This Smartwatch Has a Baffling Price

This Smartwatch Has a Baffling Price
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Your average smartwatch brand usually puts out at least two types of watches: a premium flagship smartwatch, and a more cost-conscious alternative with about 75% of the flagship’s features. Samsung does it (Galaxy Watch 3 and the Galaxy Watch Active2), Fitbit does it (Fitbit Sense and Versa 3), and now with the Apple Watch SE, Apple has also gotten on board. So it’s not really surprising that Huami, a company that pumps out a lot of surprisingly stylish and affordable smartwatches, is also looking to do the same with the Zepp E, which is far more premium than the company’s other offerings.

If you aren’t familiar with Huami, let’s rewind a little. Huami is the parent company of Amazfit, which makes wearables like the Bip S. It also partnered with Timex for its Ironman GPS R300 and the Metropolitan R smartwatches. In general, it’s known for budget smartwatches that deliver a lot of functionality at a very attractive price point. I was more or less expecting the same from the Zepp E, but what I got was a watch that delivered budget functionality at a price that didn’t make sense.

Zepp E

WHAT IS IT?

A smartwatch with a budget feature set but a more premium price

PRICE

$US250 ($350)

LIKE

The display is pretty nice; comfortable to wear; chic design; multi-day battery life

NO LIKE

Other smartwatches in this price range offer way more

The Zepp E costs $US250 ($350), and to be fair, it’s a nice-looking watch.

Editor’s Note: Aussie pricing for the Zepp E is not currently available. Stay tuned.

It comes in two variations: a round version, which I reviewed, and a square one that looks like an Apple Watch knock-off. I’ve spilled a ton of words on why Apple Watch clones need to die, so we’ll skip past that one, but the round version is quite sleek on the wrist. The 1.28-inch AMOLED display is crisp and easy to read notifications on. Colours are bright, and while you can see some pixelation if you squint, I never felt it was so bad that it detracted from watch faces or text. It’s also only 9mm thick, which is thinner than most flagship smartwatches out there. (The Apple Watch, for instance, is 10.4mm.) Huami describes it as “3D curved bezel-less glass” and while that’s marketing schlock, I will say it does look and feel like it belongs on a premium watch. I didn’t love the texture of the “moon grey” leather band they sent me, but it looked chic with the gold case and, for once, wasn’t pink.

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But while the design seems like it would belie a premium watch, the features are lacking compared to other watches in this price range.

The Zepp E has a couple of features that other premium smartwatches have, such as an on-demand SpO2 app — much like the one on the Series 6 and the Galaxy Watch 3 — and stress-tracking. It also offers continuous heart rate-monitoring and the typical sensors we’ve come to expect from smartwatches, like an accelerometer and ambient light sensor. You also get sleep-tracking, an estimated seven days of battery life, and with 5 ATM of water resistance, it’s safe for swimming.

What you don’t get is NFC payments, built-in GPS, digital assistant, or cellular connectivity. I wouldn’t necessarily expect all of those things on a sub-$400 smartwatch. The Fitbit Versa 3, for instance, may not have cellular capability, but it does get you Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, built-in GPS, Fitbit Pay, and SpO2 monitoring for $US230 ($322).

The Apple Watch SE starts at $429, but you get Apple Pay, Siri, built-in GPS, and you can upgrade to a cellular model. The Samsung Galaxy Active2 also starts at $380, also has a cellular version, Bixby, Samsung Pay, and adds ECG. When you consider how much you can get for under $400, the Zepp E’s feature set feels a bit incomplete. The advanced features the Zepp E does have — an SpO2 app and stress-tracking — feel sort of tacked on, and lack some of the context provided on other, competing smartwatches.

That’s a shame because, for the most part, the Zepp E is a good, basic smartwatch.

