ASUS also crafted a handful of apps for your phone that hook into the ZenWatch hardware, though you'll probably wonder why anyone thought they needed to exist. Consider Remote Camera for instance, an app that turns your watch into a combination viewfinder/remote shutter. It sounds nifty, but it's mostly silly in practice since you'll rarely find yourself in a situation when it isn't easier to just tap your phone's shutter button instead. Group selfies, maybe? You could feasibly use your phone as some sort of GoPro-esque action camera with the ZenWatch as a second screen, but you'd have to remain within Bluetooth range of the phone the entire time.
Since every wearable is concerned with your state of being, there's a heart rate monitor baked into the metal frame to help you keep tabs on your ticker. Unlike the heart sensors built into watches like the Moto 360, though, you'll have to place two fingers on that stretch of metal to get your reading. Problem is, the results are wildly inconsistent. While lounging in an uncomfortable airplane seat, the ZenWatch thought resting my heart rate leapt from 49 beats per minute to 65 to a whopping 172 within the span of about three minutes. If that was at all accurate, I should've asked a flight attendant to find a doctor on board stat, but I survived that flight just fine, thanks very much. An additional Wellness app for your connected phone keeps tabs on your movement and heart rate data (sketchy though the latter may be) and plots it all on a daily timeline for you to skim.
Curiously, the app also lets you view your heart rate in terms of relaxation in case you didn't know how stressed you were at any given moment. Yeah, really. I'd just as soon stick to the Jawbone Up app that comes preloaded on the watch. It's a worthy supplement to Google's own Fit heath-tracking platform. Over the years, I've burned through no less than three Jawbone Ups/Up24s thanks to seemingly shoddy quality control, a bummer considering Jawbone's mobile app is one of the more pleasant on-the-go fitness apps you'll find; it's heartening to be able to use it again with hardware that I'm not constantly fretting over.
If anything, it's the little disappointments that seem to sting the most. I'd occasionally miss a notification (or even worse, an alarm early in the morning) just because the vibration motor thrumming on my wrist was too weak to catch my attention. Oh, and the accelerometer very rarely had trouble keeping up when I brought the watch up to my face, so I occasionally had to crank my wrist like I was revving a motorcycle to bring up the full display.
Performance and battery life
The ZenWatch has the same innards as several other Android Wear devices, like the G Watch R, right down to the 4GB of internal storage for your tunes. Naturally, that means the ZenWatch performs just as well as the rest of its rivals: Swiping through app and notification cards is usually pretty snappy, though you might spot some slowdown when you're trying to dismiss loads of them one after the other. It's still a little tricky to quantify how well these things perform in the real world, but hey -- even at its slowest, the ZenWatch managed never to be outright irritating. Considering all the bits of code and silicon needed to keep a smartwatch running smoothly, that's still a notable feat.
Now we're getting to the part you're probably most interested in: battery life. I used the ZenWatch every day over the course of two weeks, and those days were spent triaging a pretty steady stream of Hangouts messages, emails and Google Now info blasts. Throw in plenty of wrist-talking and you've got a situation that skews more toward the power-user end of the spectrum. On those heavier days, the watch's 369mAh battery would keep ticking for about 13 or 14 straight hours before giving up the ghost. That's about on par with what people are getting out of a post-update Moto 360, and just a hair better than what we saw with Samsung's Gear Live. Here's the thing, though: Your mileage is almost definitely going to vary from mine, depending on how frenzied your average day is. With any luck, your wrist won't be blowing up constantly, so you can enjoy the simple pleasure of looking at the time for longer.
Speaking of, what happens when you just want to use it as a watch, no smarts involved? Well, with Airplane Mode and the always-on display enabled, the ZenWatch generally stuck around for closer to 20 hours or so before it needed a spin in the awkward, little charging dock that comes with it. Naturally, once you shut off the always-on feature, the watch lasts quite a bit longer; I could usually use the thing for nearly two whole working days.
The number of Android Wear watches out there is starting to swell, and that leaves us with one weighty question to ponder: How does the $200 ZenWatch compare to everything else on the market? Well, its looks and build quality alone are enough to warrant a purchase over the first-gen Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch, especially considering the latter still somehow costs an extra $30 over the others. The remainder of the ZenWatch's rivals are a bit more style-conscious, and at that point it all comes down to which approach you prefer.
Both LG's G Watch R and the Moto 360 come with those handsome round displays, and they score points for having heart rate monitors that you don't need to mash your fingers onto. Those little advancements are going to cost you though: The new G Watch R will set you back a cool $299 (honestly a little ludicrous for an Android Wear device), while the Moto 360 is a bit easier on your wallet, at $250. To be honest, I swooned hard when the 360 was first unveiled -- and so did many of our readers -- so it just might be worth the $50 premium. Oh, and if you don't mind its purely utilitarian looks and need something that doubles as a workout partner, Sony's $250 SmartWatch 3 might also be a good fit. We're still waiting to officially put that guy through its paces, though early reviews seem plenty promising.
There's still no such thing as a perfect Android Wear watch, but ASUS' first offering sadly doesn't do much to stand above the crowd. The ZenWatch's design is the biggest reason to own one -- it's subtly stylish and comfortable in a way that other players' efforts just aren't. All things considered, ASUS has a solid grasp on the smartwatch basics, but I spent my weeks with the thing hoping to be pleasantly surprised by more than how good it looks. Performance is on par with the rest of the pack. Battery life is better than middle of the road, but only just. Needless to say, that pleasant surprise never came.
Thing is, it's not entirely the company's fault: We're still watching Android Wear take its baby steps, and not a single company totally understands what features need to be added to the mix. On the flip side, the ZenWatch will only set you back $200 -- a fair bit less than what you'd pay for the Moto 360 or G Watch R. If you absolutely have to own an Android Wear device, then, you could do a lot worse than this, especially if you're tired of smartwatches that look super-masculine or like sports accoutrements. Sadly, months after Android Wear's launch, that'll still be a big "if" for most of you.