With virtually no sound, but a hefty pulse pressure, the Huawei Watch D took my blood pressure while I was in a booth at IFA 2022 in Berlin. That’s it, just some wearable technology that performs a function that is typically the sole function of those cuffs you wear in the doctor’s office. It felt halfway between uncomfortable and impossible.
Huawei introduced the Huwaei Watch D in May, but it only recently (or is very close to) getting European approval for use as a health device. There’s no word on the US FDA, though, and with Huawei’s limited profile in the US, I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. Earlier this year, no one was able to try it out, but pending regulatory approval, Huawei was ready to let me and others at the show test the new smartwatch technology.
To be clear, other wearable companies are working on blood pressure monitoring and are starting to offer it as well, but they mostly do it through IR sensors. But not the Huawei Watch D. It’s a real blood pressure cuff, albeit the size of a wrist.
There are some surprising things about the device, some that have little to do with the blood pressure mechanism, but let’s focus on that for now.
The Huawei Watch D is very similar to a regular, if slightly thicker, health and fitness smartwatch, and hides its print-reading skills well. The technology is really a two-pronged affair.
Inside the watch is an insanely small mini pump that, according to Huawei, can pump up to 49 kilopascals (kPa) of pressure. It connects to a bladder or, as Huawei called it, a dual-layer airbag in the watchband, which when fully inflated can read between 40 and 230 kPa (if you’re on 230 or higher, that could be a serious concern to be ).
There is no watch or strap calibration. Instead, you start by measuring your wrists to see if you need a medium or large band (the watch comes in those two band sizes for just one watch size) and then each band has many adjustments for a snug, but not uncomfortable fit.
The watch itself, with a rectangular face and a crisp, clear interface, is quite attractive. You might expect a sphygmomanometer watch to look more medical, but then so is exercise (supports 70 workouts) and other smartwatch activities. The tire is wider than a normal tire and, with that strip of inflatable bladders in it, also slightly thicker than normal. However, it’s not so much that someone else would notice or feel uncomfortable.
After my adjustment, which took a few seconds, a Huawei representative slid the watch over my hand and onto the top of my wrist before finding the correct closing position.
I saw him navigate to the blood pressure measurement app on the watch and then he told me to relax, put my arm across my chest and relax my fist (okay, I was a little nervous – I’m a terrible patient).
He pressed the side button of the watch and almost silently the bladder of the Watch D band began to fill. As the pressure mounted, it felt like someone had grabbed my wrist with a particularly strong grip. It didn’t hurt, but wasn’t super comfortable either (actually like a regular blood pressure monitor).
After about a minute (maybe less) the pressure suddenly dropped, not slowly, but quickly and resolutely.
My reading, a somewhat high 132/100, immediately appeared on the watch and, as the rep showed me, on a Huawei phone as well. There I got more details about my reading, including a somewhat alarming mention of “hypertension (stage 2)”. Since I just got into physical shape and had excellent blood pressure, I will attribute this to nervousness and the stress of being at IFA.
You can also use the app to schedule blood pressure reading reminders.
As I stared at that lecture, as my British friends would say, I was stunned. Nothing about this felt cheap or undecided. The Huawei Watch D and its tiny blood pressure cuff worked as advertised.
The other notable claim about this watch is that it can do this: EKG, heart rate monitoring, workouts, smartwatch notifications and, Huawei claims, can last 7 days on a single charge. The company insists it does this by taking multiple readings across all sensors, including the blood pressure cuff. If true, that would be amazing.
The watch also has an IP68 rating, meaning dust and water won’t be an issue.
Now for the bad news. While the Huawei Wach D is about to be certified for use in the European Union, other territories, such as the UK, have yet to approve it. I don’t know if the watch will ever make it to the US, where it’s notoriously difficult to get medical devices through the FDA. Ask Apple, which makes sure no real medical claims are made about Apple Watch features.
There is also no price and no availability date in any market yet.
It’s a shame that what seems like groundbreaking wearable technology may be months or more away from general consumer availability and that major markets like the US may never see it. Huawei goes where no wearable company has gone before. This is true diagnostic power in consumer wearable technology. I wonder if Apple will try this next time.
I would also like to try the Huawei Watch again, when I am much calmer, to prove that my blood pressure is fine, thank you very much.
IFA 2022 is Europe’s biggest tech show, and Slice Mag is in Berlin to bring you all the latest news and announcements, plus our hands-on first impressions of the new TVs, wearables, audio devices and other gadgets on display.