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Hands on: The Axon Watch hints at an exciting Android Wear Future for ZTE

The Axon Watch hints at an exciting Android Wear Future for ZTE

ZTE has big plans for its flagship Axon range. We’ve seen the original Axon smartphone and the spinoff Axon Elite already, but if it wants to create a family of high-spec devices along the same lines as Samsung’s Galaxy S line — which ZTE has indicated to us is its intention — then it’ll need a smartwatch. The thing is, it already has one, but for now it’s only destined for sale in China. It’s called the Axon Watch, and we got a chance to try it out.

The working prototype of the Axon Watch was being worn by Waiman Lam, ZTE’s senior director of mobile devices, who showed us how the device operated. If you can’t quite place what OS it’s running, don’t worry. It’s not Android Wear, but Tencent OS, the mobile operating system designed by Chinese media giant Tencent — which among other things, owns super-popular messaging platform WeChat, hence the presence of an app on the watch.

Tencent OS is built on Android Wear, so there are similarities, such as swiping up and down through the menus, left and right to dismiss notifications or gain more information, and holding down on the screen to change the watch face. The icons and buttons are noticeably larger and more defined though.

In addition to the WeChat app, there are various others, including a find-my-phone option to alert you if you leave the connected phone behind, and a tiny but fun Labyrinth-style game. Tencent OS works well on the Axon Watch, but doesn’t do anything more than Google’s software, but it’s certainly fast and well-designed. It’s compatible with most modern Android smartphones, to which it connects using Bluetooth, and doesn’t need to be mated with a Tencent phone.

Thin screen bezel

The watch, being a prototype, didn’t look box fresh, but it still managed to visually impress with its thin bezels. The 1.4-inch screen looks great, with a pixel density of around 250ppi, which is on par with the LG G Watch R/Watch Urbane’s 320 x 320 pixel P-OLED display. The look is somewhere in-between the Moto 360 and its almost nonexistent bezel, and the G Watch R’s sportier, chunky casing.

With the right watch face, the screen looks large and appealing, and isn’t dominated by the oversize lugs on the top and bottom. It’s possible to tailor the Axon Watch’s style to your personal taste, as ZTE makes it in several colors and there’s a choice of metal and leather bands.

If you can’t quite place what OS it’s running, don’t worry.

There’s a heart rate monitor on the rear, plus it’ll track your activity levels, and although the function wasn’t active on this device, sleep tracking will be present on the final, production Axon Watch. It’s light and fitted neatly on my wrist. The body is quite thick, but the overall size is more compact that the Watch Urbane, so it may suit more people than many of the Android Wear watches currently on sale.

Because it runs Tencent OS, the Axon Watch as you see it here won’t be sold outside China, where it will go on sale in the near future. ZTE’s not saying whether it will act as the template for an actual Android Wear smartwatch sold internationally with the Axon name attached, but it’s a possibility. If not, this Axon Watch may end up as a test case for a second-generation version for the future. Either way, it impressed us enough that we’re looking forward to seeing what direction ZTE takes with it, and smartwatches in general.

Highs

  • Thin bezels
  • Sharp screen
  • Lightweight and comfortable

Lows

  • China-only release