Zepp, a spin-off then rebrand of a Xiaomi company, is marketing itself as a high-end smartwatch company. We checked out their first entry, the Zepp E square variant last year, and when we found out that Zepp was releasing a larger, more masculine looking variant with a titanium chassis, a digital encoder for the crown and Amazon Alexa on-device voice assistant, we had to reach out to them to see how it is, is it worth £349? Well, not yet.
- Gorgeous design
- Good performance
- Lovely screen
- Rotating Crown
- Text rendering on screen
- Battery life is weak
- Charger is horrid
- Software feels unfinished
- 46mm watchface
- 1.39” AMOLED screen
- TC-4 Titanium chassis
- 340mAh battery
- 16mb RAM
- 256MB storage
- 22mm watch straps
The Zepp Z gives a great first impression, starting with the box. The tall slender Apple Watch-esque box has a lightly embossed picture of the watch, with a highly detailed glossy image of the watch face on there. This first impression really shows that Zepp knows how to package a product to make a statement. With a perforated tear strip at the bottom, you can remove a thick card box with the watch inside, I cannot talk highly enough about this packaging.
The Watch itself is also just gorgeous. The large 46mm face with exposed lugs and dual “pushers” and a crown show that this is a masculine oriented watch, though of course, anyone can wear it. I’m not the biggest fan of the etched minute indicators on the face, but that is a personal aesthetic choice, but it does help when using analogue watch faces for sure. The 1.39” AMOLED display is absolutely stunning, and at a peak brightness of 500 nits, it also gets quite bright for a watch. The glass is set in from the bezel, this makes swiping gestures a bit more difficult to accomplish but not impossible. The lugs are exposed, much like the Zepp E, the Huawei Watch GT2 non-pro and many other watches, I prefer this look over covered lugs but once again, that’s a very subjective watch thing.
On the right-hand side of the watch, there are your input mechanisms, which appear to be 2 pushers and a crown, which is technically true but it needs a bit more explanation. The bottom button is a pusher and can be remapped in software, the middle button is a crown that is also an encoder so can be used for scrolling, but can also be pushed in like a button. The top button however doesn’t depress, it is a capacitive trigger that can be set in software. This took a lot of getting used to, and I had to consult a friend because I thought mine was broken, but it is a “tap and hold” for 2.5 seconds for it to activate, which in my opinion is just too long and makes you think it is broken and the only thing on the left-hand side of the watch is the hole for the microphone.
On the rear of the watch, there is a black plastic panel with the raised portion in the centre with the heart rate, blood oxygen and others, this is raised to make better contact with your skin, block out external light and stretch the skin a bit to allow the different coloured LEDs to permeate better. Around the outside of the raised portion is two metallic semi-circles, these are for the charging puck that the watch comes with.
Zepp is using a grade of Titanium known as TC-4 for the chassis of the watch, and much like when Huawei used in on the GT2 Pro, it instantly feels so much nicer than Aluminium and I can’t quite tell you why, it could be the mass, as Titanium is 4.5g/cm3 compared to 2.7g/cm3 of Aluminium, but it doesn’t feel like it is weight-related. The included leather strap on the other hand would be the first thing I change. On a watch that feels this premium, this thin, stiff cheap-feeling leather strap really lets it down. It has significantly softened up over the 6 weeks I’ve been testing the watch, but it still doesn’t feel like a strap that comes on a £349 watch. Thankfully as it is using 22mm watch straps, you can get different ones very easily.
The software section, much like with the Zepp E, is where the Zepp Z falls a bit short. Some of the user interfaces are done very well, like the text rendering and anti-aliasing, scrolling inertia with flick scrolling and the watch faces, but other things such as when to scroll with the crown, lift to wake the screen and notifications still boggle my mind at how unfinished they feel.
One of the reasons I personally reached out to Zepp to check the Zepp Z was for the rotating digital crown popularised by Apple, this is a rotary encoder that allows rotational input of the crown to act as a scroll wheel in software and when you are in a part of the UI that allows scrolling, like a list, or a long notification etc it works as intended but when trying to use the scroll wheel to enter or exit other parts of the UI that is where it fails, you cannot scroll down on the watch face to enter notifications, nor can you scroll up on the watch face to go to quick settings, those need to be touch screen interactions. What is weirder though is where you scroll horizontally through the carousel there are lists that you can scroll through with the crown, but you can’t get to them without touching the screen first, which then makes the crown interaction moot.
