Asus ZenWatch 3 review

Asus took to the stage at IFA 2016 in Berlin to unveil the Asus ZenWatch 3, the first in the ZenWatch series to ditch the rectangular display for a traditional circular display.

Focusing more on design than features, the ZenWatch 3 appeals to a more fashion-conscious audience – but what is it like on the wrist? We’ve spent some time with the Asus ZenWatch 3, and here’s what we think.

Interested in something a little different? Take a look at our pick of the best smartwatches of 2017

Note: Android Wear 2.0 is now available for the Asus ZenWatch 3 in the UK. We'll be testing it out soon, and will update our review accordingly. 

UK pricing and availability

The Asus ZenWatch 3, despite its high-end, luxurious look, costs £249 in the UK. While it may seem expensive, it’s worth bearing in mind that the likes of the Apple Watch Series 2 cost £369 and the Huawei Watch 2 costs £329, although they offer features that the ZenWatch 3 lacks – but we’ll come to that below.

In fact, if the Asus ZenWatch 3 is comparable to any smartwatch on the market at the moment, we’d align it with Fossil’s £249 second-generation Q Marshal, offering both a similar look and similar features.

Those interested in buying the Asus ZenWatch 3 can do so from Amazon in the UK.

You might be interested in: Best Smartwatch Deals

Design and build

The Asus ZenWatch 3 is hands-down the best looking ZenWatch so far. The company has come a long way from the days of the bulky rectangular first-generation ZenWatch, and now offers a high-end circular smartwatch that wouldn’t look out of place next to traditional luxury wristwatches. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that the Asus ZenWatch 3 is one of the best-looking smartwatches ever.

The third-generation ZenWatch employs an ‘annular solar eclipse design’ with a diamond-cut bezel surrounding the gorgeous 1.39in display. What does that mean? The design mirrors the look during an eclipse when the moon covers the centre of the sun, leaving its outer edges visible.

It’s a unique look for a smartwatch and it adds to the overall luxurious look, especially when the colour of the bezel matches small details on the watchface (text colour, widgets, etc). It’s the little things that count, right?

The body is made from 316L stainless steel that was cold forged to make it 82 percent tougher, and is complimented by traditional Italian stitched leather straps. While the straps were initially quite stiff, the leather softened over time and became extremely comfortable to wear. There are three body colours available – Gunmetal, Silver and Rose Gold – each with different straps, although these can be switched out for any 18mm strap for an extra level of customisation.

It’s not only the general design of the Asus ZenWatch 3 that makes it so attractive, though. It’s impressively thin at 9.95mm and weighs only 48g, making it comfortable to wear and not too heavy or bulky for those of us with thin wrists. It also features IP67 water resistance, meaning it can survive for up to half an hour at a depth of 1m.

The ZenWatch 3 also sports three buttons modelled after the crown found on mechanical wristwatches. They aren’t purely for aesthetics either, as they offer shortcuts to various features of the smartwatch: the top button is customisable and can launch an app or function, the middle button provides a range of functions, including access to apps and settings, while the bottom button switches on Eco Mode, a mode that extends the battery life of the smartwatch.

Features and spec

So, now we’ve established that the Asus ZenWatch 3 is stunning, let’s delve a bit deeper into what the smartwatch offers.

First up, the ZenWatch 3 features a 1.39in AMOLED display which equates to around 287ppi and is one of the brightest, most vivid displays we’ve seen on a smartwatch despite offering the same 400x400 resolution as the likes of the Huawei Watch 2. It’s also protected by Corning’s curved Gorilla Glass 3 2.5D, giving the display a scratch-resistant cover.

Of course, being a smartwatch, there are many watchfaces available for ZenWatch 3 owners. In fact, Asus offers six themes (Luxury, Digital, Simplicity, Sport, Urban and Youth) and a range of 50 watch faces within that are exclusive to ZenWatch owners.

