Asus ZenWatch 3 Review: Finally, another great Android Wear device

Asus Zenwatch 3

The Asus ZenWatch 3 arrived in Canada in early November 2016 to significant excitement among fans of Android Wear devices, especially given the fact that Google’s wearable operating system has faced a dearth of releases lately.

Motorola hasn’t produced a new Android Wear watch since 2015’s second-generation Moto 360 and has said it doesn’t plan to at any point in the near future. Samsung, too, has sworn off Google’s OS in favour of its own operating system, Tizen. The operating system itself has been dormant, delaying the launch of 2.0 — the first major version update since Android Wear’s launch in 2014 — from fall 2016 to winter 2017 in the name of quality improvements.

Regardless, a faithful contingent of Android Wear loyalists who are eagerly anticipating both 2.0 and the promise of a next-generation smartwatch that will do more, better.

Is the ZenWatch 3 that device? MobileSyrup’s Rose Behar and Patrick O’Rourke tested out the $349.99 CAD wearable to find out.

Specs

  • OS: Android Wear 1.5
  • SoC: Snapdragon Wear 2100
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Storage: 4GB
  • Dimensions: 45 x 45 x 9.95 ~10.75 mm
  • Display: AMOLED 1.39-inch, 400 x 400 pixel with 287ppi
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1 + Wi-Fi
  • Sensors: 6-axis G + A, ambient light sensor, no heart rate sensor
  • Battery: 340mAh with wireless Quick Charge
  • Colours: Silver, gunmetal, rose gold
  • Water/dust resistance: IP67

One of the best looking Android Wear smartwatches

ZenWatch 3 two colours

Patrick O’Rourke

One of the first things I noticed about Asus’ ZenWatch 3 is how stunning it looks. I’ll preface this by stating that I haven’t used many Android Wear watches or smartwatches in general, with my experience being mostly confined to the original ZenWatch, multiple Pebble smartwatches, the Moto 360 1st Gen and 2nd Gen, and Apple’s Series1 and 2 Apple Watch.

The “flat tire” many complain about when discussing the Moto 360 — I’ve personally never seen it as much of an issue — isn’t present with the ZenWatch 3, which will be a welcome sight for many. The ZenWatch 3 is also a completely round smartwatch with three buttons that stick out substantially from its side.

The ‘Gunmetal’ model I used has a brass-looking stainless steel finish that gives the wearable the look of something that belongs in the Bioshock video game universe. This look admittedly won’t be for everyone, but I definitely feel it has a certain level of charm to it. I am also fond of the Rose Gold and Silver versions of the ZenWatch 3, though every iteration of the wearable has a somewhat “steampunk”-like vibe to it.

ZenWatch 3 back

I do, however, feel the ZenWatch 3’s buttons stick out slightly too much. In some cases, I actually ended up getting them stuck on my clothing and other objects. On the plus side, the buttons have a tactile feel to them that’s not present in the Moto 360 or Apple Watch’s digital crown, giving the smartwatch a very analog, traditional watch feel. I’d even go so far as to say that despite the fact that the buttons stick out from the watch’s body a fair amount, they’re my favourite of any Android Wear device I’ve used in the past.

In terms of size, the ZenWatch 3’s case comes in at 45mm wide, making it a little bigger than Huawei’s offerings and the 42mm Moto 360 v2, the Android Wear watch I’ve spent the most time using (full dimensions come in at 45mm x 45mm x 9.95mm x 10.75mm). Still, on my relatively svelte wrists, I found the ZenWatch was a little large for my taste and I know this is an issue my colleague Rose had with the watch as well. The ZenWatch 2 came in two sizes and it would have been nice to see Asus adopt the same strategy with the ZenWatch 3 because not everyone has enormous wrists. Unfortunately, however, that isn’t the case with this year’s ZenWatch.

The watch’s lugs (a word watch makers use to describe where the strap attaches to the body of the watch), are flat and angular, extending down past the bottom of the ZenWatch 3, which makes it sometimes uncomfortable to wear, especially for those with smaller wrists. The strap never quite fit perfectly on my arm, with the lugs forcing ample space between my wrist and the watch itself. This is an issue I have not experienced with smartwatches like the Pebble Time Round and Moto 360, though it’s a problem I ran into with the disappointingly uncomfortable Microsoft Band 2.

