Zepp Z full review

You might not have heard of Huami, but you’ll probably be familiar with some of its wearables. Under the Amazfit brand, the company has forged a strong reputation for great smartwatches and fitness trackers that don’t break the bank. We’ve tested a fair few of them at Tech Advisor, with both the GTS and GTR 2 currently in our best smartwatch chart.

Now, it looks like Huami is shifting its focus to the more high-end market. The Amazfit companion app was rebranded to Zepp in August 2020, with two premium smartwatches launching soon after. But while the Zepp E pushed the asking price over £200, the €349 Zepp Z is the company’s most expensive wearable by far.

It’s got a premium feature set to match, but does it do enough to tempt people away from established players like Apple and Samsung? After an extended period of testing, here are my thoughts.

Design and display

The Zepp Z has been designed in the mould of high-end watches from the past few years, making it an attractive addition to your wrist regardless of smart functionality. The device is made from a titanium alloy that makes it feel premium without adding too much extra bulk – at 40g strap-free it’s one of the lighter watches on the market.

This houses a 1.39in, 454x454 touchscreen display that was a joy to use. It offers an excellent level clarity and detail, borrowing the AMOLED tech that you’ll find on many smartphones and tablets. Zepp has gone for a relatively dark colour scheme throughout the UI, so its most notable benefit is in the deep blacks it's able to display. 

Zepp says the screen has a nanotech coating, which makes it resistant to scratches and fingerprints. Neither were particularly noticeable during testing, suggesting it’s having some impact.

Zepp Z review

Unlike the cheaper Zepp E, it’s only available with a circular face, but I much prefer that to the increasingly common square design. The watch face itself can be easily customised, with over 50 available via the Zepp app, but I particularly enjoyed the simplicity of the default option.

Where I would have liked more choice is the straps. The Zepp Z comes with a brown leather one already applied, although it can be swapped out for the 22mm sport band currently available on the Zepp website. It should also be compatible with third-party options, but I wish there were more official straps on offer - testing its workout suitability using the included leather one was less than ideal. 

Zepp Z review

The Zepp Z also stands out for its physical buttons on the right side of the device, with the main digital crown flanked by a customisable health key. The third button performs no function but helps aid haptic feedback, as well giving the device a more symmetrical look.

Combined with touch input, this proves to be a highly effective method of navigating the device. On premium smartwatches, the fitness features can be lost within complicated menus, so it’s great to have quick access here.

Features and fitness tracking

Before we can even get started with the features on offer, let’s talk about the setup process. To get the most out of the Zepp Z, you’ll need a smartphone or tablet running at least Android 5.0 or iOS 10.0. That’s in order to download the Zepp companion app, which is also where you’ll be able to access most of your health data.

I made the mistake of starting to use the watch before connecting it to the app, meaning the QR code for pairing wouldn’t work. I ended up having to reset the device to get it working, although that wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.

High-end smartwatches have come with a bevy of features for some time now, but the Zepp Z looks to take this to the next level. It offers the ability to track 90 workouts across 12 categories, ranging from standard offerings such as running and swimming to more unusual options like equestrianism and skiing.

Zepp Z review

The current UK lockdown meant I was severely limited in which workouts I could effectively test, so I stuck to the basics. From walking, outdoor running and cycling I was able to get a decent idea of how effective the watch is as a fitness companion, and it was a positive story overall.

Despite the watch strap not being best suited to working out, I was extremely impressed with the range of data the Zepp Z is able to track. The watch itself provides basic information during and after a workout, but the companion app is where you’ll see a detailed overview of your exercises.

Zepp Z review

Although I tracked three of the most popular activities, I was also impressed with how tailored the data was to the specific exercise. The walking and running prioritised stride length and cadence, while cycling chose to focus more on altitude and elevation gain.

Plenty of metrics were consistent across all three, though, including average heart rate, calories burned and total workout time. They also all used the built-in GPS and GLONASS to precisely track location data, and it was great to not have to take my phone with me when exercising.

You will need to secure the watch to your wrist fairly tightly, though. With a loose fit for my first walk, the Zepp Z claimed my resting heart rate was 114 BPM, before going down to 107 BPM during the most demanding part of the exercise. Subsequent workouts with the strap tightened appeared to yield much more accurate results.

Where that doesn’t seem to improve the situation is the step tracking, which often felt erratic and unreliable. One on occasion, my step count continued to rise despite sitting down.

