Smartwatch Shootout: The battle for your wrist

Smartwatch Shootout: The battle for your wrist

The wearable device market is quickly becoming the most hotly contested space in technology. And for almost every company invested in the area, the most lucrative piece of real estate is your wrist. But with so many choices out there, which smartwatch is the best?

We've chosen four of the most popular smartwatches released last year, and we'll be evaluating them based on design, style, display and battery life. Interestingly, most of them are based on the Android Wear platform, which is fast gaining momentum just like Android did for smartphones.

Before we start, here's a look at the four models we'll be comparing:

ASUS ZenWatch

The ASUS ZenWatch is the only smartwatch in our shootout sporting a square shape face. That's not to say that it's boring though. The ZenWatch's chassis is made from two layers of stainless steel sandwiching a classy rose gold steel midsection. While the ZenWatch's display may be square, the frame around the display is rounded, softening the watch's overall appearance. The soft curves and subtle gold colour makes the ZenWatch the most unisex and classy of the smartwatches in our shootout, with the other watches definitely more suited for men. Unfortunately, the bezel surrounding the screen is quick thick, and detracts from the overall sleekness of the watch.

The ZenWatch comes fitted with a soft tan-coloured stitched genuine leather strap, with a metal deployant clasp, but you can easily swap it for any standard 22mm watchstrap if the colour or style isn't to your liking.

Unlike the prominent buttons on our other smartwatches, the ZenWatch's settings button is hidden on the underside of the watch. While this gives the watch a nice symmetrical appearance, it's clear that ASUS didn't design the button to be used often as it's actually quite tricky to press with the watch worn on your wrist. As such, the main points of interaction with the ZenWatch are its touchscreen and through voice commands.

The ZenWatch has a 1.63-inch, 320 x 320 pixel AMOLED display (278 ppi). On paper, the ZenWatch's 278 ppi should give it about the same clarity as the Motorola Moto 360, and it should be only slightly worse than the Samsung Gear S and LG G Watch R. The reality however is quite different, as it's noticeably the worst of the lot. The display has a hazy quality, which is exasperated by the glass on top of the screen being extra thick too.

Like LG's G Watch R, the ZenWatch is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and runs on Android Wear. ASUS has also included a few of its own apps, including some exclusive watch faces, and a nice compass app. There's also a useful camera remote app that lets you use the watch as a viewfinder for your ASUS phone's camera. As with most smartwatches today, the ZenWatch includes a heart rate monitor and accelerometer for activity tracking. There's also an exclusive ASUS health and fitness app.

The ZenWatch has a unique way to measure your pulse. Instead of using an optical light sensor like most other wearables, you place two fingers on each side of the metal frame at the same time, completing an electrical circuit. Unfortunately, this isn't any faster than the other method, and seems to be less accurate too, with erratic readings often over 100 bpm despite the fact that we hadn't done anything for the past five minutes. Having said that, the review unit we're testing is a pre-production model, so it may not be as accurate as final production models.

Battery life on the ZenWatch was decent but not amazing. We were able to get about 18 hours out of it but not much more. It definitely requires charging every night via a clip-on charging cradle and micro-USB charger.

Motorola Moto 360

The Moto 360 was the first round face smartwatch. It sports a sleek minimalist design complemented by a premium build of glass and stainless steel, with a leather strap made from high-end Horween Chicago leather. Having said that, while the Moto 360 is undeniably stylish, it does feel a little bulky on its thin strap, both in terms of width and overall height, and the net result makes it look more like a disc on a strap than a watch. Our review unit (and the model that will be available in Singapore) is silver with a grey strap. A black version with a black strap is also available through Motorola's online store.

The watch boasts a large 1.56-inch-diameter 320 x 290 pixel resolution display (277ppi) with fairly decent viewing angles and good brightness. Compared to the other round watch in our shootout, the LG G Watch R, the Moto 360's round screen is around 39 per cent bigger, with much thinner bezels, which seems like it would be the better circular display, except for the fact that the Moto 360's display isn't actually a circle.

In Motorola's quest for a round screen with the thinnest outer bezel possible, it ended up adding a little black bar at the bottom of the screen that cuts the circle off. That black bar houses an ambient light sensor for auto-adjusting screen brightness. It's not a total deal-killer, but for a watch with a beautiful, clean look everywhere else, this perfection-ruining flaw certainly stands out. As a result of the bar, white watchfaces all end up looking like they have a little slice cut out of them, or even worse, a whole section of dead pixels.

Like the G Watch R, on the side of the Moto 360, there's a little home button that looks like a watch crown that can be used to activate the watch or quickly bring up the settings menu. On the back of the watch, you'll find an optical green LED heart-rate monitor and inside, the 360 also has a pedometer for activity tracking. We found both the heart rate monitor and step counter to be reasonably accurate, with fairly consistent results overall.

Like the G Watch R and ZenWatch, the Moto 360 runs on Android Wear, but unlike the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processors found in LG and ASUS' watches, the Moto 360 uses a considerably less powerful Texas Instruments OMAP 3 processor. As a result, transitions and animations are just a little bit slower on the Moto 360.

When the Moto 360 was first released, it was plagued with bad battery life. A recent firmware update has improved things but you'll still only get about 16 hours of life on a single charge out of it, which was the worst in our shootout. The Moto 360 uses a simple inductive charging cradle to recharge, no magnets or connectors required. As a nice touch, the screen will auto flip to the side when the watch is in its cradle. While it's a neat and simple design, it also has its drawbacks. You need a flat surface to set the charger down on, so if you try to recharge the 360 in your bag or on in an airline seat pocket you'll find that it won't stay in place.

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