Zepp E Circle review: a good looking smartwatch that struggles to stack up

A fitness first smartwatch where the display is the star of the show
Zepp E
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Zepp, the company perhaps better known in wearable terms for its golf and baseball sensors, has launched its first ever smartwatch.

To bring you up to speed, Huami, the company behind Amazfit, acquired Zepp back in 2018.

The Zepp E lands as a pair of smartwatches designed to deliver health and fitness features.

However, with a $249 price tag, the Zepp E sits alongside serious competition.

You could grab the powerful Apple Watch Series 3 ($199) or Fitbit Versa 3 for similar price tags. And the Huawei Watch GT2e and Amazfit GTS offer more features, for substantially less.

So the Zepp E has its work cut out to match up to these top quality devices.

On paper, it certainly has the looks. But it will need good smartwatch and sports watch skills to make it an attractive proposition.

We’ve been living with the Zepp E to see what it’s made of. Here’s our comprehensive verdict.

Zepp E: Design and screen

Zepp E showing the AMOLED display

With the Zepp E, you get a smartwatch that doesn’t side with the rectangular or round watch brigade. It gives you the option of both.

Take your pick of the Zepp E Square or Circle and you’ll get the same design materials, some differences in the screen and size departments and of course they look different.

We tested the Zepp E Circle (we will test the Square when it becomes available).

What you’ll get is a 42mm stainless steel case that measures in at 9mm thick with a solitary physical button paired up with a 20mm removable leather strap with a watch-style buckle.

There’s five different versions to pick from including a champagne gold model and onyx black case with a fluoroelastomer band.

The moon grey and leather combo we had does have that attractive, clean, minimalist look.

It uses a 20mm strap, which perhaps should've been a 22mm one as it feels a little out of proportion with the case. There's also no additional band included that might be a better fit for exercise and swimming.

Zepp E and leather strap with stainless steel case

While quality materials are clearly in use here, the stainless steel finish and curved design isn't as classy as we'd have liked, but everyone will have their own opinion on design.

The display really dominates the design and Huami has used what it calls a 3D curved bezel-less AMOLED screen.

Obviously there is still a bezel, but at the site it's just very difficult to see.

The display measures in at 1.28-inches with an exceptionally sharp 416 x 416 resolution that delivers 326 PPI.

It’s got those rich, deep blacks you expect from a high quality AMOLED screen that offers good brightness as well as strong viewing angles and outdoor visibility.

It’s a good sized screen for viewing data and swiping through screens is satisfyingly smooth.

To round things off, this is a watch that’s fit for the water too.

It comes with a 5ATM water resistant rating, which means it’s safe to be submerged in water up to 50 metres depth.

Zepp E: Smartwatch features

Zepp E smartwatch notifications

Before we get into Zepp E’s health and fitness credentials, this is a watch that also wants to be useful when you’re not out running or sweating it out in the gym.

It’s compatible with Android and iPhones, and you’ll need to download the Zepp app, formerly known as Amazfit.

The pairing process is pretty standard, though we did encounter issues downloading an integral software update that left our watch stuck on the update screen for a few days.

Thankfully, it finally installed and it was an issue-free experience after those initial issues.

Compare the smartwatch features on the Zepp E to similarly priced smartwatches and it's fair to say it doesn't quite match up. You won't find payments, apps or a built-in music player here.

Zepp E music controller

You will find notification support, weather updates and a music controller to control music playing on your phone.

These features feel very similar in execution to what we’ve experienced on Amazfit's most recent watches.

That display is a great place to view notifications, though notifications can bunch up even when they've been read.

The music controller works well and it's nice to see you can even access it during some workout modes as well.

You can also change up the watch face by pressing and holding down on the watch screen to pick something new. Head into the companion app and you’ll find a sizeable collection of faces that make good use of that AMOLED screen.

The Zepp E won’t give you the most feature-rich smartwatch experience available, but getting around the software is really straightforward.

