Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 vs Huawei Watch GT 2: Power vs endurance

I’ve always loved smartwatches. They bring a level of functionality to watches that I’d never have fathomed a few years ago. To be honest, I can’t get over the cool-factor of having a mini-computer on my wrist that lets me answer calls, customise watch faces, and even track a wide array of fitness activities that are becoming more and more of the focus when it comes to today’s wearables.

Having arrived on the scene a number of years ago, the early generations of smartwatches had two main issues for me: battery life, and they usually looked a little too much like small computers strapped onto your wrist. However, newer smartwatches boast way longer battery lives, and manufacturers have also started to style their wearables towards a more conventional look—making them more suitable to wear as daily devices.

We’re heading towards the end of 2019, and when you think about smartwatches within the price range of around RM1,000, two particular contenders spring to mind. Huawei’s Watch GT 2, the successor to the battery champion Watch GT, and the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, the latest Tizen-powered Samsung wearable. 

Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but I’d wager that many of you have had trouble deciding between the two smartwatches. After all, they’re both from mainstream brands, they’re both priced similarly, and of course, they’re both compatible with Android smartphones (as well as iOS, of course).

So without any further ado, let’s get into a head-to-head comparison of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 and the Huawei Watch GT 2.

Head to head

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2SmartwatchHuawei Watch GT 2
Android, iOSCompatibilityAndroid, iOS
Priced from RM1,099PricePriced from RM799
1.4” Super AMOLED, 360 x 360Display1.39” AMOLED, 454 x 454
4GBOnboard storage4GB
340mAhBattery Not stated
5ATM, IP68Water-resistance5ATM
WirelessChargingMagnetic, contact points

First up, let’s have a look at a quick side-by-side comparison between the two smartwatches. At a glance, the two smartwatches appear to have similar specs, but as always—specs hardly paint an accurate picture of what real-world performance is like. 

Both feature near-identically sized displays, and they’re both AMOLED screens. The key difference, however, is that the Watch Active 2 uses a Super AMOLED display, which supposedly is 20% brighter and 80% less susceptible to sunlight reflection (according to Samsung) than a normal AMOLED display.

There’s one clear winner for me where it comes to the display: the Galaxy Watch Active 2.

One of the biggest selling points of the Watch GT 2 is the 2 weeks of battery life that Huawei promises with the 46mm variant, and it dwarfs the battery life of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2. I managed to get around 11–12 days of battery life with the Huawei smartwatch—with varied usage and settings—and around 3–4 days out of the Galaxy Watch Active 2.

But in part, this rather impressive feat is because the Watch GT 2 runs on Huawei’s proprietary LiteOS. The “lite” nature of the OS means that you can’t download apps, or even custom watch faces (at least through conventional means) onto the smartwatch. The Watch Active 2’s Tizen OS, on the other hand, is a fully functional operating system that allows for a wide array of features—including the ability to install apps like camera viewfinders, fitness apps, and even YouTube. 

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And this fundamental difference is what contributes to the biggest distinction between the two—the experience.

The Daily Experience

The interface on the Huawei Watch GT is a relatively simplistic one. In fact, I’d argue that it’s really a fitness tracker masquerading as a smartwatch, thanks to the big, colourful display. You have two physical buttons, and you have the option to swipe through menus easily. I don’t have too many complaints for LiteOS, but it’s disappointing that a smartwatch in 2019 (one that isn’t cheap, mind you) doesn’t give you an official way to install custom watch faces.

There is, however, a workaround to get watch faces installed. It involves downloading an older, Chinese version of Huawei Health, and going through a few steps to upload custom HWT (Huawei Theme) files into the watch. But to me, it’s a rather cumbersome process—similar to the workaround I used for the (much cheaper) Mi Band 4—and  the variety of watch faces that the Huawei Health app officially has, is simply disappointing.

Another drawback I noticed with Huawei’s Watch GT 2 is that you can’t export GPX files, which might be an issue for some of you. A GPX file is basically the file that stores your GPS data, which means that if you wanted to share your treks with an online community platform/app such as Strava, the only way to do so would be by sharing screenshots of the app. 

The Samsung Galaxy Watch GT 2, in contrast, offers a really nice interface. Navigating through menus or pulling down settings within Tizen just feels intuitive, and it’s an experience that just feels more polished compared to Huawei’s LiteOS. 

Of course, there isn’t a rotating bezel on the Galaxy Watch Active 2, unlike some of Samsung’s older smartwatches. Instead, you get a virtual bezel that sends you haptic feedback as you scroll your way through the menus. You can slide your finger along the black border of the watch face (clockwise or anti-clockwise) to navigate your way through menus–just like the physical bezel–although it takes some getting used to. 

The experience is nothing like the satisfying feeling that you get with a physical bezel, but it’s still an alternative. I wouldn’t call it a game-changer, but I like that Samsung has tried to give its users options.

Notifications work pretty similarly on both devices, and one of the nicest upgrades to the Watch GT 2 over its predecessor is the microphone and speaker that’s now built-in. This is a feature that is exclusive to the larger 46mm variant, and it’s a nice touch. Sadly, there is no virtual assistant to fully utilise the microphone, but it’s a convenient way to answer calls on-the-go.

