Have smartwatches reached an impasse? We've seen what the technology can do, and watched plenty of big-name mobile manufacturers release wearables, but lately it's felt like the time of the big smartwatch experiment has come and gone. Is it still possible for a smartwatch to generate consumer excitement?

Well, right now we're on the cusp of another new chapter in wearables, as Android Wear 2.0 gets ready to make its debut on commercially available hardware. And while that's sure to be plenty exciting on its own, before we get there we've got one more Android Wear 1.5 model from late last year to check out, as we take a look at the newest generation of the ASUS smartwatch lineup, the circular-screened ZenWatch 3.

The package contains:
  • ZenWatch 3
  • Magnetic charging dock
  • USB charging adapter
  • Charging stand
  • Intro guide
  • Warranty card


A smart, attractive design … that still feels quite chunky

Arguably more so than is the case with phones, a smartwatch can live or die based on the quality of its design. For its first two models, ASUS went with standard rectangular watch faces, but still took the time to dress them up with curved glass, polished metal, and a body that did its best to look refined and professional.

With the ZenWatch 3, we see ASUS trying something new, while still retaining certain elements of that original style. The biggest change by far is the move to a circular screen, and considering the extent to which such models seem to dominate Android Wear sales, it's almost a little surprising it's taken ASUS this long to come around.

But even with that new shape, there's ample aesthetic hold-over here. One key element is the pairing of multiple metallic colors: silver and dark gray juxtapose against brassy, golden hues that give the watch a striking look. The exact match-ups will vary based on which of the three color configurations you go with, but none are bland, single-toned offerings.

Even though it doesn't look particularly rugged, the ZenWatch 3 still enjoys an IP67 rating against dust and water ingress.

Maybe the worst part of the ZenWatch 3's design is its strap. While replaceable, the strap connects to the watch at an awkward obtuse angle that seems to suggest it's built for those with very large wrists; the strap juts out the side, rather than following the contours of your arm. There's also an issue with the bands that are intended to hold the loose end of the strap in place; rather than do so, they have a tendency to slide out of place, rendering them quite useless. That's all a shame because the strap looks quite nice – it's just a bit lacking in terms of refinement and functionality.


Bright, round, and with nary a trace of a flat tire to be found

ASUS is making a big break from tradition with its move to a circular screen, and not everyone's going to feel about that the same way. On one hand, the round display on the ZenWatch 3 makes the wearable look substantially more like a standard wristwatch, possibly helping to improve user acceptance. That said, a square screen is arguably a better use of surface area (at least in terms of UI design), and we're sure the old look still has plenty of fans.

Even with that big change, the display still has a lot in common with the panel from the ZW2: we're looking at another AMOLED component and while resolution is higher here, differences in screen size (here, giving us a 1.39-inch display) mean that pixel density is very much in the same ballpark – 278 pixels per inch with the ZW2, vs. 287 for the ZW3.

By default, the screen is nice and bright, with five brightness levels and an auto mode, and you'll also find a brightness-boost option available if you're still struggling to see things in really sunny outdoor conditions.

In order to get the most out of your watch, you may want to keep the ZenWatch 3's always-on mode engaged. That reduces watch face complexity when you're not actively interacting with the watch (removing the second hand and dimming the screen, for instance), while still letting you see the time. Even with the efficiency of AMOLED, though, that still takes a big toll on battery life, and you may want to disable it to maximize time between charges.



10. miguente

Posts: 2; Member since: Jan 30, 2017

You should problably revise the screen section. The screen on the Asus ZW3 does not really have as much in common with the ZW2 as you suggest, the main difference being the sharpness of the two displays. Actual DPI of the ZW3 is around 400, not 287 as you claim. The difference between the two watches can easily be seen by looking at the numbers: ZW2 (big version) screen is 1.63" with a resolution of 320x320, which works out to 278 DPI as you correctly write, while ZW3 is 1.39" and 400x400, the combination of the smaller screen size and larger resolution resulting in a much greater DPI difference than suggested here.

9. dcwt2010

Posts: 74; Member since: Feb 01, 2013

Until these smartwatches get 2-3 days of battery life minimum, there's no way I'd folk out money for one.

4. DFranch

Posts: 569; Member since: Apr 20, 2012

Yeah, those ugly lugs are the deal breaker for me too. Is it too much to ask for it to just look like a watch.

8. wynand32

Posts: 7; Member since: Jul 17, 2013

Yeah, my least favorite aspect of the device (which I generally like quite a bit). They're very functional and convenient, just not very attractively designed.

3. surethom

Posts: 1775; Member since: Mar 04, 2009

No Heart Rate monitor & over sized lugs, no thanks, will wait for the Huawei smartwatch 2.

7. wynand32

Posts: 7; Member since: Jul 17, 2013

I had some devices with heart rate monitors (Microsoft Band 2 and Samsung Gear Fit 2) and I didn't find them accurate enough to be worth having. And they definitely have an impact on battery life. My opinion, for what it's worth: if you're really needing accurate heart monitoring, go with a fitness-specific device. As far as my research shows, smartwatches generally just don't have accurate enough monitors to make them worth having.

2. airisoverrated

Posts: 55; Member since: Jun 08, 2012

I get 20 to 24 hours battery with moderate to heavy use with always on screen and Wi-Fi enabled. There was a firmware update that fixed a battery drain issue that fixed the battery drain described in the article. However I do disable gestures, which I find you have to really exaggerate with Android wear to get them to work anyway. Does feel chunky, but much less so than my Moto 360 and Huawei watch despite being only a hair thinner. If you like the asthetic and don't need a heart monitor is a great watch. However I am worries that if I wear out the band (it comes with a nice one but it'll happen eventually) there are currently no replacement straps offered. Steel connect is supposedly working on an adapter for regular straps.

6. wynand32

Posts: 7; Member since: Jul 17, 2013

I'm with you. My ZW3 also gets around 24 hours with always-on enabled, auto-brightness (which I find to work incredibly well), and all default options turned on. I get a fair number of notifications during the day as well. I've noticed that some apps can get "stuck" -- like Zen Fit -- and drain the battery. A reset fixes it, and it only happens occasionally. Sounds like something was going on with the review unit. I consider battery life to be very good on my ZW3.

11. Impulses

Posts: 1; Member since: Feb 21, 2017

For whatever reason Amazon doesn't seem to be carrying official ZW3 accessories, but B&H is selling replacement leather bands (in both colors plus a rubber one) as well as spare charging cables. They even have the battery pack accessory on pre order (tho the concept is a bit silly IMO). I'm almost tempted to get a spare band before I actually need it, but they're $30, not bad but not cheap enough to just have lying around just in case.

1. maherk

Posts: 7101; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

They had to ruin it with the stupid fixed bands, that's the only thing that is holding me from buying it.

5. sgodsell

Posts: 7677; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

This smart watch has the latest SD Wear 2100 SoC, a speaker, microphone, can store and play music through the speaker or Bluetooth headsets. It can track your fitness, even if it doesn't have a heart rate monitor. It has a full AMOLED display for just $230. Yet PhoneArena gives it a score of 6.7 vs the misfit phase which is another smart watch with no touch screen display, only a mechanical watch, no GPS, no heart rate monitor. The Misfit only has a pedometer, and a notification light, and notification vibration for $195. Yet the Misfit gets a 7.0.

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