Beyond that, you have an entire library of generic watch faces available for smartwatches running Android Wear, and if that’s not enough, Asus provides a FaceDesigner app for Android users that allows users to design a new watch face with widgets, from scratch.

In terms of processing power, the ZenWatch 3 sports Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor which is optimised for use in smartwatches, offering improved performance and battery life when compared to the older Snapdragon 400 processor. It also has 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of storage for music.

What does that mean in terms of real-world performance? While there are no benchmarks we can run to quantify its performance, it’s not the snappiest smartwatch we’ve used – even with the Wear 2100 processor.

It’s often quite laggy and you’ll find yourself accidentally tapping on the wrong function due to the lag too, although we’re convinced this is due to the aging software (which we come to below) instead of the processor. Either way, it damages the premium look Asus has worked so hard to achieve with the ZenWatch 3.

In terms of battery life, the Asus ZenWatch 3 features a standard 340mAh battery that we found would last around 36 hours maximum before requiring a charge, meaning it’s best if it’s topped up every day.

The good news is that the magnetic charger features Asus’ own HyperCharge technology that provides 60 percent of charge in only 15 minutes, much faster than many rivals. There’s also a battery pack available that’ll extend battery life by 40 percent, according to Asus, although we haven’t been able to test it.  

The smartwatch also features both Bluetooth 4.1 and Wi-Fi for standalone connectivity when out of range of the smartphone, although you’ll have to connect to the Wi-Fi network using your connected smartphone before it’ll connect itself.

There’s not much else that the Asus ZenWatch 3 can do. Like the ZenWatch 2, Asus decided against including a heart rate monitor after hit-and-miss results with the first-generation watch, and nor does it feature GPS for accurate fitness tracking. It’s clear from these omissions that the ZenWatch 3 is directed more at the fashion-conscious than the fitness-focused.

In terms of fitness tracking, Asus’ own ZenFit will automatically counts steps and encourages you to stand regularly, but with no HR monitor or GPS it can’t offer much else. In terms of exercise tracking, it’s fairly limited, offering only walking, running, push-ups and sit-ups.

See also: The best activity trackers 2017

Software

As mentioned above, it’s the software that lets the Asus ZenWatch 3 down. Unlike many other smartwatches available in 2017, the Asus ZenWatch 3 still features the original Android Wear instead of the recently released Android Wear 2, available on the likes of the Huawei Watch 2 and is, in our opinion, a huge improvement to Android’s watch OS.

With that being said, the software is underwhelming – it’s long in the tooth and counter-intuitive compared to Android Wear 2. It’s a little disappointing as the hardware is impressive, but the dated software lets it down and ruins the premium look that the company has worked hard to craft.

Asus has said that Android Wear 2 will be available for the third-generation ZenWatch in the future, but has given no indication as to when it may be.

See also: Android Wear 2.0 release date and new features

Asus ZenWatch 3: Specs

  • 1.39in AMOLED display
  • 400 x 400, 287ppi
  • Compatible with iOS and Android
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4GB storage
  • Android Wear 1.5
  • 340mAh with quick-charge functionality
  • 1.39in AMOLED display
  • 400 x 400, 287ppi
  • Compatible with iOS and Android
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4GB storage
  • Android Wear 1.5
  • 340mAh with quick-charge functionality

OUR VERDICT

The Asus ZenWatch 3 is a gorgeous smartwatch – possibly one of the best-looking to date – but there are shortcomings to the circular smartwatch. It’s limited in terms of fitness tracking, measuring only steps and standing hours and offering tracking for only basic exercises due to the omission of GPS and a heart-rate tracker.

It’s also sluggish in performance and runs the outdated Android Wear 1.5, although Asus promises an update to Android Wear 2.0 in the future.

If you’re more fashion-conscious than fitness-focused, this is the watch for you, but if you’re looking for something a little more high-tech, the likes of the Huawei Watch 2 may be a better option.