At IFA 2014 in Berlin, Asus joined Motorola, Samsung and LG in launching an Android Wear smartwatch. Asus’ first attempt is the ZenWatch, with a curved 1.6-inch OLED display, a beautiful leather strap and a few Asus bespoke apps for extra functionality over the bog-standard Android Wear on other devices.
The ZenWatch is, from my short experience with it so far, really polarising. I happen to think it looks quite good in the flesh, but there were plenty of people crowded around that were a little less than excited by the chunky silver bezel and non-edge-to-edge display. The curved glass actually looks really nice when you’re wearing it on your wrist — it’s a lot more natural than a flat screen, and adds a sense of luxury to the whole watch. The whole thing looks quite nice, but feels a little cheap — as if the metal and glass are quite thin, although I’m sure they’re perfectly sturdy.
For the most part, the ZenWatch is standard, vanilla Android Wear, and that’s a good thing. Not being able to add all their own skins and bloated apps to Android Wear means it remains simple to understand and quick to operate even on basic lower-powered hardware. Asus has managed to include a few apps on its ZenFone range, though, that improve the functionality of the ZenWatch — and because it’s done on the phone side of things, it can get away with it.
Remote Camera is a feature that turns the ZenWatch display into a live readout of a phone’s camera lens, letting you use it as a remote viewfinder. I remain sceptical about how useful it’ll actually be day-to-day, but I’ve used the remote viewfinder feature before on Sony’s Action Cam and many a GoPro, so it certainly has specific applications. Watch Unlock and Presentation Control are probably more useful day-to-day, with the first letting you unlock your Asus phone by tapping the ZenWatch against its screen and the second giving you on-watch controls for any presentation you’re giving from a connected device.
Similarly, Asus’ integrated suite of sensors including a heartrate monitor are controlled by the Wellness app on complementary ZenFone smartphones, which crunches various numbers and delivers a “relaxation score”. It’s not something I can see myself using — just a simple pedometer is enough for me, thanks. If you like keeping complete track of your vital statistics, though, then Asus has certainly included just about everything you could want for in the ZenWatch’s chunky chassis.
We’re still waiting on Australian delivery dates and a potential price tag for the ZenWatch. It’ll be available across Europe for 199 Euros, so an Australian street price should be around the $350 point.