For notifications, I found the Zepp E was pretty capable, though you’ll have to manually configure which alerts you receive in the Zepp app, under the Zepp E’s individual settings. That’s not uncommon — you have to do it for Fitbits, too — and personally, I like that you have more control over what does or doesn’t make your wrist buzz. It lacks a built-in music player, which isn’t the worst thing. You can control your music over Bluetooth, but if you want Spotify or Pandora on your wrist, you’re out of luck here.

I do like the look of it. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) I do like the look of it. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

In terms of interface, the Zepp E is similar to Wear OS. You basically swipe left and right to view widgets for things like weather and activity, and you can press the button on the right side to access a scrolling menu for your apps. Swipes were easily registered, and thankfully, I didn’t experience any latency.

The battery on the Zepp E is pretty solid. I got about 6-7 days of typical use on a single charge without the always-on display enabled. With it on, I got about three days, but to be fair, I logged more than two hours of activity-tracking during that time. Connected GPS doesn’t drain the battery as fast as built-in GPS does, but I had a setting toggled on to increase how often the Zepp took heart rate measurements during recorded exercise. That would also deplete the battery faster than on days with lighter activity. Depending on the options you choose for how often the watch measures your heart rate and how often you exercise, your mileage may vary.

The Zepp app is also decent, though not as slick as some other smartwatch apps. You can see basic tiles with information like heart rate, workouts, and sleep score in an easily understood layout. But it’s not what I’d call perfect. There are some wonky translations here and there, but nothing that’s incomprehensible. For non-metric users, there are times where the Zepp app will revert to metric units even if you have your settings on Imperial.

For example, in my outdoor running activities, my split times are per kilometre even though I’m tracking my distance in miles. (I wish I was running 6'24" per mile, but alas, that’s my pace per kilometre.) And while you can view your long-term data, it’s not presented in an intuitive way in the app. For instance, to see all my workout records, I can’t just hit the activity tile. I have to tap the teeny menu that says All Records in the upper right corner of the tile, which is simple enough once you know where it is, but I tripped up enough times that it was annoying.

So there is a bezel...but the AMOLED display is actually one of the best parts of the Zepp E.  (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) So there is a bezel...but the AMOLED display is actually one of the best parts of the Zepp E. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

The Zepp E is best when it comes to health-tracking, but you’re not really getting anything here that you can’t get elsewhere. Sleep-tracking was accurate compared to my Oura Ring; both consistently logged the same hours slept per night, gave me similar sleep quality scores every night, and roughly corresponded when it came to sleep stages. Unlike the Bip S, the Zepp E also correctly noted when I woke up in the middle of the night. The Zepp E also has a beta “sleep breathing quality” metric, but I didn’t consider it particularly useful, because the description didn’t really explain how it was measured or what it meant for my overall health. I assume the feature relies on the SpO2 sensor, because that’s what other smartwatches use to give comparable analysis, but again, it wasn’t explained in the app, and the tips for improving were things you could easily Google: don’t drink before sleeping, lose weight, and exercise more.

Activity-tracking was also decent. The Zepp E doesn’t have built-in GPS, which means it relies on your phone. That’s disappointing in the sense that phone-free runs aren’t an option if you want accuracy. When running with my phone, the Zepp E reported distances that were generally within 2 km of the MapMyRun app. For instance, on a 5 km run logged by my phone, the Zepp E reported 5 km and the Apple Watch SE recorded 5 km. This was roughly the same for the seven test runs and the two test walks I did with the Zepp E, Apple Watch, and my phone. There was, however, one exception. During one test run, the Zepp E failed to find GPS — which was odd given my phone was on me — and logged a 5 km run as 3 km. That is just wildly incorrect and makes me think if you did leave your phone at home or if you’re a treadmill runner, you might get wonky results.

You get SpO2 readings but they don't offer much. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) You get SpO2 readings but they don't offer much. (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

Heart rate-tracking, however, was more reliable. The Zepp E was generally within 5 beats per minute of both the Apple Watch SE and my Polar H10 chest strap. That said, during my runs, I noticed the occasional lag when it came to reporting my heart rate. I’d lift my wrist and it’d take a second for my metrics to update. Not a huge deal, just kind of annoying if you’re the type that frequently checks in mid-run.

