REVIEW: Asus ZenWatch
It's not a bad first attempt at a smartwatch by Asus, but there's room to improve
The ZenWatch is Asus’s first venture into the other smartwatches such as the Moto 360, it does
majority of the watch, with a slight hint of rose gold on the sides, a colour that’s complemented by the accompanying brown leather strap.
The ZenWatch has fewer buttons than its competitors, and while this may be more aesthetically pleasing, it throws up issues when navigating the UI. Its one and only button can be used to turn on and off the watch, but it’s underneath the watch, well out of reach when being worn.
The OLED (320x320) display is pretty standard for Android Wear watches. While the resolution is fine for day-to-day use, the pixels are visible onscreen.
The Asus ZenWatch has an ‘always-on’ mode that keeps the display turned 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 pixellated 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 with, as many aren’t great at detecting the movement of raising your wrist. There is a down side to it being so sensitive though, as we found that the display can be activated when moving naturally.
Inside, you’ll find a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, complete with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. There’s also a microphone for audio prompts – a lifesaver for a device with a lack of navigational buttons.
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.
There’s even a sensor that can track your heart rate at various stages of exercise. The issue is that it requires two fingers, gently pushing both sides of the display, which can be tricky. The Asus ZenWatch is water- and dust resistance with an IP55 rating.
Android Wear is Google’s OS for wearables. The main issue is that it is still in its early days, which in turn hinders the enjoyment of using a smartwatch.
It adds a whole host of features such as notifications, navigation, Google Now, music control, step tracking and messaging. Third-party apps are also available, as well as notifications that have custom actions, such as 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 some tweaks to the stock Android Wear OS in a bid to make the device stand out from the crowd. It offers smart features such as unlocking your smartphone when in proximity, toggling a flashlight on the device (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, though this doesn’t do much that you can’t do on the watch.
As we mentioned earlier, the ZenWatch has only one button. This means that you’ll have to rely on audio prompts and a disappointing touchscreen to navigate the smartwatch. We found scrolling between menus a frustrating experience as, on many occasions, the Asus 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 were many occasions where the gesture wasn’t recognised.
The saving grace is voice recognition, which we found to be surprisingly accurate. We’ve been disappointed in the past by other voice-recognition technologies we’ve tested, which have felt awkward to use. That definitely wasn’t the case this time, although it should 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 designs to more unusual options 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 ZenWatch app, as well as having the option to download third-party watch faces from Google Play.
The Asus also has a unique feature – you’re able to display your phone’s camera viewfinder on your watch. This lets you take your time when composing shots, become more creative and make sure your selfie is perfect before you take it.
The ZenWatch has a 22-hour battery life, though this shrinks dramatically if the display is in ‘alwayson’ mode and you’re receiving notifications all day. To charge the watch, you simply place it in the supplied cradle.
The Asus ZenWatch is a good-looking smartwatch. The lack of buttons is an issue, especially with the touchscreen input being as frustrating as it is. It does, however, have impressive voice recognition.