(Pocket-lint) - Asus is no stranger to good design. Its ZenWatch was greeted with showers of praise when it launched last year and many have high expectations for its successor, the ZenWatch 2, which was announced back in June. It's a company with heaps of potential in the wearables market.
The VivoWatch is an activity tracker rather than full-on smartwatch, but it does adopt some of the design cues of the ZenWatch, resulting in one smart-looking device. The fitness tracking field is vast, though, with numerous companies such as Fitbit and Jawbone already established, so Asus has its work cut out.
The VivoWatch might look better than many of its competitors, then, but it's not all about looks – performance is key to truly stand out from the crowd. To test we've been living with the Asus VivoWatch for a few weeks, taking it with us on the Pocket-lint Three Peaks Challenge, as well as to the gym and on regular runs.
Is the VivoWatch all beauty and no brains or does this affordable Asus give the competition a run for their money?
The Asus VivoWatch is not a variation of a black rubber band like many of its activity-tracking competitors – the only rubber found here is the 22mm strap to hold the watch to the wrist.
The watch face features a curved stainless steel frame, surrounding the 128 x 128 pixel monochrome display, portraying a lovely quality build. Well, ignoring the not-so-subtle Asus logo up top.
This display is a lot smaller than the watch body itself, meaning the surrounding bezel is quite large, but the text is clear and crisp. It's easy to see in all weather conditions too, and whether rain or shine the VivoWatch's IP67 waterproofing rating means you'll never need to worry about conditions.
The underside of the VivoWatch is plastic, which unlike the slight curve of the stainless steel top section sits flat against the wrist. This helps to press the built-in optical heart-rate monitor against the skin, but we found it quite uncomfortable at times (especially while sleeping). Each wrist is different of course and ours may have just been a little too small for best possible fit.
Also housed to the underside are the charging pins used to connect to the separate cradle to recharge the VivoWatch's on-board battery. This cradle is a little larger than the one Samsung introduced for the Gear Fit, and charges via Micro-USB. We'd prefer to just plug the cable straight into the Asus VivoWatch rather than having an extra accessory to consider, but it isn't the only tracker to be difficult to charge and it won't be the last. Plus, the VivoWatch lasts around eight or nine days per charge, which is a lot, lot longer than most.
In terms of control the VivoWatch has stainless steel button on the right hand side of the plastic section, which is used to start and stop an activity. We feel this button should be a little higher up on the stainless steel frame instead, as it's not always easy to access. There's also a useful LED light beneath the display which illuminates in different colours for various alert reasons (more detail on that later).
Navigating around the VivoWatch is easy: a swipe left or right will show you heart rate, alarm, UV index and activity analysis; swiping up and down on the activity element will show steps, calories, distance and time information; while swiping up or down from the home screen will show a summary of activity, sleep and your happiness index (which we will explain later).
Overall, and although the VivoWatch is pretty chunky and not particularly light at 50g, it's one smart and good looking activity tracker – especially for the price point. We think it would look good worn with a suit, which can't be said for some of its more casual competition.
Basic activity tracking
However, unlike some of the more advanced competition the Asus VivoWatch only offers basic activity tracking. It counts steps taken and calories burned but it doesn't offer GPS, so distance is only an estimate (which shows on the display itself but is ignored entirely in the synched smartphone app).
The VivoWatch also has a technology called VivoPulse, which means 24-hour continuous heart-rate monitoring (at set intervals to conserve battery life). There aren't many trackers that provide this, which certainly goes in Asus's favour.
Your heart-rate reading isn't just to show as a number on screen, though, the real-time read is linked to the LED light beneath the screen to assist in activities. It will light up green when you are doing aerobic exercise and burning calories, or red when you are pushing yourself near your theoretical maximum limit. It's great for a quick glance on how you're getting on, but we did find the vibrate alert when we hit red a little annoying.
In terms of accuracy, the VivoWatch is mostly on par with the Apple Watch and the Fitbit Charge HR when it comes to heart rate. Each device was either exactly the same or within a couple of beats of each other during various tests.
However, there were times both during the Three Peaks Challenge and our gym workouts when the VivoWatch presented a big drop in heart rate and sat at around 100bpm less than our other trackers were recording. This was strange as we didn't feel like the position of the VivoWatch had slipped in order to mess up the heart-rate reading.
For steps taken, the VivoWatch seems a little conservative in comparison to the Fitbit Charge HR, which we have found to be very accurate in the past. We had the VivoWatch with us when we did the Three Peaks Challenge and it recorded 64,321 steps compared to the 79,864 recorded by the Fitbit Charge HR. The Asus also seems to underestimate the number of calories burned, although this is a lot harder to determine: the VivoWatch measured 6,013 calories burned for the duration of the same 24-hour challenge, while the Fitbit Charge HR measured 7,640.