On the Watch Active 2, you have Bixby. I’m seriously not a fan of it, with my main complaint being that Bixby hardly ever understands what I’m saying. Perhaps that’s an issue caused by my diction, but for me, it’s a shame that neither of the two watches really fully realise the potential of having a built-in microphone on a smartwatch. I would have loved to see the option to use the Google Assistant instead, for example, because I think that that’s a far more capable virtual assistant.

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Build and design: A close fight

But let’s put all of that aside for a second. Much of what attracts me to a watch—smartwatch or or otherwise—is its design. The Galaxy Watch Active 2, on the one hand, has a minimalistic look that sort of looks like a round version of the Apple Watch. The unit I have with me is the stainless steel variant with a black leather strap, which has two buttons that sit almost flush with the body of the watch. There’s no denying it: it looks sleek as heck. 

The Huawei Watch GT 2, on the other hand, looks a lot more like a conventional watch. There’s a fixed bezel around the watch face, and the two buttons on the side protrude out, which I like. It’s easy to press the buttons, and it just feels like I’m wearing an actual watch. But I’m not sure if the Huawei Watch GT 2 is made from stainless steel, with the product page listing the build material as “metal + plastic”. I’m not saying that the Watch GT 2 feels cheap—far from it—but the Galaxy Watch Active 2 just feels a little more premium to me.

Fitness features and apps

Both the Watch GT 2 and the Active 2 have a pretty comprehensive set of fitness features, and they both come with very similar specs: built-in GPS, continuous heart rate monitoring, and multiple workout exercise routines.

There’s 4GB of onboard storage (up to 500 songs on the Watch GT 2) so you can load in MP3s to listen to on-the-go. This means that you can hook up a pair of Bluetooth headphones to use the smartwatches as standalone devices.

While this sounds like a good idea in theory, I almost never utilised this feature. Most of my music comes from Spotify or YouTube, and I simply don’t have any of my playlists in MP3 format.

On the other hand, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 comes with offline Spotify support—which means that you can download Spotify playlists onto the watch’s onboard storage to listen to during workouts, and leave your smartphone at home. A big plus to Samsung’s smartwatch.

I did appreciate how easy it was to start a workout on both watches. They both offer workout widgets that are easily accessible—the Galaxy Watch Active 2 has a quickstart option on the home screen— and as I regularly bike my way to the office with my phone tucked into my bag, I enjoyed the convenience.

The Watch GT 2 shows you more information during workouts, however. Swiping left/right while a workout is ongoing brings up menus showing aerobic/anaerobic workout effects, steps, cadence, and more relevant information. The Galaxy Watch Active 2, on the other hand, has just one information screen while you’re in a workout.

Huawei Health vs. the Samsung Galaxy Wearable + Samsung Health combo

Samsung’s app combo of Samsung Health and the Galaxy Wearable app is pretty comprehensive, but I’m not really a fan of the fact that you need two apps to manage your smartwatch and fitness tracking. While I found it a tad cumbersome to have to swap between the two, the Samsung Health app is pretty simple to navigate through once you get used to it.

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The Huawei Health app, on the other hand, is an all-in-one app. You can tweak settings for the smartwatch on the Huawei Health app, and look at past workout records as well track your sleep. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Wearable app is primarily used to adjust settings for the Galaxy Watch Active 2, while the Samsung Health app is where you can view all recorded fitness and health-related metrics.

As mentioned, the Huawei Health app doesn’t allow you to export your GPX files, but Samsung’s Health app gives you this option for individual workouts. You can also sync Samsung Health to share exercise data with Strava, and export the GPX file from there.

Verdict: Tizen OS tips things in Samsung’s favour

This was a really hard decision for me to make. The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 offers a really polished experience, wrapped up in a premium-feeling stainless steel case. It has a beautiful Super AMOLED display, and while Huawei’s Watch GT 2 also uses AMOLED tech, Samsung’s display just looks better—especially under sunlight. And Tizen just feels more intuitive, especially once you get used to using the virtual bezel.

The Watch GT 2, as mentioned, runs on a simpler operating system. I get the feeling that Huawei’s main concern when designing the Watch GT 2 was to ensure that it would be an energy-efficient, long-lasting smartwatch on a single charge.

In fact, when you consider that the main factor that turns off many when it comes to smartwatches is short battery life, the Huawei Watch GT 2 strikes a really nice balance between the functionality of a smartwatch and the battery life of a fitness tracker. And when you couple the 4GB of onboard storage with the built-in microphone and speaker along with a superb battery life of around 11–12 days, it’s a hugely attractive proposition.

But for me, what really tips the scales in the Galaxy Watch Active 2’s favour is the Tizen operating system. Little details, such as Samsung Pay and the ability to quickly send preset responses to messages—which you don’t have with the Huawei Watch GT 2—make for an altogether more complete experience.

And of course, the display of the Watch Active 2, for me, is a significantly better one than the Huawei Watch GT 2’s.

If you can live with a simpler interface, and all you really need are basic smartwatch functions and fitness tracking—of which the Watch GT 2 is not lacking—Huawei’s smartwatch is certainly still a great choice at that price.

But for a more complete smartwatch package, and a more refined overall experience, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is—in my opinion—the better device.

You can pick up the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 for a starting price of RM1,099 for the smaller 40mm variant. Meanwhile, the Huawei Watch GT 2 is priced from RM799 for the 42mm version, with the larger 46mm variant starting at the same price.

Photography by Zachary Yoong with the Sony A7 III.

Editor’s note: The article has been amended to add in details on Samsung’s GPX export function.