If the ASUS ZenWatch is a sign of things to come, we like where Android Wear is headed. The watch itself is one of the more thoughtfully designed devices to sport Google’s wearable software platform, but like those before is not without its flaws. Those looking to make a fashion statement will love the look of the ZenWatch on their wrists. Power users might still be left wanting more, however.
As we enter what we could more or less consider generation 1.5 of Android Wear devices, manufacturers are seemingly gaining confidence in the form factor. It shows in the design of devices like the LG G Watch R with its analog-inspired hardware and now the ASUS ZenWatch. The ZenWatch opts for the square/rectangle form factor seen in devices like the Samsung Gear Live and original G Watch, but does so in a way that pays homage to traditional watch roots.
Immediately noticeable is ASUS’ choice of default watchband. It’s a thin strap of brown leather that sits in stark contrast of other Android Wear devices, all of which seem to skew toward chunky and black regardless of material choice. The ZenWatch utilizes a clasping mechanism more commonly seen in conjunction with metal watchbands. It adds a bit of intrigue to what might otherwise be a boring bit of leather by providing a nice accent on the underside of the wrist. Still, if it’s not quite your style it can easily be swapped out for any other 22mm watchband.
The brown leather of the band blends seamlessly into the body of the watch thanks to the classy yet subtle addition of a band of copper-colored metal sandwiched between the silver halves of the ZenWatch’s stainless steel case. The case itself is slim with a subtle curve to its face, though the bottom half is more or less flat. The whole package exudes effortless style — a classic look hardly dated by the modern technology buried within.
While the ZenWatch looks great on the wrist, we can’t say it feels like the greatest fit. Those with larger wrists will find themselves on the borderline of needing to replace the included watchband out of the box. My wrists are by no means thick, and even after maxing out the length of the clasp the ZenWatch still felt a bit too snug for my liking. Sizing issues aside the flat, rigid steel case didn’t sit all that comfortably on the wrist. A more ergonomic design could have gone a long way to prevent the constant abrasive rubbing against the wrist bones.
The watch design includes one hardware button for standby and power on/off (plus quick access to settings), but it sits tucked under one side and flush with the case. The design implies the button is meant for use only when the ZenWatch is off the wrist, and indeed it is quite hard to reach when wearing. A more accessible placement would have been nice (a mock crown would have been a nice design accent, as well), but the action assigned to the button can be accessed directly from the interface so it is far from a deal breaker.
The ZenWatch features a hardware compliment more or less standard with other Android Wear devices. The internals include Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 SoC and 512MB RAM. 4GB of internal storage are there should you need it, but most content will be accessed over a wireless bridge with your Android smartphone; it is unlikely you will need to be worried about running out of space.
The display is a 1.63-inch AMOLED fortified with Corning Gorilla Glass 3. At 320×320 resolution it’ a far cry from the HD our eyes are used to, but on such a small screen it still boasts a solid Pixel density of 278 ppi. Fans of efficient design won’t be too pleases with the amount of bezel here. In addition to the metal edges of the case, large swaths of black surround the display on all sides. One could only imagine if the ZenWatch featured an edge-to-edge display. Sadly, it’s not what we get here.
A built-in heart rate monitor is becoming an expected feature for Android Wear devices, but with the ZenWatch it isn’t immediately apparent where this bit of hardware is tucked away. To utilize the monitor, a finger must be placed on each side of the display touching the front bezel/metal casing.
The ZenWatch is water resistant but not waterproof, which is fine. Not too many folks are swimming or bathing with a leather-banded watch, in any case, and the metal clasp makes the ZenWatch easy enough to take off.
As an Android Wear smartwatch, the ASUS ZenWatch is privy to all the goodies Google has baked into the platform. Unlike Android on smartphones, the Big G has been pretty firm about keeping the interface standardized, so voice interactions, Google Now information, and phone-based notifications and controls work about as effortlessly as they do on any other Android Wear offering. There’s not much to the basic interface that can’t be gleaned from the quick tutorial upon booting up and pairing the device to a smartphone (worth noting that only Android devices are supported as of now) for the the first time.
But the standardized interface hasn’t held back ASUS and friends from finding their own ways to make each Android Wear a more unique software experience. ASUS does so with a few additions, primarily in the form of Android smartphone apps that further interface with your ZenWatch. These apps include ZenWatch Manager, software that allows you to customize the look of the device’s exclusive watch faces.
A more useful feature allows your ZenWatch to notify you if you wander off without your phone. This is important because an Android Wear device is more or less useless without its accompanying Android smartphone, but also because losing your phone is a real bummer. Other possibilities unlocked by ASUS-specific apps are remote viewfinder and shutter capabilities for your smartphone thanks to Remote Camera.
Wellness features include the built-in heart rate monitor and accompanying software to track your well-being based on feedback from that sensor and the watch’s pedometer. The software side can be a bit finicky in terms of an accurate heart rate reading, but that could also be partly due to the actual heart rate monitor hardware.
A chief complaint against Android Wear devices early on is disappointing battery life. Users will find no solace with the ZenWatch. While the 369mAh battery has more than enough juice to get the average user through a day of use, power users pairing many apps and service with their watch might end up scraping by on fumes.
On the short side, the ZenWatch will reliably produce 12-13 hours of uptime on average. With slightly more conservative usage, the number can be pushed to closer to 20. What is clear, though, is that the device will require daily charging. No, they have yet to design and Android Wear device that runs on watch batteries that last for years at a time. Sorry, guys.
Key to getting the most out of battery life is opting to turn off the always on display option. We’d also suggest running a lower brightness setting.
The Bottom Line
As the Android Wear ecosystem begins to mature we are starting to see some truly great smartwatch contenders, and the ASUS ZenWatch is one of them. It has all the style of a classic time piece while introducing the modern advantages of Android Wear, though it brings along the platform’s shortcomings, as well.
For those looking for a smartwatch that is both a fashion accent and utilitarian object, you might look no further than the ASUS ZenWatch. For all its minor flaws it is truly one of the better Android Wear devices currently available — especially at a price of $200.
- Sharp, classic design
- Quality materials at a great price
- Not the most comfortable watch to wear
- Battery life a bit disappointing