Asus ZenWatch 3 review

The ZenWatch rubs shoulders with the stylish competition

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Our Verdict

Asus did a great job refining its latest Android Wear smartwatch. The ZenWatch 3 has one of the best displays of any smartwatch, great battery life and is built well. It’s missing a few features but it’s an undeniably attractive smartwatch.

For

  • Gorgeous display
  • Solid build quality
  • Excellent battery life

Against

  • No heart rate monitor, GPS, NFC
  • Proprietary straps
  • Styling not for everyone

The Asus ZenWatch 3 marks a change in direction for the Taiwanese firm and its smartwatch line, and its timing couldn't be better.

The death of Pebble means many smartwatch owners are looking for an alternative to the quirky wearable. One of the most obvious alternatives for Pebble lovers is the vast array of Android Wear smartwatches.

While we’re still left waiting for the major Android Wear 2.0 update, there are still quite a few Wear watches worth considering right now. The Motorola Moto 360 (2015) is an excellent choice but a bit dated now. Motorola isn’t committing to a new Android Wear smartwatch any time soon either. 

Your next best bet is the Asus ZenWatch 3. We loved the previous ZenWatch 2 for its affordability, but there were lots of compromises like battery life and big bezels. Asus went back to the drawing board for the ZenWatch 3 and have created one of the most polished smartwatches on the market to date.

Sure, it’s more expensive at $229 (€229, around £190, AU$340) but its build quality, gorgeous display and unique software features make it worth the price for smartwatch fans.

Display

The Asus ZenWatch 3 sports a circular 1.39-inch AMOLED display that doesn’t suffer from the flat tire effect like the Moto 360. With a pixel density of 287 pixels per square inch, text is incredibly sharp and colors pop.

It’s also covered with Gorilla Glass so it should standup against scratches, though it’s not as durable as the sapphire found on the Apple Watch 2 with stainless steel and ceramic cases.

While the display can get very bright, I found its ambient light-sensing auto brightness setting favored dimming the screen a bit too much. That's a problem we've had with last-generation Asus phone, too.

You can manually turn up the display brightness yourself. Outdoor viewing is usually a challenge for smartwatches, but I had no issues with the ZenWatch 3’s display.

Circular displays aren’t the best for displaying maximum amounts of information, but the circular display of the ZenWatch 3 is undeniably gorgeous. Square displays are better equipped to show more text in notifications but this is the compromise you’ll have to make if you want a rounded smartwatch. 

Design

The ZenWatch 3’s design is so different from the previous generation watch that it doesn’t even look like it’s from the same company. 

Where the ZenWatch 2’s design was boring and generic enough to put you to sleep, the ZenWatch 3 has an eye-catching stainless steel case with rose gold accents around the display, case and crown button. This definitely is a more adult-looking product vs the ZenWatch 2.

The most notable design features of the ZenWatch 3 is its faux chronograph buttons on the right side of its case and its weird lug guards. Whether or not you’re a fan of the lug guards that as they look chunkier than they need to be, no one will appreciate the fact that Asus opted for proprietary straps.

Another problem with the chunky lugs is that they make the included strap very stiff on the wrist and make impossible to lay the watch flat. This means you’ll have to lay the watch on its side while charging, which is a bit awkward. Asus hilariously includes a small rubber pad to prevent you from scratching up the watch.

You can quickly swap out bands via the clip on each strap, but the unique lugs mean you won’t be able to use traditional watch straps with the ZenWatch 3.

On the other hand, the faux chronograph buttons are customizable, a feature we every Android Wear smartwatch offered. They’re programmable to launch apps or perform tasks so you can set one to bring up a calculator or set a timer. 

By default, the top button is set for Asus ZenFit to track your workouts and the bottom button is set to turn on ECO Mode (airplane mode) to preserve battery life. 

Now for some bad news:. Those with small wrists will not like the ZenWatch 3. I have a 6.5-inch (16.51 cm) wrist and found the watch too big. The case is 45mm wide and feels every bit as big. Combined with the long lugs, the ZenWatch 3 isn’t a good option for guys or girls with small wrists like me.

The Moto 360 does a much better job of feeling smaller than it really is, as its lugs are integrated into its case, shortening the lug-to-lug length. The Moto 360 also comes in 42mm and 46mm variants. 

Likewise, Apple offers the Apple Watch Series 1 and Apple Watch 2 in 38mm and 42mm sizes. It would have been nice if Asus released a smaller version of the ZenWatch 3 instead of 'one size fits... some.'

Comfort

To comfortably wear the Asus ZenWatch 3, you have to  break it in. The thick strap and large lugs don’t have any flex at first, which would have helped with out-of-the-box comfort. However, the watch became much more comfortable after several days of use.

The strap is made of genuine leather, but it’s not very high- quality leather. Motorola’s Horween leather puts the ZenWatch 3’s strap to shame. The strap is also quite stiff and its two keepers have a tendency to slip off, leaving the strap flapping around. Asus needs to make the keepers a smaller for a snug fit so this doesn’t happen.

The ZenWatch 3 is quite thin at 9.95mm, making it slip under shirt cuffs without problem. As mentioned before, the watch is big, and doesn’t fit well with small wrists, so take your store's return policy seriously.