of your arteries, with Arterial Stiffness Detection. Some weighing scales have this metric—Withings calls it pulse wave velocity and puts this measurement in its premium scales—but it’s not found on many smartwatches. Huawei introduced it on its devices last year on the GT 3 Pro. It’s not a metric measured on any Apple device.
Huawei Watch Ultimate: Expedition and Dive Modes
I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not a diver. So I haven’t tested the Dive mode on this watch.
But it’s the first smartwatch that is certified to a depth of 100 meters, or to be more specific, the first consumer smartwatch other than a dedicated diving watch like the ones sold by Garmin as diving computers. They can manage the same depths. This watch manages more than the Apple Watch Ultra and previous Huawei models like the GT3 Pro.
The three buttons on the watch come into play here—the nature of capacitive screens is they don’t work underwater. As a comparison, the Apple Watch Ultra manages 40 meters. It offers data on depth, ascent, decompression, oxygen pressure and more.
Then there’s Expedition mode, which tracks details about hikes and lets you create waypoints and track back to your starting point. Huawei has had advanced outdoor capabilities for some time now, and this new watch takes things a little further. It shows plenty of data and the waypoint feature is useful.
Huawei Watch Ultimate: Battery Life
This is outstanding. Huawei’s promise of 14 days use is probably right, but I love an always-on display, which that statistic doesn’t include. However, it runs almost for a week with this display on and decent usage. In standby it’s remarkable: I was away for a week and got back to find the watch still had 60% battery.
That’s more than a lot of rivals and way more than both the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra.
Huawei Watch Ultimate: Software
Huawei doesn’t have access to Google Mobile Services, as you’ll know, and the corollary for the smartwatch is that the Harmony OS, while perfectly serviceable, lacks the breadth of bank support found in Google Pay or Apple Pay. Mind you, not everyone uses this. The interface is effective and easy to use, and there are plenty of apps available.
Huawei Watch Ultimate: Verdict
If you have an iPhone, you’ll probably still want to stick to the Apple Watch Ultra. But this is a watch that has more advanced features than most, and looks sensational into the bargain. Build quality is immaculate and the big, bright screen is a delight. Battery life is tremendous. Some aspects are not as advanced as they could be, and the absence of LTE at this price point is a shame. But overall, this is a gorgeous and effective smartwatch.