Companies often tease their products before they are officially announced and prior to IFA we already knew what they were going to show from a number of manufacturers. For example, Asus had already announced that they would unveil their ‘Zenwatch’, a smartwatch with Android Wear , during the electronics fair in Berlin . But with attention grabbers such as the LG G Watch R and the Moto 360, the Zenwatch was pushed a bit into the background in the run-up to the fair. All the more so because Asus is mainly known as a laptop manufacturer and has less experience with mobile technology.
That’s why we were extra surprised when Asus released the first images of the Zenwatch. As it turned out: the watch had little resemblance to the simple designs of, for example, a Gear Live or a G Watch, but seemed to have been designed with an eye for detail and almost had something elegant. Enough reason to visit Asus to take a closer look at the Zenwatch.
From outside and inside
The case of the Zenwatch is made of metal, is water-resistant and uses a kind of sandwich design, where the outer two parts are just metal-colored and a recessed copper-colored edge can be found in the middle. There is a connection for regular 22mm wristbands on both sides and Asus itself supplies a light brown leather one. For the display, Asus uses a 1.63″ square amoled panel with a resolution of 320×320 pixels, which is most likely from Samsung, although Asus would not confirm. That screen is completely flat, but the glass on top is slightly convex and that creates the illusion that the entire screen has a bulge.
Everyone can decide for themselves whether the Zenwatch is beautiful; We think it’s chic anyway. In addition, it feels solid and the finish also seems perfectly fine at first sight. It is also good that it clearly distinguishes itself from other smartwatches, something that we would not immediately say about a G Watch or Sony SmartWatch. Of all the smartwatches we’ve seen so far, we would also call the Zenwatch the most subtle or elegant; he is not as coarse and masculine as many other models.
In terms of hardware, there is nothing new to say about the Zenwatch, because all Android Wear watches so far use a Snapdragon 400-soc with 512MB of memory and 4GB of storage capacity. The battery has a capacity of 369mAh and should be able to power the watch for a full day. That’s not a lot of fat, but it will probably perform about the same as other Android Wear watches. Charging is done via a separate cradle that connects to the bottom of the Zenwatch with contact points, which is a mechanism that we see in more smartwatches.
Additional software and capabilities
The Zenwatch runs Android Wear, which we discussed earlier in our review of LG’s G Watch. In terms of functionality, it basically means that notifications are forwarded from your phone, you can access Google Now via your phone and that the context-related cards from Google Now are sent to your watch when necessary.
Like other manufacturers, Asus would like to distinguish itself with its own features. Not surprising, when you consider that manufacturers are not allowed to modify Android Wear from Google and therefore cannot build extensive skins as with Android phones. To be able to give an Asus touch to the watch in terms of software, Asus has developed its own smartphone app, which runs alongside the normal Android Wear app and adds extra functionality.
For example, you can use the watch as a viewfinder of the phone camera via the Asus software. Or you can set your phone not to apply a screen lock if it is within three meters of the Zenwatch. Another option involves muting an incoming call by placing your palm on the watch. Asus has also built in several health features that are accessed via a separate Wellness app. Users can keep track of how many steps they walk per day, what their heart rate is and how ‘relaxed’ they are.
Asus uses a heart rate monitor for that, which is located inside the case; it is therefore not an IR receiver on the bottom, as with many other smartwatches. How it works, the Taiwanese technicians couldn’t explain that clearly to us; the language barrier threw a spanner in the works. Demonstrating the feature, an Asus employee placed the tip of his right finger on the bezel of the watch, which was on his left wrist. It then took 15 seconds – indicated by a counter on the screen – for the measurement to be completed. It turned out to be unreliable in the prototype; if the employee really had a heart rate of 186 bpm, he would not have been so calm.
With the data from the sensor, Asus also claims to be able to make statements about how stressed the user is. In the Wellness app, things like height, weight and age are entered and combined with the sensor data and some formulas yield a score from 1 to 100, which should say something about the degree of ‘relaxness’. It sounded a bit woolly to us and we find it hard to believe that you can make those kinds of diagnoses with just that data.
We are pleasantly surprised by the first encounter with the Zenwatch. It is well put together, the screen looks nice and you can change the strap yourself later. Not all Asus’ extra features are equally impressive, but because it runs Android Wear, good basic functionality is provided. In addition, it is relatively inexpensive: for 199 euros you get a watch that looks many times more luxurious than other watches of that amount, such as the Gear Live from Samsung and the G Watch from LG. The biggest question mark at the moment is the release date, which is not yet known.