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ASUS ZenWatch ReviewFinally, a new contender for Android's best smartwatch

by Phil Nickinson

December 19, 2014

From the start, the Android Wear community quickly split into two factions. There are fans of the round watch, a form currently populated only by the Moto 360 and LG G Watch R. Then there's the square camp, which is everyone else. The original LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live, the Sony SmartWatch 3.

Round? Or square. Both have their merits. The Moto 360 has been nearly universally declared the most attractive of the bunch.

That is, until the ASUS ZenWatch appeared.

The ZenWatch sports a square face with rounded corners, and a body that should inspire the most stern smartwatch non-believer.

We now have more than one Android Wear smartwatch that you won't be ashamed to wear with a nice suit. And this is our ASUS ZenWatch review.

ASUS ZenWatch

About this review

We've been wearing a retail version of the ASUS ZenWatch as purchased from BestBuy and Google Play for the better part of a month before writing this long-overdue review.

We used the watch primarily with Android 4.4W.2 (Build KNX01W). Android 5.0.1 for Android Wear became available as we were finalizing this review, and we spent a few days with build LWX48S, which added new notification and display options. An update to ASUS' ZenWatch Manager app added a few new watch faces, but the functionality and battery life of the watch mostly remained the same.

ASUS ZenWatch video walkthrough

ASUS ZenWatch 3 hardware

Finally, we get sophistication in the square form factor

ZenWatch specs

Par for the course for Android Wear

The ZenWatch doesn't do a whole lot to progress the basic specs of the Android Wear ecosystem. You're pretty much looking at the same display and internals as the other watches. It's really the way they're all put together that make this watch something special.

  ASUS ZenWatch
Weight 75 grams
Dimensions 50.6 x 39.8 x 7.9-9.4 mm
Battery 360 mAh
Display 1.63-inch AMOLED
OS Android 5.0.1 Lollipop
CPU Snapdragon 400 with 1.2 GHZ CPU
RAM 512 MB
Storage 4GB
Water resistance IP55
Wireless Bluetooth 4.1
Sensors 9-axis sensor, heart rate, microphone

ZenWatch software

It's Android Wear with a few ASUS additions

The ASUS ZenWatch as we're reviewing it is running Android 4.4W.2, with an update to Android 5.0 Lollipop to come any time now. The basic experience is the same as any other Android Wear device, which is, of course, the idea.

Just like with Motorola and Moto Connect, ASUS also has a companion app — actually, it has a whole bunch — that gives some extra functionality to the ZenWatch. The ZenWatch Manager app is the main one. With it you can easily see the remaining battery percentage first thing. Then you get a bunch of optional features, including:

  • Cover to mute: Lets you place your hand over the watch face to mute an incoming call or alarm.
  • Find my watch: Makes the ZenWatch vibrate so it's a little easier to find.
  • Forgot phone warning: Makes the watch buzz when your phone is no longer connected.

(Annoyingly, you turn on the Cover to Mute feature with an "Apply" button. The forgot phone warning turns on with a toggle switch. That's a small but ridiculous disparity.)

ASUS ZenWatch

The ZenWatch Manager app also is where you can customize the colors on the various watch faces. Speaking of that, there are 18 watch faces built in. Some are stock Android Wear faces, and others are custom ASUS jobs. And ASUS has done pretty well with its designs, offering watch faces that simple look nice, and some with extra notifications. (I'm not overly crazy about them, but to each his own.) It's a nice mix. And with the addition of proper third-party watch faces with Android 5.0, we'll soon see many more designs.

ZenWatch Manager also includes shortcuts to three features you're more likely to launch directly from the watch — compass, flashlight (as in the watch face lights up in a solid color) and SOS, which can send an alert to a predetermined contact. ZenWatch Manager also will push you to install one of the other seven recommended ASUS apps, including ASUS Wellness. But given that Android Wear ties directly into Google Fit, there's not much sense in locking yourself into that closed ecosystem. (Same goes for the Jawbone UP service, which keeps nagging us from the watch. ASUS: Consider that what not to do.) In fact, the duplication of a few apps — and to be clear ASUS isn't the only manufacturer doing this — is really the only annoyance on the software side. You just get used to it. More choice usually is a good thing. But we see little reason to not use Google Fit if you're using an Android Wear smartwatch.

All in all, not a bad software experience, and any real hangups have more to do with Android Wear than the watch itself.

ASUS ZenWatch

The bottom line ...

Until now, it's been pretty easy to pick out a "best" Android Wear smartwatch. The Moto 360 from the beginning ran away with that title, but the ASUS ZenWatch now threatens to take over that top spot. And, really, there's no reason why the two can't live in the same house. A good bit of that decision will just come down to personal taste. Maybe a truly round watch just looks better to you. We could (and will) make an argument that a round watch face provides a more immersive touch experience than a square one, particularly a square one that's inset as much as the ZenWatch's display is.

Hands-down, you can't go wrong with the ASUS ZenWatch.

If that's the biggest complaint we have about the ZenWatch — and it pretty much is — ASUS has a clear winner on its hands. The watch body is an example of how tech doesn't have to look like tech. How a smartwatch can be more than just a display on your wrist. (Even if we do keep coming back to those bezels. What we wouldn't give to see a more edge-to-edge experience in this same form factor.) The leather strap is as stylish is it is functional, and while it might well attract second glances when worn with a suit, it won't be for the wrong reasons. It's also not the most expensive smartwatch of the bunch.

The overall experience might be just a touch lesser than what you get with the Moto 360. But at the same time we're completely confident in saying that you absolutely cannot go wrong with the ASUS ZenWatch.

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