The ASUS ZenWatch 2 was launched in October 2015 and retails for S$229, making it the cheapest Android Wear smartwatch. I was not that keen to get one because it runs on Android Wear which I already experienced on the Sony Smartwatch 3 and I felt was not compelling enough.
But after I received a unit of the ZenWatch 2 and reviewed for a few weeks, it has renewed my interest in Android Wear devices.
Plain Vanilla Android Wear on Sony Smartwatch 3
The Sony Smartwatch 3 (SWR50) was a one-year-old product, with mostly plain-vanilla Android Wear UI. There was no special app to personalise the watch other than the official Android Wear app. There was no fitness tracking other than the official Google Fit. There was no sleep tracking either – I had to purchase third party apps.
Loads of Features on ZenWatch 2
In contrast, the ZenWatch 2 (WI501Q) is loaded with so many features that even though it is also running on the same Android Wear, there are much more functions available. You see, even though the hardware is similar to LG G Watch R, the big difference is on the companion apps.
ZenWatch 2 comes preloaded with over 50 watch faces that look gorgeous. OK, the Samsung Gear S2 ones are still my favourites, but I’m quite pleased with the ZenWatch 2 ones too. Personally, I would prefer digital designs for square faces, and analogue designs for round faces. Using ASUS ZenWatch Manager, you can add complications (widgets) on each watch face to display additional information like battery, steps, weather, missed events. Some faces also let you customise the background image.
For now, there is no capability to install additional faces into ZenWatch Manager app, but the ZenWatch 2 still supports any Android Wear watchface you find in the app stores. If you want to create your own face, you could use the free ASUS FaceDesigner app to create from scratch or customise existing faces. And being a Taiwan company, the app is regularly updated with background images of festivities, like Lunar New Year, and even Valentine’s Day. The personalisation features may not be as extensive as other third party apps like WatchMaker, which you have to pay to unlock the features.
During normal standby mode, the watch face display is still clear with bright backlight, unlike Sony Smartwatch 3 where the display can be really dim. If you find it too distracting under dark conditions, just double-click the crown button to enable “theatre” mode and turn off the display completely.
The ZenWatch 2 lasts just shy of 2 days with Sleep Tracker enabled while I sleep at night. Charging the watch to full takes just about 1 hour. The charging connector has polarising magnets so that you can only attach the charging pins in one direction.
Using the ZenWatch Manager, you can add a few more interactive features to the ZenWatch 2.
– Remote call control: manage calls after pick up
– Forgot phone warning: the watch vibrates when phone is out of range
– Cover to mute: cover the watch face to mute or snooze alarm
– SOS: send template message when triggered
– Remote Camera: to see the camera live preview from the watch and trigger the shutter via wrist gesture or touch.
You can also retrieve call log, calendar events, office emails without touching the phone.
The ZenWatch 2 has a 6-axis sensor for activity and motion tracking. All the data is displayed on the ZenWatch Wellness app, which makes the data easy to understand. The app can break down the number of steps you take, the start and stop times, and the activity type, in a timeline view, so you can appreciate the milestone activities. This is more intuitive than the usual bar chart display by the hour. In fact, I appreciate how ASUS describes the numerous data that the ZenWatch 2 captures. For instance, it gives a score of the sleep quality, even the number of tosses. There is also a sleep dictionary page that shares useful information on what the data means.
The ZenWatch 2 can also capture the stats on your runs, push-ups and sit-ups, and display in a separate workout table. But you need to start the type of workout manually before the app can track, else the app would . For push-ups and sit-ups, you set a target (e.g. times, duration) and then when you have reached, the watch would vibrate. The watch is not sensitive to detect the count properly, which was not unexpected. Similarly, you need to start and stop the Sleep Tracker, or else it would capture that you are still sleeping. This is unlike other fitness bands where they could auto-detect that you are sleeping, though the latter implementation is still hit-and-miss. In that aspect, at least you can inform the ZenWatch 2 on the activity you are engaging (run, sit-ups, push-ups, sleeping) so that it will not do the guesswork.
For now, the Wellness app does not have the feature to track other workouts, like cycling.
