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Asus Zenwatch review – hands on with the sleek yet cheap Android Wear smartwatch

The Asus ZenWatch tries to marry style and value for money, but does it pull it off? We find out

Asus promised to reveal the “most stylish smartwatch to date” at IFA in Berlin, and although that’s quite the claim, the ZenWatch certainly didn’t disappoint; the 199 wearable combines premium materials with a very reasonable price, so we couldn’t wait to try one out in person once the press conference wrapped up in order to bring you some hands-on first impressions.

As the watch was tethered to a bench we couldn’t actually strap one on, but even with out it on our wrists it was easy to appreciate what a difference the curved glass makes to the shape and look of the device. Compared to Samsung’s Gear 2 Neo, which has the same 1.63in, 320×320 resolution AMOLED panel, the ZenWatch looks larger and should appear more sculpted to your wrist. We did notice the display looked slightly distorted when looking at a sharp angle, but this is merely a trick of the light and the angled glass; from most angles it should be perfectly legible. The resolution is fine for Android Wear’s simple notifications, but it can’t quite match the high-resolution Gear S.

The metal chassis is slightly bulbous to accomodate the curved design, but doesn’t look it would stick out noticeably once on your wrist; long sleeve shirt cuffs shouldn’t pose a problem. The mixture of stainless steel and bronzed metal at the sides certainly looks sleek, and the touch-based heart rate sensors built into the sides of the chassis shouldn’t draw as much power as the light-based sensor found in Samsung’s Gear watches.

Asus says the ZenWatch strap is made from Italian leather, and while the stitching down both sides is a nice touch, we would have liked to have seen a metal strap option for the style-conscious. It’s slightly coarse to the touch, and the light tan colour was a little divisive amongst the journalists we spoke to, but it’s certainly an improvement over the rubberised plastics we’ve seen on previous smartwatches. Don’t let the leather fool you, either; the watch is IP55 water resistant, meaning you could leave it on when taking a shower should you wish.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to test any of Asus’ Android Wear customisations, as the models on display were running a vanilla version of Google’s smarwatch-centric OS. That means we weren’t able to Tap Tap Find my Phone (yes, it is really called that), take photos with a paired smartphone with Remote Camera, or mute a ringing phone by covering the screen. Some of these features were swiftly added by third party developers when it became apparent they were missing from vanilla Android Wear, so it’s great to see Asus is paying attention to what wearable users actually want from their smartwatch.

If Asus can deliver on its promise of unparallelled customisation, the ZenWatch could certainly have the edge over other square screened Android Wear watches. The ability to change watch faces to suit your outfit, the time of day or even the people you’ll be with at any given time could make the ZenWatch incredibly flexible, but right now it feels very similar to other basic Android Wear smartwatches.

Whether Asus actually managed to deliver on its promise of a stylish smartwatch is up for debate; although the curved display certainly stands out, it isn’t actually curved like the Galaxy S, and the square shape is almost run of the mill compared to the circular Moto 360. However, at €199 it still looks like a great balance between design and cost. We can’t wait to give one a full review to see how it stacks up against the smartwatch competition later in the year; it should be in stores before Christmas.

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