NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Once you get past the the fact that most smartwatches perform the same exact functions you begin to realize that your choice comes down to what the device looks like. The new Asus ZenWatch is big, bold and beautiful and closer to looking like real jewelry than any other Google (GOOG) Android Wear device to date.
You can't really be sure from looking at the photos, but the watch makes a definite fashion statement when viewed in person. The ZenWatch is big, potentially too big for a small wrist. It measures 2 by 1.6 by approximately one-third of an inch. The watch weighs 1.76 ounces and the Italian leather band weighs exactly half as much.
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Unlike most other smartwatches we've tried, the band is made of leather not plastic or ugly base metal covered with a thin coating of paint which looks like metal, something a few regular watches on the market today are guilty of. ZenWatch closes with what watchmakers call a deployant clasp - a real metal mechanism which folds under the strap. It's a welcomed luxury touch for a 2014 computer timepiece. The strap measures a standard 22mm which means it can easily be replaced with bands from other sources.
Inside, ZenWatch depends on a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon 400 processor mated to 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of flash storage. The 1.63-inch AMOLED touchscreen display delivers 320 by 320 pixels for a density of 278 pixels-per-inch. It's protected by Corning (GLW) Gorilla Glass. It's main method of communication with a linked smartphone is via Bluetooth 4.0.
There's a tiny, rechargeable battery crammed inside the stainless steel case. We found that on a full charge that battery lasted a full one-to-two days depending on how much you use the device. It can be recharged by being inserted into it's own charging cradle. Other smartwatches have either USB ports or come with wireless charging stations.
ZenWatch runs on Google's Android Wear operating system and can communicate with phones running Android 4.3 (JellyBean) or later. That means in addition to telling time an Android Wear device can also measure your heart rate, keep track of your movements, play games, display your email and messages, let you know who's calling your smartphone plus answer spoken questions and respond to vocal commands by saying "OK, Google."
The Asus watch also comes loaded with a bunch of features that the competition can't yet match. For instance, there's the "Remote Camera" function which makes taking selfies a breeze. Presentation Mode lets you control a slideshow from your wrist as well as a suite of apps with self-explanatory names like Find My Phone, Unlock My Phone, Cover to Mute (incoming calls by placing hour hand over the watch) and a Forgot My Phone warning alerts. There's even a SOS function to quickly warn others you may need their help.
For the most part, all the other Android Wear watches made by Motorola, including the Moto 360, LG, Samsung with its Galaxy Gear smartwatch, and Sony (SNE) pretty much perform the same tasks. So, at least for now, your choice comes down to looks - and price. Asus' ZenWatch is, to our eyes, the best looking Android Wear device we've encountered so far. The standard, default watch face is also the best looking. It's clean, clear and easy to determine the time at a quick glance.
We found the ZenWatch always presented the time whenever we looked at the device - just like a real watch. I know that sounds silly, but other smartwatches we've tested had problems, at times, waking from its battery-saving sleep mode. There is nothing worse than wanting to know the time and glancing at your wrist only to be greeted by a totally blank watch screen. In terms of everything else, the Asus was glitch-free - also not a given for these early computer-based timepieces.
The ZenWatch's good looks belies its actual retail selling price, $199.99. Asus is currently taking pre-orders for the device on the GooglePlay Website with deliveries expected by mid-December. The $199.99 price point is cheaper than the $250 for the latest Sony SmartWatch 3 or Moto 360 and $300 for the new LG G Watch R. Apple (AAPL) Watches, due early next year, are expected to be priced starting at $350.
I'm still not 100% sold on smartwatches, as I still prefer to wear real mechanical timepieces rather than computer devices on my wrist. But, Asus's ZenWatch looked and felt so nice it turned out to be the first Android Wear devices I would consider wearing full-time and you might feel the same way too.
Final Grade: 8/10
-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.
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