Of all the first generation Android Wear smartwatches, in many ways the original Asus ZenWatch was the most universally liked. Its stylish, rounded design didn't attract the overt negative or polarising opinions of its rivals, even though it didn't boast blockbuster specs or an eye-searing screen.
It went about its business quietly and spent its lifetime in the shadows of bigger, bolder rivals. Which begs the question of its successor, the Asus ZenWatch 2: how does Asus follow it up?
Read on to find out...
Asus ZenWatch 2: What's new
In terms of tech, the answer to the difficult second album conundrum is to keep everything the same, more or less. If you were to compare the spec sheets, you'd be challenged to find much difference in the two generations at all.
It's the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz CPU powering the show, backed up with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. So far, so very typical Android Wear.
But it's not about specs. The focus of the ZenWatch 2 is choice, and Asus is approaching the evolving smartwatch market in a mature way. The focus is on price and personalisation, and against the backdrop of the Huawei Watch's silly price tag, and the staggering Tag Heuer Connected, the $149 ZenWatch 2 looks to be a bona fide bargain.
And while the original ZenWatch came in one design – its successor arrives in two sizes and three colours: silver, gun metal and rose gold.
Essential reading: Android Wear super guide
While obviously down to individual choice, you could easily say the 18mm strapped version is aimed at women, while men will (on the whole) prefer the bigger 22mm offering. The gold is particularly eye-catching and dare we say unisex, and on top of that there are 18 different strap choices, ranging from metal link bracelets, to coloured leather and sporty silicon bands. It's super simple to switch between bands too.
Our particular review model was the smaller, gun metal one. And while it's far from the most comfortable Android Wear watch we've slipped on our wrist - in fact, it might just be the most uncomfortable - you won't be dying to rip it off your arm as per the original Microsoft Band or the Runtastic Moment Elite. It's okay - that's what we're trying to get at here.
There's no heart rate monitor underneath, so it sits pretty flush to the skin and a button has been added to the side for illuminating and turning off the display.
Asus ZenWatch 2: Display and bezel
The screen hasn't changed on the larger model: it's still a slightly pixelated 1.63-inch, 320 x 320, AMOLED with a 278ppi density, which lacks a little brightness. On our particular review model you're looking at a 1.45-inch panel with a 280 x 280 resolution and a ppi count of 273ppi.
Those displays, we have to say, look pretty tiny and the faces pretty huge. As a whole package it looks fine but once the screen is fired up, and you can easily differentiate between display and bezel, you notice just how ridiculously comical the thick bezel is.
While the original ZenWatch may have been forgiven for having such a chunky frame, in a second-gen device it's not really acceptable. It looks dated and cheap. It's easily the weak point of what is otherwise a pretty decent offering.
Asus ZenWatch: Hardware & battery life
While overtly little has changed on the ZenWatch 2 on the hardware front, it's unfair to say there hasn't been some progress. The company has installed a Wi-Fi chip to make use of the new features in Android Wear, and fast charging tech means you can juice up 50% of the battery in 36 minutes. In fact, you'll get a full charge in just over 45 minutes (for the smaller model, which packs a 300mAh battery).
The quoted battery life is two days but if you want to get anywhere near this you'll have to opt to use the lower power always-on screen, which keeps the screen dim, and turn Wi-Fi off. Again, the comparisons here are more with Pebble than Android Wear rivals.
We had the display blurring at full brightness and the full suite of connectivity radios fired up and got no more than a day and a half of semi-intense use. That's OK in smartwatch terms but not ground-breaking.
Essential reading: Android Wear tips and tricks
GPS is still an omission, so it's not one for the fitness fanatics out there - but you didn't really expect that at this price point, right?
Asus has also ditched some sensors to keep the cost down. Whereas the original packed in a 9-axis sensor / bio sensor combo, the sequel features just a 6-axis one with gyroscope and accelerometer. But who cares? No one expects their Android Wear smartwatch to accurately track their bpm so why bother ramping up the price with a substandard sensor? No, we reckon Asus has made some sensible cost cutting here.
However, while the engine room powering the show remains the same - as mentioned earlier - we did, for the first time with Android Wear, notice a slight lag with the performance.
We doubt this is down to the chipset; more likely Asus' touch display isn't firing as smoothly to the silicon as it should be. It's not terrible by any stretch, but there are definite, and inconsistent, pauses when certain touch gestures are used.
Asus ZenWatch 2: Evolving Android Wear
While the ZenWatch 2 is very much an Android Wear device, with the same basic OS experience you'd get on any other smartwatch from the Google stable, the Taiwanese company has added its own flavour to proceedings. There are 50 watch faces available to choose from, of which about 5 aren't horrible, and you can make your own in a new app - complete with custom text and an array of live widgets.
Asus apps have also been added to the regular Android Wear experience, with Asus flavoured messaging, media and activity tracking features loaded on top. We couldn't get the new Messenger app working unfortunately and the others, Asus Music, Asus Wellness and so on, are more bloatware than anything else.
So while we applaud Asus for trying to differentiate its Android Wear offering, it has to do a lot more than duplicating existing apps and features with new colours.
Like the Huawei Watch and the Tag Heuer Connected, the ZenWatch 2 is officially compatible with iOS (all Android Wear watches will actually play nicely with an iPhone but the powers that be are keeping that quiet). However, expect a watered-down experience - check out our guide: Android Wear on iPhone.
- Cheap price-tag
- Highly customisable
- Different sizes available
- Officially works with iPhone too
- Battery is okay but not amazing
- Big fat bezel
- Slightly uncomfortable
- A touch of lag