Hands-on with the ASUS ZenWatch 3: Android Wear 2.0 in the round
ASUS has a new ZenWatch and they've finally gone 'round.
This is the new ASUS ZenWatch 3. It has dual distinctions: it's the first Android Wear 2.0 device that will see a full launch (after the botched LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE) and the first take on a round smartwatch from ASUS. The previous two iterations of the ZenWatch sported square displays, so this new ZenWatch 3 marks a significant departure for them.
ASUS wasn't content making a smartwatch that just happens to be round, as that's not the way the company does things. The ZenWatch 3, per the expanded capabilities of Android Wear 2.0, sports three hardware buttons. The center main button is the same as it always has been with Android Wear, but the top button can be customized to open an app of the user's choice (the lower button was not specified, but if it's anything like the cancelled LG watch, it's likely locked to the ZenFit fitness app). Those buttons are the only part of the watch body that feels cheap — on each unit we tried out they had a surprising amount of wiggle, and the capped piston-style design meant there was an unsightly gap under the button cap.
Not all traditions are broken here — the back of the ZenWatch 3 sports the signature ASUS circular brushed metal pattern and a quartet of charging contacts. Speaking of charging, this is the first Android Wear watch we know of that offers its own version of fast charging called "HyperCharge". Just dock it up and in 15 minutes flat you'll have a 60% charge. ASUS will also include a compact battery pack for charging on the go — just attached it to the back and you'll have a 40% charge on your hands, er, wrist.
This is the first Android Wear watch to offer its own version of fast charging.
That stainless steel casing is also water resistant with an IP67 rating and is available in your choice of gunmetal black, silver, and rose gold — all with options for leather or rubber straps. It's worth noting that those straps aren't standard lugs; the designers at ASUS instead opted for a design that allows for a clean seam between the solid lugs with the strap attached underneath the metal. It looks nice, but it also means you won't be grabbing any old watch strap to style it your way. The rubber straps are relatively nice with a simple cross-hatch pattern, while the leather straps are somewhat disappointingly thin and flimsy feeling — though these are preproduction units, and things may change by the time the watches hit shelves.
The display on the ZenWatch looks sharp and vivid, offering automatic brightness adjustment without having a visible ambient brightness sensor. ASUS has been light on information about what's inside this watch, saying simply that there's a Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor driving things — this is the first watch announced with this new wearable-focused chip, which should help with both improved performance and battery life.
Other details are similarly light — we have European pricing at €229 and expect that U.S. pricing will be roughly the same number. Other details like battery life, launch date, and additional straps, and more are still unknown, but what we do know and see, we like.