Review: Updated: Asus ZenWatch 2

Introduction and display

The Asus ZenWatch launched without much fanfare last year but captivated many with its Apple Watch-esque design – even before the Apple’s first wearable was out.

Its small price tag also made it the most affordable Android Wear smartwatch on the market. Regardless, it wasn’t the most comfortable or, frankly, interesting wearable you could own.

Thankfully, the new Asus ZenWatch 2 is far more promising. Still keeping with the low sum of US$129 (about £110, AU$179) for the silver face and rubber band, and US$149 (£149.99, about AU$210) for the same with a leather band a buckle-type strap – in both sizes – it’s far cheaper than its predecessor’s initial launch price of US$199 (£199, about AU$252).

With the ZenWatch 2 available in two sizes – with the smaller fit presumably for women, judging by the marketing – it opens up a wider pool of options, making this second-generation wearable much more appealing.

Asus sent the smaller of the two options, or the W1502Q model, since I have smaller wrists. There are slight design differences between the W1502Q and bigger W1501Q, but nothing too drastic.

Display

The display of the smaller ZenWatch 2 is a two-finger-touch AMOLED screen, made of curved Corning Gorilla Glass 3 that measures in at 1.45 inches on the diagonal. In terms of sharpness, the screen offers up a 280 x 280 resolution, or 273 pixels per inch (ppi).

Asus ZenWatch 2

It’s not quite as sharp as the larger ZenWatch’s 1.63-inch, 320 x 320 (277 ppi) – but that is to be expected. The second-gen watch I’ve tested is also smaller compared to the first watch’s 1.63-inch, 320 x 320 (278 ppi) OLED screen.

Because the screen is smaller and more dense, there’s hardly any pixelation in sight. I ran through every watch face and tried multiple apps, like Amazon and Google Maps, without seeing anything too glaring. A few images in the Photos face show pixels very slightly, but you can barely tell.

Like the older ZenWatch, the new ZenWatch’s screen also remains bright and crisp. However, I’d go so far as to say that it might be too small for many people.

That’s the double-edged sword with wearables: you get stuck with a small display for the sake of comfort or a roomier screen and an uncomfortable fit.

Design and comfort

Even though many people liked the look of the original ZenWatch, the design choices on the second generation are even better.

There’s the addition of a crown and the subtraction of the awkward clasp on the strap. The crown and the buckle make the ZenWatch 2 look more like a luxury, almost analog watch. The crown also acts as a power and reset button.

Asus ZenWatch 2

The new ZenWatch has retained the rounded square shape, stainless steel finish and the bezel. Oh yes, there’s still plenty of bezel. I didn’t particularly like it the first time, and it looks like it’s back to haunt me again – but it’s not as dire this time.

Asus ZenWatch 2

Oddly, the bezels look more pleasing to the eye the updated device. Maybe because it’s part of a smaller, 45mm watch body. I also understand the need to ensure the watch face remains a certain size to maintain battery life, reduce pixelation and so forth.

At just at 60g, the ZenWatch 2 is noticeably lighter than its predecessor’s 75g. The larger ZenWatch 2 also weighs less, at 70g. It’s unlikely you’d notice, but with less surface area and less watch in general, the 45mm ZenWatch 2 doesn’t look or feel as chunky.

Asus ZenWatch 2

The same leather bands are back and, again, they’re interchangeable with 18 other straps of different colors and materials, thanks to the quick release mechanism. Without the clasp on the smaller watch, the bands are a lot easier to readjust.

There are also different strap sizes for the two watch sizes: 18mm for the 45mm ZenWatch 2 body and 22mm for the 49mm watch body.

All this makes for a welcome amount of customization for an overall, better looking ZenWatch.

Comfort

The smaller ZenWatch has enough notches for my tiny wrists to fit pretty well. The band isn’t quite as comfy as the new Moto 360, though, as it’s not Horween leather. Just regular “genuine leather” for Asus.

Asus ZenWatch 2

The body of the watch also rests flat against my wrist. But because it’s only a 45mm body, opposed to the 49mm, it sits comfortably.

There’s no snagging on coats or awkwardly moving around because the watch is not snug enough. Frankly, this is just short of a miracle, considering how this issue plagued nearly all the wearables I used last year.

It was probably because none of them were created to fit people with small wrists. Now that there are size variations with the ZenWatch 2, it’s far less clunky and awkward feeling.

