Asus ZenWatch 2 – Features
The Zenwatch 2 runs a much-improved version of Google’s Android Wear OS, compared to the one seen on the original Zenwatch. The first model suffered from a lack of good Android integration. This was partly due to the lack of a physical button, but mainly becuase the OS just wasn’t all that impressive in 2014. Since then a range of apps have added Android Wear compatibility and the user experience, although still nothing ground-breaking, is all the better for it.
With the new ZenWatch, the company has improved the user experience in nearly every way. The 9-axis sensor and bio-sensor has been jettisoned in favour of a 6-axis sensor with a gyroscope and accelerometer. Although this may seem like a downgrade, fitness fans are unlikely to want a ZenWatch as there are more advanced, cheaper dedicated workout trackers on the market. Heart Rate monitors are also yet to reach a stage where they are wholly reliable anyway and with its stylish design, it’s clear that the ZenWatch 2 benefits from the lack such a feature, allowing as it does for decreased width and weight.
Related: Best fitness trackers 2016
Those looking for a good fitness tracker which maintains a commitment to style should check out the Withings Activite Steel.
In every other way, the new device improves upon the earlier model with a range of additions. The ability to connect via Wi-Fi is new, allowing for updates and notifications even when the watch isn’t paired with your phone. And while the heart rate monitor is missing, the ZenWatch 2 will still track your steps and includes both Google Fit and Asus’ own Wellness app to keep you updated on steps taken, calories burned and distance travelled.
Apps can now be accessed by holding down the crown button or swiping left from the home screen. There’s all the usual Google programmes available such as Hangouts and Google Play music, as well as Skype, BBC News and organisational tools such as Agenda.
For me, the Google Play Music integration was a great feature, as I could skip tracks, alter the volume, and browse playlists without having to get my phone out of my pocket on packed London Underground carriages. It’s a small convenience but a welcome one. What’s more, the watch also worked with Apple Music, although the only options you’re given with Apple’s app are skip/play/pause and volume controls.
There’s also a host of watch apps available for download from the accompanying smartphone app, also called Android Wear. Among some of the options I tried was the remote camera app, which displays what your phone’s camera sees on the ZenWatch and allows you to take pictures by tapping the screen. It essentially works as a remote shutter button which some may find useful. Again, it’s nothing revolutionary, but it works seamlessly and is a nice feature to have.
The ZenWatch 2 is IP67 rated for water and dust resistance. That’s an improvement on the original ZenWatch, which was rated IP55, and better than the Apple Watch’s IPX7. In principle, the new watch’s designation means it can be submerged in water up to one metre for half an hour before things start going wrong. I haven’t tested that, and it’s probably best you don’t either as the rating refers to ‘accidental submersion’. But it’s nice to know that this is, at least in principle, a more sturdy design than its predecessor.
Changing watch faces is done with a simple long press on the home screen where you can choose between a variety of designs. Further faces are available to download via the Face Designer app, which also allows you to create your own watch faces. I found Face Designer incredibly easy to use and had a decent-looking new watch face design in minutes. You can download the app through the Android Wear app on your phone.
Asus ZenWatch 2 – Performance
In terms of hardware, the ZenWatch 2 is pretty standard for Android Wear and almost identical to the 2014 model. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz CPU is backed up by 512MB of RAM and 4GB of eMMC flash storage. The only areas in which the new device differs significantly from the old one are battery and sensor. More on the battery later.
What this means in practice is a fairly fluid and responsive OS experience. Whereas the original ZenWatch was designed to be talked to, using Google Now and the built-in microphone, Asus has clearly tried to make the second iteration more accessible to those who would rather use fingertips than vocals. While the ZenWatch 2 retains the microphone and voice control, it’s actually easier to just swipe and tap your way to through the menus and commands.
From the home screen you can swipe down from the top to access the equivalent of the notifications shade on Android. The pull-down menu allows you to access quick settings such as which notifications to display, brightness boost, and cinema mode – which simply means ‘turn the screen off’. All the swipe actions work well and although wearables such as the Moto 360 2 allow slightly more room for swiping, the 1.63-inch screen on the large ZenWatch 2 is just about big enough to make things easy.
Accessing apps is similarly pain-free. You can either long-press the crown button or swipe left from the home screen. This will bring up a list of apps with the most recently accessed ones at the top. Swiping left again brings up a list of contacts which you can then tap on and call or send messages or emails using voice recognition. Another left swipe brings up a list of actions from setting reminders, alarms, and taking notes to sending emails, playing music, or displaying how many steps you’ve taken that day.
Once you’ve got an app running, it will sit below the home screen for easy access by swiping upwards. Sometimes notifications will sit at the bottom of the watch face which can be annoying, especially if you’ve already hidden them with a quick downward swipe. If you’re listening to music for instance, a small bar will appear at the bottom of the watch face, displaying the song name and a play/pause icon. Often I would swipe down to hide it, only for it to reappear the next time I looked at my wrist. No doubt this is to enable quick play/pause control, but if I’ve chosen to hide it, the OS should remember that and keep it hidden until I swipe up to bring it back into view.
There’s also a noticeable pause when opening some apps. Tapping an app from the menu will result in a brief period where nothing happens, making you wonder if the screen registered the touch properly. It’s not a long wait but certain apps definitely won’t open instantly. Still, this is the same with other Smartwatches that use Android Wear. I experienced similar pauses when opening an app on the Moto 360.
These are minor problems that don’t really detract from what is overall an intuitive and simple user interface. Android Wear still has a long way to go before it becomes good enough to warrant everyone having it on their wrists, and it’s not going to revolutionise how you interact with the digital world. But it’s worth reiterating that in this instance you’re getting an OS which does what it does well, encased in a stylish looking device for less than £150.
A further feature worth highlighting is the ability to control Android Wear with gestures. A quick flick of the wrist will scroll up, while the opposite action will, you guessed it, scroll down. It’s another feature that’s not going to blow your mind but is nice to have available, and on those crowded London Underground carriages I often found myself flicking through the various notifications. You’ll look weird but if you cared what people thought, you probably wouldn’t buy a smartwatch anyway right?
There’s also the iPhone compatibility which allows you to use the ZenWatch 2 in a paired-down capacity with your Apple device. The older version of Android Wear that works with iOS won’t let you send messages or take phone calls and is generally less interactive than the full Android version. This is likely to change in the future however, and it’s a welcome inclusion which means the ZenWatch 2 has a future-proof aspect to it.