ZenWatch 3 side

All that said, I’m actually fond of the ZenWatch 3’s aesthetic. It really is a great looking smartwatch that sits comfortably beside other major players in the space, including the Moto 360 2nd Gen, Apple Watch and even Samsung’s recently released Gear S3. It’s also worth pointing out that this isn’t something I ever thought I’d be writing about an Asus product, having not had great experiences with the company’s various smartphones over the years.

Responsive display

Zenwatch 3 Moto 360 2nd Gen and Gear S3

One of my main issues with Android Wear smartwatches in the past has been the fact that their displays aren’t always responsive. This could be due in part to the fact that a smartwatch’s screen is smaller, thus making it difficult to touch the display exactly where I want, or some sort of technological hitch manufacturers haven’t quite worked out yet in the smartwatch industry (I’ve even had the issue with the Apple Watch Series 2).

In terms of the ZenWatch 3, I still ran into the above issues, though less frequently than I did with the Moto 360 2nd Gen, my main Android Wear smartwatch. Overall the ZenWatch 3’s 1.39-inch 400 x 400 pixel display is vibrant and easy to see outside (a necessity for any smartwatch) and was responsive in 90 percent of cases. The watch also features an ambient light sensor, a feature numerous other tech publications have cited as rare in fully round smartwatches. This helps save battery life and makes playing around with screen brightness less of a necessity.

Whether a software fix or something related to the gyroscope or accelerometer in the smartwatch, I’ve also found that the ZenWatch 3 lights up quicker and more consistently when I raised my wrist up — as long as I’m not using it with an always-on display obviously — when compared to its competitors.

Impressive battery life

Holding a ZenWatch 3

Rose Behar

The ZenWatch 3’s 340mAh performed very well during my time with the device. I generally got a day and a half to two day’s life off a single charge, though I’ll admit my usage was minimal — receiving notifications and checking them, glancing at the time and occasionally changing watch faces or using voice commands to make notes. Considering that the functionalities of an Android Wear smartwatch without wireless data connectivity are not extensive, however, I suspect most users would find similar results.

As for charging, the wearable features quick charging wireless technology. I found myself able to revive the watch from dead to 100 percent in around 60 minutes, a commendable charge time.

My only minor qualm was slight overheating during charging, which could erode battery in the long term, but it never became uncomfortably hot to the touch. The charger is also a step above smartwatch chargers I’ve used in the past because of its magnetic, angular design that allows the watch to rest in a steady, upright posture that is not at risk of falling over.

Decent speed

ZenWatch 3 with Android Wear app

The Asus ZenWatch 3 features the tethered (non-LTE connected) version of the Snapdragon Wear 2100, a SoC that debuted in February 2016 and that is tailored to wearable use. At launch, the chipset’s chiefly marketed attributes were its small size and low power use. One might question whether Asus fully took advantage of the first attribute, since the watch is only marginally thinner than the ZenWatch 2 by 0.1mm, but it seems the company did manage to take advantage of the chipset’s low energy qualities.

The processor is backed by 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage using embedded Multi-Media Card (eMMC) flash memory. For those that are unfamiliar, the latter is a form of Multi-Media Card that is non-removable and used for solid-state storage.

As for speed and similar to Patrick, I found the ZenWatch responsive when it came to browsing and launching apps. During my time with it, I also didn’t experience any major crashes or instances of stalling. Shifting third-party watch faces to the Asus ZenWatch 3 was also quick work, as were the other third-party integrations I tried.

Android Wear 2.0 support

ZenWatch 3 Google Assistant

One of the key questions for many is whether the device will receive Android Wear 2.0 and be well-supported with future Android Wear updates. The answer, as per usual with most Android OEMs, is frustratingly unclear. The Android Wear 2.0 developer previews are only available for the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition and the Huawei Watch.

In September 2016, however, The Verge wrote that Google promised all Android Wear devices launching in the fall of 2016 (which includes the ZenWatch 3) will support Android Wear 2.0. Of course, the best course of action is likely to wait until February 9th, when Android Wear 2.0 is expected to be revealed alongside two new next-generation LG-created devices in what likely will be a partnership with Google.

Showing a promising commitment to its own upkeep, Asus also released a substantial update to the device, which included a new ECO mode and December security fixes, in early January. So while it’s difficult to give a final prediction, it’s likely that the ZenWatch 3 will get Android Wear 2.0, at least at some point.

