Now in their third generation, smartwatches have become much more refined, but have yet to become a must-wear for your wrist. The Asus Zenwatch 3 is unlikely to reverse that trend. But while the Android Wear-based watch doesn't break any new ground, it's still an attractive timepiece with an endlessly customizable display.
At $229, it's also about $100 less than the Apple Watch and other premium smartwatches, and boasts slightly better battery life than the competition. That may be enough to pick one up, if you're willing to give the Android Wear platform a shot.
The Zenwatch 3 ranks up there with the Moto 360 and the Fossil Q Founder as one of the best-looking smartwatches I've strapped on my wrist. Asus went from a squared-off design on its previous model to a circular face, which makes it looks much more like a traditional timepiece — and one I'm much more likely to wear. The dark Gunmetal bezel of the Zenwatch 3 blends smoothly into its brown leather wristband.
Although it measures 45mm in diameter and is 9.95mm thick, the Zenwatch 3's rounded edges make it feel less chunky than either the Moto or the Fossil, which makes it more accessible to anyone with smaller wrists.
The face of the Zenwatch 3 has a 1.39-inch, 400 x 400-pixel AMOLED display. On the right of the watch is a crown with a button on either side. You can customize the top button to quick-launch an app or a feature. The center button, which is slightly larger than the other two and has a copper accent, lets you change a number of functions. The bottom button activates Eco mode.
The Zenwatch 3 comes in five different styles. Options include a Silver, Gunmetal or Rose Gold case, with white or brown leather straps.
The watch can survive 30 minutes in up to 1 meter of water, but given that it has a nice leather strap, I would be loath to take the Zenwatch into the shower or pool.
Apart from the design of the watch itself, watch faces are the one area where Android Wear makers can set their product apart from the competition. Asus goes for broke, letting you choose from more than 50 faces split into six categories. It was easy to become lost in all the options.
If none of these faces appeal, the FaceDesigner app lets you create your own, which can be as tasteful or as garish as you like. You can customize just about everything, from the color of the background, to the style and color of tick marks and hands, to all the subdials and their colors. You can even add little icons if you really want to clutter things up.
Asus' Zenwatch Manager app lets you customize the Zenwatch 3's face, install apps, and manage settings. It's an attractive and easy-to-understand interface. The main part of the app shows the face of the watch as it's configured. Any change you make on your phone is instantly reflected on the watch itself.
Using the app, you can customize certain aspects of each watch face. For example, the Velocissimo has three subdials, each of which can be changed to show the weather, battery life, daily steps, missed calls and more. You can also change watch faces using the Android Wear app, but it's not as fun to look at.
Other Asus Apps include FoneHelper (find my phone, forgot my phone), Asus Weather, Flashlight, SOS and Remote Call control. Remote Camera proved the most interesting: It lets you use the Zenwatch 3's screen as a remote viewfinder, and take pictures by tapping the watch's display.
Currently, the Zenwatch 3 runs Android Wear 1.5, but it will be compatible with Android Wear 2.0 when that update arrives sometime in 2017. (The Zenwatch 2 will also get this update). Delayed by Google from its scheduled fall 2016 release, Android Wear 2.0 will feature new apps, handwriting recognition, customizable faces and automatic fitness activity recognition, among other things.
The current iteration of Android Wear on the Zenwatch 3 proved responsive, but I still have the same issues I've always had with Google's watch OS, primarily involving notifications. Once you swipe away a notification — such as an email or text message — there's no way to get it back.
Using the Zenwatch 3's 6-axis accelerometer and gyroscope, the ASUS ZenFit app tracks your steps as well as a number of workouts, including running, pushups and situps. The app also reminds you to stand and move if it senses you've been sitting too long.
However, unlike the Apple Watch and the Huawei Fit, the Zenwatch 3 lacks a heart rate monitor or GPS. I don't consider this a huge loss, though, as I'm unlikely to use it as my primary fitness tracker.
Asus' fitness-tracking app, ZenFit, will show your steps, sleep, workout data, and provide workout reminders and insights. It was moderately accurate, counting 500 actual steps at 473. However, it's nowhere near as comprehensive as more established fitness apps, where you can also input food data and connect with friends. My advice? Connect the Zenwatch 3 to Google Fit, and then connect Google Fit to MapMyFitness.
According to Asus, the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor in the Zenwatch 3 is 25 percent more efficient than the Snapdragon 400 chips found in previous smartwatches (both from Asus and others), which means you should be able to get through at least a full day on its 340 mAh battery. Eco mode, which turns on airplane mode while disabling touch on the watch, supposedly increases battery life by more than 200 percent.
I was able to eke out about 28 hours from the Zenwatch 3, which is slightly better than other smartwatches I've tested, but you'll probably want to recharge the watch every night to make sure you don't run out of juice.
Fortunately, the Zenwatch 3's charger — a magnetic charging ring that snaps to the bottom of the watch — is much more compact than the Fossil Q Founder's behemoth pad, and will get the watch to 60 percent charged in just 15 minutes. An optional battery pack will give you an extra 40 percent endurance, but it also will make the watch noticeably thicker.
At $230, the Asus Zenwatch 3 is an attractive and relatively affordable smartwatch. However, it lacks a heart rate monitor and GPS, features found on even less expensive devices, such as the Samsung Gear Fit 2. Still, the ease with which you can customize the Zenwatch 3's face, as well as its good battery life, makes it a worthy midrange device.