Android Wear

Huawei Watch vs. the new Moto 360: A detailed real-world comparison

These two new smartwatches may look similar -- but live with 'em both for a week, and you spot some very important differences.

Huawei Watch vs. New Moto 360
JR Raphael, IDG

Android Wear

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When it comes to smartwatches, every second counts.

Huawei and Motorola seem to think so, anyway. In what can't be a coincidence, the two companies are releasing their remarkably similar-looking Android Wear devices at the same time -- and thus battling it out directly for your attention and buying dollars.

I've been spending the past week getting to know the new Moto 360 ($300 to $450, depending on style and options) and the Huawei Watch ($350 to $800, depending on model). I've been alternating every other day and wearing each watch from morning to night in order to get a feel for what it's actually like to use in day-to-day life. And, of course, I've been doing plenty of direct comparisons.

So which watch is the one to get? After living with both devices in the real world, the answer is more apparent than you might think.

Let's break it down, shall we?

(Tip: If you don't care about the details, you can skip to the final section to get right to the summary.)

1. The size

The Huawei Watch is on the smaller end of the Android Wear spectrum, which brings a welcome new option to the thus-far-bulky Wear watch selection. The watch looks great and feels very comfortable on my, ahem, modestly-sized wrists -- but it's not so tiny that it'd look silly on someone with a thicker arm-hand-connector (that's the technical term for a wrist -- didn't you know?).

What's impressive is that even with that slimmed-down body -- a 42mm diameter -- the Huawei Watch has a generously sized 1.4-in. display. That's actually larger than the 1.3-in. display on the bulkier (though otherwise excellent) LG Watch Urbane, which means you end up seeing more content on the screen at any given time. You might get an extra line or two of text within a Hangouts conversation or a Keep to-do list, for instance, before you have to scroll down.

New Moto 360, Huawei Watch, LG Watch Urbane

From left to right: The new Moto 360, the Huawei Watch, and the LG Watch Urbane

The Moto 360, meanwhile, comes in a choice of two different sizes. You can get it in a 42mm form that's basically the same size as the Huawei, or you can get it in a larger 46mm form that's more comparable to last year's Moto 360 model. The 42mm version's screen is a hair smaller than the one on the Huawei Watch, at 1.37 in. -- enough of a difference that you lose that extra line or two of text -- while the 46mm version's screen is 1.56 in., just like last year's Moto device.

I've been wearing the 42mm version, and I've found it to be pretty comparable to the Huawei Watch in terms of comfort and fit. The 360 wraps a little more snugly around my wrist than the Huawei, but it's nothing I've noticed or given any thought to in day-to-day use. All in all, I've been quite pleased with how both watches look and feel -- at least, from a surface-level perspective. 

(Don't worry: We'll go beyond the surface in a sec.)

2. Style and design

We can talk tech all day, but when it comes down to it, a smartwatch is first and foremost a watch -- something you're going to wear and display on your wrist as part of your wardrobe. Like any watch, it's a piece of jewelry -- and a lot of the variance from one device to the next comes down to a matter of personal preference.

The Huawei Watch I've been using is the base $350 model, which features a silver stainless steel body with a black leather band. That's the same setup as the $300 Moto 360 I've been wearing.

Within those parameters, though, each watch has its own share of individuality. The first and most obvious difference is in the bodies: The Huawei Watch has a bridge that extends out from its face and connects to the strap while the 360 has post-like lugs that serve the same function. (This difference is what's responsible for the 360 having a slightly snugger fit, as I mentioned a minute ago, but it's nothing I would describe as being inherently "better" or "worse" -- just a question of which style you find more appealing.)

New Moto 360 vs Huawei Watch: Lugs

The lugs on the new Moto 360 (left) and the Huawei Watch (right)

As for the bands, the Huawei Watch's leather is a significant step above the Moto 360's. It looks nicer -- more like a real leather band you'd find on a regular watch, whereas the 360's is a bit on the cheap side in appearance. Seeing the two watches together, the difference is immediately noticeable. The same goes for feel: Huawei's band feels like nice soft leather while Motorola's feels rather budget-level in comparison.

