Asus VivoWatch review: A likeable fitness watch, but basic
When we took a look at the Asus ZenWatch three days before Christmas last year, we were pretty impressed. The Taiwanese manufacturer’s first stab at a smartwatch was comfortably the best-looking Android Wear device available; six months later, it can still turn a few heads.
So, when I say the VivoWatch – a cheaper, sporty smartwatch from Asus – shares its older sibling’s aesthetic, it’s a compliment. It sports the same “rounded square” watchface, and you’d be hard pushed to tell them apart at a glance. While it comes with a less appealing, replaceable 22mm rubber strap, this makes sense for a wearable that not only has to deal with a lot of sweat, but also dust and water. (It’s IP67-rated, which means it can be submerged in up to a metre of water for as long as 30 minutes.)
When the VivoWatch is charged and ready to go, however, you realise you’re dealing with a very different animal to the ZenWatch.
For a start, it doesn’t run Android Wear. Although Google’s wearable OS is getting better, this a decision I can get behind when it comes to fitness trackers: Android Wear hasn’t yet proved it has the stamina to keep the myriad sensors and trackers necessary for a good sports wearable going longer than a day or two.
Asus’s says its own basic operating system, combined with a monochrome, 128 x 128 resolution memory LCD Gorilla Glass 3 display, ensures the VivoWatch keeps going for up to ten days of continuous use. Having used it for a week, I’d say this seems a touch optimistic, but I didn’t need to charge it in that time, and seven days-plus is pretty good going. Moreover, the charger – a small, plastic micro-USB clip-dock – gets the battery up to 100% in under two hours.
Getting around the watch’s UI takes a little getting used to. It has a touchscreen, but you can’t interact with it until you unlock it via the watch’s sole button. Once unlocked, touch response is kept basic: swiping up and sideways changes the screen to one of a handful of different displays.
So, what does it measure?
Asus actually keeps things fairly simple here, targeting the Fitbits and Jawbones of this world, rather than the Apple Watch or Android Wear smartwatches. It performs step counting and sleep tracking, the latter activating automatically when it guesses you’re catching some shut-eye, which it does with surprising accuracy. The watch also has a heart-rate monitor, a UV light detector and, rather oddly, a “happiness” indicator, which attempts to gauge your well-being.
The happiness indicator made me feel like a living, breathing Tamagotchi. It gives you a score out of 100, where zero is miserable and anything above 85 is “walking on sunshine”. It’s based on sleep quality and exercise, which makes the whole thing a fun novelty, rather than anything too scientific, but it’s good to see at a glance a score that can be actively improved upon or maintained.
It didn’t cope well with changing days, though. As Saturday night ticked over into Sunday morning, while I was on my way home from a happiness-inducing Saturday night, I noticed my rating had plummeted from 90 to 40.
The UV light indicator fares well, although it’s hidden off the screen. Its ratings – low, medium, high and very high – flash up quickly when you step into light, and the watch’s light will change colour if it deems the UV levels to be dangerous.
The optical heart-rate sensor, like so many on wearables, performed less admirably. It checks your heart rate passively throughout the day and while you’re asleep, and checks continuously in exercise mode, but some of its guesses – 90 beats per minute (bpm) halfway through a 5km run, 140bpm after a short walk up some stairs – were considerably wide of the mark.
When your heart rate rises too high, the VivoWatch buzzes and flashes a red light to let you know you should calm your beans. A solid green light means you’re in the correct zone based on your age and weight.
Then there’s the pedometer. I wore the VivoWatch alongside a Fitbit Flex and (at times) a Motorola Moto 360 to get a bead on accuracy, and the VivoWatch gave the lowest score of the three by some distance. On the evening of the 5km run, it registered 2,648 fewer steps than the Fitbit. Switching wrists brought it closer in line; from then on, it was never more than 300 to 400 steps out.
Do these inaccuracies matter, though? Not really. With pedometers – and, to a lesser extent, heart-rate monitors – you only need something that offers numbers consistent with itself so you can see when you’re improving. The VivoWatch provides this effectively, presenting the data in a clear, easy-to-read format.