The ASUS ZenWatch 2 Is The Best Introduction To Android Wear

I did it. I finally got myself a smartwatch. Well, maybe I should say the current generation’s definition of a smartwatch. I may be giving my age away if I said that I had a smartwatch before the word “smartwatch” was cool.

When Pebble started the current smartwatch craze in 2012, I admit that the techie in me wanted one, but I was also trying to figure out what I would use it for.  I already had a watch and it did a very good job of telling me the time.  I thought I was fancy because the watch I was using synchronizes itself to the US Atomic Clock operated by NIST.  If I received a notification and my phone was inaccessible or it was unsafe to check the phone, I would just wait until a later time to check the phone.  I just couldn’t justify the cost of a smartwatch with my needs.

As time (no pun intended) marched on, I continued to keep an eye on the watches hitting the market.  The announcement of the Moto 360 in 2014 seemed to open the floodgates on the smartwatch market and now there are smartwatches by several manufacturers available on several platforms, but I still held back from joining the world of smartwatches.  I may be a tech blogger and I do receive some products from manufacturers for me to write about, but it looked like a smartwatch would be a purchase I would be making on my own.

The release of successive generations was pushing the OG watches into the range of affordability.  In some cases, watches were available for less than $100 and I started to seriously look at picking up a watch.  I thought about the OG Pebble, but the “screen tearing” issue scared me away.  I considered the OG Moto 360, but I just wasn’t sold on the flat tire. Plus it had an issue with the back cracking. I just wanted to wait until things improved on the manufacturing of these watches before I made my purchase.

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I was really interested in the Pebble Time, specifically because of the five to seven day battery life versus the one to two day battery life of an Android Wear watch.  It would be nice to take a trip and not have to worry about taking along yet another charging cable, especially since smartwatches have proprietary charging cables and it’s not as simple as using an available micro-USB cable to plug in your watch.  I had the opportunity to try a Pebble Time and I liked it.  It was lighter than my current watch (no longer the fancy watch that synchronizes with NIST).  I really liked the feel of it on my wrist.  I just couldn’t get past the plastic-y (is that a word?) Fisher-Price look of the watch.  I then began to consider the Pebble Time Steel, but that put the price back into Android Wear territory.

After much deliberation and advisement from my Plusser friends (and a bribe from Ben Schoon) I decided on going with an Android Wear watch and I decided on the ZenWatch 2 from ASUS.  Why the ZenWatch 2?  At $129 it may be the most inexpensive Android Wear device on the market, but it certainly is not “cheap.”  The AMOLED display is covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and surrounded with stainless steel.  The watch just looks so much nicer and more elegant than a Pebble Time (and those buttons!)  The ZenWatch 2 may be IP67 water resistant, but I still take it off when doing dirty work.  The watch also has Bluetooth 4.1 and WiFi.  The WiFi was a major selling point for me.  When I’m at home, I tend to keep my phone on the charging cradle, which is in a room that is not on the same level as the office. Now I can just glance down at my wrist and see all that I’m missing.

I haven’t been able to try out other Android Wear smartwatches, but just going by photos, comments, and reviews by others, the ZenWatch 2 is not as bulky as the other watches.  It is very comfortable on my wrist.  My day job requires that I do a lot of work around shelving units.  With my previous watch, I was constantly banging my watch into the shelves.  With the ZenWatch 2 on my wrist, the watch does occasionally get bumped, but not nearly as much as my other watch.

I mentioned that the Pebble is controlled by buttons.  Every time you wish to interact with the Pebble you have to press a button.  Want to acknowledge a text? Press a button. Dismiss a notification? Press a button. Thanks to the Marshmallow update for Android Wear, I can read an incoming text message, reply to the message, and send the reply without touching the watch.

I know that the Pebble does have a decent number of apps and watch faces out there, but Android Wear has the backing of Google and Android.  As someone that is invested in the Google Ecosystem, I just had to go with an Android Wear smartwatch.

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Both Android Wear and Pebble watches are compatible with iOS, but that compatibility basically is limited to receiving notifications and running the apps that come with the watch.  You will not be able to add additional apps to the Android Wear smartwatch if you’re using an iOS device.

Going back to why I finally got myself a smartwatch.  I don’t need my watch to tell me if it will rain a week from now and I also don’t need my watch to tell me that I have an appointment in July.  I just want to be able to check basic notifications during the day.  Some Android Wear apps want to cram as much as possible into your watch. It’s nice to know if I have an appointment next Thursday by glancing at my watch, but if I want to know the details of that appointment, I’m still going to get out my phone.  The same with making a new appointment. I can add a new appointment quickly on my watch, but if I want to add detailed information to that appointment, I’m still going to use my phone.

The ASUS ZenWatch 2 is a great conversation starter. I’ve been asked several times “Is that the Apple Watch?”  I’ve had some great conversations with people that comment on the watch.

I have the version of the ZenWatch 2 with the speaker. I’ll let you read my other article about the use of the speaker.

The ZenWatch does not have a heart monitor. If you’re really looking for a sports watch then I’m guessing you’d be willing to spend a little more to get a watch with more features.

The $129 version of the watch comes with a rubber (silicon) watch strap.  For another $20, you can get a version with a leather strap.  You can replace the strap with any 22mm watch strap of your choosing.  Many strap manufacturers are recognizing that people are using the straps on smartwatches and people are swapping out straps depending on the occasion or their mood, so the newer straps have a built-in speed release for changing the strap.  Changing the strap was quick and painless.  If you have a conventional strap without the speed release, you will need to invest a few bucks for a spring tool to assist in the removal of the old strap and connecting the new strap.

Speaking of customizations… Watch faces!  There are so many watch faces out there.  It seems that there are new faces every day.  I’ve been changing my watch face as often as I change my underwear.  I’ll let you decide if that’s good or bad. 🙂

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The battery on my ZenWatch tends to outshine my phone’s battery. I do charge my watch every night. I put it on the charger before I go to bed and remove it from the charger when I get dressed in the morning. After deliberately leaving the watch off the charger for testing purposes, my watch tends to last an average of two days.  I haven’t tried it since updating to Marshmallow, but I’m guessing that my watch can now go about three days without charging.

Overall, I feel the ASUS ZenWatch 2 is an excellent watch to whet your appetite on Android Wear. Sure, it’s not fancy. I do like the look of the round watches, but for $129, I was able to enter the world of smartwatches without spending a bundle.

Author’s Note: Pebble announced this past week that they will be laying off 25% of their workforce. They also announced at the beginning of March a $50 price drop on the Pebble Time. This makes this author a little concerned about Pebble’s future and this author is glad he decided to go with Android Wear.

Buy an ASUS ZenWatch 2