I kept putting off writing this Huawei Watch Ultimate review. Not because I don't like the watch but because I thought there was too much to write about. Huawei threw everything but the kitchen sink at this wearable, and therefore, the Watch Ultimate often feels over the top. There is a lot to unpack here.
However, the most important question I wanted to find the answer to was this: is the Huawei Watch Ultimate the best smartwatch, or are you better off with the cheaper but equally as capable (from an average person's point of view) Huawei Watch GT 3 Pro? Can the Watch Ultimate take on the Apple Watch Ultra or other rugged outdoor watches? And if it did, which would come out on top?
I was determined to find answers. I spent four weeks using the Huawei Watch Ultimate and comparing it to other wearables. I even took it with me when I went hiking the South West Coast Path from Minehead to Porlock Weir, which was a lot of fun and made me appreciate the watch's Expedition feature. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning and see what adventures the Huawei Watch Ultimate will take us!
[First reviewed April 2023]
Huawei Watch Ultimate review: price and availability
The Huawei Watch Ultimate is available to buy now in the UK and Europe directly from Huawei and selected third-party retailers, with prices from £700 (approx. $871/AU$1,317) for the Huawei Watch Ultimate Expedition Black version. The Voyage Blue version will be dispatched on 5 May 2023. This makes the watch more than twice as expensive as its direct predecessor, the Huawei Watch GT 3 Pro Titanium, which sells for around £250.
However, the Huawei Watch Ultimate is cheaper than the Apple Watch Ultra, which starts from £850. It's also more affordable than the also OTT Garmin MARQ Gen 2, of which the cheapest is £1,600. A watch that sells for a similar price is the Garmin Epix Gen 2, which can be bought for around £700 these days. AU availability TBC. Currently, there are no plans to launch in the US.
Huawei Watch Ultimate review: Design and build quality
The Huawei Watch Ultimate is what I would call a mega-premium watch. Indeed, at first glance, you might mistake the watch for a mechanical watch. Unlike the Apple Watch Ultra, the Watch Ultimate has a traditional-looking zirconium-based liquid metal material case, which Huawei claims is usually reserved for traditional, luxurious timepieces.
The watch case measures 48.5 mm × 48.5 mm × 13 mm, and it weighs 76 grams without the straps. Speaking of straps, the tested Expedition Black version comes with an ultra-long dive strap you can warp around your wrist twice. It's 100% unusable under normal circumstances but reinforces the diving watch nature of the Huawei Watch Ultimate.
This material is said to be 4.5 times stronger and 2.5 times harder than stainless steel. It resists deformation under high-temperature conditions, which is ideal, considering the Huawei Watch Ultimate is meant to be used deep underwater. Of course, most people won't do that, but that's beside the point.
The large, 1.5-inch LTPO AMOLED touchscreen display has a 466 x 466-pixel resolution and an up to 1,000 nits brightness, protected by a 2.35 mm scratch-resistant sapphire glass lens and a 'Nano-Tech Ceramic' bezel. Huawei says this is the largest AMOLED screen in any wearable to date, and they aren't wrong. The display is big, bright and easy to read under any lighting conditions.
The Huawei Watch Ultimate is the most water-tight smartwatch on the market today. It supports 100-metre dive-level water resistance capabilities while still equipped with audio capabilities. Not sure who'd listen to audio queues under that much water, and I didn't try this feature out myself.
There are three physical buttons (assist button, rotating crown, function button) around the edge of the case, one of them a dedicated 'Ultimate' mode button that allows single-press access to the Expedition mode. The action button is also supposed to grant access to the Diving mode, but I couldn't find a way to assign this function to the button. There is a diving icon in the menu, though.
Huawei Watch Ultimate review: Features
Think of any smartwatch feature; the Huawei Watch Ultimate can probably do it. The wearable inherited most – if not all – features of previous Huawei watches, such as the Huawei Watch GT 3 and the Huawei Watch GT Runner, including Arterial Stiffness Detection, ECG, sleep and stress tracking, smart notifications, Bluetooth call, dual-band five-system GNSS and more.
Bluetooth calling is a feature I don't often use, but there are a microphone and a speaker on the watch, so you can take calls and send quick replies to messages without ever touching your phone. If you have a pair of Huawei Freebuds 5i or a Huawei P50 Pro smartphone, the connection is even seamless.
Like most smartwatches these days, the Huawei Watch Ultimate also measures heart rate 24/7, as well as blood oxygen (the most useless and battery-draining function out there). It also has a similar feature to Apple's Rings, and how many steps you take, if you stand up at least once in an hour, and how many minutes you 'exercise'.
The watch supports third-party apps, but you have to download these from Huawei's AppGallery instead of Google's or Apple's app stores. The available apps are limited, but I don't much care as the apps I use the most are included on the watch anyway.
