The Huawei Watch Buds are more than just a gimmick. Earbuds that you store and charge inside your smartwatch might sound ridiculous, but after three weeks using them I never want to go back to standalone buds in a case. I loved not wondering where my earbuds were or whether I needed to pack my charger for work – and clicking the case open to reveal the earbuds hidden inside never lost its spy-like charm.
Both the watch and buds are solid pieces of tech in their own right: the watch looks sophisticated, lasts for days, and has a bright, colourful screen, while the tiny earbuds are comfortable and pump crisp sound.
Huawei Watch Buds – Photos
It’s a shame, then, that the Watch Buds have too many flaws for me to wholeheartedly recommend them, namely a limited app library, sky-high price, short earbuds battery life and – the real dealbreaker – an inability to connect to anything other than a phone for audio, such as a laptop or tablet.
Huawei Watch Buds – Design
The watch is sleek and shiny, with a single textured side button and a flexible, hardy leather strap. I was happy to wear it with casual clothes or with a nice shirt at work.
The 1.43-inch AMOLED screen is big, bright, and colourful, and works at any viewing angle, including in direct sunlight.
You don’t get a second strap in the box, which feels stingy given the high price, but you can switch the leather one for another that you own. A plastic strap will handle sweat and exercise better long-term, but for what it’s worth the leather didn’t irritate my skin when I exercised and it felt comfy even when I sweated in it.
The back side of the watch, which sits against your skin, houses the sensor that measures your heart rate, oxygen saturation, and more. I'll dive into the performance later, but I have no complaints on the comfort front. The smooth metallic surface never bugged me or dug into my wrist.
The watch is both thicker and heavier than most – at 15mm thick and 66g it’s heftier than Apple’s biggest watch, the Apple Watch Ultra. But I didn’t find it too cumbersome and never felt the weight of it on my wrist either during the day or night. Considering it stores a set of earbuds inside, I’m impressed with how normal it feels and looks.
When you press the clasp just beneath the six-o’clock position on its face, the whole thing pops open to reveal a hidden compartment.
It’s rare to see tech companies take big swings with design, and when they connect – as Huawei has done here – they should be applauded. The Watch Buds feel truly unique and I enjoyed having a conversation starter on my wrist. Everyone that saw me open my watch wanted to have a go.
The open-and-shut mechanism is well built. The click-clack of the earbuds compartment sounds plastic, but feels expensive. The face of the watch locks into place when you shut it with zero wiggle and won’t pop open unless you want it to.
The buds sit securely inside the face, held by strong magnets that snap them in place when you bring them near. Even if I opened the face and waved my arm wildly, they didn’t budge, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping them when the face is open.
The only minor quibble I have with the design is that it’s easy for long-sleeve tops to get caught underneath the lid when you pop it open. A couple of times I went to close the watch but couldn’t because of a sweater or coat – worth noting if you live in colder climates.
The tiny buds are the size of small, identical bullets, a little over 2cm long and 1cm across. They didn’t protrude from my ear, and from face on it was hard to tell I had them in my ears. That, to my mind, is a good thing – there’s no point drawing attention to expensive wearable tech that can be grabbed easily.
I found the buds comfortable to wear for hours at a time, and could even fall asleep with them in without any trouble. Out of the box they come with three sizes of earbud tips, but my review unit only had one, which thankfully fit me perfectly.
They never once fell out of my ear, even when I was running, both outside and on a treadmill. Other buds I’ve used in the past, including Samsung’s, begin to come loose when I’m jogging which means I need to occasionally adjust them, but that didn’t happen with these.
Huawei Watch Buds – Connectivity and activity tracking
Let's touch on a feature that's notable by its absence – and it's a huge problem.
The earbuds only work with smartphones. You can't currently connect them to a laptop, tablet, game console, or other device, and there is very little point in owning everyday earbuds that don't work with the devices you use regularly.
For example, I connect earbuds to a laptop for work calls. I simply can't do that with the Watch Buds, so I have to take video calls on my phone (not ideal) or bring another set of earbuds just for meetings, which defeats the whole point.
Huawei has promised this will be fixed later on, but hasn't set a date. Hold off buying them until it's sorted.
It's a shame because, otherwise, the Watch Buds are a reliable, fully featured watch-and-buds combo. They connect instantly when you pull them out of the case, and the Bluetooth link between my phone, watch, and buds didn’t drop once in the weeks I spent testing.
They also have two neat tech tricks that you won't see in many devices.
The first is that they're completely interchangeable, left and right. You can put each one in either ear and, through your head movement, they'll automatically send the correct audio channel to each bud, which is important if you listen to music or podcasts with directional sounds. They took around 10 seconds to adjust when I swapped them, and it worked every time. Neat.
The second is that the touch controls don't require you to actually touch them directly. You can tap on specific points on your ear and the buds will pick up the vibration. Double tapping on the top of your ear to pause a song is another bit of futuristic wizardry. Neat again.
It's surprisingly reliable when you're still, although when you're bouncing around on a treadmill or running track they sometimes struggle to pick up your taps.
The touch controls don't require you to actually touch them directly.
Unfortunately, your options to customize what happens when you double or triple tap are limited. You can't control the volume, for example, which feels like a big omission.
