If you weren't willing to spend more than $200 on an Android Wear smartwatch before, but still want one, Asus has a solution for you. The ZenWatch 2, which starts at just $129, is cheaper and longer-lasting than its predecessor, and supports Wi-Fi. It also comes in two sizes instead of just one, but has a chunky design. Still, those looking for Android Wear on the cheap should consider the ZenWatch 2.
Design: All about that bezel
The ZenWatch 2's black stainless-steel rectangular display is surrounded by a thick, off-black bezel. While the original ZenWatch had a heart rate monitor embedded in the screen's bezel, this version doesn't, and really doesn't need such a fat frame. The rest of the face is a metallic carbon color. Rose gold and silver faces are also available.
A copper-colored dial on the right of the face houses the device's power/home button, which is easier to access than the bottom-facing button on the original ZenWatch. Pressing this button takes you back to the watch's main screen, while holding down on it opens up your list of apps.
I found that the 1.63-inch version of the ZenWatch 2 was too large for my slender wrist. Its chunky rounded-rectangle face made getting into jacket sleeves difficult, and was so bulky that it kept slipping off to one side. The smaller, 1.45-inch version may be a better option for those with dainty wrists.
The ZenWatch 2 also has a built-in mic and speaker; the former allows for convenient voice controls and dictations via Ok Google, while the latter does not yet serve a purpose.
Thanks to its larger battery, the ZenWatch 2 is slightly thicker than its predecessor (0.37 versus 0.31 inches), and its back cover is made of plastic instead of metal. On the underside is a small groove that houses the magnetic pins for the proprietary charging cable. Asus has made the charger with a small, wand-shaped head instead of the fat disks most smartwatches come with these days, making it easier to carry around.
With its IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, the ZenWatch 2 will survive being submerged in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes, meaning you can wear it in the shower.
The blue leather band and black face combination that I received is a Best Buy exclusive, and uses a buckle that's easy to close and adjust. That's an improvement over the frustrating clasp on the original ZenWatch.
As the ZenWatch 2 uses standard 22mm watch bands, you can swap out your strap for other widely available options. Asus also offers a smaller, 1.45-inch version with a light-blue leather band, and a silver-faced,1.63-inch brown-banded model. ZenWatch straps are available in brown and orange for $25.
Weighing 2.46 ounces, the ZenWatch 2 is heavier than the 1.5-ounce Pebble Time, the 1.72-ounce Moto 360 (2014), the 1.76-ounce Apple Watch (polished-stainless-steel case in 42mm size) and the super-light Pebble Time Round (0.9 ounces).
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Display: Not Bad for the Price
Although the ZenWatch 2's rectangular face is less attractive than its round counterparts, its 320 x 320 display is better than the $200 Pebble Time's less vivid e-paper display (144 x 168), the $150 Alcatel OneTouch Watch (240 x 204) and the original Moto 360 (320 x 290), which can now be found at Best Buy for $150.
I found the ZenWatch 2's display bright enough to read in direct sunlight and, as with other Android Wear watches, you can adjust the brightness. The always-on display keeps your wearable's screen in a dimmed state that shows the time, but will still go to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity. The 30-minute rule is a new requirement of Google's operating system that the company says is aimed at maximizing battery life.
The ZenWatch 2's Qualcomm APQ 8026 CPU, backed by 4GB of storage and 512MB of RAM, kept the smartwatch humming along smoothly for the most part. I noticed a few hiccups when notifications came in while I was looking at settings or swiping through cards.
Running the latest Android Wear (v 5.1.1), the ZenWatch 2 supports such new features as Wi-Fi connectivity, iOS compatibility and a so-called always-on display. Wi-Fi support keeps you connected to your phone even if you've moved out of its Bluetooth range (such as leaving your desk to go to the bathroom).
At my birthday karaoke party, it was very handy for me to get alerts on my wrist from friends who were in the reception area. The wearable would vibrate whenever a text, Facebook or Hangouts message came in. It freed me from having to keep looking at my phone for updates on where they were, and I could enjoy belting out songs without worry.
I also liked using Ok Google to dictate text for Hangouts messages to contacts or set reminders, but this only works when the watch is paired with an Android phone.
Thousands of Android Wear apps are available, and are generally easy to use. For instance, the Amazon app lets you use your voice to search the online store, and with a single swipe, you can buy that item if you have 1-Click shopping set up.
Asus ZenWatch Manager and Apps
Asus offers ZenWatch Manager and a slew of other smartphone apps to enhance your smartwatch, but instead of bundling everything into one app, you have to download ZenWatch Remote Camera, ZenWatch Wellness, ZenWatch Music and ZenWatch FaceDesigner individually.
ZenWatch Manager's interface is overwhelming, too, with the geometric black-and-orange background competing with the grid of information in the foreground for your attention. The home page shows an image of your watch, with the connection, battery and RAM status next to it. Below that is a diagonal grid of the number of apps and watch faces available. Scroll down a little and you get rows of recommended and curated watch faces and apps, including the ZenWatch titles mentioned before. Tapping on each of these takes you to the Play store to download it.
Other than showing the battery percentage and RAM status, the ZenWatch Manager app doesn't do much more than the Android Wear app. The real bonus features come from the individual apps: I loved creating my own watch face using my own images with FaceDesigner, and Remote Camera is handy for taking group selfies or faraway shots by using the watch to trigger the phone.
I created a face using a night shot of the Manhattan skyline, and loved the customization options that were available for every element, including the hands, markers and widgets, giving me full control of my creation.
Other apps, such as Asus Weather, ZenWatch Message, FoneHelper and Wellness, felt redundant, considering Google already offers weather, messaging and fitness tracking apps. ZenWatch Message lets you communicate with other ZenWatch owners, which you can do with other Android Wear smartwatches through the Together function. FoneHelper does what Android Wear already does, such as activate Wi-Fi, alert you when you're out of range from your phone and find your phone.
Wellness offers a summary of your activity that day, like Google's Fit does, but also has a workout coach feature that tracks a range of workout types, including running, push-ups and sit-ups. Like Apple Watch's Move, Wellness is supposed to remind you to get up and move at regular intervals, but you'll have to first download the Wellness app to your phone and turn Idle Alert on. Set an interval at which you'd like to be reminded to move, and the watch will vibrate with a message to encourage you to be active at the set time.
When paired with an Asus phone, the ZenWatch also supports ZenUI integration, which means using other Asus-branded apps that have ZenWatch functions, such as adding items to to-do list app Do It Later from the watch to the phone.
Battery Life: Almost a Week
With a larger (400 mAh) battery than its predecessor, the ZenWatch 2 is supposed to last up to three days on a charge, and up to a week if left to idle. This claim held up during my testing, as the watch's battery only diminished from 100 percent to 72 percent after two days of infrequent notifications.
The Asus ZenWatch 2 is an inexpensive Android Wear device with long battery life and some helpful apps, but it also looks and feels like a $150 watch. Those looking for an elegant timepiece with a round face at a similar price should consider the original Moto 360, which has an elegant, lighter design, and can now be bought at Best Buy for $150. The 360 also comes with a heart rate monitor and runs the latest version of Android Wear 1.3, but it doesn’t last nearly as long on a charge.
For those who aren't ready to splurge on a more luxurious Android Wear watch and just want something that will do the trick, the ZenWatch 2 is a good option.