“The ZenWatch 2 rightfully succeeds its predecessor by keeping the basics the same, while improving the functionality”
Just like Android which has democratised the world of smartphones, Google’s smartwatch platform Android Wear has empowered a variety of manufacturers to introduce their smartwatches. However, it’s surprising that the similar kind of price dynamics haven’t been seen in the wearables segment. Most smartwatches from brands like Motorola, Huawei and LG are priced upwards of Rs 15,000. And, while there are a few Android-powered options and a few others that are priced affordably, they lose out on the style factor.
That’s why, Taiwanese brand ASUS’ latest smartwatch, the ZenWatch 2 comes across as an interesting proposition – it’s priced at Rs 11,999, and yet is quite fashionable. So, is it the smartwatch you’ve been waiting for? Let’s find out in our review.
In comparison to your smartphone, it’s even more important for a smartwatch to be stylish, since it’s something that you’d be wearing on your wrist all the time. That explains why the Moto 360 (first impressions) caught everyone’s attention among the first-gen Android Wear devices. Same was the case with the original ASUS ZenWatch, which we considered as a device that’s a class apart, based on our initial impressions. Sadly, it never made its way to the Indian market, but its successor certainly did, and we’re glad for that.
The ASUS ZenWatch 2 features a more refined design than its previous iteration. The watch is available in two sizes – one with the larger 1.63-inch display and the other with the 1.45-inch screen. It also offers you the option of a rubber strap and the other with a leather band. Our review unit features the larger display along with the brown rubber strap. The frame around the display is also available in colours like black and rose gold. And, that’s not it… users can also swap watch bands to personalise it to their liking.
The strap features the typical locking mechanism like traditional watches, and can be worn comfortably the whole day.
The ZenWatch 2 is a mix of the design language opted by current smartwatches. Instead of a circular or a rectangular dial, it features a curved rectangular dial. The frame is made of a stainless steel frame that accentuates the look further. Sadly, there’s a lot of bezel around the display panel, which seems quite odd. Another addition in the newer model is that it has a digital crown on the right edge. However, the only purpose it serves is to activate the ZenWatch 2 when the display is dim or to access the app menu. Towards the left edge, you’ll find a microphone.
At the back of the ASUS ZenWatch 2, you’ll find the pogo pins which are used for charging it. The plastic panel sports a smooth finish. The watch is also dust- and water-resistant with IP67 compatibility, allowing it to be in water of up to 1m depth for 30 minutes. It must be noted that unlike many smartwatches, this one misses out on a heart-rate monitor.
The ASUS ZenWatch 2 might not be the most stylish smartwatch, it certainly manages to hold its ground and is quite ergonomic as well.
Similar to the first-gen ASUS ZenWatch, its successor sports a 1.63-inch AMOLED display, which bears a square resolution of 320 x 320 pixels. With a pixel density of 278ppi, the screen appears sharp and offers good colours as well. The brightness levels are also impressive, but they fell short under harsh sunlight. In outdoor conditions, even the brightness boost mode fails to make the screen readable.
The display is protected by a curved layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 to make it resilient against scratches and minor damages.
From the outset, the ASUS ZenWatch 2 is similar to other Android Wear-based smartwatches. You get the similar interface, with the watch face greeting you, and swiping the screen down, you get the option to change the notification mode, see battery status, mute sound, enable brightness boost or the theater mode. Swiping to the left brings up the app launcher, showing a list of all the pre-loaded and installed apps. Swiping again displays the recent contacts, and lastly, you get the Google voice search.
The user interface is familiar to other Android Wear devices we have reviewed, and hence, we won’t go into details. What we will delve upon however, are the ton of interesting features from ASUS. Along with the Android Wear app, the company is also offering its own ZenWatch Manager app to control the ZenWatch 2.
