The Android Wear ecosystem seems to have stalled a little this year, marred by delayed release of Wear 2.0 and a lack of devices from most major tech companies. That doesn’t mean we haven’t seen new devices or good devices. Several traditional watch makers have stepped into the Android Smartwatch space and one of the long time Android Wear OEMs has returned with what is definitively their best ever Android Wear device.
Asus has come back to the Wear category with their ZenWatch 3: it’s beautiful, it’s round, it’s as much of a timepiece as it is a Smartwatch, in short, it could be the best Android Wear device, bar none. Unlike their earlier rounded rectangles that were the ZenWatch 1 and 2, the ZenWatch 3 looks like a watch first and foremost.
I’ve had multiple people ask why I’m not wearing a smartwatch anymore because one 1, the always on fully round display and 2 the fact the ZenWatch 3 just looks like a watch! So outwardly the ZenWatch 3 is a great performer, but how about the whole package? Could this be the new must buy Android Wear device? Read on to find out.
Asus ZenWatch 3 Hardware
Internationally the ZenWatch 3 comes in 3 colours, Gunmetal, Rose Gold and Silver, however, in Australia you can only get the Gunmetal variant with a brown leather strap. I’m sure that will disappoint some people, but once again Australia is affected by its relatively small population size and massive geography.
The all stainless steel construction of the watch combined with the genuine leather band and 2.5d curved round Gorilla Glass display make the ZenWatch 3 as sturdy as it is beautiful. At only 9.95 mm thick it’s much smaller than most other Android Wear devices I’ve had and with the curved design it makes the device deceptively smaller again.
The display is 1.39” which I think is close to the goldilocks zone for Smartwatch displays. The original Moto 360 was a whopping 1.56” in comparison. In reality, this is only 4mm difference but that 4mm actually makes a difference. The device just didn’t feel as large and bulky, which again was somewhat assisted by the ZenWatch 3’s curved design.
The magnetic charger of the ZenWatch 3 is better than may of the clip style charger other devices use, however, nowhere as convenient as the wireless charging that device like the Moto 360’s and Fossil devices use. The charger does “snap” into place easily and I never work up to find the device hadn’t charged because the charger wasn’t in contact properly.
The ZenWatch 3 is right up there with the latest in Android Wear hardware specs, sporting the now must have Snapdragon Wear 2100 paired with the standard 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage.
One of the big questions we got about the ZenWatch 3 was did it include NFC hardware? With Android Wear rumoured to finally support NFC payments via Android Pay next year with the release of Android Wear 2.0 and the device having an SD-W 2100 processor capable of controlling NFC all it needed was the NFC chip and it would be ready to be upgraded if payments do indeed arrive on Wear.
Unfortunately, according to Asus Australia, there is no NFC hardware inside the ZenWatch 3. Sure there could have been a miscommunication and it may still be lurking inside, but we trust the people we work with here in Australia. The only way they got it wrong is if that information was being kept secret for a bit reveal, but we doubt that’s the case.
|Key Specifications:||Asus ZenWatch 3|
|Resolution||400 x 400|
|Chipset||Snapdragon Wear 2100|
|Core config||1.2 GHz x 4|
|Charging method||Charging Dock (Magnetic)|
|Dimensions||45 x 45 x 9.95 ~ 10.75 mm|
|Build materials||Stainless Steel|
Other notable hardware inclusions include a speaker and microphone, we’ll cover the use of those in the software section below.
If it’s not clear by now the Asus ZenWatch 3 is immaculately built. It’s both stylish and made from premium materials, this is a true piece of craftsmanship. Now, that’s not to say the styling will appeal to everyone, but it does to me, and it has to everyone I showed it too.
As an everyday and formal watch the ZenWatch 3 was stunning, I’m no style guru but I can’t iterate how gorgeous the device is. There is, however, an elephant in this room, the swappable watchbands.
The watch band is easily swappable, but unfortunately, it’s only swappable with another Asus band. This would be annoying but tolerable if Asus had a decent, or any, selection of aftermarket watch bands, but they don’t.
