Review: Asus Zenwatch 3

Old Wear OS watches- Worth a Purchase?

I have not used Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) since the LG G Watch R in 2015.
My imagination tells me that I like the OS so i figured I would try it again. I have always thought the Asus Zenwatch 3 looks so nice, so when someone sold it as new for 400 Sek ($43) I could not say no.
So let us see how well a 2016 smartwatch hold up in 2018.

This is a short-term review focusing on the watch's design as well as my impressions of Wear OS. On the software side watches powered by Wear OS will be mostly identical except for one or two manufacturer apps like Asus' Zenfit. 

Design and Hardware

Asus made a huge jump from their former Zenwatch 2 which was a squared watch with huge bezels. The Zenwatch 3 on the other hand delivers one of the finer made round smartwatches with golded accents and 3 buttons. After the first Huawei Watch I think this might be the best designed smartwatch from a tech-company. The Zenwatch 3 was sold in three colors: Gunmetal(Black), Silver and Rose Gold. The available colors differed though, and in Sweden Asus officially only sold the Gunmetal variant.

This is a large watch, coming in with a 1.39" Amoled display with a resolution at 400x400. 
I always wanted to try the silver one because I think it looks more like a normal watch and I got kind of tired with my black Samsung Galaxy Gear s2 Classic. The display resolution is great, no issues at all, but unfortunately it is not bright enough for comfortable reading in sunlight or bright environment. 

The stainless steel body with its gold accents looks really nice and premium. Unfortunately I find the "beige" band included a bit female for my taste. I would have preferred a brown leather one, especially since this is supposed to be a premium smartwatch. Asus also sold leather variants though, so this is probably a cheaper priced version. Good news is that the watch is comfortable to wear and does not feel to heavy. It is noticeable compared to the Fitbit Ionic, but then again what isn't.

Looking at the back there are no heart-rate monitor present and up top you get the magnetic charging pins. Compared to older variants like this I have tried the magnets in the charger are crazy strong though, keeping the watch in a tight hold. Even so a wireless charger would have felt more premium, more on the charger later.
There is also the lack of on-board GPS, but by now we can probably agree on that this watch is not geared towards fitness. Question is, who is it for?

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Software

If you know Wear OS, you know the Zenwatch 3.

As I said I have not used the OS since it Android Wear version 1 so I have been looking forward to getting a look at Wear OS. I have a few gripes with it, and frankly I am surprised that this is Googles idea of a fluid wrist operating-system.

Who thought swiping left or right on the watch face was a good way to swap watch faces?

 A good thing with Wear OS is the amount of watch faces - If you bother scrolling through them all.

A good thing with Wear OS is the amount of watch faces - If you bother scrolling through them all.

Pressing the middle button gets you to the app-drawer which is laid out nice for a rounded display, I do however think that Samsung does it better with Tizen but that's a personal preference. Holding the button lets you talk Google Assistant. This is the coolest feature of Wear OS, seriously. The Zenwatch 3 have a built in speaker and a microphone so you can do voice calls over bluetooth, consume media if you so please and receive answers from the Assistant. Unfortunately, and this will be a recurring theme, it lags. Clicking the button and waiting for the Assistant to open and get ready is almost as slow as picking up your phone to talk to Google on the "big screen". It also seems to hear me worse resulting in wrong commands and confusion. But when it works it is cool to tell your watch to turn on the TV or the Coffee maker.

The top and bottom buttons can be remapped to open any app you please through the settings menu. By default they open Asus' Zenfit and activate Doze mode respectively. I would have liked to be able to map long-presses as well, but I guess you cannot have everything.

Speaking of fitness, the watch seems to under-count steps compared to the Fitbit Ionic by over 1000, sometimes closing in on 2000, steps at the end of the day. So if you are loking for an activity tracker this might not be its best fit.

As I said, lag will be a recurring theme. The Zenwatch 3, as almost every other Wear OS watch, runs on the Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip. This is an old, soon to be replaced one and judging by the performance here I can't say I will miss it. Apps open slowly, and the UI seems to expect itself to be smooth which makes it harder to navigate when it is not.

Apps like the alarm app are adapted to round displays now which means you scroll a wheel to set the amount of hours, minutes and seconds you'd like. This is obviously supposed to be used with a rotating crown as navigation because it is to easy to accidentally swipe left and go back home when doing it on the screen and it does not feel intuative. 

What Wear OS does well is notifications and media control. Swiping up on the Watch Face scrolls you through notifications in full screen and you can either swipe them away to dismiss them or press to interact. Something I have been happy about is how quickly it picks up on what media your phone is playing and the ability to play/pause, skip or change the volume. There is also a QWERTY keyboard with swipe-writing which is pretty cool and actually works. Unfortunately I cannot start a conversation from the watch, only reply to received messages.

Asus includes their own Zenfit app as well as the Zenwatch Manager app. 
Zenfit will monitor your daily stepps and lets you activate workouts. It also tracks sleep but seeing as you need to charge it and that there is no heart-rate monitor it is pretty hard to trust it, and it does deliver other stats when compared to Fitbits sleep tracking. 

The Zenwatch Manager lets you control Watch settings and customize watch faces from Asus as well as activate features like unlocking your phone, finding you phone or warning you when you leave your phone.

Battery Life

There is not to much to cheer for when it comes to battery life either. With its 341mAh and the always on display turned on I get through a day, but nothing more. Turn it off and a day and a half is to be expected. 

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To compensate for this Asus have taken a key from the smartphone world and implemented a fast charger, charging from 0 to 60% in just about 15 minutes. On first charge I was amazed as I had forgotten about this feature. My guess is that the quick-charging would not work with a normal wireless charger, therefor I forgive Asus for using a magnetic-pin one.

Conclusion

While I personally do not thing Wear OS is that great, I do think the Zenwatch 3 does what it set out to do. It is a stylish smartwatch with good support for notifications and media control and a good looking screen, if a bit dim.
I am disappointed in the overall day to day performance of the watch and scrolling through menus feels pretty choppy. Comparing it to the Fitbit Ionic which is my only other smartwatch at the moment the difference is that Wear OS tries to be smoother than it is and fails. Fitbit OS seems to know that it's not the smoothest but at least that feels "real".

If you like Wear OS and do not care about the lack of fitness features the Zenwatch 3 looks good and can be found at great prices. Just don't expect to many future updates, Asus seems to have been doing a pretty bad job in that department.