While not perfect, the ZenWatch runs full Android Wear in a slim, sexy form factor complete with leather strap and stainless steel clasp. The watch even has a built-in heart rate sensor.
All of the Asus ZenWatches at the IFA 2014 show were stuck in demo mode, but we still got some time to get up close and personal with them.
Asus is known for some pretty nice laptop designs, and it looks like they brought some of their design smarts to the ZenWatch. The watch is made out of stainless steel and has a Gorilla Glass screen. While the 1.63-inch AMOLED display is square, the watch itself is very rounded, almost oval-shaped, with bezels filling in the rest. It's also refreshingly thin compared to other smartwatches, coming in at just 7.9 mm thick.
As far as hardware goes, the watch doesn't give much away from its appearance. It has a built-in heart monitor as well as a 9-axis sensor for measuring your movement, but you can't tell from the outside. The only noticeable hardware is the charger port on the watch's back, as well as the oddly placed sleep/wake button.
This is a watch, of course, so it straps tight against your wrist. So why is the sleep/wake button located on the undercarriage of the watch? Your guess is as good as ours.
The leather strap is rather stylish, at least compared to the wretched standards of smartwatches as a whole. Asus said the ZenWatch will only come in one color at launch, but the straps can be swapped out.
Overall, the watch has an appealing build quality. It looks sharp, especially compared to other smartwatches, like the Sony SmartWatch 3 or Samsung Gear S, and it feels very comfortable on your wrist. Given its thin body, the watch is pretty light too.
Like most of the smartwatches coming out these days, the ZenWatch runs Android Wear, thereby only working with Android phones. Unfortunately, all of the Android Wear watches at IFA seem to be stuck in a demo mode, so we could not fully run the ZenWatch through its paces, nor could we try out third-party Wear apps.
The demo gives you access to eight Android Wear apps, including apps for messages, weather, calendar, transit, music, Google, pedometer/fitness, and flight information. The interface is essentially a vertical stack of apps, with the watchface at the top. You can swipe down through each one, but some have multiple screens that require horizontal swiping.
Unlike the SmartWatch 3, if you swipe to the right on the first screen of each app, it takes you to the previous one, whereas the SmartWatch 3 would take you back to the watchface. I'm not sure if either system is intentionally different or if they're just different demos. But that difference could confuse users as the OS will lack uniformity.
As for performance, the only noticeable issue was that the watch seemed to lag if you tried to swipe through all the apps too quickly. Otherwise, the demo ran just as well as it does on the other watches we've seen at IFA.
The Asus ZenWatch is hands-down the nicest square-faced Android Wear smartwatch yet. It's stylish, thin, and has all the capability of Android Wear that its competitors share. The only big hardware flaw is the location of the sleep/wake button. But hopefully the ZenWatch's successor will fix this issue.
It may not have received the thunderous welcome that the square-faced Apple Watch received, but given the fact that all these smartwatches require a dedicated smartphone with the same OS, it doesn't really matter. The ZenWatch won't work with an iPhone, and the Apple Watch won't work with an Android phone. And as far as smartwatch companions for your Android phone go, the ZenWatch is the sleekest to date.
Meet the tester
Former Managing Editor, News & Features@danwroc
Daniel Wroclawski is a tech-obsessed editor and reporter. In his spare time, you can probably find him hurtling through the air in a tin can-sized airplane.
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