What it does offer in this department, it does do a very good job of it. Particularly if you’re an Android phone user.

Zepp E: Fitness and sports tracking

Zepp E outdoor running with connected GPS

Just like Amazfit’s watches, there’s a big emphasis on health and fitness monitoring on the Zepp E.

It’s packing most of the key onboard sensors you’d expect to see. There’s an optical heart rate sensor to monitor heart rate continuously and during workouts.

It will also unlock the PAI score feature, which is all about regularly getting your heart pumping each week as opposed to focusing on smashing step counts.

An accelerometer will track motion like steps and indoor running and enable sleep monitoring. You'll also find an SpO2 sensor as an additional way to monitor fitness levels.

You do miss out on built-in GPS, but do have the option to connect to the GPS sensor on your smartphone to better track outdoor activities.

In terms of those activities you can track, there’s 11 modes in total letting you track running (outdoor, trail and treadmill), walking, cycling (outdoor and indoor), pool swimming, elliptical trainer, climbing, skiing along with a free training mode.

The level of metrics you’ll see varies across those activities. So you’ll get more in the way of data from running or swimming than you will from an elliptical session or climbing.

Running

Zepp E running data compared with Garmin

Run tracking compared: Zepp E (left and centre) and Garmin (right)

With that lack of onboard GPS, you're relying on piggybacking off your phone's GPS to map activities. Every time you want to do this, you'll need to open the Zepp app on your phone to connect the GPS from your phone to the watch.

We'd like to say that solution was faultless, but that simply wasn't the case.

On four different runs the Zepp E failed to entirely track the distance correctly. That's despite the watch suggesting it was ready to start tracking.

It's not clear what caused the unreliable GPS connection, but compared to a dedicated GPS sports watch, it simply didn't match up.

Connected GPS can be generally unreliable, and we'd never recommend this method for those that actually care about run data. This can be due to many reasons, including where you place your smartphone for the run.

It maybe that this gets fixed via a software update, so we'll keep tabs on this over the coming weeks.

However, if you like to run then you need to choose a smartwatch with built-in GPS.

Zepp E heart rate data compared to chest strap

Heart rate tracking compared: Zepp E (left and centre) and MyZone MZ3 chest strap (right)

In slightly better news, heart rate monitoring performance was generally usable and within the margin of acceptable differences.

It evenly tracked tempo runs, it usually delivered similar average heart rate data, though maximum heart rate readings tended to be 4-5 bpm above a chest strap monitor in our testing.

That's enough to put you into a different heart rate zone.

In our high intensity interval test it was a similar story. Average heart rate was 1-2bpm higher than a chest strap, while maximum heart rate readings came out 5-6 bpm higher than a chest strap.

Treadmill running

Zepp E treadmill data

Treadmill running compared: Zepp E (left and centre) and Garmin (right)

Things didn't get much better when we took the sports tracking indoors.

Above is an example of a treadmill run against a Garmin running watch.

The distance accuracy was so far off the actual distance covered that we were unable to calibrate it to the correct distance post-run.

That also meant core running metrics were inaccurate too and heart rate monitoring threw up wildly high readings at the beginning of the session.

Those readings were more consistent with a chest strap when things settled down after a few minutes, but it's clear all is not right with that sensor and the Zepp E's sports tracking skills don't quite deliver.

Hopefully some of these issues can be rectified with some bug fixing software updates.

Swimming

Zepp E swimming testing

Swim tracking compared: Zepp E (left and centre) and Form Swim Goggles (right)

Do things get better when you get in the water? Well, not quite. Once you're ready to get swimming (pool only), you can select pool length, work to a distance, duration or calorie goal and display real-time graphs.

These can show pace and pull speed rate.

During the swim the display was comfortable to view in the water . The screen is locked and can be unlocked by holding down on the physical button.

Post swim once your data is synced to the companion app, there's a decent array of metrics available. It will recognise stroke type, but doesn't break down stroke by lap.

