ASUS ZenWatch 2

If you stop and think about it, we've actually been in need of a decent starter watch for Android Wear. Something that doesn't cost $300 (or more). Something that gets you the basic Android smartwatch experience without breaking the bank.

The LG G Watch used to be that watch. More display on your wrist than watch-looking watch, it can be had for around $100 these days. But it doesn't look like much. That's where the ASUS ZenWatch 2 definitely trumps it. And it does so for a paltry sum.

This isn't our favorite Android Wear smartwatch. But it's absolutely the one to get if you don't have a lot to spend.

Let's take a closer look at the ZenWatch 2.

About this review

There are a couple models of ZenWatch 2 from which you'll choose. We've been using the WI501Q (as supplied to us by ASUS), which sports a leather strap and gunmetal bezel. It's the same one that'll be available at Best Buy for $149.99, and it's the larger of the two ZenWatch models. (We'll talk about the other version in the hardware section below.)

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Our ZenWatch 2 is running Android 5.1.1 (Android Wear Build, and we've been using it connected to a Moto X Pure Edition or Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

ASUS ZenWatch 2

ASUS ZenWatch 2 hardware

The ZenWatch 2 (and its predecessor) is still a bit of an odd hybrid. It's got a square display, with rounded corners. The watch body follows that same scheme, and it's nicely curvy. (It's also the only watch that at this point should ever be confused with the Apple Watch.) ASUS pairs it with a decent but stiff leather strap with deployment clasp (which makes it easy to put on and take off, once you've adjusted the size), and the connections to the lugs are of the quick-release variety, so the straps are easy to change out if you want.

This is a decent-looking $149 smartwatch — until you get to the display.

The lugs on the ZenWatch — where the strap or bracelet connects to the body — have been refined a little bit, definitely for the better. And ASUS has replaced the button that was buried on the underside of the original ZenWatch with a proper-looking crown (that's a fancy watch name for "button") on the right edge.

And we say "proper-looking" because the button itself is kind of clunky. Whereas we're used to the entire button usually moving when we press it, it's just the insert that moves here, and there's not much travel. So you're not really going to be using it by feel. But on the other hand, it still doesn't have all that much functionality. It'l wake up the display if it hasn't already lit up because of motion, or you can hit it a couple times to send the watch into the "theater" mode, turning the display off until you hit the button again. That's a relatively small annoyance, though.

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So the body of the watch is mostly like we've come to know, just better. (Oh, and it's probably got a speaker on the underside that's as-yet dormant.)

What's still not great is the display. It's a 1.63-inch AMOLED panel at 320x320 resolution. That's 278 pixels per inch, which you'd think would be plenty for a device this size, but individual pixels absolutely still stand out. Combine that with the fact that the display is obviously a little below the glass and is surrounded by all kinds of bezel, and it's not great.

The resolution also gives things a bit of an oversized feel. Notifications and messages are large and make you think that maybe you woke up 30 years later and suddenly need the old-man font size. Changing to the "small" font size helps a little, but it's simply not anywhere near as good as what we've seen in other, more expensive Android Wear watches of late.

Specs are the least interesting thing about Android Wear smartwatches, if only because they haven't really changed in nearly a year and a half. But for those who care about such things, the ZenWatch 2 is powered by a Snapdragon 400 at 1.2 GHz. It's got 512MB of RAM and 4GB of on-board storage if you feel like pushing some music over for Bluetooth playback. It's got a 400 mAh battery which will get you through a day and then a little extra should you forget to charge overnight, but that's it. (And that's not surprising in the least.) You'll charge the ZenWatch 2 via a magnetic pogo pin charger that connects via USB. It's a little annoying because it only works in one direction, and there's no real visual cue for lining things up. You'll just have to learn fast, or suffer the indignity that is magnetic polarity repulsion. (In other words, the magnet helps hold the charger in place — though it's still easy to knock off — and keeps you from attaching the charger in the wrong direction.) The good news is like the rest of this current breed of Android Wear watches you'll be able to charge up more quickly. (ASUS says you'll get a 50 percent charge in just 36 minutes.)

The ZenWatch 2 is IP67 certified for water resistance, which means you can get it wet, but don't really take it swimming. (You should be good for up to 30 minutes in the shallow end.)

