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Asus ZenWatch (Wi500Q) Smartwatch Review

Daniel Schmidt, Stefanie Voigt (translated by Bernie Pechlaner), 01/22/2015

Timeless design, short on time. The Asus ZenWatch offers both an upscale design as well as high-end materials without the use of plastic. The smartwatch offers quite a few useful additional features as well. Although the battery capacity is not that generous, it lasts for at least a full day.

For the original German review, see here.

Smartwatches are all the rage and all major manufacturers have at least one model in their lineup, although the stalwarts Apple and Microsoft are still to release theirs. Asus now offers a smartwatch, which - at least as far as looks are concerned - emulates a classic wristwatch very closely.

There is more to this gadget than just appearance, since its other features are quite impressive as well. The integrated Snapdragon 400, which is frequently the power source even in middle-class smartphones, offers plenty of performance. The 1.63-inch AMOLED display is protected by a layer of curved glass. A heart rate monitor is integrated and the watch is IP certified. Offered at 229 Euro (~$265), the ZenWatch is priced as expected.

Most of the competitors have already been updated and are in their second generation. The Samsung Gear S (starting at 349 Euro; ~$400) is the only device in our comparison with a Tizen operating system. Our review watch, as well as LG's G Watch (starting at 190 Euro; ~$220), G Watch R (starting at 230 Euro; ~$270) and Sony's SmartWatch 3 (starting at 219 Euro; ~$255) make use of Google's Android Wear OS instead.

Case

All common 22 mm watchbands fit.
All common 22 mm watchbands fit.
The band can be removed with the aid of a little lever.
The band can be removed with the aid of a little lever.
The case is made from steel and looks quite decent. The connecting pins are on the back.
The case is made from steel and looks quite decent. The connecting pins are on the back.

The supplied wristband is made from Italian leather, looks very high quality and appears to be well made. The clasp mechanism is made from steel and allows the user to adjust the length in eight steps. The wristband is removable and can be replaced with any other strap, which is 22 mm (~0.8 in) wide. Moving the strap around the hinges of our review watch did induce some creaking noises.

The case is made from rustproof stainless steel and feels as good as it looks. The square display is framed by steel and protected with a curved piece of Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The lower edge and back house a microphone as well as the contacts for the charging cradle and the power/reset button. The watch is very sturdy and resists twisting motion as well as pressure without any give whatsoever.

Wearing the ZenWatch on the wrist is generally a pleasant affair. The rounded corners are a lot less noticeable than the distinct edges of LG's G Watch, although we still would have preferred a slight curvature of the bottom to increase the overall comfort. Users who are not used to wearing watches on their wrist, in particular, might not like how it feels at first.

The smartwatch offers protection, according to the IP55 standard. This means that the device is protected from damaging dust and water sprays from any direction. The manufacturer does state specifically that the watch is water-resistant, but not waterproof. Should the watch get wet, Asus recommends drying it off immediately, which is not exactly reassuring as far as exposure to rain or water in the shower is concerned. The competitors fare much better here, since they all offer higher protection ratings.

Thanks to the curved design, the watch looks a lot less clunky than it would otherwise.
Thanks to the curved design, the watch looks a lot less clunky than it would otherwise.

Connectivity

To record the heart rate, a finger needs to be placed to the left and the right side of the display.
To record the heart rate, a finger needs to be placed to the left and the right side of the display.

The hardware of the Asus ZenWatch is similar to what is found in competition watches. The processor is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 AQP8026 running at a speed of up to 1.2 GHz. 512 MB of RAM is also more than adequate. We did not experience any kind of lags or stutters during the review period. The flash storage space of 4 GB is also sufficient since the transfer of large amounts of data is not possible anyway.

The ZenWatch does not offer a lot of sensors, but most other smartwatches do not either. The motion sensor does not always function reliably: the watch is supposed to wake up from standby when the sensor detects an upward arm movement. Under ideal circumstances, this motion does indeed activate the display and the voice recognition. However,  quite frequently we had to wave our arm very vigorously or touch the display to get this function to work.

Unfortunately, a brightness sensor is not on board, so the brightness needs to be adjusted manually. A GPS receiver would also be appreciated  - without it, the smartwatch needs to rely on a smartphone. The watch can record movement without a connected phone, but this is not quite comparable to the functionality offered by a satellite-based system. Whenever a smartphone is in reach, the recorded data is synchronized automatically.

The heart rate sensor (Asus calls it "biosensor") is not implemented on the underside like some other competing smartwatches, but rather requires the user to put two fingers on the display bezel to record the heart rate or the stress level. This is not exactly convenient when the watch is used as a fitness device, although the measurements proved to be very accurate.