ZenUI: you either love it or hate it. Why do like it? Because the launcher is easily personalised and the ASUS apps are useful. No doubt you can find other apps that are better, but to most consumers, it’s so convenient not having to seek apps on their own. ASUS has it all: photo editing, GIF creation, photo collage creation, video editing, video collage wizard (MiniMovie), remote sharing and transfer, apps manager, backup, task reminder, cloud storage, display calibration (Splendid app), themes, weather, online forum support. Most of them do not even hog the smartphone RAM, and that’s why Zenfone runs quite smooth.
If you are using the ZenWatch 2 with a smartphone running on ZenUI (like Zenfone 2, Zenfone Selfie, Zenfone 2 Laser, Zenfone Zoom), then the ZenWatch 2 will have more integrated features, like What’s Next, Do It Later, Calendar, Email, Messaging. For instance, when you have incoming events (calls, SMS), you can create a “Do It Later” task via the ZenWatch 2 and store on the smartphone app.
ASUS has extended the ZenUI experience to the ZenWatch 2, and this is beneficial to Zenfone users who will enjoy more interactive features.
And similar to ZenUI, smartwatches running on Android Wear are extensions of the Android smartphones. Android Wear is designed to be operated by voice: just ask anything with voice for fast retrieval of apps or information. If you prefer the traditional way of scrolling the apps, you would have to scroll through the apps list to find the right app (for instance, set a timer) and go through the screen-by-screen configuration. Whenever a notification is received, it will appear as cards. Swipe to the right to dismiss, to the left for interactive options like reply or delete. What I do not like about Android Wear is that if I were to dismiss any notifications, I would not be able to retrieve them from the watch. So I would have to keep the cards so that I can review them later, and this means my notification list may grow longer.
Android Wear is now available for Apple iOS, so once you install the app on your iPhone, you will be able to use an Android Wear watch like ZenWatch 2 with it.
ZenWatch 2 Design
I have finally come to the design aspect of the watch. I left it to the last because I find it the least important in my review. And why do I say that? Well, for any product launch, the overall design is always the first thing that the consumer notices, so it is actually redundant of me to describe it again. As you can see in the dozens of product images in various media, the ZenWatch 2 has a gloss stainless-steel case, gentle-curved Gorilla Glass 3 face, smooth plastic on the rear which does not stick to the skin. The metal crown button makes the gadget look like a traditional timepiece. The leather strap can easily be removed from the watch without any tool, so that I can swap with any 22mm straps conveniently.
Compared to ZenWatch
The ZenWatch 2 maintains similar design structure as the first ZenWatch, but its crown makes the new model look more conventional. The ZenWatch has a better activity tracking sensor on-paper, with heartrate monitor that is missing on ZenWatch 2. The ZenWatch 2 has improved water resistance rating, from IP55 to IP67.
ASUS has priced many of the Zen products low but the quality exceeds the perceived value. And while I felt ZenWatch 2 is better appreciated by existing Zenfone users, the watch works just as great without the ASUS ZenWatch 2 apps. For activity tracking, I felt it was a little more hassle to indicate my activities duration, like having to start-stop a run or my sleep tracking, which was not required for other tracking devices I have reviewed. But this manual step do ensure more accurate capture of events rather than letting the watch do the guesswork. On the whole, the ZenWatch 2 works great for me and I would recommend it for consumers who want an affordable yet premium-styled wrist watch to start their experiences with smart wearable devices.
The ZenWatch 2 comes in 2 sizes for different fashion needs, in 3 bezel colours, various strap colours and material – rubber, leather, stainless steel. Recommended retail price is S$229 for the base model.
Weight: 60g (WI501Q), 50g (WI502Q)
Display: 1.63″ 320×320 (WI501Q), 1.45″ 280×280 (WI502Q)
Waterproof Rating: IP67
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
Memory: 512MB RAM, 4GB eMMC
Sensors: 6-axis (A+G) with sensor-hub
Battery: 400mAh (WI501Q), 300mAh (WI502Q)
Strap” 22mm (WI501Q), 18mm (WI502Q)
Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
Product website: https://www.asus.com/sg/ZenWatch/ASUS_ZenWatch_2_WI501Q/