Asus’s first stab at the smartwatch market stood out in a sea of underwhelming first generation Android Wear hardware with an elegant design and a competitive price point. Cue Asus’s follow-up, the ZenWatch 2.
With a starting price of $299 for the leather band model, the ZenWatch 2 is a fair bit steeper than the US entry price of $129, however, it’s still one of the cheapest smartwatches you can buy in Australia and it does come with some notable improvements. So is it worth the plunge?
Hardware and design
The ZenWatch 2 now comes in two sizes: the standard 1.63-inch 320 x 320 resolution and the smaller 1.45-inch 280 x 280 resolution along with two colour options which include silver and gunmetal.
We tested the 1.63-inch version with the metal strap which retails for $369. It’s worth noting that the metal strap sizing out of the box is much too big for most wrists including mine and I eventually had to get a jeweller to remove some links in order to get the right fit.
The ZenWatch 2 retains the rounded square shape and stainless steel finish of its predecessor. It has a similar look to the Apple Watch right down to the metal crown which acts as a power and reset button.
The display is OLED as opposed to the less energy efficient LCD used in some other smartwatches like the Moto 360.
Unfortunately, the thick bezels of its predecessor make an unwelcome return and the fact that you can easily differentiate between display and bezel take away from the overall design of the watch. It’s a shame that Asus didn’t focus on thinning out the borders or at least make the screen size bigger on the ZenWatch 2.
The screen isn’t any brighter than last year’s model either so viewing in direct sunlight is still a problem.
Asus claims that the ZenWatch 2 is the thinnest Android Wear smartwatch in Australia and it definitely feels less chunky on the wrist than some other smartwatches we tested recently.
Overall, we prefer the circular styling of the Moto 360 and Huawei Watch as they more closely resemble a proper high-end timepiece rather than a gadget, but the ZenWatch 2 is a decent compromise at this entry level price point.
Looks aside, there are some functional improvements as well.
It’s now easier to switch out bands thanks to a new quick release mechanism and, like last year’s model, it is compatible with any standard 22mm band or 18mm strap (on the smaller model).
There is an IP67 rating this time around which allows you to shower or swim with it on and the Gorilla Glass 3 should do a decent job of protecting the screen from knocks and bumps. We also noticed a speaker and mic port tucked away underneath so the ZenWatch 2 should be able to take calls once the Android Wear 1.4 software update hits the device in the very near future. The Huawei Watch is the only other Android Wear smartwatch currently available on the market that includes a speaker.
Despite the thinner frame, Asus still managed to squeeze in a 400mAh battery inside with the smaller model coming in at 300mAh. Asus claims up two days of battery life, but it typically lasted us a day and a half. Thankfully, topping up is easy using the magnetic connector and the charging speed is relatively fast - filling up the battery to 50% charge took us a little over 30 minutes.
Spec wise, the ZenWatch 2 shares the same processing power as its pricier competition with a Snapdragon 400, 512MB RAM and 4GB of onboard storage in case you want to sync your music to the watch for a smartphone-free jog. Speaking of fitness - a critical component of any smartwatch - the ZenWatch 2 lacks both a heart rate monitor and GPS sensor.
To be fair, there’s still only a handful of smartwatches that offer onboard GPS and it’s not really an issue so long as you’re willing to carry your smartphone with you on your jogs. Heart rate monitors on the other hand have become standard fare on smartwatches and it’s a critical metric in measuring your overall exertion levels and ultimately the number of calories you’ve burnt during a workout or run. Asus did include a heart rate sensor in the original model so it’s surprising to see it omitted here. You can, however, track the number of steps you’ve taken using the onboard pedometer.
On the upside, there is Wi-Fi connectivity onboard which keeps you connected to your phone even if you’ve moved out of its Bluetooth range. The ability to move around the home or office freely and still receive alerts on the wrist without the burden of having to carry another device is very useful, although, I did still experience the occasional disconnect despite the phone being within the desired range.
As you would expect, the software experience is very similar to other Android Wear smartwatches in which you slide through cards of information via a vertical UI.
But Asus has thrown in some useful extra bits on top.
The Remote Camera app effectively turns your smartwatch into a live viewfinder of your smartphone camera, making it easy to frame that perfect selfie. The watch face builder lets you build a watch face from scratch which worked well in our testing and is surprisingly full-featured. There’s also a fair share of bloatware such as the Wellness app and ZenWatch Music.
Android Wear now also works with iPhones though the functionality is extremely limited.
If you haven’t been won over by Google’s smartwatch OS, then the ZenWatch 2 isn’t going to change your mind. But for those interested in dipping their toe into the world of smartwatches without breaking the bank, the ZenWatch 2 and its $299 starting price tag is a solid entry point.
No heart rate monitor
No onboard GPS
Android Wear isn’t for everyone