Asus ZenWatch Review

The ZenWatch is Asus’s first venture into the smartwatch industry, and we were hoping for big things. In an industry overpopulated by Android Wear powered smartwatches, how does the ZenWatch stand out? Read our Asus ZenWatch review to find out whether the £199 ZenWatch is worth buying.

See also: Best Smartwatches in 2015

Asus ZenWatch Review: Design and Build

Though it may not be as stylish as other, circular smartwatches like the Moto 360 and the LG G Watch R, the Asus ZenWatch does a good job at standing out in what seems like a sea of similar Android Wear powered smartwatches.

It sports a large face, measuring in at 51x40mm with a 1.5 inch screen but is a lot thinner than its rivals at 9.7mm, compared to the 11.9mm width of the similarly priced Moto 360. Polished stainless steel adorns the majority of the watch with a slight hint of rose gold on the sides, a colour that’s complimented by the accompanying brown leather strap. 

While the supplied strap looks great and gives the Asus ZenWatch a premium feel, we did notice that it irritated our wrist after a few hours of use. It’s worth noting that we don’t usually wear watches every day at PC Advisor, so it’s probably not an experience that many people will have – but still worth mentioning. It doesn’t really matter though, as any 22mm watch strap can be used with the ZenWatch so it’s easy enough to swap out for something more comfortable.

There’s a noticeable lack of buttons on the Asus ZenWatch, while this may be more aesthetically pleasing it throws up a lot of issues when it comes to navigating the UI. There is a single button that can be used to turn the watch on and off but it’s underneath the watch, well out of reach when being worn. We’ll come to that in more detail below.

Asus ZenWatch Review – Display

The Asus Zenwatch comes packing an OLED display with a 320x320 resolution, something that’s pretty standard with Android Wear smartwatches. While the display resolution is fine for day-to-day use with Android Wear, the pixels are visible on screen. One reason for this could be to save battery life, as no one wants a smartwatch that they have to recharge after every few hours of use – no matter how sharp the display is.

The ZenWatch, like many other smartwatches that use an OLED display, face a common enemy – direct, bright sunlight. Asus has tried to combat the issue with the added “sunlight mode” which turns up the display’s brightness as high as it can, but does so to no avail. It’s still hard to see in direct sunlight and using the sunlight mode will cause significant battery drain.

The ZenWatch also has a cinema mode that’ll turn off the display, until you tap it twice to wake it up.

The Asus ZenWatch has an “always on” display mode, which does pretty much what it says on the tin – it keeps the display on, even when not being used. In an attempt to salvage battery life, after a few seconds of inactivity, your watch face will be replaced with a slightly pixelated version that looks like it’s displayed on an e-Paper display.

When you raise your wrist, the display switches back to its full colour display and is ready to use automatically. The responsiveness of the smartwatch was something that we were pretty surprised about, as many smartwatches aren’t great at detecting the movement of raising your wrist. There is a downside to it being so sensitive though, as we found that the display can be activated when moving naturally.

For those of you that are battery conscious, you have the option to turn the “always on” display mode off. This means that after a few seconds of inactivity, the screen will turn off and it’ll stay off until you double tap the screen to wake it up. While the concept seems fine, it becomes a frustrating process having to tap your watch screen every time you want to check the time or your latest notifications.

Neither option is ideal – you have to sacrifice either battery life or ease of use with either option. What is needed is a blend of both options that’ll turn off the display after a few seconds of inactivity, then turn back on when your wrist is raised. Considering the gesture detection on the ZenWatch is decent, it’s kind of a no brainer right? Apparently not!

Asus ZenWatch Review – Features

The ZenWatch comes packing a 1.2Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, complete with 512 RAM and 4GB of storage, which is again, pretty standard hardware for an Android Wear smartwatch. We found no processor issues with Android Wear and the storage can be used to store music, allowing you to go on a run with only your smartwatch and Bluetooth enabled headphones. There’s also a microphone to be used for audio prompts – a lifesaver for a device with a lack of buttons to navigate with.

It also comes with a host of sensors including a 9-axis accelerometer, compass and gyroscope along with a barometer, all of which come in handy with regards to fitness tracking and navigation apps.

It doesn’t stop there though; the ZenWatch also has a heart rate monitor that, amongst other things, can be used to track your heart rate at various stages of exercise. The issue is that it requires two fingers, gently pushing on both sides of the smartwatch display. The process does take a while and we found that on several occasions, our fingers touched the side of the display and cancelled the reading altogether.

With one of a smartwatch's primary uses being fitness tracking, you’d expect some kind of water resistance right? The Asus ZenWatch boasts water and dust resistance with an IP55 rating.

What does that mean? The first digit of an IP rating refers to dust resistance, and can be measured from 0 (no protection) to 6 (completely dust tight). The ZenWatch scored a 5, which means that it’s protected against any dust that might harm the system. The second digit refers to water resistance, ranging from 0 (no protection) to 8 (Protected against prolonged effects of immersion underwater). The ZenWatch also scored a 5, which means that it’s protected against low-pressure water jets from any direction, so it’s fine to wear in the shower but not the bath.

