(Pocket-lint) - The wearable market is still in its infancy. Android Wear watches began hitting store shelves just last year, with the original Asus ZenWatch one of the affordable numbers that added a touch of elegance to the party.
Elsewhere we're beginning to get a clearer picture as to what we can expect: from budget through to fashion we're noticing that smartwatch prices are varying drastically. The Apple Watch starts at £299 ($350) and goes up to a whopping £13,500 ($17,000); while on the Android Wear side of things the Huawei Watch - which stands out as one of the more expensive options - fetches just under £299 for the base configuration, extending to a £520 ($800) model. And then there's the new £1,100 ($1,500) Tag Heuer Connected.
Asus is avoiding that high price kerfuffle, opting for its ZenWatch 2 to remain in the affordable camp, priced from $149 (still no final UK price, but we expect £149 or less). We think it is the watch to consider if you're merely looking to dip your toes into the Android Wear pool.
Asus ZenWatch 2 review: Design
Given the fact that most Android Wear smartwatches tend to perform the same, you'll want to focus on design and choice when it comes to choosing the perfect smartwatch for you. Luckily, the ZenWatch 2 delivers in that area despite its low price point.
The ZenWatch 2 is a bargain for what you get; it's mostly made from stainless steel. It has a plastic back plate, crown/power button on the right, and microphone on left for "OK Google" voice commands. Oh, and the watch is IP67 dust- and water-resistant (only fresh water, sea dwellers).
Don't get us wrong: no one is going to look at this thing and consider it a luxury watch, but it's still sleek nonetheless and can be paired with casual attire or a suit. It even offers personalisation options for the case and straps. While the original ZenWatch came in just one design, its successor offers two rectangular case sizes (49mm or 45mm) and three case colours (silver, gunmetal, or rose gold).
As for the straps, you can get them in 18mm or 22mm sizes. There are also 18 different options in terms of colour and materials, such as a metal link bracelet or a navy leather band (the latter of which we tested for this review, along with the 49mm gunmetal case - which is actually a little large for our small wrists). We really like the look of the dark case paired with the slightly-textured blue strap, even though it's just the base configuration.
We recently reviewed the Huawei Watch - which weighs 96g and has an 11.3mm-thickness - and find the ZenWatch 2 far more pleasant to wear. It weighs 70g and only has a 9.5mm-thickness. The smaller version weighs a whopping 10g less too, so it's definitely not has hefty as some of the other Android Wear smartwatches currently found on the market.
Before moving on, however, we have to mention how stiff and unbearable the leather strap feels to wear. Although we appreciate how easy it is to swap out by using the sliding mechanism found at the end of the strap to unlock it from the case, the material of the strap itself is difficult to say the least. When tightened too much, it feels as though it could restrict blood flow, whereas a little slack somehow ends up feeling like there's a huge gap between wrist and the case.
And it chaffs our skin all day long as if it were cardboard affixed to our arm. 'Tis no good - but, alas, it looks chic. It certainly gives new meaning to the phrase "beauty is pain", eh?
Asus ZenWatch 2 review: Display
The ZenWatch 2 looks a lot like its predecessor, likely because they both have sloping bodies and very large dark bezels.
The screen is also the same on the new, larger model. It has 1.63-inch AMOLED screen with a 320 x 320 pixel resolution (278ppi), while the smaller version has a 1.45-inch AMOLED screen with a 280 x 280 pixel resolution (273ppi). We could see some slight pixelation, but we still think the resolution is perfectly fine, especially for the price.
Unlike Pebble the Asus's full colour screen has vibrancy, and the whole display is protected by a curved Corning Gorilla Glass 3 panel, which means it should be safe from the casual ding or scrape against furniture.
The real thing to be concerned about is the bezel. They are ridiculously thick and make the large display look quite small and antiquated when compared to other smartwatches on the market. The bezel is actually one of the worst things about both the ZenWatch and ZenWatch 2, though the black watch face does allow them to blend when the display is not lit-up.
We understand Asus wanted to keep costs down, but c'mon, it's 2015. The display/bezels should never be neglected. Saying that, even the Moto 360 (2015) has a black bar on its round display.