The Zepp Z tracks your heart rate continuously during workouts, but the watch can also be configured to measure it at regular intervals throughout the day. This is set to every 10 minutes by default, and can also alert you when your resting heart rate hits a certain level (such as 150 BPM).

Zepp Z review

I started all the above workouts manually, but having this feature turned on means Zepp Z can also detect them automatically. Be prepared for it to sometimes get them wrong though; it’s unlikely the watch will be able to differentiate between boxing and mixed martial arts on its own.

Automatic heart rate detection is also necessary in order to get a PAI score, with the watch using heart rate, activity and other metrics to provide a numerical overview of your physical health. I found its effectiveness to be limited, though, with no guidance on how this could be improved.

If you hadn’t realised the importance of the heart rate monitor yet, it’s also relied on to give you an indicator of your stress level. It detects the variability to provide a score between 1 and 100, with a greater number equating to a higher stress level.

The other key health measurement is blood-oxygen saturation (SpO2), with anything over 95% considered healthy. This was great when it worked, but even while keeping my arm still, horizontal and with the watch facing up it often couldn’t provide a reading.

Zepp Z review

Another of the Zepp Z’s key features is sleep tracking, with the watch able to track all three sleep stages (deep sleep, light sleep, REM) and even afternoon naps of longer than 20 minutes. It combines all this data to provide an overall sleep score out of 100, and here you do get detailed recommendations on how to improve. They’re relatively simplistic though – during my testing period it suggested getting more deep sleep and going to bed earlier.

Sleep tracking seemed to be fairly accurate for the most part, although there were clear errors. The Zepp Z managed to record a 21-minute ‘nap’ one afternoon, despite not wearing the watch at the time. It felt like you could trick it into thinking you were asleep relatively easily, as sleep isn’t one of the activities you can track manually.

There’s also Alexa integration, with support for 58 offline commands in addition to the regular online functionality. It’s relatively easy to set up via the Zepp app, but was very hit-and-miss in terms of understanding what I asked. You also can’t use Alexa hands-free, which is usually one of the big of the big appeals of a voice assistant.

In order for Alexa to work on the watch, you’ll need to connect it to your Amazon account in the Zepp app and turn it on by swiping right from the home screen. Alexa can answer all the usual queries online as well as 58 while offline, but the built-in microphone struggled to pick up what I asked it most of the time.

Zepp Z review

A discrete vibrating alarm can be set independently from your phone, although the Zepp Z can still be used to display calendar events, notifications and more. These are features you’ll find on most modern smartwatches, so it’s not a primary reason to invest in a device at this price point.

Battery life

The Zepp Z comes with a 340mAh battery, which the manufacturer says will last 15 days of regular usage, which extends to 30 days with basic usage. That drops significantly when you enable sleep tracking and/or automatic heart rate detection, with the Zepp app acknowledging both will have a significant effect on battery life.

While battery life did drop relatively quickly with automatic heart rate detection on, with just sleep tracking activated I was pleasantly surprised with how long the Zepp Z lasted. I fully charged it using the magnetic wireless charger in the box at the beginning of my testing period, and a few days later it was still at over 50% capacity.

Even with all the features turned on, I’d be confident of getting a week of usage from a single charge.

Price and availability

For all the great features the Zepp Z offers, price might be a sticking point. It’s currently available on Zepp’s EU website for €349.90, which translates to around £310 at the time of writing. A third-party seller on Amazon is offering the device for £456.39, while it’s available on the US site for $349.

While it undercuts the likes of the Apple Watch Series 6 and Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, many entries in our best smartwatch chart are significantly cheaper.

There’s no doubting the ability of the Zepp Z, but it might be a tough sell when you see what else is on the market.

Verdict

As Huami’s first premium smartwatch under the Zepp brand, the Zepp Z is undoubtedly a success. It offers a wide range of health and fitness features within a sleek and sophisticated design which could easily pass for a regular watch.

Highlights include the excellent diversity of trackable workouts on offer and detailed sleep monitoring, not to mention built-in GPS and GLONASS for accurate location data.

However, the customisation options are a little limited. Despite having lots of watch faces to choose from, there’s only one other official strap, and you'll have to buy it separately. Activity monitoring isn’t perfect either, with an erratic pedometer and forgettable Alexa integration.

There’s a lot to like about the Zepp Z, but it might be hard to throw down over £300 on a watch that doesn’t tick all the boxes.

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