Google Android Wear 5.0.1 is offered as an update when the watch boots for the first time.
Google Android Wear 5.0.1 is offered as an update when the watch boots for the first time.

Software

Asus uses Google's Android Wear 5.0.1 which of course means that the ZenWatch should pair up very well with smartphones equipped with Android 5.0 Lollipop. However, many smartphone running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean or higher will be compatible. The current version does offer some improvements compared to the previous version 4.4: not only does 5.0 bring Material Design to Android, but it also offers two additional modes, which can be activated quickly by swiping down from the top edge of the display.

In cinema mode, the display is deactivated until it is unlocked with a double-tap. This means that potentially annoying notifications are suppressed during that time and the display remains dark for the duration. In sunlight mode, the display brightness remains turned up all the way, until the watch enters standby mode. This is quite convenient outdoors, since it is more difficult to adjust the brightness manually. The menu structure has been tweaked and the user can now adjust the font size according to his or her needs. An additional zoom gesture is supported as well.

When connected to a smartphone, the Asus ZenWatch offers some additional and quite useful features. In addition to an almost mandatory - wellness application, which is simply called Wellness, the ZenWatch Manager is available from the Play Store. This app allows users to adjust the smartwatch according to their liking and offers a few additional features. For example, the display of the watch can be used as a multi-colored flashlight or as a compass. We found the latter not overly accurate as far as displaying the correct heading is concerned. The wellness application records steps and the relaxation level, which is calculated based on the stress level and the recorded heart rate.

Wellness
Wellness
Wellness
ZenWatch Manager
Remote Link

The application Remote Camera turns the ZenWatch into a remote trigger for a smartphone camera. Whatever the camera module records, is transmitted live to the watch; touching the display activates the shutter. We had no issues with this feature and found its operation to be quite intuitive.

Remote Link allows the user to control PowerPoint presentations running on a PC. Enabling this functionality requires the installation of the Asus Smart Gesture plugin. Once the presentation is up and running, the smartphone can take over and increase the ease of operation. We like the fact that we were free to use our hands, although we found the initial setup to be rather cumbersome.

Remote Camera allows to remotely trigger a smartphone camera.
Remote Camera allows to remotely trigger a smartphone camera.
Whatever the camera records is transmitted to the ZenWatch.
Whatever the camera records is transmitted to the ZenWatch.
Remote Link is used to control presentations. The watch displays the number of the slides.
Remote Link is used to control presentations. The watch displays the number of the slides.

Accessories & Warranty

As far as the accessories are concerned, Asus includes a USB cable, a charging cradle, and a modular power adapter with a rating of 7 Watts (5.2 volts, 1.35 amps). The adapter is TÜV and GS certified. The charging cradle features a rubberized coating and holds the smartwatch securely during the charging process.

The warranty period is only 12 months, although users in Europe get an additional guarantee of one year as required by law.

The ZenWatch ships in this box.
The ZenWatch ships in this box.
The modular power adapter.
The modular power adapter.
The charging cradle has a Micro-USB connector.
The charging cradle has a Micro-USB connector.
The cradle holds the watch securely.
The cradle holds the watch securely.

Display

A graph of the display brightness levels.
A graph of the display brightness levels.

The square display panel of the Asus ZenWatch measures 1.63 inches (4.14 cm) and features a resolution of 320x320 pixels, which results in a pixel density of about 278 ppi. We cannot complain about the picture quality, as the display is actually quite sharp. The curved Corning Gorilla Glass 3 allows the finger to glide easily and the capacitive touchscreen recognizes inputs reliably and translates them quickly.

The AMOLED panel offers excellent contrast and a maximum brightness of 295 cd/m², which is in line with what Asus promises. For inside use, we found the third brightness level to be sufficient. Although the measured brightness is only 108 cd/m², the high contrast makes up for it.

295
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
X-Rite i1Pro 2
Maximum: 295 cd/m²
Center on Battery: 295 cd/m²
Contrast: ∞:1 (Black: 0 cd/m²)

Despite the high brightness and high contrast ratio, the Asus ZenWatch does not fare too well when it is used outdoors. Cloudy skies do not pose a problem, as the fourth brightness setting is usually sufficient and even the third setting still maintains the display readability.

Once the sun hits the display, the situation changes and we were usually forced to shade the display with the other hand, in order to decipher the content even when the watch was set to sunlight mode. Although the display is treated with an anti-reflective coating, unfortunately this treatment does not help much in direct sunlight.

The stability of viewing angles is quite good. However, at very shallow angles, the curved display glass does distort the picture slightly.

Direct sunlight makes it impossible to decipher the display content.
Direct sunlight makes it impossible to decipher the display content.
Under normal circumstances, the display remains readable outdoors without major issues.
Under normal circumstances, the display remains readable outdoors without major issues.