Asus ZenWatch 2 review: Performance
The ZenWatch 2 sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, backed by 512 MB RAM and 4GB of local storage.
This is standard under-the-hood stuff for Android Wear. So, on a performance level, we aren't too surprised to see it runs just as well as the pricier Huawei Watch. There's no major lagging or stuttering - just the odd pause when navigating through some cards and menus, the same that can be said for any other Android Wear watch out there.
As far as connectivity goes, the ZenWatch 2 connects to your mobile device via Bluetooth 4.1 or Wi-Fi. It's designed for Android devices, although Apple's iOS is also compatible with some limitations to functionality.
Asus ZenWatch 2 review: Battery
The ZenWatch 2 we tested comes with a 400mAh battery, but the smaller version has a 300mAh battery. Due to the smaller display, we don't think you should notice too much of a difference in terms of life between the two.
With the brightness set to four (out of five) and the screen in always-on ambient mode, we got about nine hours of thorough use on the first day, but that increased over time as we charged the device more and more. In the end, Asus says you should get about two days, but we think it's more like one and a half days for average use.
Oh, and when it comes to charging, Asus now uses a magnetic pin connector that can fully charge the device in an hour. Perfect.
Asus ZenWatch 2 review: Sensors
There's no heart-rate monitor in the ZenWatch 2. Asus also didn't include a GPS. It even ditched some of the sensors from the first ZenWatch, as this new watch only has a six-axis gyroscope and accelerometer. It therefore isn't a great option for fitness buffs, but omitting all that did allow Asus to cut the price point. So... you win some, lose some.
Going back to that gyroscope for a moment, it allows the watch to support wrist gestures, such as the ability to bring up the screen to glance at it, and in our experience, it did a pretty good job at detecting these subtle movements.
Speaking of gestures, we want to mention a cool way to turn off the display: tap the screen with the palm of your hand, and you'll feel a vibration on your wrist, followed by the display either turning off, dimming, or entering a non-colour mode (you can specify which under settings).
You can also turn off the display by pushing the crown/power button. A long press will bring up a menu with access to apps, contacts, and so forth.
Asus ZenWatch 2 review: Software
The ZenWatch 2 runs standard Android Wear, so check out our explore of version 5.1 by following the link below.
For the purposes of this review, we'll delve a bit into some of Asus' smartphone companion apps in the Google Play Store. They really do enhance the experience.
ZenWatch Manager, for instance, shows granular details for your watch, such as battery life and status, and it has cool features like a watch face designer, compass, and flashlight. It's basically like a hub for your ZenWatch 2.
There are about 50 watch faces available to choose from, but you can also customise watch faces with Asus' new FaceDesigner app. It lets you choose from set designs, then pick text typography, and change the style of the watch hand. You can also add widgets for day, date, steps, calories, weather, watch battery, and missed phone calls. Other companion apps include the ZenWatch Wellness app and ZenWatch Message.
The former is a Google Fit competitor. It features functions for graphing workouts, tracking locations, and reminding you to move - it even lets you send things like emoji and drawings to friends. There are plenty more companion apps to check out too.
Asus has kept down the cost of the ZenWatch 2 by smartly cutting some corners compared to its predecessor, such as foregoing an all-metal design in favour of a plastic back plate and omitting sensors like GPS and a heart-rate monitor.
Even so, the more we think about it, the clearer it is the ZenWatch 2 is a steal. It's priced competitively, looks pretty darn good (ignoring the bezel excess), and comes in two sizes to suit different wrist sizes - that last point something even the Huawei Watch failed to deliver.
With Android Wear being what it is, this Asus even performs just as well as the top-tier competitors, because they all feature pretty much the same internals and hardware. So, if you're wondering whether to get this watch or something more flashy, like the Huawei Watch or even the Tag, then we have to recommend you save your money and go with the Asus - until there are bigger leaps in operating system and functionality terms, anyway.
All in all, the ZenWatch 2 is a great starter smartwatch. Who knows, maybe by this time next year there will be 100 other great-looking smartwatches that offer more bang for your buck. Until then, however, and so long as you're not looking for heart-rate monitoring or a sports-centric wearable you'll do just fine with the ZenWatch 2.