For health and activity, the watch tracks everything you'd expect, from steps to heart rate and sleep patterns. It can track runs especially well thanks to a built-in GPS, programmable training programs and on-board audio storage – meaning you can leave your phone at home when you run. It only has single-band GPS rather than dual-band, but it still tracked my location well.
It doesn’t, however, track swimming. Because of the buds compartment the watch isn’t waterproof – it has a IPX7 rating, which is fine for rain, when the lid is closed, and only an IPX4 rating when the lid is open. Basically you can’t use it in pools or showers, which rules it out for keen swimmers.
Its readings were uniformly accurate. Step counts mirrored other activity trackers I tested against, my sleep patterns matched times where I woke up in the night, and heart rate matched my own manual measurements, although they were slightly erratic at the top end of intense exercise and won't match a dedicated heart rate monitor.
Huawei Watch Buds – Watch OS and software
Huawei's operating system, Harmony OS, is easy to use. The menus are intuitive and quick to navigate, and notifications are kept clean and simple, which is what I want in a smart watch.
Clicking the watch's only button – on the right of the face – brings up a galaxy of circular icons, each representing an app or action. From there you can start a workout, check the weather, or monitor daily steps. It's bright, fun, and gets you where you need to be.
That said, Huawei's software is not as robust or sophisticated as Apple's or Google's. With an Apple or Android watch, your wrist is an extension of your phone – here it's an add-on.
Yes, you can issue some quick replies to messages with a few taps, but only on a limited number of apps. Combine that with a general shortage of apps (there are only 30 to download in the store, far fewer than for an Android or iOS watch) and the Watch Buds feel limited compared to high-end competitors, most of which are cheaper.
On your phone, everything is handled through the Huawei Health app. Just getting it installed on an Android device is a pain because it’s not on Google's Play store. Instead, you have to download Huawei's own App Store and grant a long list of permissions. No such problems on iPhones.
For tracking your activity, the app is solid. Just like the watch, the menus are intuitive and bright. From a central home screen you can click through to specific tabs for each activity type – exercise, heart rate, or sleep – and swipe through a timeline to see trends over time.
I’m not a fan of the “Health Clovers” measurement, which tries to sum up your health in one graphic. Both exercise and sleep clovers fill automatically but the third is for “mood” and requires you to manually input breathing exercises. For me, a single at-a-glance measure of your health should be fully automatic.
Huawei Watch Buds – Audio performance
The buds are smaller than competitors but match them for sound quality. They were consistently loud, clear, and detailed whatever I was listening to – music, podcasts, or phone calls.
They’re not audiophile earbuds by any means. The bass doesn’t boom and they won’t sound as good as high-end headphones, but they’re solid for day-to-day use.
They also come with a variety of settings you can toggle from your wrist to try to improve the sound. The three available EQ effects – bass boost, treble boost, and voices – all do what they’re supposed to do, making the base fuller or voices louder. But the effect is small, to the point that I didn’t use them very often.
The Buds’ active noise canceling makes a difference, but not a huge one. It dimmed the low hum of background noise when, for example, I wanted to listen to a podcast at work with people chatting quietly in the background. But it won’t block out louder sounds: the London Underground still drowned out a lot of whatever I was listening to when I was in a carriage.
Just like the EQ effects, I didn’t use it that much. That’s partly because the buds sat firmly in my ear and sealed out a lot of the noise anyway – and partly because noise cancellation drains the battery faster. I didn’t think the trade-off was worth it but if you’re often trying to listen to something in a semi-noisy place, you’ll find it useful.
The microphone on the Buds is passable. Phone calls are crisp and clear for the other person, provided you’re in a relatively quiet space. In louder areas, however, I kept getting asked to repeat myself. It’s not an issue unique to the Watch Buds, but keep it in mind if you plan to use it for lots of calls.
Huawei Watch Buds – Battery life
The battery life is a mixed bag – good for the watch, bad for the buds.
I got anywhere between three and four days out of the watch when I was using the buds often. The watch uses its own juice to charge the buds, so you’ll get a bit more battery life if you limit your audio time – and a bit less if you choose an always-on display. I set it to wake when I lifted my wrist instead, which worked consistently.
That battery life is a lot worse than other Huawei watches, but a lot better than comparable high-end everyday smartwatches from Apple, Google, or Samsung, which typically last slightly longer than a single day.
I’d call that a win, especially when you consider the watch is basically powering two devices at once.
The buds last about three hours before you need to charge them, or two if you’re using noise canceling. I found it fine for most days but too short for work days when I had lots of meetings (which I had to do on my phone because of the lack of device connectivity). Rather than using both buds at once, I had to alternate to keep them topped up, which was fiddly.
The buds battery life is less than half of what you can expect from the best earbuds on the market from Jabra, Samsung and others. There are plenty of situations – a flight, a long car journey, a long movie — where those buds will go the distance but Huawei’s will run out.
The saving grace is that you always have a charger to hand and that the buds charge quickly, going from 0 to 100 in roughly an hour. But that doesn’t fully make up for the shortfall.
A truly unique piece of tech that feels like the first draft of something special, and I hope it sparks a trend of watches with integrated ear buds. I’m fully sold on the concept – just not on the Watch Buds themselves.