Huawei Watch Ultimate review: Heath and fitness tracking
Huawei wearables are generally very accurate regarding GNSS and heart rate tracking. The Huawei Watch Ultimate has a dual-band multi-system GNSS, meaning it can receive two different signals at different frequencies, which improves accuracy. The watch also has access to five different satellite systems, so it shouldn't have an issue picking up satellite signal anywhere in the world.
I tried the Huawei Watch Ultimate in a variety of environments and weather conditions, and the wearable acquired a GNSS signal quickly every time. I had different watches with me during the testing period (e.g. Coros Apex 2 Pro, Garmin Fenix 7X), and the Huawei's position-tracking was on par with those. Heart rate accuracy seems on point, too.
The Watch Ultimate offers similar running training features to the Watch GT Runner and can provide real-time feedback via the speakers on the watch. This is quite loud as default, so make sure you adjust it before you head out to your first workout). What data is displayed during sessions can be customised, and thanks to the humongous display, workout data is easily understandable.
Sleep-tracking has always been one of the strong suits of Huawei watches, and Watch Ultimate is no exception to the rule. Sleep monitoring is on point, and you can further analyse your slumber in the Huawei Health app.
Arterial Stiffness Detection is one of the health features I was keen on trying out when I first learned about it. This measures – well – how rigid your arteries are, and although it's interesting to see this at first, I found the variance between different measurements a bit too broad to take it seriously.
Huawei Watch Ultimate review: Expedition and dive modes
Full disclosure: I haven't used the Huawei Watch Ultimate for diving, especially not for the type of diving the watch is capable of. I don't think many testers who have access to the wearable can do technical diving. Anyway, Huawei Watch Ultimate has four diving modes: Recreational Dive, Freedive, Technical Dive and Scuba Dive. It also has additional diving features, such as Apnoea training and Apnoea test.
The Expedition Mode was something I could try. I didn't quite go roaming the Sahara desert, but I went for an all-day hike and tracked my movement with the watch. I must say, I enjoyed the mode more than I thought I would, mainly because of the different markers and the stats this mode offers.
Essentially, in Expedition mode, the Huawei Watch Ultimate can track your movements in three dimensions day and night. But as well as that, you can also add waypoints and markers as you go along on your adventure. For example, you can mark when you stop for food. But this feature goes beyond marking cafes you visit on your stroll.
You can drop markers when you turn in a specific direction or where you find water; these could be useful when tracking uncharted territories. Plus, you can use the markers to track back to these markers – again, not a bad thing if you're in a jungle or a mountain by yourself.
I wish my life were exciting enough to try this feature in a real scenario, not when hiking one of the best way-marked coast paths in the UK, but even if you only use this feature in less life and death situations, it could provide a fun way to spice your next hiking or camping trip.
Huawei Watch Ultimate review: Battery life
I'm not sure how the Huawei Watch Ultimate can last for over two weeks on one charge with such a sizeable AMOLED display. Well, actually, what I don't understand is how the Apple Watch Ultra can't last for more than 36 hours, but this is not the right review to discuss the topic.
Unless you abuse the watch by continuously having the screen on and tracking GPS workout, it should last for more than two weeks (what Huawei considers 'average use' is usually heavy use for other smartwatches). As always, I turned off SpO2 measurements, but even so, you won't have to charge the watch more than once every other week. Better still, the Huawei Watch Ultimate goes from 0-100% in just 60 minutes. Impressive.
Huawei Watch Ultimate review: verdict
The Huawei Watch Ultimate is a premium outdoor smartwatch with all the health and fitness features under the sun. It makes you look classy without compromising on the outdoor prowess of the wearable, which is a fine line to walk. Some materials and features included feel over the top, but those who like quality wearables and outdoor watches will appreciate this wearable.
Like the Apple Watch Ultra, the Huawei Watch Ultimate has a dedicated physical button to summon its Expedition mode. It is fun to use, even if you aren't planning on re-conquering the Arctics. The watch can also be used for commercial diving, which we're sure everyone will appreciate (considering the number of commercial divers out there).
The Huawei Watch Ultimate has a large, bright AMOLED display and a surprisingly long battery life, which is why we listed it so high in this outdoor watch roundup. It's a shame you can't buy it in the US, but if you live in a country where it's available, we recommend checking it out.
Huawei Watch Ultimate review: Also consider
I linked a bunch of wearables in the above review, most of which provide a viable alternative to the Huawei Watch Ultimate. The main rival is the Apple Watch Ultra, priced similarly and has an almost identical feature set. If you're an iPhone user, the Apple Watch Ultra is a no-brainer option as a rugged watch. You should also have a look at the best outdoor watches; there are plenty of rugged options on that list.
Android users might want to consider the first lovechild of Google and Fitbit, the Pixel Watch. It's a sexy and feature-rich wearable that falls short only in a few categories. Battery life would be longer, and the lack of fast charging is befuddling. However, it's a superb Apple Watch alternative for Android smartphone users, particularly Pixel owners. Read my full Google Pixel Watch review.