Battery Life

We wouldn't mind longer run times (this applies to all smartwatches).
We wouldn't mind longer run times (this applies to all smartwatches).

Compared to the competitors, the Asus ZenWatch is equipped with a rather small battery rated at only 369 mAh. Only the Samsung Gear S has an even smaller power source (300 mAh). All other competing watches have capacities above 400 mAh. Of course, this should not come as a surprise, since the small cases do not allow for larger batteries.

The battery life cannot be compared to normal watches at all, which usually last months to years, while most smartwatches only last for a few days. When the watch is used a lot - for example during setup, when lots of notifications are displayed, or when using voice control - about 75% of the capacity is depleted with the display brightness set to medium. Users who venture outside a lot, or prefer a brighter display are going to be left with even less at the end of the day. Moderate use should extend the battery life to about 36 hours. Either way, we would recommend charging the watch every night, which requires about 2.5 hours.

Verdict

In review: Asus ZenWatch (Wi500Q), courtesy of Asus Germany.
In review: Asus ZenWatch (Wi500Q), courtesy of Asus Germany.

All things considered, the Asus ZenWatch (Wi500Q) is quite an impressive smartwatch. We really appreciate the high quality materials like stainless steel and leather, which make the smartwatch look more elegant and less like a high tech gadget. We also like the additional features, which allow the user to remotely trigger a smartphone camera or control a PowerPoint presentation running on a PC.

The IP certification certainly could be a more stringent one: as it is, unfortunately swimming is out of the question. We would also like a brightness sensor and better display readability in direct sunlight. Asus should include additional sensors as well. Athletes can probably find watches that are better suited to their needs.

Despite the shortcomings, Asus' foray into the realm of smartwatches is a successful one thanks to the upscale looks and the functionality offered by the current version of Android Wear. Unfortunately, at the time of our review, availability of the ZenWatch is still limited.

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In Review: Asus ZenWatch (Wi500Q). Test model courtesy of Asus Germany.
In Review: Asus ZenWatch (Wi500Q). Test model courtesy of Asus Germany.

Specifications

Asus ZenWatch (Wi500Q)
Graphics adapter
Memory
512 MB 
, LPDDR2
Display
1.63 inch 1:1, 320 x 320 pixel, Capacitive touchscreen, AMOLED, 2.5D curved glass, Corning Gorilla Glass 3, anti-glare and greas resistant, 278 PPI, glossy: yes
Storage
4 GB Flash, 4 GB 
,
Connections
1 USB 2.0, Sensors: 9-axis motion sensor, heart rate sensor and bio sensor, gyroscope, digital compass, IP55
Networking
Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 7.4 x 51.9 x 39.9 ( = 0.29 x 2.04 x 1.57 in)
Battery
1 Wh Lithium-Polymer, 369 mAh, 3.8 V
Operating System
Android Wear
Additional features
Charging cradle, USB cable, power adapter, ZenWatch Manager, Remote Camera, Remote Link, Wellness, ZenUI, 12 Months Warranty
Weight
70 g ( = 2.47 oz / 0.15 pounds), Power Supply: 20 g ( = 0.71 oz / 0.04 pounds)
Price
229 Euro

 

Links

  • Manufacturer's Information

Price Comparison

Pros

+High-end materials
+Watch band is replaceable (22 mm)
+Heart rate sensor works well
+Cool application features
+Current version of Android Wear
 

Cons

-Movement is not always recognized correctly
-IP certification could be better
-Readability in direct sunlight is not great
-Battery life is not very long

Shortcut

What we like

The design and the materials are quite appealing. We also like the camera application and the Powerpoint control functionality.

What we'd like to see

Asus should include a few more sensors and the accuracy could be improved as well. A brightness sensor is high on our wish list.

What surprises us

The IP certification leaves to be desired and swimming is out of the question. Too bad - the competition has a better handle on this.

The competition

Samsung Gear S, LG G Watch, G Watch R, Sony Smartwatch 3 and Motorola Moto 360.

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Daniel Schmidt, 2015-01-22 (Update: 2018-05-15)
Bernhard Pechlaner
Bernhard Pechlaner - Review Editor
Ended up in the IT sector in the 90s more or less accidentally and have remained in the industry (as a sysadmin) ever since. Always been interested in laptops - first purchase was - if memory serves correctly - a Toshiba Satellite T2115CS with DX4-75 processor, 4 MB of RAM and 350 MB hard disk drive (and Windows 3.1). To this day, laptops appeal to me - much to the chagrin of my wife, who doesn’t seem understand why we need 5-10 of them at any given time ;-).