Sensors and connectivity

ZenWatch 3 watchface

The ZenWatch 3 relies on Bluetooth 4.1 and Wi-Fi for connectivity — not unusual for many wearables on the market, but also not a forward-looking move by the company. The inclusion of connectivity in a premium smartwatch could finally provide wearables with the functionality needed to make them less of a luxury and more of a tool. With one of LG’s forthcoming wearables reportedly featuring an LTE connection (the LG Sport), Asus has positioned the ZenWatch 3 in a slightly vulnerable spot. Only time will tell whether it will remain one of the best Android Wear options on the market, or takes a sudden fall.

The smartwatch features a 3D gyro, 3D accelerometer (referred to simply as 6-axis G+A) and an ambient light sensor, but lacks a heart-rate sensor, a slightly disappointing omission considering it was one of the main things I’ve enjoyed with other wearables on the market, lending a more sporty vibe to them. I will admit, however, that the accuracy of wrist-based heart rate sensors on wearables has been brought into question before — so the exclusion may not be much of a loss when it comes to valuable data.

Unclear what the future holds

At $350 CAD, the Asus ZenWatch 3 remains a pricey accessory, albeit one that still manages to be one of the best Android Wear watches on the market. With the utility of wearables, particularly smartwatches, in question right now, and with the reveal of LG's new smartwatches, as well as Android Wear 2.0, on the horizon, it's difficult to recommend someone run out and purchase a ZenWatch 3 immediately.

The more cautious approach would be to wait a few weeks in order to see how LG's smartwatch offerings pan out, as well as official word on whether or not the ZenWatch 3 will get upgraded to Google's more feature-rich Android Wear 2.0.

Still, if you're sold on the concept of a smartwatch and have been waiting for a device that rivals the Moto 360, then it's difficult to go wrong with Asus' sleek-looking Zen Watch 3.

We do, however, wish Asus stuck with the two size option this year. Not everyone has large wrists!

Do you like the idea of a two-person review? This is something we're trying out here at MobileSyrup. Let us know what you think in the comments section.

"One of the first things I noticed about Asus' ZenWatch 3 is how stunning it is"                                                                                                                                                                                                  8/10

Comments

  • yoyo ma

    the watch looks kind of ridiculous on both your wrists because of its size tbh. I guess if you enjoy it is all that matters in the end.

    • We also think it looks a little ridiculous, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a solid smartwatch.

    • Impulse_Vigil

      I think it looks fine on yours, looks almost bracelet loose on hers.

  • JD

    You guys need to work on some forearm exercises

    • Rev0lver

      I’m sure they could use some expert advice. Got any pointers?

  • TomsDisqusted

    I think you left out one of the most important things – is that Qi wireless charging or proprietary. Keeping these things charged seems to be one of the biggest issues that people have (glad to read that it has a decent battery) but if it uses standard charging – usb-c or Qi – it makes things a lot simpler.

    Particularly here in Canada where getting a replacement for a lost proprietary charger is harder then in the US, and can be impossible once the product is off the market.

    Would you buy a phone that used a proprietary one-off charger the way some of the watches do?

    • Smanny

      It’s a proprietary charger that attaches to the watch.

    • Impulse_Vigil

      As far as I can gather, the only ones that have used Qi are Moto (on both 360, not sure about the Sport) and Fossil (on everything). Everyone else has gone with some propietary POGO pin arrangement.

      I agree it’s pretty disappointing, I’ve got a small LG Qi pad which I routinely charge my 360 with while traveling (along with my Nexus 7 that just won’t die), which means I never have to drag/forget the stock charger.

      FWIW Asus does sell replacement charging cables at B&H, which I believe ships to Canadia, for a somewhat reasonable $30 USD (not cheap better than the $50 Huawei charges tho!).

      The LG Style uses something like Qi (no pins) but it’s not Qi, which is even more mind boggling. I really didn’t wanna buy a watch without Qi (let alone with non standard bans), but despite those two flaws the ZW3 still looks like my most appealing option.

      If only the Style’s battery wasn’t awful.

  • Smanny

    Their is a button program, so users can change what app will run when you press it. Which is a nice feature. The size doesn’t bother me at all, especially since I am not a small person.

