In 2016, Android Wear is one of the most versatile smartwatch platforms around, with some going so far as to call it ‘the power of Google on your wrist’. With an ever-growing arsenal of apps, this is the operating system as far as smartwatches go. And the Asus ZenWatch 2 — at Rs 11,999 to Rs 14,999 (depending on the variant you choose) — is possibly one of the cheapest models on the market at present to run Android Wear.
Build and Design: 6/10
The ZenWatch 2 is available in two sizes — 45 mm and 49 mm — just like the Moto 360 (Gen 2) and Apple Watch. Also like the Moto 360 (Gen 2), there are numerous customisability options available with three case colours — gunmetal, gold and silver — and quite a few different straps — both leather and silicone — on offer. The version we tested was the smaller 45 mm one, and at first sight, is certainly very pretty to look at. The rectangular shape with rounded edges and stainless steel casing is very reminiscent of the Apple Watch. But shortly after unboxing, all similarities come to an end.
For starters, the plastic turtle shell-like back of the ZenWatch 2 feels mildly tacky and disappointing after that first impression. It seems to be a weirdly out-of-place undercarriage. And once it’s strapped onto the wrist, another thing becomes clear: This smartwatch feels chunky. At 10.4 mm, the ZenWatch 2 is by no means too thick, but in combination with the shape of the watch and the large bezels — you’ll see when you power it on, it feels less than ideal in the sleekness department.
The leather strap on the ZenWatch 2 reviewed was decidedly average on the eye and equally ordinary to the touch. The strap buckle and buckle tongue seem flimsy and feel like they could snap at any point. This isn’t a huge deal since the strap is easily changeable. But considerably more problematic is the fact that the 45 mm version can only accommodate an 18-mm-thick strap (while the larger model can accommodate a 22 mm strap). This renders the process of getting the right-sized watch and strap for a particular wrist slightly tricky.
But onto the positive, and the crown, as you’ll discover, is deceptively compact. A quick look at it gives the impression that it’s the sort that will dig into the back of the hand, particularly, as it is located on the 3 o’ clock or 90° point. On the wrist, however, it’s virtually impossible to feel unless you completely twist your hand backwards.
The 273 ppi AMOLED display spread across a 280 x 280 pixel is more than upto the task of providing a clean and most importantly, crisp visual experience. Whether or not the lack of pixellation is an optical illusion created by the aforementioned thickness of the bezels — the screen only makes up 36.8 mm of the watch — is not clear, but the ZenWatch 2’s display delivers. So too does the Gorilla Glass 3 screen that seemed as smudge-proof as it was scratch-proof.
A Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 512 MB of RAM, coupled with 4 GB of internal memory appears to be an Android Wear standard, and in that regard, this smartwatch is no exception. Also just like the Moto 360, the ZenWatch 2 has Wi-Fi connectivity, which allows you to stay connected to your phone provided you are on the same network.
There is an onboard pedometer, but no heart rate sensor — which could explain the affordable price tag.
The 300 mAh battery seems slightly lower on capacity when compared to other watches, but it packs a punch as you’ll soon find out. The ZenWatch 2 Magnetic Charging Cable — that comes with the smartwatch and is sold on the Asus store for $14.99 (around Rs 1,000) in case you lose or damage yours — snaps effortlessly onto the back of the watch and takes around 90 minutes to charge the ZenWatch 2 fully.
Compatible with Android 4.3 and above (or iOS 8 and above should you decide to use it with an Apple device), there wasn’t a single Android Wear app encountered during the course of this review that did not work with the ZenWatch 2 (Note: This review was conducted on an Android phone, and the experience on an iPhone is quite likely to be different). Additionally, there are also watch’s own unique apps like the ZenWatch manager and Wellness apps that can be downloaded and installed. It was refreshing to see a device with which the manufacturer wasn’t trying to cram its own apps down your throat.
Performance and usability: 9/10
The process of setting up the ZenWatch 2 is — once again, just like most Android Wear devices — simple. Enter your email address and you’re good to go. After around five minutes of setup time, you’re ready to start using the smartwatch. Unsurprisingly, the user interface is just like what you’d find on other Android Wear devices — complete with the Google Now cards, notification swipes, etc. Also, no function is more than two or three gestures away.
But here’s where it’s different: Aesthetically Android Wear looks and feels much better on a rectangular screen rather than a circular one (read: Moto 360). Emails and messages look much better and you could feasibly go through an entire 800-word piece without any discomfort… or even the realisation that you’re looking at a watch, rather than a phone.
This is where the ZenWatch 2 shines — its identity is almost promiscuous, jumping from being a watch to turning into a phone (minus the talking to people part) based on your needs. And while you can glance at it to check the time, a notification or how many steps you’ve taken (basically passive functions), it’s when you need to check and reply to an email or a message (active functions) that this smartwatch becomes a lot more. The voice recognition software is superb and it’s possible to speak at your normal speed of diction (rather than slowly and exaggeratedly) and have the watch transcribe your replies perfectly.
As far as watchfaces go, the ZenWatch 2 comes loaded with a few interesting designs, but as always, it’s possible to freshen things up and download new ones. An app unique to this particular device — which can be downloaded on your mobile — allows you to create new watchfaces virtually from scratch, if that’s the level of customisability you seek.
Another positive is that there is no discernible lag between you issuing an instruction and the smartwatch executing it. This was a problem with the Moto 360, but with the same 512 MB of RAM, the ZenWatch 2 is able to multitask and quickly switch to apps with minimal delay. Google Maps — notorious for loading delays — took barely a couple of seconds to get started and show me where I was.
As mentioned earlier, the absence of a heart rate sensor somewhat limits the fitness end of the apps spectrum. However, unless the monitoring of your heart rate is something you critically require, the ZenWatch 2’s limited collection of fitness apps should suffice.
Battery life: 9/10
From its first full charge, the ZenWatch 2 happily lasts around 48 or 50 hours with medium to heavy use. Considering it operates on a 300 mAh battery, this is an impressive feat. As is the fact that the ratio of charging time to battery life is around 1:32. Ultimately, this is a smartwatch you can take on a weekend trip where charging isn’t possible and you can even extend the battery life (for a long weekend) by switching off certain notifications, lowering brightness, turning off Bluetooth, etc.
Verdict and Price in India
The ZenWatch 2’s looks belie the quality of this smartwatch that seems to exemplify the phrase ‘substance over style’. It may not be the greatest-looking wearable on the market, but if it’s a low-profile high-performance smartwatch you’re after, look no further — particularly in light of its Rs 11,999 to Rs 14,999 pricetag.
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