You can change the watch faces easily (more than 30 available), but more than that, you can customise it from the ZenWatch Manager. You get the ability to change the background (if the watch face supports that) or add widgets. Similar to the second-gen Moto 360 (review), which had a live dials feature, you can get live preview of aspects like the phone's or watch’s battery, fitness-related stats like step count and calories burnt, weather information in the form of temperature, UV, humidity levels and productivity options such as missed calls, unread Gmail count or number of events in the Calendar. It must be noted that for missed calls or calendar details, you’d need to provide notification access to the app. Also, at any point of time, you can only have three widgets, but needless to say that it’s quite useful as you can see the info at a glance.
You can also control when you want to dim the screen or the look of the hands on the watch face. There are several other features bucketed under the FoneHelper option. These include the ability to control the call from the ZenWatch 2 even after picking it up, an alert if you stray far from your phone, find the watch, and cover to mute among others. You can also use the smartwatch as a flashlight, a feature that brightens up its screen to illuminate dark surroundings. There’s an SOS feature as well, which can send a preset message to your emergency contacts along with sharing the location in the message. The feature also raises the alarm from the phone.
Last but not the least, you get some recommended apps for the ASUS ZenWatch 2 as well as the phone to make the full use of watch’s capabilities. If you want to create your own watch faces, then you’ll love the FaceDesigner app. It has tried to make it quite easy by letting you choose or upload a background, select clock type and finally select the widgets.
There’s ZenWatch Music to help you transfer music to the watch in an easier manner. The ZenWatch remote camera enables you to use the watch as a shutter for the camera.
The ZenWatch Wellness is a fitness-tracking app and displays your step counts along with tracking your sleep. It offers you daily as well as weekly insights. It also offers some useful features, such as prompting you to move if you’ve remained still for a long duration.
The innards of the ASUS ZenWatch 2 are exactly same as the ZenWatch and many other Android smartwatches – a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor clocked at 1.2GHz, which is coupled with 512MB of RAM. The combination is decent, and we didn’t feel that it failed to do the justice with the performance aspect even once. Navigation, opening various apps and even playing smartwatch-centric games such as Flopsy Droid and Ladder Rush was an enjoyable experience.
In terms of storage, the device comes with 4GB of memory on board. The available storage can be used to install apps or store music on the ASUS ZenWatch 2 itself.
The built-in microphone is quite responsive, and can be used to trigger Google search. However, it only works in quiet environs. The watch also has a speaker, and thanks to the Marshmallow update to Android Wear, you can use the ZenWatch 2 for making and receiving calls.
The ASUS ZenWatch 2 can be paired with Android or iOS devices via Bluetooth. It also supports WiFi connectivity.
Thanks to the six-axis sensor hub of gyroscope and accelerometer, the ZenWatch 2 can recognise your gestures. You can use them to see notifications or dismiss them by twisting your wrist up or down, among other things supported by Android Wear. Though at times, we failed to see the notifications in this manner and had to resort to the usual touch-based interaction.
Talking about battery – which has remained a fly in the ointment for most smartwatches – the ZenWatch 2 comes powered by a 400mAh unit. However, its state isn’t much different from its counterparts, as it barely manages to last beyond a day. If sparingly used, then it can go on for a day and a half. The bundled 1A charger can connect to the watch magnetically, and can juice up the watch in about 90 minutes.
As mentioned in the introduction, the ASUS ZenWatch 2 is an interesting offering, and as per our experience, it manages to tick the right boxes – good design, smooth performance, useful software features, and the most important of them all... affordable pricing. The variant with the rubber strap costs Rs 11,999, while if you want more premium look and feel, then the model with stainless steel strap will set you back by Rs 14,999.
Its pricing and feature set also makes the ZenWatch 2 a lone warrior in its price segment. It’s not like there isn’t any competition – there’s Timex Metropolitan Plus or Titan Juxt, priced at Rs 9,995 and Rs 15,995 respectively. However, these devices are more like traditional watches and miss out on the smartness offered by Android Wear.
While we’re still of the camp which believes that smartwatches haven’t realised their full potential yet, if you’re in the market for a smartwatch, then the ASUS ZenWatch 2 seems like a compelling and stylish choice.
Photos by Raj Rout