Specs, performance and interface

The Asus ZenWatch 2 hasn’t changed too much specs-wise. The watch still runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 at 1.2GHz with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage.

However, there are fewer sensors packed into the newer smartwatch. Specifically, the ZenWatch 2 has a 6-axis gyrometer and accelerometer, instead of the 9-axis with heart rate monitor.

That’s right, in an age where sensors reign supreme (looking at you, Microsoft Band 2), Asus decided to nix the biosensor. It sounds nutty, but honestly, fitness fiends aren’t going to get a ZenWatch, let alone its sequel. Additionally, biosensors are hardly accurate in the majority of smartwatches. Maybe when they get better, Asus will incorporate them. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with the pedometer.

There’s also a built in microphone, Bluetooth connectivity and Wi-Fi capabilities. None of this is news, but it’s great for the latest Android Wear operating system that it runs on.

In short, it means that the ZenWatch 2 can connect over Wi-Fi without your phone nearby and get notifications.

The environmental resistance rating here is an IP67, so the watch is completely dust proof – light splashes should be fine, just don’t get it wet in the shower or take it swimming. It technically can handle submersion up to 1 meter (3.3 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes but for the sake of your watch, I don’t recommend it.

Performance and interface

The incorporation of Android Wear 5.1.1 is a nice change from the previous operating system (OS). Many other Android Wear smartwatches – like the LG Watch Urbane and Moto 360 – have already received their updates, so we know what the OS can do.

Your basic notification and information cards pop up vertically from the bottom of the screen. You can flick through the available cards, and swiping from left to right will remove a card from the list. Moving your finger in the opposite direction will take you to more options.

Swiping left from the home watch face’s edge will take you to the apps drawer. Your most recent app will be at the top of the scrolling list. Swiping left again brings you to a contacts page from which you can send and read messages.

Another swipe in that direction takes you to Google-specific commands, like taking notes or vocalizing reminders and setting alarms. You can also draw out emojis to save or send out.

Apps

What’s a bit different and exclusive to the new Asus smartwatch are watch faces, which can be tinkered with through the ZenWatch Manager app.

However, you’ll need to download it before all the faces show up on the device. There are definitely way more options than Apple Watch, and just as many (if not more) customizations for the complications.

Asus ZenWatch 2

Downloading the Asus-made app FaceDesigner increases the amount of watch faces you can load onto your wearable infinitely. Within the app itself, there are tons of ways to create and customize your very own faces.

You can have one for fancy dinner parties that doesn’t display much and then one for work, telling you just about everything. It’s even customizable right down to the type of ticker, font size, opacity and more. It’s pretty damn cool. The only problem?

Asus ZenWatch

The app didn’t seem to load right when I tried it out. Specifically, all of the faces I made – one simple with just a background and ticker, one more complex with widgets and writing – didn’t sync up correctly with the watch.

The Asus-created watch faces that are pre-loaded onto the app worked fine, at least. I’m sure the bug can be fixed in an update, but for now, I wasn’t able to do much beyond make a watch face. There’s also a compatibility issue but more on that later.

There are also apps like ZenWatch Music, ZenWatch Wellness, Business Helper, FoneHelper and Remote Camera – all of which you can download on your phone to use with the ZenWatch 2.

The Together app is already pre-loaded onto the watch, and lets you send messages directly to other ZenWatch 2 owners. There’s even an Asus Weather app in addition to the Android Wear one.

The redundancy is off-putting, especially since there doesn’t seem to be a way to remove it, effectively making it bloatware. It’s unfortunate, considering Android and iOS devices already have enough repetitive or unwanted apps that permanently take up space.

I’ll also mention again, there’s no heart rate sensor, and it seems like there’s a less of a focus on fitness with this watch overall. There’s the usual array of Android Wear fitness apps, like Google Fit or Wellness, but that’s about it.

For some, that’s likely not a problem, since you might only use the timer or pedometer anyway – which are both available on the ZenWatch 2. For others, it’s best to look for a fitness tracker or smartwatch with more robust exercise options.

Compatibility and battery life

In a twist of events earlier this year, it was announced that certain Android Wear smartwatches would work with certain iPhones. It just so happens that the Asus ZenWatch 2 is compatible with both Android phones and iOS devices alike. But, of course, with caveats.

Like the LG Watch Urbane, Huawei Watch and new Moto 360, the ZenWatch 2 can send you notifications from your iPhone, if it has been updated to iOS 9 and is at least an iPhone 5 or more recent.