The mechanism Asus made does make swapping bands incredible easy, and it looks like the designers were at least intended to have aftermarket bands but these never came to pass. There is one rubber band option, that has yet to be released.
If the ZenWatch 3 had a big flaw this would be it. If you break or damage your band, sorry. If you want to pair it with a lovely metal band , definitely my preference, sorry. This feels like the outcome of a change in direction, and unfortunately, that leaves consumers lost for choice.
Crisp and vibrant, that’s the ZenWatch 3 display summed up. The 1.39” AMOLED display clocks in at a fantastic 400 x 400 display resolution giving 287 ppi, which for Wear devices is amongst the best. What’s even better is Asus managed the seemingly impossible, and all round display and a light sensor.
There is no flat tyre on this watch, it’s all round and simply stunning. As is the way with AMOLED its performance in direct sunlight is not the best, however, it’s manageable if you’re not wearing super dark sunglasses. Additionally, it does have a “boost mode” that makes it super bright (and would run the battery flat as a tack) if you are having issues, but I never needed it.
Asus ZenWatch 3 Software
Android Wear, on the whole, gives you a consistent experience. Android Wear 1.5 (Android 6.0.1 September 2016 security patch) on one device is going to be essentially the same as it is on another, assuming they both have all the hardware to take advantage of the same features. With the included microphone and speaker there really isn’t anything missing, I still consider LTE non-essential in what amounts to a smartphone accessory.
The device brings with it all of Android Wears normal 1.5 functions; notifications, voice control, gesture control, companion apps and oh yeah the time. With the Wi-Fi support, it can also survive away from your phone, as long as you are near a familiar Wi-Fi network you’ve already paired with.
The device comes bundled with standard OEM fitness apps and a veritable plethora of watch faces, 50 to be exact, many with customisations within. Some have called this overkill, I think it’s great.
Asus also have a free watch face designer that lets you design and upload any face you want. I did find that these watch faces chewed up an extra 3% ish of your batter and so I didn’t bother using them long term.
Asus has added two additional buttons on the ZenWatch 3, we’ve seen a similar set-up on one of the two rumoured Google Watches, which may hint at Android 2.0 compatibility in the future, more on that later.
At present these buttons are assignable to pretty much any installed app. I currently have my Coffee shop QR code and Stocard for all of my loyalty cards programmed. It’s actually a really convenient application and makes we wish that I could set other apps to a combination of button presses, double tap for X or press bottom and centre for Y. Hey Asus, wanna work on that?
Will the ZenWatch 3 get Android Wear 2.0? The answer is we don’t really know. Asus Australia wasn’t able to confirm or deny if the update would be coming, however, I can only imagine the backlash if a Device that is less than 6 months old doesn’t get the update so while not a guarantee it’s most likely going to get it we think.
The ZenWatch 3 joins a relatively short list of speaker enabled Android Wear devices. The speaker can be used to play alerts and ringtones, unfortunately, not synced from your phone you have to choose separate ones, as well as make phone calls, Yep call me Dunk Tracy!
The notification sounds are exactly as you’d expect, you get a call or a notification and your watch plays a sound, the device does have its own silence function as well as following the Do Not Disturb status of the main phone.
Phone calls was a different story. You can initiate a call from the watch using either the phone or contacts app. You could also answer an incoming call on the watch if wanted to. The call quality was fine, I never had a complaint from those on the other end and I could hear them clearly. This won’t work in a noisy environment but expecting it to would be unreasonable.
Using the watch as a phone receiver does come at a cost, namely Bluetooth functionality, If you pair the ZenWatch 3 as a speaker then it will take up the “phone” slot of your two Bluetooth audio profiles. This essentially blocks the device from automatically pairing with your other Bluetooth devices, like headphones and car kits.
If you want to use one of these other devices you have to manually select the device from the Bluetooth menu every time you want to connect. To be clear this isn’t the ‘fault’ of the ZenWatch, this is the Bluetooth standard and how each OEM implements it.