Lift to wake is also something that is inexplicably slow on the Zep Z, even with very overwrought and intentional movement there is still almost 1.5-2 seconds before the watch wakes up, leading me to use an always-on display, though that significantly lowers the battery life from the 15-day estimate. I do think this is one of the things that will be improved later on in the software, and given how many updates the Zepp E has gotten I’m not worried about the Z getting any updates even though I have yet to receive one in my testing.
One of the things I do want to speak about is the text rendering on the screen. Much like with the Zepp E, the Z seems to be using anti-aliasing with the high-resolution screen to make text appear sharper and graphics, even the small ones, looks incredible. I don’t think this looks quite as good as it did on the Zepp E with the curved glass screen but I think that is more down to the screen lamination rather than the quality of the screen itself.
Notifications on the Zepp Z are quite hit and miss, much like with most smartwatches that aren’t by Apple of running wearOS, the notifications are mostly one way, you can read them and dismiss them, but responding is almost entirely out of the question. The issue here is that I just wasn’t getting the notifications in the first place or they were very delayed, in one case up to 5 minutes delayed which defeats the purpose of having a smartwatch in my opinion, especially if you use one like I do, in a “is this notification important” machine, you can’t tell if you don’t get the damn notification. Also unlike the Huawei Watch GT2 Pro that I had been using, without a speaker, you cannot take calls on the Zepp Z.
As with the Zepp E, sleep tracking here is also a bit all over the place, which once again is a bit upsetting given the cost of the unit here. There have sadly been multiple nights when testing the Zepp Z where I just have not slept at all, as in not once did I drift off to sleep, but the watch showed that I slept 8 hours most of which was REM sleep because I didn’t move my left arm because I was using my right hand to press the TV remote. this is just not great, many a time have I not slept (I know, I have a problem) with my Huawei Watch GT2 Pro or GT2 on and it’s realised, its collated data from the heart rate scanner, whether I’ve picked up my phone etc and realised I’m not asleep, the Zepp Z on the other hand just hasn’t been able to do that, eurgh.
This is another area where my experience sours a bit. On their website, Zepp state the Z should get 15 days of battery life or 30 days in low power mode, but with the Always-on Display on, I was struggling to get 5 days of battery life, and given how bad the “lift to wake” is, I’d almost say that using the Always-On display is mandatory, so getting a third of the rated battery life stings.
This is made worse by the charger, which sucks. The small puck is magnetised, but calling the magnet in there a magnet feels so generous that I’m pretty sure I’d have no problem breathing this watch off of the charger. Magnetic alignment barely works, and given the size of the 340mAh, the 2.5 hours of charge time seems excessive, which how much I like other aspects of this watch, this particular portion of it has annoyed me.
This was another reason why I wanted to check out the Zepp Z, the microcontroller inside the Zepp Z is not an ARM chip, it is using a brand new open-source ISA (instruction set architecture) called RISC-V, does this mean anything for you the consumer? Not really, it is just a cool nerdy thing that got me excited, but in the future, a completely open-source ISA means that once a company stops supporting a product, if they have opened the development information you could create your own software for the product without having to resort to reverse engineering.
Back on topic, the performance of the Zepp Z is really quite good, there were a few minor hiccups that were not repeatable in my testing, but again I am putting that down to a new product, with a new chip that has just come to market, this will be sorted out in future firmware updates I hope.
I’m conflicted here. I adore the looks of the Zepp Z, and the performance of the watch is great, the nerdy factor of the RISC-V MCU is right up there, the rotating crown is awesome and needs to be on every watch in my opinion, but it just doesn’t feel fully baked yet.
Before you get to charge £349/$349/€349 for a watch it needs to at least feel like it has had the software pass QC, because as it stands with me getting ⅓ of the rated battery, with the inconsistent scrolling interface and the buggy notifications, it just doesn’t feel like it’s there yet, much to my dismay.