  • Khristopher Ranger

    Will we ever see affordable smart watches? I won’t pay $350 for a watch. I’d pay $150 for one of these.

    • I don’t think we’ll ever see smartwatches in that price range.

    • Brad Fortin

      I think we will eventually, but only in the same sense that we eventually saw $150 iPods.

  • ciderrules

    I don’t get the title of this article. You say “Another great Android Wear watch” which makes it sound like it’s a very good device. But then when I read the review and look at what it comes with it’s missing several things. No GPS, only IP67 rating, no heart rate sensor, only 4GB storage and 1.5 to 2 day battery life with, in your words, “minimal usage”. GPS and heart rate sensors are the real battery hogs, so this isn’t very impressive battery life at all for a device missing these two features.

    • Smanny

      Ciderrules heart rate sensor is only used it you activate it. The same is true for GPS. Consider what it does have. A vibrant 360×360 AMOLED display with light sensor, speaker, quick charging, can connect to any Bluetooth headset or speakers, and you can play music that is stored directly on the watch. It still has some fitness capabilities. But that’s just it, this watch is too nice looking to bash it around. Even though it has a steel casing. For just $350. Just look at the Apple watch with a steel casing cost almost 3 times as much as this watch.

    • ciderrules

      Apple Watch stainless are $699-779. So either 2x or 2.2x as expensive, not 3x as you claimed. And you get a real sapphire screen and ceramic back on the Apple Watch.

      Apple Watch checks your heart rate all day long. When doing a workout it’s on continuously, otherwise it checks at regular intervals throughout the day. Same with GPS. It’s on continuously when working out, otherwise it just checks at intervals. So yes, they do consume power.

      Everything else you listed is common on smart watches including the Apple Watch. What don’t you get? As I mentioned, heart rate, GPS, GLONASS, NFC and decent waterproofing. To me those are major shortcomings considering smart watches need to do a lot to justify their prices.

    • Smanny

      Ciderrules the price you quoted was with the rubberized strap. Now for me I wouldn’t even think of the 38mm watch, because it’s really small. Now if you want a leather strap Apple with a steel case, like this Asus ZenWatch 3. Now you have to pay $919. That is why I said almost 3 times the price for an Apple watch. Clearly math and looking up information is not one of your strengths.

      Sure the latest Apple watch Series 2 has GPS and a heart rate monitor, which is lacking in this smart watch. It’s great to have those features, but it also ups the price. Especially features that many of us would only use once and a while. Also if you are really into fitness, then there is much better smart watches or fitness bands than the Apple watch.

    • Brad Fortin

      “Consider what it does have.”

      I wish people would take this sort of advice more often, rather than complaining about what a device *isn’t*.

    • For me, a heart rate sensor and GPS aren’t feature I want in a smartwatch.

    • Impulse_Vigil

      Couldn’t care less about the heart rate sensor either… The one on my 360 is pretty awful and I wouldn’t wear either watch to exercise. Frankly I think the two markets are almost mutually exclusive. Who really wants to wear a fancy looking watch like this or the 360/Huawei while running or lifting? I’d rather wear a Fitbit or a second Wear watch (if they came down in price some).

  • Corey Owen

    I’m in the “Why buy a smartwatch without a heart rate sensor?” camp, so this is an instant pass from me… Even though otherwise, it seems fantastic.

    I had a note 7, if I still did, maybe I would care less, but being on a pixel now, it’s a wonderful thing to have back with my Gear S2 Classic.

    Such a simple add on to skip 🙁

  • Tavis Dunn

    I liked the two person review format. Gives a overall general consensus. Probably not suitable to all reviews, but for something like this, i think it works…

    • Thanks for the comment. We’ll definitely keep that in mind going forward!

  • c0bra

    I liked the two person review format as well. I have read comments from many reviews here and frequently there is someone who mentions that the reviews are skewed due to a reviewers personal choice rather than an honest review/opinion of the product being reviewed. (Example: This reviewer always favours Apple products etc…)

    It’s nice to have a second opinion.

  • Impulse_Vigil

    How does the watch react when left on the charger for a few hours? It seems my 360 would overheat and stop trickle charging, either that or it’s set to stop charging and drop all the way to 80 before starting again, it never seems to be full when I grab it or even in the 90s half the time.