I did also have other call issues with one device I paired the ZenWatch with. With the Axon 7, the call audio would always go to the watch even if I answered on either a wired headset or the phone itself. I had to manually switch the call audio every time, and this came with a noticeable lag.
Once again this is an OEM/ Bluetooth issue, if you didn’t know, Bluetooth is a red hot mess really. Basically, I choose to not pair the watch as a phone speaker, it’s an easy setting ti disable and it bypassed the whole Bluetooth issues, seriously why would OEMs remove the headphone jack!
Asus ZenWatch 3 Performance and Battery
Having the Snapdragon Wear 2100 and 512 MB inside the ZenWatch 3 puts is right at the top of the Android Wear hardware pack. However, even with that processor, it’s still a lower power lower performance chip, I was able to bog down the device, sometimes with little effort.
The majority of the experience was snappy and enjoyable. The device rarely lagged in normal use and the balance between performance and battery life seemed to be about right. You won’t be running Crysis on the device, but then again it’s not meant to.
Coming from an OG Moto 360 I came into my time with the ZenWatch 3 with exceedingly low expectations and very high hopes. My expectations have been well and truly smashed and perhaps even my hopes achieved.
I rarely finished off a day (0500 to 2130 typically) with less than about 30% charge remaining. That’s with ambient on using a face that used colour even when dimmed, full notifications, WiFi on, call management and intermittent Pocket Casts control at a minimum. For me that’s more than enough, I don’t wear a watch to bed, so lasting a full day with a healthy reserve to then get recharged at night is all I’ve ever wanted from an Android Wear device, and the ZenWatch 3 achieved that.
I did have the occasional day where “something went wrong and the battery drain, the number 1 cause of this seems to be Google’s new 2FA notification. Even when you action it on your phone the card remains active with the full-screen active on your paired Wear device. As such your battery goes bye bye.
Here are 3 samples of “typical days battery performance”
The ZenWatch charges with the proprietary magnetic charger, which you currently can’t get a spare or replacement for. I typically have at least 2 spares, one in my office and one in my gear bag, just in case. The unavailability of charges mirrors the issue with the watch band. Asus have a great product on their hands but a less than full after sales experience.
Asus ZenWatch 3 Connectivity
The watch comes with the standard Android Wear array of connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.1 LE. From a reliability perspective, I experienced some connection issues with my first pair between a Pixel XL and the ZenWatch 3. However, after a repairing I never had issues again, see aforementioned issues with Bluetooth. Red. Hot. Mess.
I occasionally used the WiFi connection when my phone and I were typically separated, to be honest, while I’m glad it’s a feature if this was my everyday watch I’d simply turn it off.
Asus ZenWatch 3 Conclusion
The Asus ZenWatch 3 is an exceptionally well designed and built device, unlike many smartwatches it perfectly straddles the line between Fashion/ jewellery, timepiece and smart device. I can not fault the construction or overall feel of the device, it’s simply gorgeous.
The ZenWatch 3 isn’t without its compromises, however, the lack of any NFC hardware MIGHT mean it’s not fully compatible with rumoured future software features, and the lack of aftermarket bands and accessories is a big issue that Asus needs to address.
Could the watch be better? Of course, it can, everything can be. If I had to choose any feedback to give Asus how to take this from fantastic to near perfect it would be to use standard readily available watch bands, include NFC and adopt wireless charging (that may add thickness, however).
With stunning looks, a clear all-round all day AMOLED display and enough battery to get me through most of my days on a single charge the Asus ZenWatch is officially the top of my Android Wear hardware list. The ZenWatch 3 easily performs just as well as any other Android Wear device I’ve used and does it all while looking stunning.
At an RRP of $449 + delivery from Asus direct, or from Bing Lee in New South Wales the Asus ZenWatch 3 is also relatively better value for money than other top competitors. If you’re looking for a premium looking all round Android Wear device and you don’t “need” NFC this is the device to get.