I tested the SpO2 app against the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and my partner’s Apple Watch Series 6. They all gave me similar numbers (96%, 95%, and 96%), and are equally annoying in that you have to sit really still to get measurements. There’s no real flashy feature that utilises SpO2 sensor yet, so the fact the Zepp E has it is sort of...useless. In the app itself, there’s no real context of how your SpO2 results relate to the rest of your health. There is a short explanation about how it can be used to monitor respiration, but no context for why you might care about that. In the app, it’s buried in several menus and not easily accessible from the home screen. It’d be one thing if it was factored into a recovery or “readiness” score, but that’s nowhere to be found.

In the same vein, I didn’t really get much out of its stress-tracking. In a week, my stress levels, which are based on my heart rate variability measurements, ranged from 11-96. Meaning, sometimes I was very chill and sometimes I was extremely not chill. I can tell you that without a smartwatch, and this feature didn’t help me understand my HRV any better. Like the SpO2 app, stress-tracking is also buried in a secondary menu, and it would be extremely easy to miss completely if you didn’t know it was there. For what it’s worth, the Fitbit Sense also tracks stress, but in a much more holistic, meaningful way.

One thing the Zepp E does have going for it is the PAI metric. Old Mio users might be familiar with it, as that’s where it comes from. (Huami acquired Mio in 2018.) For the uninitiated, PAI stands for Personal Activity Intelligence, and it’s a score that tries to simplify whether you’re getting the appropriate amount of activity per week — sort of like Fitbit’s Active Zone Minutes. The idea is to have 100 PAI over a 7-day period, and how many PAI you’re awarded for an activity is supposedly personalised based on your demographic data. It’s a bit hokey, but as far as metrics go, it’s a more useful measure than just going off steps alone. That said, you’d get this from any Huami wearable. The Bip S also uses it, so it’s not as if this is specific to the Zepp E.

Pai. Pumpkin. Pumpkin Pai. GET IT? (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo) Pai. Pumpkin. Pumpkin Pai. GET IT? (Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo)

That’s the problem with the Zepp E. You’re effectively paying $US250 ($350) for a nice design and multi-day battery life. It’s not that the Zepp is a bad watch. It’s that you can get that and more for a similar price elsewhere. While I prefer the size of the Zepp E’s display, the Samsung Galaxy Active 2 is the better overall value given the wider feature set, especially if you like pretty, round watches. If you don’t mind square displays, the Apple Watch SE and Fitbit Versa 3 are more feature-rich, aren’t hideous, and are around the same price. Even Huami makes pretty compelling alternatives with the Amazfit GTS and GTR, which cost around $180 on Amazon and have built-in GPS.

If the Zepp E wants to be a premium smartwatch, it needs to at least have built-in GPS, NFC payments, or something to set it apart from budget watches. That could have been SpO2 and stress-tracking, but in both cases I found these seemingly premium features to be half-assed, and they weren’t meaningfully featured in the Zepp app’s health dashboard. For basic fitness-tracking and design, hybrid analogue watches deliver the same kind of connected GPS-tracking and metrics, and they’re often less than $300. Many are also quite fetching on the wrist.

The Zepp E has budget features in a premium body. If you can find it on sale for under $300, I’d say the Zepp E is a watch you should consider. But at full price? Honey, you can do better.

README

  • It’s got a sleek design, and the 1.28-inch AMOLED display is good for reading notifications.
  • Comes in two varieties: round and square (i.e. an Apple Watch clone, hiss hiss).
  • Has SpO2 app, stress-tracking, sleep-tracking, multi-day battery, and continuous heart rate-monitoring.
  • Doesn’t have NFC payments, built-in GPS, or digital assistant — all features you can expect to find in a smartwatch that costs $350.
  • Budget watch trying to masquerade as a premium watch, except it costs too much considering the feature set.