New Moto 360 vs Huawei Watch: Bands

The leather bands on the new Moto 360 (left) and the Huawei Watch (right)

Flip the watches over, and you'll discover they both have quick-release mechanisms that make it dead-simple to swap the straps out. Both watches should work with any standard third-party band of the proper size, so that opens up a lot of potential for changing things up as you wish (though at your own additional expense, obviously).

The watches' bottom sides reveal another interesting difference: While the 360 has glossy plastic on its underbelly, like Motorola's first-gen model, the Huawei Watch has actual metal. There's still some plastic in the center, surrounding the heart rate sensor, but you end up with a much more premium vibe.

New Moto 360 vs Huawei Watch: Backs

The backs of the new Moto 360 (left) and the Huawei Watch (right)

If silver and leather isn't your cup of tea, each watch presents you with its own set of style options. The new 360 is being sold through Motorola's excellent Moto Maker customization tool, which allows you to select from a choice of colors for the watch's bezel (silver, gold, black, or a textured "Micro Knurl" version of any of those colors) as well as for its main body (silver, black, or gold). You can also go with a "Cognac" (aka brown) leather band or a metal-link strap in silver, black, or gold. And aside from the aforementioned choice of a regular 42mm or 46mm size, the new 360 also comes in a designed-for-women version that's 42mm with narrower bands and additional color choices.

(Some of those options cause the watch's cost to go up -- by anywhere from $20 to $50 per step, with a maximum total price of $450.)

The Huawei Watch doesn't have any sort of build-your-own system, but it is available in a handful of styles beyond the basic silver-and-leather look: a silver steel watch with silver steel-link or steel-"mesh" band for $400, a black steel watch with black steel-link band for $450, and -- coming soon, for those who really want to drop some serious dough -- a rose-gold steel watch with brown leather band for $700 (!) and a rose-gold steel watch with rose-gold steel band for $800 (!!).

In a nutshell, the Moto 360 offers you more granular control over the details of the watch's design while the Huawei Watch comes in a variety of premade options. As long as you see something you like in either lineup, that's ultimately all that matters.

(Both watches offer impressive selections of preloaded face designs, by the way -- more total on the Huawei Watch but more customizable and interactive options on the 360. With all of the exceptional third-party face designs available for Android Wear these days, though, that really isn't anything you need to worry about. By and large, Android Wear is Android Wear; the important parts of the software are identical from one device to the next, which is why I'm not getting into any of that in this comparison.)

3. Display

All right -- as promised, some critical detail beyond the surface-level stuff. A smartwatch's screen is the area you'll be looking at most often, so it's crucial to ensure any watch you select is up to par in that department.

I'll make it easy: The Huawei Watch has the superior display of the two. But not for the reasons you might expect.

First, forget about the differences in resolution. Yes, the Huawei Watch has the slightly higher-res screen, at 286 pixels per inch compared to the 360's 263ppi density (in the smaller version; the larger Moto 360 sits at 233ppi, since it's spread out a bit more). But remember: These are all really small screens on devices designed for quick and simple interactions -- glancing at the time or at basic info like weather and various notifications. The resolution isn't that important in this context, and the difference between the devices isn't that significant, anyway. In real-world terms, it's largely irrelevant.

What is important is the type of display used in each watch. The Moto 360 has an LCD display while the Huawei Watch has an AMOLED panel. Both screens generally look good when they're fully illuminated and are viewable in all sorts of environments, including glary outdoor conditions. Their coloring is ever-so-slightly different, but with the type of content you tend to view on a smartwatch, that doesn't mean much (and truthfully, it's nothing you'd even notice if you weren't studying the two devices side by side).