Aside from letting you sync up and see notifications, you don’t get access to the full glory of Android Wear 5.1.1. You’re instead stuck with the older version wherein you can’t send messages and can’t take phone calls (though this is dependent upon the type of smartwatch you have).

The arrival of Android 4.3 let developers use an API that added an extra level of customization to app notifications, like retweeting, favoriting and so forth. If using an iPhone with the ZenWatch 2, you’ll be able to see the notifications but not use the actions.

Essentially, it’s pretty limiting to pair the ZenWatch 2 with an iPhone. However, if you don’t want to shell out $350 (£299, AU$499) for the cheapest Apple Watch, and would rather spend $150, then feel free. Just know what you’re getting into.

Eventually, Apple might open its API’s further for Android smartwatches, but considering it released watchOS 2 after delaying devs that software, who knows how long it will take.

Battery life

Asus has made pretty outrageous claims about its battery life, and hyped it up well before the ZenWatch 2 was released. Let’s just say it didn’t live up.

Well, at least that’s the case for the smaller watch. With a battery capacity of 300mAh versus the larger ZenWatch’s 400mAh, it’s no wonder it can’t sustain more than two days of full usage.

Asus ZenWatch 2

In ambient mode, meaning your watch will enter a low power state that dims the screen when it’s not being used, you can get 56 to 57 hours. To reiterate, your watch won’t suck up battery life if you’re not using it. Of course it won’t, but that would make it completely useless.

The first ZenWatch is smack dab in between with its 369mAh battery, which is bigger than the 320mAh power pack found in the old Moto 360, but smaller than the LG G Watch R‘s 410mAh battery.

It matches up with the new Moto 360 battery specs, so it’s not too terrible. But the fact that all four brand new smartwatches have retained the measly battery life from their predecessors is disappointing.

Asus ZenWatch 2

Regardless, the charge time has been improved on the ZenWatch 2: it only takes about 30 to 40 minutes, plus there’s no more charging cradle. Rather it’s a USB type A connector with a magnetic pogo pin that fits on the back of the smartwatch.

It can get knocked around and loosens from the watch, which is the downside without a cradle, but there is one less part you have to worry about losing.

Verdict

All in all, the ZenWatch 2 is a lovely little device that’s able to sit comfortably on small wrists. It has certainly surpassed the first ZenWatch in many ways, but – as usual – improvements can always be considered for the ZenWatch 3.

Asus ZenWatch 2

We liked

This smartwatch is much better designed and, by giving us two size options, Asus has smartly secured a spot in the wearables race.

The inclusion of Asus’s own apps also sets the ZenWatch 2 apart. Rather than having another run-of-the-mill Android Wear watch, you get something a bit more exclusive and special – I lamented the first ZenWatch’s lack of identity.

Mix all that up with an extremely ridiculous and amazing low price of US$129 (about £110, AU$179) and US$149 (£149.99, about AU$210) in addition to the promise of iPhone compatibility, and you practically have an Apple Watch killer.

We disliked

However, full Android Wear is not available on iPhones. It’s by no means the fault of Asus at all – blame Google, or Apple. You’re better off sticking with Android phones here to get full usage from the ZenWatch 2 – that includes all of the ZenWatch apps. Sad but true.

Also, that bezel. Yes, it doesn’t seem to look as hideous on the smaller ZenWatch 2, but it’s still very present and a bit distracting.

Though it fits better and makes more sense on the smaller ZenWatch 2, the screen is still a tad too small.

There’s also a lack of fitness features; it’s not a huge loss due to the general inaccuracy of fitness apps, but it may still be a disappointment to some.

Verdict

Simply put, the ZenWatch 2 is good, but not great. It’s far better than the original ZenWatch which puts it much closer to the other Android Wear wearables.

Honestly, if you just want to try out a smartwatch without diving in too deep, the ZenWatch 2 is about as high-end as you can get without tipping the money scale.

You get plenty of customization options with watch faces, bands and even a few different watch bodies. There’s also the fantastic choice of two different watch sizes to choose from, a huge improvement from last year.

Again, the new ZenWatch is best used with an Android phone. If you want to try your luck with an iPhone, it can’t really hurt. But be warned: it’s simply not the same rich experience.

There might be an Android Wear update one day the breaks the walls between it and iOS down. Then you’ll find yourself with a decent Apple Watch alternative that you bought for half the price.

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