Mostly, though, the Asus ZenWatch differs from other smartwatches with the amount of watch faces Asus has thrown in, and that’s actually probably the best feature of the ZenWatch.
While most of the other manufacturers feel like they only want to give you a sampling of the sort of watch faces your change-whenever-you-would-like electronic watch can handle, sending you to Google’s Play Store for the rest, Asus has actually spent some time with designers and made something.
In fact, it has made quite a few, offering you a fair amount of slightly customisable watch faces offering different colours in modern designs that felt like they were made for this shape fake mechanical cog watches, and quite a few mixtures in between with analogue and digital styles.
Colour screens for all of these watches are offered, but even when the phone is in standby, you get nice basic monochromatic versions that don’t lessen the impact and still make you feel as if you’re using a real watch, and that’s the interesting part about the ZenWatch, as it it’s one of the closest experiences to have not just a smart device but a watch on your wrist.
But while we like the design and appreciate the extra watch faces, the performance of the ZenWatch leaves a little to be desired.
First there’s the battery life, which manages to chew through itself in the space of a day without any issues.
That’s a low time for a smartwatch, and we can usually get around two days, which isn’t the best life as it is. One day, however, is a little sad, and that’s all this watch gets.
You kind of hope for more as a watch owner, and two days is a start for the others, but the Asus ZenWatch will need a charge nightly, and there’s really no way around it, unless you, you know, not use the smartwatch, which itself defeats the point.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the reliability of the watch is a touch problematic, and that’s because it crashes frequently.
Testing it with the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, we found the watch would reset itself often, buzzing on our wrists and informing us that yes, it had in fact decided to restart itself all of a sudden for no apparent reason.
Because that’s just what you want a smartwatch to be doing, which appears to be something that happens when more than one Bluetooth is engaged with the smartphone, say a pair of headphones or a camera.
Other times, the phone would bring itself into the settings menu simply by the way you hold your wrist, and that was — we found — because of the location Asus had thrown the one physical button on the watch. A location of under the watch means that if your flesh ripples, folds, or hits the button just long enough if you’re stretching or flexing your wrist, you will inadvertently hit the button and force it into a settings menu, which itself might explain some of the random resets.
We did try to force this, mind you, and couldn’t, so we have no real explanation for the random resets, but this button location surely doesn’t help.
If you don’t suffer from those reliability issues, you will at one point struggle with trying to get the ZenWatch to wake up.
You’ll flail your arm about, shaking your wrist as if you were drying off those hands, and sometimes you’ll even touch and prod the screen, and the ZenWatch just won’t wake up.
Other times it will, and some times it won’t, providing what can sometimes turn into a thoroughly frustrating experience that again shows how unreliable the ZenWatch really and truly is.
This lack of reliability makes the Asus ZenWatch hard to keep on your wrist, and isn’t especially helped by the combination Android Wear and ZenWatch Manager, which don’t always play nicely with each other.
Even though Android Wear devices typically only require Google’s “Android Wear” app, this watch won’t run without the Asus app “ZenWatch Manager” installed, something we’ve previously noted in this review, but which also reveals itself to be a bit of a problem when the watch faces lose their connection to the phone all too easily. When that happens, your weather information will just cease to exist, changing to dashes and hyphens, and you’ll still get the time, but no real connection to the phone.
You will go into ZenWatch Manager and see the watch isn’t connected, and then you’ll go into the Android Wear app and find that it is, which will make ZenWatch Manager work.
It’s this form of synchronisation requiring two apps to work that makes the ZenWatch a little problematic in how it’s used and how it’s synced, and means that if something in the watch decided to stop working, you need to go into these apps to check what’s working and what isn’t.
You won’t really have to be tech support for your watch, we’ll be honest on that, but this checking to see which app works and which doesn’t can be a bit of a pain in the proverbial, because while you could just hope for things working out of the box and staying that way, the Asus ZenWatch is more trying than that.
And we get why: Asus wanted the ZenWatch to be special, and Asus wanted the ZenWatch to be different. It has that, with extra watch faces that can be customised and made to look a little different, and with support for extra apps such as being able to turn the wristwatch into a sort-of-wireless-mouse or a camera controller.
But it also comes with its fair share of pain, and while the other Android Wear watches are all similar and don’t quite offer a point of differentiation, they’re also all very easy to install and keep working, and the Asus ZenWatch just isn’t, or at least not to the same level.
There’s certainly something intriguing about the Asus ZenWatch, and it’s not a nod back to the skeuomorphism of circular smartwatches. Indeed, it’s something else.
It might be the two-tone style, with silver and bronze utilised in a design that tries to be bolder and yet different, and even offers the slightest of curves just to be that word again: “different”.
Perhaps it’s the watch band which is classic and comfortable, and elicits a feeling more like that of a watch and less like a smartwatch, with a metal fold-back clasp and high-quality brown leather that outshines the other Android Wear watch bands with a band that oozes quality, as opposed to convenience.
One wonders if its the watch faces, with quite a few of those offered, and many more stylish and design-focused than just the options that hark back to a real watch that so many other devices offer.
It could be all of them, because Asus certainly has that going for its first-generation ZenWatch, with the gadget providing enough differences to make this a worthy choice for someone keen to take a gander at the whole smartwatch craze.
In fact, if it wasn’t for the poor reliability and issues between ZenManager and Android Wear, we’d have more to look forward to here, but there’s also one less thing going for the ZenWatch now that we’re ready with our review: a new model.
It’s now June and Asus is already talking about a new ZenWatch, making us wonder just how long it is until Asus sends this our way. We have no concrete availability information, but our guess would be somewhere between August and October.
That makes the first-generation ZenWatch a little harder to swallow, though if Asus dropped the price a little *ahem*clears-throat*ahem*, we’re sure more people would take notice.
Against the other smartwatches, Asus is offering something unique, that’s for sure, but just make sure you have the patience to deal with the software quirks, because it certainly comes with its fair share of those, too.
Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
Looks and feels a little different to other smart watches; Comfortable; Offers more customisable watch faces than other smart watches; Leather strap is quite nice;
Requires an extra app "Asus ZenManager" to work; Crashes fairly frequently, and usually when Bluetooth is used for something else; Screen doesn’t always respond when you wave your hand or bring it back from standby; Only one day of battery life;