Hands-on: Asus ZenWatch review: A curved glass Android Wear smartwatch that takes a stylish approach

How do you go from being a technology company to becoming a fashion accessory company? That's the challenge many tech companies face with the launch of a wearable device.

For Asus, the company more famous for its range of stylish laptops, the transition from desk to lap is a brave one, one that it isn't even confident enough to put its name on the front of the watch itself at the moment.

That's no bad thing, after all you don't hear people yearning for an Asus over a Rolex just yet, but it is significant because it is the start of something new, and something Asus realises from watching others, that many customers don't even want. It might be cool to brag about having a new Zenbook, but the verdict is still out over a new ZenWatch.

Stylish design

Still, Asus has focused on the design aspects here for this Android Wear-powered watch, more than Sony or Samsung did with their early smartwatch efforts. Pocket-lint saw the watch ahead of its IFA press conference but wasn't permitted to photograph the top-secret product ahead of time - hence a delay in our pictures from Berlin.

For your cash the ZenWatch delivers a stainless steel chassis with touches of rose gold highlights down the side. A 22mm brown leather strap is included and can be easily replaced if you want something more suited to your wardrobe, while the watch face itself is made from curved Corning Gorilla Glass to give it a slightly smoother finish over something that is just square and angular.

On the wrist it is a bit large - a bit long even - and if you don't have "manly" wrists then it might pose a problem. A lot of smartwatches are opting for this chunky, larger kind of design though, so it doesn't appear out of place in the order of things.

The underside of the ZenWatch features the company logo, a small emergency button to get you back up and running if the swiping and voice commands aren't working effectively. There's also a reminder that the watch is only water-resistant rather than waterproof - so don't go scuba diving or anything like that, but a flash in the shower is no problem.

With no buttons on the front or sides of the ZenWatch everything is left to voice and swipe commands, typical of the Android Wear system and much like the LG G Watch. Voice instructions were well received and as long as you've got good reception on your phone results were returned quickly in our use.

Tech specs

The Asus ZenWatch features a 1.63-inch square AMOLED display with a 320 x 320 (278ppi) resolution that stands out well in sunlight, and certainly more so than the LG G watch and Samsung Gear Live which use standard LCD screen technology. The vibrant colours certainly help the AW interface punch more so than previous Android Wear devices we've seen.

Powering the ZenWatch is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 1.2GHz 400 processor combined with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It comes with Bluetooth 4.0 for low-power connectivity to your Android smartphone and there is a 9-axis sensor and bio sensor added into the mix as well.

Android Wear expanded with more apps

Asus hasn't touched the raw Android Wear interface per se, however it has added a few shortcuts of its own and introduced a number of dedicated watch faces and apps to allow you to get more out of the smartwatch experience. Accessing the apps is done via a new diagonal swipe across the screen. 

These apps, which are managed via a dedicated ZenWatch Manager app on a paired Android smartphone, offer you a host of new features above and beyond Google's offering and go some way to helping the ZenWatch stand out against the competition.

Dedicated Asus apps range from an SOS app that monitors the movement of the watch to see if you've fallen over and if you have to phone an emergency number you've provided, through to allowing you to use the watch as a presentation tool for your next sales pitch.

There are other apps too, including Watch Unlock, Tap Tap, Cover to Mute, and Find My Phone. The ZenWatch is also able to remotely control the camera on your smartphone, and check your heart rate via Asus' new Wellness app.

Add a bevy of new watch faces (there are seven in total at the moment) should ensure that your friends don't claim you've got just any old Android Wear smartwatch.

Wellness

Samsung has its heart rate monitor on the back of the device, but fearing that forces users to wear the watch too tight, Asus has opted for a bio sensor hidden in the bezel on the front of the watch instead.

Unnoticeable to a passing glance, the base of the black frame surrounding the screen allows you to check your heart rate by simply loading the app and then placing your finger on the watch. Seconds later (15 to be precise) the watch delivers your stats for you to see how you're doing.

The nearest experience we can relate it to, is Apple's TouchID Home button on the iPhone 5S. The bio sensor works really well in the ZenWatch.

Battery life

Although we've been unable to test it fully as yet, Asus claims the ZenWatch's battery life will last for around a day, meaning you'll have another thing to charge on your bedside table every night.

It charges via a docking station that fits around the watch, which is less fiddly than Samsung's cradle for the Gear charging experience, but still something to have to carry around if you want to charge on the go.

First Impressions

The curved glass, metal design, and clear screen make this one of the better looking Android Wear devices to be launched so far, and from what we've seen so far it looks and performs better than the Gear Live or the G Watch.

We like that Asus hasn't decided to adorn the watch face with logos and that combined with that some rather stylish watch faces. It gives the product a very sensible look and feel.

The watch face does still switch itself off to conserve battery, but comes back on again with the flick of the wrist.

Watches and how they look are a very fickle thing. People are often more concerned about appearance than they would be about, say, a smartphone or a laptop. Asus seemingly understands this, but how the ZenWatch will fair against the circular design of the Moto 360 and newer R Watch from LG is yet to be seen.

What's clear, however, is that the ZenWatch isn't just any old piece of gadgetry and, thankfully for Asus, the company understands that. With an official price of £199 it's a fairly priced gadget too.