We review Asus’ first foray into smartwatch territory, the sexy (and very masculine) Zenwatch, which proves to be one of the least annoying and most enjoyable wearables to date.
Even us self-confessed tech geeks find it hard to get excited about most smartwatches and wearables that land on our desks. With their chunky, plasticky bodies and rubbery straps, they’re usually about as attractive as a weeping rash. In most cases, I’d rather strap a rabid badger to my wrist.
So thank whatever deity you happen to perhaps believe in that Asus has given us a smartwatch that we’d proudly rock in the street (we’d even occasionally scratch our heads, for no reason except making sure people saw it).
The Zenwatch boasts a sleek, curved design for the watch face, which fits the wrist beautifully. It’s a step up from the Samsung Gear Live, one of the most attractive watches we’ve seen so far, as the screen itself boasts a subtle curve and the overall build isn’t as chunky. In fact, the Zenwatch is surprisingly slender considering how large the watch face is.
Plastic straps have also been shunned, for a proper leather strap that looks smart and feels great. It’s adjustable of course, with a catch that’s quick and easy to snap into place and pop off again. Best of all, it’s a standard 22mm band, so you can rip the strap off and replace it with any standard watch effort.
With a total weight of 75g including the strap, the Zenwatch is also pleasingly light. You’ll forget you’re even wearing it in no time at all, like every good watch.
And like most wearables, the ZenWatch is also water resistant, so it won’t throw a massive wobbler if it gets a bit damp. Definitely a good thing if you plan on wearing it outside here in the UK.
Of course, I have to point out that the ZenWatch is very much a man’s watch. That’s not to say that women can’t strap it on for whatever reason, but the sheer size of it makes it look a little strange on feminine wrists. Hell, I’ve got pretty spindly man-arms, so I barely got away with it myself.
The 1.63-inch AMOLED screen looks a lot bigger than it actually is, thanks to the deceptive black border surrounding it. It’s a shame the bezels are so thick, but we had no problem seeing the watch face at any time.
Not only is it bright enough to counter any glare, but it’s as crisp as you’d hope with a 320×320 resolution, giving 278 pixels-per-inch. Viewing angles are wide, with the face only obscuring when you tilt the watch to near 90 degrees thanks to the curved surface.
And if you’re a clumsy sod like me, you’ll be glad to know that you can happily prang the ZenWatch off every doorknob and table corner in sight and it won’t scratch up.
The ZenWatch runs Android Wear, which we’ve already covered in our mighty tips and tricks guide. However, a recent update means that Wear is now a little more friendly to use, with the ability to access different viewing modes as well as the general settings just by dragging your finger down the screen. You can also now download and choose from a solid range of watch faces, displayed when your watch is hibernating.
Asus has boosted the selection of faces even more for the ZenWatch and we really like a couple of the new additions, especially the ‘Professional’ face. This combines a traditional analogue clock face with useful info like battery life and steps taken.
But that’s not all the new stuff Asus has bunged in. One of the coolest features is the remote camera functionality, which is a handy way to take remote shots or snap selfies using your phone’s rear camera. You get a view from your mobile’s camera right there on your watch face and you can take a shot either by tapping the screen or simply flicking your wrist.
The ZenWatch also has a built-in heart rate monitor, although it’s not on the back of the device like you’d expect. Rather, it’s built into the frame, so you have to push a finger against the metal rim to get your score. The readings are a little all over the shop; mostly it’s quite accurate, but occasionally I got a completely out-there score like 110, when I was just sat at my desk. Perhaps it was that intensive arse-scratching session five minutes prior that did it.
And of course you can use the ZenWatch to unlock your phone, a feature now standard with Android Lollipop. As long as your watch is detected by your phone over Bluetooth, the handset will bypass any password or PIN you have set up to save you time.
Our only real complaint is the ridiculous number of apps you’ll end up installing to get the most out of the ZenWatch. On top of Android Wear, you’ll need to install the ZenWatch Manager app to activate a fair few of the features, which then gives you two apps just to control your smartwatch. And then most of the best features require their own separate app download, such as Remote Camera and Wellness.
One of our major bugbears with wearables is the piss-poor battery life, meaning you have to charge them every night alongside your smartphone. Thankfully the Zenwatch manages to last the mandatory 24 hours and can even run for a solid day and a half, providing you aren’t constantly playing with apps and fiddling with the thing.
It’s not all roses and puppies, though. Asus has sadly committed the cardinal smartwatch sin: you need a bloody proprietary dock to charge the thing. So if you run out of charge when you’re out and about and your dock is sat at home, you’re basically screwed. Gah! So far, few wearables have managed to avoid the dock trap, such as the Sony Smartwatch 3. Here’s hoping the next generation manages to eliminate it entirely.
And let’s face it, a day and a half of battery life is still not great. We long for the days when we don’t have to plug both our watch and our phone into the mains every night, although that little fantasy is at least a generation or two away.
Asus’ Zenwatch is one of the best first-gen wearables we’ve rocked on our wrists, offering a premium design that’s miles ahead of most smartwatches. It doesn’t skimp on features either, with everything from remote camera control to heart rate monitoring thrown in. For £199, this is seriously good value for money and a worthy partner for your portable pal, even if the battery life isn’t exactly stellar and the dock is a pain in the arse.