​Asus embraces old and new with ZenWatch, Netbook

It's no surprise at the IFA show to see another manufacturing power join the smartwatch market. But weren't Netbooks left for dead after consumers moved to tablets instead?

Asus debuted its ZenWatch, an Android Wear device, at the IFA electronics show in Berlin.
Asus debuted its ZenWatch, an Android Wear device, at the IFA electronics show in Berlin. Stephen Shankland/CNET

BERLIN -- Asus embraced the old and the new on Wednesday, debuting its new ZenWatch smartwatch even as it tried to resuscitate the Netbook market with its new EeeBook X205.

At a press conference at the IFA consumer electronics show here, the Taiwanese company said each of the products will cost €199 when they go on sale in October, initially in Germany and the US. That converts to about $260 in the US, £159 in the UK, or AU$280 in Australia.

Smartwatches, which combine electronic brains and a small touch screen, are generally designed to perform a subset of what a smartphone can do. The ZenWatch, powered by Google's Android Wear operating system, can display alerts, remotely trigger smartphone cameras, control music playback, give navigation instructions, count steps, monitor heart rate, help find a misplaced phone, unlock a nearby phone, and control slides during a presentation.

Oh, and it'll tell time, too, with a variety of watch-face looks. It's designed to look sharp, with a stainless steel bezel and Italian leather band, but it's not a slim design. It charges with a docking station.

But the main idea is to provide another new networked tether to the outside world.

"With our ZenWatch, you will always be connected to everything in your life," Asus Design Center Vice President Mitch Yang said.

Asus lacks the cachet of Apple, which could debut its own smartwatch next week. And Asus lacks the clout of Samsung, which already has several models for sale and which dominates the Android device market today. But Asus' foray into smartwatches could be significant: with extensive manufacturing experience and deep supply-chain relationships, the Taiwanese company can pull together respectable hardware at an affordable price.

That could help Android Wear smartwatches follow the same trajectory as Android phones and tablets: initially a novelty, then a near-generic, mass-market item.

Products like the ZenWatch mean that Google could succeed in enabling a new class of electronics devices tightly integrated with its services.

The Asus ZenWatch's screen can show the time, notifications, navigation instructions, music player controls, heart rate information, and more.
The Asus ZenWatch's screen can show the time, notifications, navigation instructions, music player controls, heart rate information, and more. Stephen Shankland/CNET

The smartwatch market is still new, and it's not clear how popular smartwatches will become. Advocates say they'll provide an unobtrusive, convenient new link to the online world, but smartwatches aren't cheap and mean people have to carry one more fragile electronic device that could go out of date all too soon.

No such uncertainty surrounds the Netbook market: most of the industry has left it for dead as consumers who wanted a cheap networked device flocked to tablets like Apple's iPad instead.

Asus thinks there's still a place for Netbooks, though.

"Netbooks revolutionized the way we interacted with information and the Internet and paved the way for tablets," said Asus Senior Product Director Derek Yu. "The essence of the EeePC [Asus' earlier Netbook brand name] is to enable more technology to reach more population."

Asus Senior Product Director Derek Yu debuts the EeeBook X205, a new entry into the old Netbook market, at IFA in Berlin.
Asus Senior Product Director Derek Yu debuts the EeeBook X205, a new entry into the old Netbook market, at IFA in Berlin. Stephen Shankland/CNET

With the EeeBook X205, Asus is aiming to bring "premium luxury" to a Netbook market that was more known for low-end designs with rattly cases and small, dim screens.

The X205 comes with Windows 8.1, weighs 980g (2.2 pounds), is 17.5mm thick, has an 11.6-inch 1,366x768-pixel backlit screen and full-size keyboard, and uses a quad-core Intel Atom Z3735 processor. It's got 2GB of memory with 32GB or 64GB storage options and 500GB of Asus online storage. For ports, it's got two for USB 2.0, one for HDMI video, and one for MicroSD cards.

For customers with a bigger budget, Asus also debuted the ZenBook UX305, which uses Intel's new quad-core Core M processor and weighs 1.2kg (2.6 pounds). It's 12.3mm thick, supports the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, has 8GB of memory, and employs a 3,200x1,800-pixel multi-touch screen.

The Asus ZenBook UX305 is a slim but relatively high-powered laptop that emerged at IFA in Berlin.
The Asus ZenBook UX305 is a slim but relatively high-powered laptop that emerged at IFA in Berlin. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Last from Asus was the newest incarnation of its Memo Pad 7, an Android tablet that will cost £179 in the UK. (That's about $295, AU$320, or €224 in Europe.) The price will go up for those who opt for the 4G LTE networking option, though.

The new model, formally numbered ME572C/CL, is 8.3mm thick, weighs 269g (0.6 pounds), has a 1,920x1,200-pixel screen and 2GB of memory, shoots with 2-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera. It's powered by a 1.83GHz Intel Atom Z3560 quad-core processor -- a victory for the chipmaker since the vast majority of smartphones and tablets use ARM-based processor designs from companies such as Apple, Nvidia, and Qualcomm.

Asus Senior Product Director Derek Yu shows off the Memo Pad 7 at IFA in Berlin.
Asus Senior Product Director Derek Yu shows off the Memo Pad 7 at IFA in Berlin. Stephen Shankland/CNET

 

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