The first crop of Android wear smartwatches were somewhat underwhelming. Function dominated over style, and saw most early Android wear watches having the aesthetic appeal of a digital watch from the 80’s. Since then all things design-wise with Android wear seems to have improved dramatically.
This has seen the current range of Android Wear smart watches being significantly easier on the eyes. None of this was wasted on the designers at Asus who have obviously been putting in some serious overtime crafting the ZenWatch, which was showcased at IFA 2014 and will hopefully launch locally.
Look and feel
On paper you’d be forgiven for being a tad unexcited about the ZenWatch, it may have a square screen and only be IP55 rated, but it also sports a premium design, which is evident in its curved stainless steel body and Italian leather strap. The ZenWatch also sports a copper strip in the middle of its body while the strap is done out in a tan leather finish. It’s a tasteful combination that makes the ZenWatch the perfect companion for wearing with a suit or casual.
Speaking of straps, Asus have smartly avoided the first pitfall of a smart watch – proprietary straps. Using bog standard 22mm watch straps means that it is easy to customise the look and feel of the ZenWatch. The straps are pretty easy to remove. All that is required is to pull tiny levers tucked away on the underside of where both straps meet the body of the phone.
The watch body itself is also well thought out. For a start it features a gentle curve that means it is less likely to catch on shirt sleeves. It is also sufficiently slim that it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a brick. A particularly nice touch is the strip of copper sandwiched between the top and bottom of the body, breaking up the design and adding a hint of sophistication.
The ZenWatch has a few interesting quirks, the least obvious being the placement of its power button on its back. Turning the watch off (or on) requires that it first be removed. This said, there are not a lot of situations where you’d probably want to turn the watch off. If you really did however, this can be done through Android wear settings menu.
As with other Android wear devices, the ZenWatch comes with both a pedometer and a heart rate sensor. In practice, both worked pretty well. It was particularly nice to see the heart rate sensor on the front of the watch (it works by getting the wearer to hold both the left and right sides of the ZenWatch bezel), even if it meant that the ZenWatch bezel has a chunkier look.
The 1.6” display also impressed. Being an AMOLED, it was not only was bright with vivid colours, but was also readable outdoors. While its resolution of 320 x 320 isn’t exactly HD, watch faces looked great and smaller fonts were also readable.
Beneath the screen sits a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, which clocks in at 1.2 GHz, along with 512 MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. This may be pretty bog standard for an Android Wear smartwatch, but it is still pretty impressive considering that a 1.2Ghz CPU and 4.5GB of storage/RAM were considered the top end of PC town only a few years ago. In use everything felt responsive; I encountered no lags (which is probably due to both the spec and the undemanding nature of Android wear apps) and navigation was buttery smooth. I did however find myself sometimes repeating the “OK Google” phrase.
In terms of the overall user experience, Android Wear is much of a muchness across all Android Wear powered watches given the restrictions Google have placed on customising it. Because of this the overall experience on the ZenWatch remains largely similar to that of other Android Wear devices.
This said, Asus have done what they are especially good at, bundling several custom apps and watch faces.
These work their magic thanks to the ZenWatch Manager, an Android phone app that compliments the Android Wear app. With the ZenWatch Manager you can choose watch faces and unlock your smartphone device when your ZenWatch comes within Bluetooth range. If phone calls, notification alarms are driving you nuts you can put your hand over the ZenWatch screen and that’ll mute notifications and incoming calls for some much needed peace and quiet. Given my penchant for misplacing things, the find my phone (and find my watch function) function also got used on several occasions.
An app that proved surprisingly useful was the remote camera app that let me control my smartphones camera remotely using the ZenWatch. The watch acted as a remote viewfinder allowing me to snap a shot by tapping on the ZenWatch display. There’s also a fitness app which tracked my steps, told me how many calories I’d burned, and interestingly measured my relaxation levels/heart rate. Screen double actions can also be customised to carry out specific actions.
Perhaps the biggest selling point for any wearable tech has to be battery life. While we’ve all owned watches whose battery life is measured in years, its a shock to many that with Android Wear smart watches 24 hours of juice is considered the norm. When it comes to battery life, the ZenWatch acquitted itself well. This is largely thanks to generous 360 mAh battery. Asus’s blurb talks of a full day of use the reality was that I typically got two days of use. If battery life is a big consideration, the ZenWatch is definitely worth checking out.
The not so good news is water resistance. Where most timepieces can be worn in a pool or shower, the ZenWatch is rated at IP55 which precludes it from swims but means that it’ll be fine in a downpour or heavy rain. Here’s hoping that the next ZenWatch can handle a proper dunking.
The ZenWatch ticks a lot of boxes. It is not only comfy to wear but looks great too thanks to a slick, well thought out steel/copper/leather design. While functionally identical to most other Android Wear watches, Asus’s custom apps give them a small measure of difference in an increasingly crowded “me too” market. In short the ZenWatch looks great and is one of the smarter smartwatches available. Overseas it is priced very competitively, here hoping it is available locally for a similarly reasonable price.
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz
OS: Android Wear
Memory: 512 MB RAM
Storage: 4GB eMMC Flash
Display: AMOLED 1.63", 320x320, 278ppi
Sensors: 9 Axis Sensor/Bio sensor
Bluetooth: Bluetooth V4.0
USB Ports: Micro USB on Charging Cradle
Audio: Built-in microphone
Battery: Polymer 1.4Wh
Features: Cover Lens : 2.5D curved Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3
Water Resistance : IP55
Colour: Silver and rose gold color layering, Brown leather strap
Dimensions: 51 x 39.9 x 7.9 ~ 9.4 mm (LxWxH)
Weight: Body : 50g, Strap : 25g