You get a pretty standard vibration motor built in that alerts you to notifications on your watch. The idea is that the vibration stealthily lets you know that you have a notification, but the issue is that the vibration is loud; you may as well just have a text tone ring out from your wrist. This is an issue with most smartwatches and one that Apple hopes to fix with the Taptic Engine in its Apple Watch.

Asus ZenWatch Review – Android Wear

Android Wear is Google’s answer to an OS for wearables, an OS that many smartwatches have adopted. The issue is that Android Wear is still in its early days and in turn hinders the enjoyment of using a smartwatch.

For those of you that aren’t aware of what Android Wear does, it brings a whole host of features to your smartwatch such as notifications, navigation, Google Now, music control, step tracking and messaging. As well as that, there are third party apps available as well as notifications that have custom actions, like being able to dictate a reply to a WhatsApp message for example – something that’s strangely not possible when viewing a text message on the ZenWatch.

Asus has made tweaks to the stock Android Wear OS in a bid to make the ZenWatch stand out from the crowd. It offers smart features like unlocking your smartphone when in proximity, toggling a flashlight on the ZenWatch (a brightly coloured screen) and the ability to send a preset SOS message to a person in an emergency. It also has its own Asus ZenWatch app for watch management, but the app doesn’t really do much that you can’t already do on the watch.

As we mentioned earlier, there’s a lack of buttons on the Asus ZenWatch. This means that you have to completely rely on audio prompts and a rather disappointing touchscreen to navigate around the smartwatch. Scrolling between menus became rather frustrating as, on many occasions, the ZenWatch thought that we had selected something that we wanted to scroll past, and would open it. The left to right swipe is meant to take you back to the clock face, and while it does, there have been many occasions where the gesture wasn’t recognised.

The saving grace has got to be the voice recognition – it’s surprisingly impressive and very accurate. When we’ve had experiences with other voice recognition technologies, its felt awkward and we felt like we had to make sure everything was clear and concise so it was accurately picked up. That definitely wasn’t the case this time, although it has to be noted that people do tend to feel a bit silly talking to a watch in public.

There’s also a great selection of watch faces to choose from, ranging from traditional looking watch faces to unusual watch faces that find unique ways of displaying the time, date and other crucial information. You also have the option to tweak many watch faces from the Asus ZenWatch app, as well as having the option to download third party watch faces from Google Play.

The ZenWatch also boasts a rather unique feature – you’re able to display your smartphone’s camera viewfinder on your watch display. This gives you the opportunity to compose your shots better, become more creative and make sure that your selfie is perfect before you take the picture.

Asus ZenWatch – Battery Life

Asus claims that the ZenWatch has a 22-hour battery life. During testing, we found that battery life varied greatly – if the display is ‘always on’ and you’re getting notifications, changing music and getting map directions all day then that 22-hour battery life shrinks dramatically. However, with that being said, when we tested the ZenWatch with normal use, we found that it lasts the full 22 hours. 

There are ways to combat the battery life issue, mainly by disabling the ‘always on’ mode. We found that the ZenWatch surpassed the 22-hour battery life estimate set by Asus on a couple of occasions with normal use and a display that you have to tap to use.

While the battery life is better than some of its rivals, it’s not good enough. It’s something that many smartwatch makers are struggling with, as no one really wants a smartwatch that they have to charge once a day. It doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to have a smartwatch that lasts days on a single charge though, as Pebble claims that the Pebble Time Steel boasts a rather impressive 10-day battery, due to their decision to use different screen technology.

The ZenWatch doesn’t come with a micro-USB port for direct charging, but instead has a cradle that it sits in, rather snuggly by the way, to charge. While the idea of using a cradle is a vast improvement on a rather ugly looking micro-USB port on a smartwatch, the cradle is awkwardly shaped and doesn’t “sit” properly when being used. It also means that if your ZenWatch runs out of battery and you don’t have the cradle with you, it’s a lost cause.

Asus ZenWatch: Specs

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2Ghz
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4GB Storage
  • Android Wear
  • OLED 1.5" Display
  • 228ppi
  • 9 Axis Sensor/Bio Sensor
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Built-in microphone
  • IP55 Water Resistance
  • 51 x 39.9 x 7.9 ~ 9.4 mm
  • Weight: 50g
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2Ghz
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4GB Storage
  • Android Wear
  • OLED 1.5" Display
  • 228ppi
  • 9 Axis Sensor/Bio Sensor
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Built-in microphone
  • IP55 Water Resistance
  • 51 x 39.9 x 7.9 ~ 9.4 mm
  • Weight: 50g

OUR VERDICT

The Asus ZenWatch isn’t the most impressive smartwatch we’ve ever used, but it’s not the worst either. It’s a very good-looking, stylish smartwatch – something that’s a rarity in the smartwatch industry. The lack of buttons is definitely an issue, especially with the touchscreen input being as frustrating as it currently is. It does however boast a decent battery life and enough sensors for you to shake a stick at. Ultimately though, when you put this up against similarly priced smartwatches like the Moto 360, it can’t compete. The Moto 360 has a button disguised as a crown which is used to turn the display on and off, as well an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts screen brightness dependent on your lighting conditions. Ambient light sensors are a feature that smartwatches need, but very few have. It also has an optical heart rate monitor that periodically checks your pulse in the background without being prompted to, and without a need to physically interact with the watch. With an almost identical RRP, we’d rather go for the Moto 360.

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