You can see pace, SWOLF, average pull distance, maximum speed along with graphs for pace and stroke rate.

As far as how reliable the data is, the distance tracking came up short against Form's Swim Goggles, which is one of the most accurate swim trackers we've tested.

Average pace data was off, while SWOLF scores was in the right ballpark. It's certainly fared better than outdoor run tracking, but clearly there is room for improvement.

Zepp E: Fitness and sleep tracking

Zepp E showing basic step tracking data

If you care more about steps and sleep, the Zepp E will serve you better on those fronts.

From the watch, there's a dedicated watch screen with rings to indicate step count, activity minutes and how many hours you've successfully managed to stay active for.

That does mean you'll receive inactivity alerts to nudge you to move as well.

Zepp E app showing fitness data

Step tracking compared: Zepp E (left and centre) and Garmin (right)

When we compared daily data to a Garmin fitness tracker the numbers for step counts and distance covered were generally in the same ballpark. Inside the companion app, you'll also see where the watch has automatically recognised activity.

In our case, there was a lot of slow walks and detecting light activity. You can also see whether you've hit minimum daily step counts or surpassed your daily step goal along with an interesting figure on the total fuel you've saved over the last 30 days.

Zepp E showing sleep data

Sleep tracking compared: Zepp E (left and centre) and Garmin (right)

For sleep tracking, all of that data lives inside of the app and there's a rich array of information to look over. You'll see a sleep breakdown including REM sleep. You'll be generated a sleep score, some comparison data to other users and some advice to improve sleep.

One sleep feature that is currently in beta is sleep breathing quality. Monitoring this data aims to offer another insight into quality of sleep and how factors during your day can impact on that sleep quality.

For accuracy, we found it served up similar data to a Garmin tracker for sleep breakdown and total amount of sleep and largely recognised when we'd fallen asleep and woken up in the morning the following day.

You can also track heart rate throughout the day and night letting you view resting heart rate data, continuous heart rate zones and your manually measured results. We found that continuous data to be in line with a Garmin watch and a chest strap too.

While overall fitness tracking doesn't offer anything outside of the norm, it's a solid experience overall and there's plenty of data and insights to delve into if you want to.

Zepp E: Battery life

The Zepp E packs a 188mAh capacity battery, which is designed to deliver 7-day battery life in typical use.

That typical use is based on using continuous heart rate monitoring, sleep monitoring, measuring blood oxygen levels twice a day, receiving 150 notifications, activating the screen 30 times a day and running 3 days a week for 30 minutes.

We'd say that doesn't quite represent what we experienced in our time with it. We regularly found a drop-off of around 25% a day, with a drop-off of 10% during the night with sleep monitoring and continuous heart rate monitoring in use.

We tended to get around 3 days out of it and that was without always-on display mode enabled or having the screen anywhere near full brightness. That included a 30 minute run and switching on continuous heart rate monitoring.

You could well get that seven days or near to it, though you'd really need to pay attention to what you're using regularly to make that a reality.

There is also a basic watch mode that will give you a 15 days of battery life to play with albeit with most features off limits.

When you do get to 0% battery, it takes around 2 hours to get it fully charged up. The small charging cable, magnetically clips to the back and thankfully does it securely in case you're worried you could wake up with a battery that's not powered up.



Zepp E
By Huami
The Zepp E is another smartwatch out of the Huami stable that proves this is a company that's getting a lot of things right. The hardware is solid, particularly that gorgeous display. However, we feel it's too expensive when you consider its rivals, and sports tracking accuracy leaves much to be desired. It's hard to recommend against Fitbit, Apple Watch, Huawei Watch GT 2 or Amazfit GTS. But it's a good looking device for basic fitness tracking for Android users.

Hit
  • Lovely display
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Solid fitness tracking
Miss
  • Iffy sports tracking
  • Shorter than stated battery life
  • Lacks built-in GPS
  • Pricey compared to competition