Where things seriously diverge is in how the devices look in their ambient state -- the dimmed mode the watch remains in most of the time, whenever you aren't actively using it. On the plus side, the new Moto 360 does feature an "always on" ambient mode, like every other Android Wear watch; the first-gen model was the only Wear device to omit that option, and it really limited its usefulness as a watch compared to the competition.

The problem is that the new 360's ambient mode just isn't very good. It's super dim, for one -- so dim that it's impossible to see in many conditions, which kind of defeats the purpose of having it in the first place. Even in moderately bright environments like a Target store or my car in the afternoon (with no direct sunlight), it almost looks like the watch is completely blank; unless I activate the screen into its fully illuminated state, I can't make out a thing on it. And the visibility only gets worse when you look at the watch from an angle instead of head-on.

Beyond that, even when you can see it, the 360's ambient mode display just flat-out looks bad. Presumably to reduce the LCD display's power consumption, Motorola keeps the ambient mode in a super-low-res and pixelated state that brings to mind the appearance of an old-school DOS video game. Elements become jagged and often sparse, and some third-party faces end up getting distorted beyond recognition. Considering that's what's shown on your watch most of the time, it's a pretty significant downside.

New Moto 360 vs Huawei Watch: Ambient Mode

The ambient mode on the new Moto 360 (left) looks pixelated and often sparse -- sometimes even distorted -- compared to the Huawei Watch (right)

The Huawei Watch doesn't suffer from this issue. Its ambient state looks crisp and clear from any angle -- just like a dimmed-down (and sometimes scaled-back, depending on the face) version of the same watch you see when the screen is fully illuminated. The difference is immeasurable and has a huge impact on what the device is like to use.

Another distinction that's immediately noticeable is the presence of a small blacked-out area on the bottom of the Moto 360's screen -- the "flat tire," as it's not-so-affectionately been dubbed over the past year. It's one of those things that isn't that big of a deal once you get used to it; you can find faces that are designed to work around the missing space, and when I'm wearing the watch, I usually stop thinking about it after a while. That being said, when I move to a watch that has a fully round display without the blacked-out area, it's always a pleasant change. Suddenly, every face looks good -- with no elements cut off or numbers only half-present -- and the viewing experience is just more enjoyable all around.

New Moto 360 vs Huawei Watch: Full Displays

The Moto 360 (left) has a small blacked-out area at the bottom of its screen while the Huawei Watch (right) shows you a complete circle

The 360's "flat tire" does serve a purpose, however: It holds an ambient light sensor, which allows the watch to automatically adjust its brightness (in its fully illuminated state) based on your environment. That means the lit-up display will get dimmer at night and brighter in sunlight, which is a nice perk to have. On the Huawei Watch (and most other Android Wear devices), you have to manually set the brightness and adjust it as needed. (Or just settle on a "close enough" middle-ground setting and stick with it -- which is generally what I've been doing.)

Last but not least, the Moto 360's display is slightly raised above the rest of its body for an "infinity pool"-like effect, while the Huawei Watch's has a raised and angled bezel surrounding it. Both arrangements have their own form of visual appeal, though the Moto's comes with the downside of creating a strange light-refracting effect along the screen's edges (particularly noticeable when a light background is being shown on the display). One could also contend that the 360's screen may be more susceptible to damage, since it's the highest point on the watch with no buffer to protect it from bumps or scrapes.

New Moto 360 vs Huawei Watch: Bezels

A different approach to bezels on the new Moto 360 (back) and the Huawei Watch (front)

And speaking of damage, the Huawei Watch has the distinction of providing a sapphire crystal material on its surface that's said to make it extra resistant to scratches. I can't comment on how well it actually works -- I've yet to experience any scratching or screen damage after more than a year of wearing smartwatches, with or without that feature present -- but the added bit of protection can certainly only be viewed as a positive.

NEXT PAGE: Performance, stamina and charging, and the bottom line

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