Asus ZenWatch review - Android Wear with a touch of class
Asus brings a touch of luxury to Android Wear, with its slim, sleek ZenWatch. Is it the best Android Wear watch yet?
Android Wear has yet to have its first birthday, but we’ve already seen a healthy selection of hardware emerge from the major manufacture. The Asus ZenWatch is the latest, and it joins an increasingly capable crew, lead by the LG G Watch R. See also: what's the best smartwatch?
Of all the Android Wear devices we’ve seen so far, though, the ZenWatch takes first prize for looks.
Its slim, stainless-steel body, complete with “rose gold” inlay around the edges and a curved Gorilla Glass 3 touchscreen lend it a touch of class, and the tan leather strap and classy metal clasp, in combination with a selection of slick custom watch faces top off the look very nicely.
It’s light and comfy - not something all the wearables we’ve tested recently can lay claim to - and the hinged clasp is both secure and easy to release. If you don’t like the brown strap, the ZenWatch’s standard 22mm fittings means you can easily replace it with one of your choice.
Asus ZenWatch: specifications and screen
Beneath that glitzy exterior, it’s pretty standard fare. Similar to most other wearables we’ve encountered, the ZenWatch is both dust- and water-resistant: its IP55 rating means it isn’t as tough as the Sony SmartWatch 3, but you’ll be okay if you’re caught out in a rain shower.
The screen is a square 1.63in affair and boasts a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels for a pixel density of 278ppi. It uses AMOLED technology, and its vibrant colours and deep dark black make it a joy to look at; it isn’t as readable as the Sony SmartWatch 3 in direct sunlight, but indoors and on grey days it’s far more appealing to the eye.
There are a couple of minor irritations, however. First, because of the way the RGB sub-pixels are arranged, there’s clearly visible grain to the screen. Second, when in ambient screen mode, you’ll often see that one edge of your watch face is chopped off - this is because the ZenWatch shifts the pixels around regularly to mitigate the effects of AMOLED screen burn.
Behind that screen, there’s a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage, and although it isn’t obvious, the ZenWatch also has a heart-rate monitor.
This is integrated into the bezel of the ZenWatch: to read your pulse, launch the Asus Wellness app and rest your index and middle finger lightly on each side of the watch face. It works quickly, is reasonably accurate – only when used with the Asus Wellness app; it’s all over the place when used with Google Fit – and there’s also the option to measure your stress levels.
The only area in which the Asus ZenWatch falls seriously short is stamina. Presumably because the watch is so slim, Asus hasn’t been able to squeeze in a large battery – and it shows. With the screen set to always on, we found it didn’t last significantly longer than a day, and with heavy use it often didn’t make it to bed-time, even having been fully charged in the morning.
In our smartwatch battery benchmark, the ZenWatch fared a touch better, but it still can’t compete with the best wearables on the market. With appointments set to trigger a notification every five minutes and the screen set to always on, its projected runtime of 34hrs 25mins is well short of the G Watch R’s 69hrs.
We’re also not particularly keen on the charger: a USB clip-on that wraps around the entire body of the watch. We’d prefer to see a micro-USB port such as that on the Sony SmartWatch 3, or wireless charging. Clip-on chargers are far too easy to lose.
Asus ZenWatch review: software
As for software, the ZenWatch is loaded with the latest version of Android Wear, but it’s great to see that Asus has made bit more of an effort.
In addition to a selection of custom watch faces, you can use the ZenWatch Manager app (available to download and install from the Play store) to customise those watch faces, and set up proprietary features such as “Find my watch” and “Forgot phone warning”.
You can also use the Manager app to activate extra tools on the watch, including a compass, flashlight, camera remote and SOS emergency dialler. The most useful of all the Asus extras, however, is the Wellness app, which keeps track of your steps and heart rate in a much more visually attractive manner than Google Fit.
Asus ZenWatch review: verdict
The Asus ZenWatch brings a touch of class to the world of Android Wear, and of all the smartwatches we’ve come across this year, it’s the one we’ve been most taken with in terms of design.
With a bit more stamina, it would have been our new favourite Android Wear watch; as it is, however, unless you value appearance above all else, our top pick remains the LG G Watch R.