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Asus ZenWatch 3 first look: A smartwatch that tries too hard to look good

I’ve made the mistake of getting excited about the design of an Android Wear watch before. It was the first generation Moto 360. It felt like history repeating itself seeing the Asus ZenWatch 3 up close after its unveiling at the Taiwanese company’s IFA press conference.

This is Asus’ third Android Wear smartwatch and after two rectangular ones, it’s decided to follow Motorola, LG and Huawei by opting for a round watch face this time. It’s definitely feels like the right move if you compare it to what Asus came up with the last two ZenWatches. It’s sharp, vibrant and there’s no unsightly black tyre at the bottom of the screen (take note Fossil and Motorola). The resolution and screen estate is up there with the best of the Android Wear bunch.

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It’s what surrounds it that I feel a little underwhelmed about. Asus talked of jewellery grade stainless steel, diamond cut bezels and rose gold bodies. From afar they look great, when you actually get your hands on it, they don’t feel as luxurious or as polished when you compare it to something like the Huawei Watch. It’s by no means tacky, but it just doesn’t feel as nice to interact with. It’s a similar story with the straps. There’s the option of leather or rubber, which feel perfectly fine on the wrist, it’s just not all that different from what we’ve already seen.

That extends to the physical buttons down the right hands side of the watch face. Asus claimed this is the first Android Wear watch to include three physical buttons but we know Casio got there first. Pressing them doesn’t feel as satisfying as they do on a traditional watch. There are at least some interesting ideas to put them to use and make navigating Google’s Android Wear OS a little easier. You can assign your favourite app to the top physical button. To do that you’ll need to assign it first through one of Asus’s pre-loaded apps.

Speaking of apps, it wasn’t all that easy to get a proper feel of how Android Wear (not Wear 2.0) feels on the ZenWatch 3. That’s because most of the models available, were part dummy units with some of the watch’s functionality in tow. It did mean we could check out the pre-loaded (customisable) watch faces that Asus made a big deal about.

There’s going to be 50 exclusive designer watch faces and six different watch themes, but I can’t say I was blown away by the ones I browsed through. Getting those watch faces right is a challenge and I think it’s fair to say that traditional watchmakers like Tag Heuer and Fossil who’ve adopted Android Wear, have done a much better job of this. There will be a FaceDesigner app letting you make your own watch faces if you don’t fancy the ones already included though.

By managing to grab an Asus rep with a fully working model, I did get a taste of how zippy Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor runs and handles Android Wear, but more interestingly, I also got a glimpse at Asus’ new fitness tracking platform it’s calling ZenFit. Much like Motorola’s Moto Body software on the Moto 360 Sport, it promises to be a hub for your health and fitness data and works with Google Fit. It can count steps, which Asus claims it has a 95% precision for accuracy.

It also offers automatic sleep tracking with some pretty basic insights and it can track certain activities like running and sit ups. It can collect heart rate data although the ZenWatch 3 does not include a heart rate monitor of course. The app looks well optimised for the circular watch face and I’m definitely intrigued to see how well it works.

While I didn’t get to check them out, it’s well worth mentioning the accessories Asus is bundling in with the ZenWatch 3. Alongside the watch and the charging dock, you’ll also get a watch stand and a portable magnetic charger that clips onto the back of the watch to add an additional 40% of power.

Asus ZenWatch 3: Early verdict

My expectations were high for the Asus ZenWatch 3 after its big unveiling but in reality, it’s another round Android Wear watch, that doesn’t quite hit that design nail on the head. There’s certainly some good ideas, particularly the addition of the physical button and some improvements on the battery front. But I fear like the ZenWatch and ZenWatch 2, it’s going to struggle to draw attention away from the better looking round watches from the likes of Huawei, LG and Motorola (even with that black tyre).

The Asus ZenWatch 3 is priced at €229 and is expected to launch before the end of the year.

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