Asus has entered the Android Wear fray, with a smartwatch that features a bold design, even though it opts for a rectangular face, and materials and looks that might make it the closest we’ve seen yet from the Android camp to resembling an Apple Watch. The ZenWatch is by no means a clone, however, and it very much manages to stand out from the Wear flock, too. Asus has crafted one of the best Android Wear devices available, which again goes to show that there’s virtue in waiting in the wings a while, both as a smartwatch maker and a wearable consumer.
- 1.63-inch 320×320 AMOLED display
- 51 x 39.9 mm case
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz processor
- 4GB storage, 512MB RAM
- IP55 water resistance, Gorilla Glass 3
- MSRP: $199.99
- Product info page
- Excellent design
- Best strap out of the box of any Android Wear device
- Still too large for smaller wrists
- Whole lotta bezel
The Asus ZenWatch is among the most striking and unique Android Wear devices available, with a metal sandwich-style case that combines brushed stainless steel, polished stainless and matte rose gold in a way that actually works, even if you’re not a fan of any individual component of that makeup. The curved face protects a square face with Corning Gorilla Glass 3, and the watch sports a standard 22mm band fitting, though the ones Asus ships have an easy-release pin design.
From stock watchfaces to stock strap design, Asus has hit a home run with its physical product design. The ZenWatch has retro appeal that would feel at home in a set straight out of later Mad Men episodes, and the rounded edges on the bezel help soften the overall impact of the largish face, making it appear not quite so gargantuan on medium and large wrists. It still has a few flaws, however – the square face itself seems almost lost in all that black bezel, and it’s still a huge watch – but it succeeds in making a statement, and striking a very fetching balance for those who satisfy the conditions needed to pull it off.
Build quality feels high overall, and Asus has included a deployment clasp for the band that will appeal to actual watch fans, and provides an easy way for anyone to get the watch on and off. Even the case back is nicely designed, with a matte finish and rounded surface that feels good against the wrist.
The charging cradle for the ZenWatch is, like almost all Android Wear charging mechanisms, proprietary, but it holds the watch tightly and is easy enough to put on and remove. With some of these chunkier designs, though, it’s a shame to not see the kind of direct micro USB charging port Sony has introduced on the much sleeker Sony Smartwatch 3.
Asus of course offers all the things we’ve come to know and love (and/or tolerate) about Android Wear, including notifications from your Android smartphone, as well as Google Fit integration and voice input for commands and searches.
The company also has its own companion app, which offers some additional features for the ZenWatch, including customizable watchfaces. Asus has grouped its watches according to how much information they display, and lets you customize not only visual elements, but also what kind of info is shown. It’s a nice balance between free-for-all customization, which can be unwieldy for new users, and genuinely useful options that just make the basic concept of a smartwatch a bit better for everyone.
The app also offers a glance at current battery life, and provides custom features including a cover to mute option, a watch finder, and a forgotten phone warning for when Bluetooth disconnects. Tools included in the app also offer a compass, a flashlight that lights up the smartwatch screen, and an SOS feature that will send a message to contacts of your choosing from the watch in case of emergency.
Asus has done a good job of making smart, selective additions to the basic features of the Wear platform that users could probably accomplish by installing some third-party apps, but that are better handled under a single dashboard like this one. Android Wear is still largely the same as you’ll find on other devices, but even little differences like this can have a big effect when consumers are looking for any reason to pick one thing over another.
The ZenWatch is mostly excellent in terms of performance, with good voice recognition and dimmed watchfaces that provide all the information you need while still doing the most they can to maximize battery life. The screen is highly legible, but its construction is such that you can see tiny dots in any solid feel of color. Ultimately that’s only a minor annoyance, however, and the pixel density still means everything is fairly crisp and legible.
Asus has also included a heart rate sensor on this device, but unlike with others, they’ve hidden it behind the bezel just underneath the screen, instead of around back. This has the advantage of fewer failed readings in my experience, vs. devices that require you to wear your watchband tight to get an effective reading. Some might consider having to place your finger on the face an extra step, but it has a better success rate in my experience and in both cases the feature is just a nice-to-have anyway, and hardly crucial to the everyday use cases of most people.
Battery life is probably my least favorite aspect of the ZenWatch performance-wise, but that’s just because it’s only adequate. LG’s G Watch R set the bar high with its two-plus days of continuous use, so the Asus, which manages around a day and a bit on average, pales by comparison. Still, it’s in line with most Android Wear devices out there, so don’t discount it as an option based on battery life alone.
Asus easily has one of the top two Android Wear devices out there, alongside the G Watch R. Both make very different design choices, however, which means they will probably appeal to different buyers. The ZenWatch’s look is likely to be more appropriate for anyone looking to pair with business or business casual attire, however, and the native watch faces are much nicer than those included in LG’s offering.
Basically, it breaks down like this: If looks are your top priority, Asus takes the cake, but if you’re more interested in getting an extra day’s use out of a single charge, the G Watch R is the best pick. Still, if you’re looking for the best Android Wear can currently offer, you’ll be well served by either the Asus or the LG.