On smaller scale activities the VivoWatch performs a bit better but its measurements are still low. We took it for a 5km run, along with the Apple Watch and the Fitbit Charge HR and tagged an activity on all three devices. The Fitbit Charge HR recorded our run as 4,573 steps, burning 364 calories, while the VivoWatch measured 4,711 steps and 237 calories, and the Apple Watch measured 243 calories burned.
On the same 5km the heart-rate recorded on the VivoWatch was a lot lower too, presenting an average of 110bpm. We know that can't be right, as the Fitbit Charge HR recorded an average of 182bpm, while the Apple Watch recorded an average of 186bpm.
Automatic sleep tracking
The Asus VivoWatch offers automatic sleep tracking, which many of its competitors don't. Most require you to tell them when you plan on sleeping which is annoying and easy to forget. Shame the VivoWatch isn't particularly comfortable to wear to bed then.
Upon waking the sleep graph provided shows sleep time, percentage and time of comfort sleep, number of turns, and your average heart rate throughout the night. This is Asus taking a different path for sleep analysis than the likes of Jawbone, Fitbit and Withings – all of which have their own variations.
We found the graph tended to tally with the experience of sleep we had that night. The heart-rate measure matched the Jawbone UP3's measurement, and while sleep time wasn't always accurate – giving us some very odd measurements at times, such as 55 hours and 26 minutes, or a wake-up time a little after the time we actually woke up – it was usually fine.
It's difficult to determine the accuracy of sleep tracking and it's even harder to work out what information is actually useful, if anything. The number of turns, for example, seems a little pointless but some might appreciate it. In our experience, the Jawbone UP3 is the one to beat for sleep-tracking if that's one area you're particularly keen to monitor.
Aside from the UV index sensor, activity reminder alerts and alarm, the VivoWatch will also alert you of an incoming call (although you can't answer or converse via the watch itself, not that we suspect anyone would want to talk to their wrist). The Fitbit Charge HR also does this and it's a useful feature to have on board, especially when exercising.
There are no other alerts available, so if you're hoping for that low-power display to show you your latest text messages or social media notifications, you'll be disappointed. Asus could have done with a little more support for other notifications here, just to make use of the large display, but perhaps that will come at a later date.
You can also change the watch face, which again is something the Charge HR offers.
Simple but basic platform
The Asus platform – called HiVivo and downloaded to your Android smartphone (HiVivo Lite is available for iOS) – is nowhere near as advanced as competing interfaces but it's simple to navigate. The main feature of the platform is the happiness index range, which, and just like Misfit's point-based system, we find a little irrelevant. It's something different though.
The higher your happiness index range is, the better you are doing. This index is the first thing you see when opening the app and it increases in relation to a number of things, including the amount of exercise you do and how much sleep you've had, or how well you've slept. Beneath the happiness index is a collection of the data from that day including total steps, total calories, maximum heart rate, any logged exercises and sleep analysis.
The step and calorie sections each have your daily goal followed by a graph to show how well you are doing that day and a total number in the top right. The heart rate section has your average and minimum heart rate, along with a graph of your heart rate and your average beats per minute from that day.
The exercise section is more useful, offering a graph with anaerobic, aerobic and normal modes, as well as exercise time, steps and calorie totals for the exercise (and the percentage of time spent doing aerobic exercise within the tagged time). There is no way of telling the VivoWatch which specific exercise you were doing though, so you can't tag it as a run or add notes, but you can hide sections from display by tapping the arrow next to the total number.
The top three lines to the top left within the app allow you to edit your profile and add friends or family to your network. Most fitness trackers have a community so this isn't something unique to Asus but it means if you do have a family (all of whom also have an Asus VivoWatch) then you can send messages or likes to encourage each other.
There's also a settings menu to the top right of the app, next to the sync button. Within the settings, you can alter your step goal between 3,000 and 30,000, and your calorie goal between 1,664 and 2,464 (random, we know).
On the whole, HiVivo is a smooth interface that delivers the basic activity monitoring information in a clear-to-read format. However, it needs some work to bring it up to scratch with the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone by including third-party app support, which currently lacks.
The Asus VivoWatch is one smart looking activity tracker. But despite hot looks its basic feature set simply doesn't match or surpass the best devices in its field, such as the Fitbit Charge HR.
There are a few notable selling points to the Asus, of course, such as the UV index sensor, waterproofing, great battery life, and continuous heart-rate monitoring. However, the lack of GPS or proper distance calculation, the inability to specify exercises, the limitations to the HiVivo platform and its lack of third-party integration all negate the impact of those positives.
Clearly the VivoWatch's eye-catching design, long-lasting battery life and affordable £120 price point will lure people in, and rightly so. But we'd like to see functionality on par with those good looks before we could really consider it a fully accomplished activity tracker.