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We mentioned earlier that there are two versions of the ZenWatch — because there are two versions of the ZenWatch. Two sizes, really. The WI501Q model (which is what we have) has the larger 1.63-inch display. The WI502Q model has a slightly smaller display at 1.45 inches (and a 280x280 resolution), and is a smidgen thicker, but has a slightly smaller battery at 300 mAh.

The one other spec of note — or notable because it's not here, really, is that there's no heart rate sensor this time around. I'm not a huge fan of them in general, and the original ZenWatch had its heart rate sensor in the bezel below the display, which was sort of odd. But even more odd right now is that I can still command the ZenWatch 2 to take my heart rate, and it'll open up an app and show me how to do it — put your index and middle fingers on either side of the display. But, no, you're not going to be taking your heart rate on the ZenWatch 2.

Category Features
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 (APQ 8026)
Operating System Android Wear
Display 1.63-inch 320x320 AMOLED (large)
1.45-inch 280x280 AMOLED (small)
Cover Lens 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Battery 400 mAh (large)
300 mAh (small)
50 percent battery charge in 36 minutes
Charging Magnet pogo pin
Connectivity Bluetooth 4.1, Wifi
Sensors Six-axis gyro, sensor-hub
Resistance IP67 water resistance
Body Colors Silver, Gunmetal, Rose-Gold
Strap 22mm (large) or 18mm (small)
Rubber, Leather, Metal
Accessories Chargeback 155 mAh power bank (22mm model only)
Dimensions 49.6 x 40.7mm (large)
45.2 x 37.2mm (small)

ZenWatch 2 watch faces

ASUS ZenWatch 2 Software

A plethora of watch faces apparently is a selling point now, but Android Wear hasn't really changed much lately.

While the innards of the current crop of Android smartwatches hasn't changed — and really, neither has the software — it's the little extras that the manufacturers are throwing in that's making the difference right now.

The ZenWatch 2 — like all other Android Wear devices — is running Android 5.1.1 and AW version 1.3. That means new watch interactive faces and complications, along with under-the-hood improvements. Where things really get fun (and busy) is when you install the ZenWatch Manager app. This isn't exactly new (though the app has been reworked some), and it's still a nice secondary companion app. It's optional, sure, but it gives you a bunch of suggestions for watch apps to download (kicking you to Google Play to do so), and this is where you can change up the themes and details on the installed watch faces.

The three font sizes on the ZenWatch 2. Normal (the default) is pretty large. We've been using "Small."

And speaking of watch faces, there are a ton here. (That's sort of the theme these days, actually.) There are 39 on the watch, and 34 you can get to through ZenWatch Manager. That's a lot of watch faces. I'm never going to use three dozen. So for me that's not really a selling point. But it's an ASUS selling point, and built-in choice is good, I guess.

But all things being equal, you're pretty much looking at the same software experience as is on every other watch. It's just a matter of some of the details being a little different.

More: Read our Android Wear v1.3 review

ASUS ZenWatch 2

ASUS ZenWatch 2 The Bottom Line

Is the ZenWatch 2 great? I wouldn't go that far. But it's good. Probably good enough for a lot of wrists.

And that's the real crux of the ZenWatch 2. It's the new low-cost option — again, what we're using is $149. And as such it's not awful. In fact, it's downright stylish at that price. I'm still of the mind that round smartwatches are better, but there's no denying that ASUS has done decently with the square form factor yet again, if that's how you roll.

The software is ... well it's Android Wear. That's Google's baby, though, and it's not really surprising that we've got a consistent experience across all the watches. (And are we really getting close to complaining about consistency in Android devices? I hope not.)

Should you buy it? Yes, if ...

There's a lot to like about the ZenWatch 2, so long as you remember what you paid for it. And for $149 — remember, in this review we're showing you the model that's going to be carried in Best Buy in the U.S. — this is a pretty good-looking watch. The display is still disappointing. But the included strap and overall design is decent enough. Plus, you've got a couple size options, which opens up the ZenWatch to smaller wrists.

So just go into the $149 ZenWatch (or a little cheaper!) with the right expectations, and you'll come out OK.

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