As the smartwatch market continues to explode and grow so do the number of manufacturers making them. We've seen some phone manufacturers move into the smartwatch world, most notably Samsung and LG of course, but some of the smaller Chinese firms have been moving into making smartwatches as well. Most of these don't run Google's Android Wear but rather a custom platform that can connect to both Android and iOS equally, and are provided their connected functionality via a companion app. Let's check out if the recently launched Zeblaze Crystal is worth the $60 entry price into smart watch land.
If you've seen one you've seen them all, or at least that's what it feels like in the land of smart watches sometimes. Asus launched their first smartwatch last year, the Zenwatch, and it proved to be the arguably best looking square smartwatch on the market. That look and feel seems to be reflected in the likes of the Zeblaze Crystal as it looks incredibly similar to the Zenwatch, that is to say it's a more elegant looking rounded square design with a heavy chrome trim. The smooth lines and chamfered edges of the trim definitely make it look more expensive than it actually is. The watch comes in a few different colors including the black review unit we have and a white one, and like a normal watch you'll be able to choose whatever suits your taste best.
The frame itself is metal and feels like it's well built, and there's even a nice curve to the entire device itself that looks like it fits well on the wrist. It's a bit thick but not the thickest smartwatch I've ever seen, so check out the pictures to see if it's too much for your liking. On the back of the watch you'll find the biometric sensors as well as the charging pins where the watch clips into the charger. The charging dock is a tight fit and clips very snugly onto the watch, ensuring that this thing is definitely going to charge and the solid charging dock likely won't break.
The bands that ships with it is a well designed leather band and fits quite well with the size of the face. I felt like it was a little too thin for my wrists personally but again this is a watch, one of the more personal pieces of jewelry you'll likely be wearing. On the bright side the bands are interchangeable using a standard pin and sizing system, so if you've got some extra bands lying around from other watches or just want to order more from your favorite website or retailer you can to your heart's content. On the right side you'll find the single power button used to wake and sleep the device.
The front of the watch features some fairly sizable bezels uniformly placed around the square display. As this is a watch bezels aren't as important as a phone or tablet, rather they are generally used as a design piece. The display itself is a 1.54-inch LCD panel and while it has a decent enough display it's got quite a bit of light bleed from all sides, meaning when using a fully black watch face it looks like the edges fade to white. The black levels are good enough for an LCD and besides the light bleed the black watch faces themselves show well on this watch.
Many Chinese watches use similar software methods to connect to your smartphone, one of which is the MediaTek Smart app that looks like it's being slowly phased out. Instead of that many watch makers, including Zeblaze, are pushing a software package called Fundo that helps connect the watch, provide health tracking and other stats, as well as some light apps for the watch too. The watch seems to be compatible with 3 apps through my particular Fundo account, although it's possible that there's more it wasn't clear how to add them outside of the ones that show up in the apps section of the app.
Fitness goals can be set for steps, heart rate or other activity depending on your preference, and I found that the app itself works well enough alone, however I had a hard time getting health and statistics information to sync from the watch. I know it's connected because I can install apps and manage notifications, but the stat tracking seems to be broken for now. Speaking of notifications all notifications can be filtered via this app to keep the noisiest of apps from constantly buzzing your watch if you'd rather them not.
Functionality and Battery Life
The OS used here is similar to other Chinese smartwatches that pair with both iOS and Android, and features a watch face upon first wake up of the device. Watch faces present are actually really nice looking and feature a number of different looks, one of which is likely to suit your needs. There's a total of 3 analog faces and 4 digital faces, all of which feature a black background for better looks and subtlety when looking at the face when compared with the bezel around it. This was true on the black model although it's possible the white model features white faces to better blend in with the white face of the device too.
Swiping to the left brings up the list of functions of the watch in a 4-icon grid that's paginated vertically. Primary functions on the first page are phone calls, which you can make straight from the watch itself, as well as messaging. Phone calls work incredibly well and utilize the speaker and microphones directly on the watch itself. I found that the speaker wasn't loud enough to be useful while driving thanks to the noise of the car itself, but while at my desk or other more reasonably quiet place it was a life saver. I could type and do other things while having a conversation hands-free, and the person on the other end had no problems hearing me at all. Your entire phone book is synced here in a normal list view, and there's even a full T-9 dialer to dial a full phone number.
This speaker also doubles as a Bluetooth speaker for any other media, so by default all system sounds and music travel through the watch. If you really wanted to you could walk around with your favorite tunes playing on the watch, and interesting functionality that some might find pretty darn cool. Messaging works intelligently for this sort of device and is done by a simple click of the reply button and selecting from a handful of pre-canned messages that don't seem to be editable. There's also a call button directly on every message to just quickly get in touch with the person sending you texts, which again is handy since all of the calls are handled through the watch without ever having to take your phone out of your pocket.
Moving down the list is the notifications feature, which gives you simple notifications from your phone such as messages and other alerts from apps. These mostly can just be dismissed unless they are calls or messages which have direct functions inside of the watch. There's also an alarm, full month view calendar, file manager, sound recorder, stopwatch and calculator available right from this menu. Baidu users will be pleased to know that DuVoice is here and works well enough when asking it to do things like check the weather, make a phone call or check your favorite stock price. Those that have used S-Voice on Samsung smartwatches will know what to expect; nothing near Google Now type of functionality but it's nice to have basic stuff when you need it. Unfortunately since this is buried in the menu it makes using it quickly impractical, something that could be redesigned in a software update or perhaps a later product.
Health related functions include a pedometer, heart rate sensor, sleep monitor and sedentary reminder. None of these features are activated by default and must be turned on every time they want to be used, meaning the pedometer and heart rate functions of the watch are going to be limited unless you can somehow remember to activate these every time. There's at least historical data right on the watch for all of these functions, so if you want to know how well you slept last Tuesday or what your step count was on the Saturday before last you can see it, so long as you remembered to wear the watch or start the requisite function of course.
The biggest irritation of the entire watch were the notification tones, which are awful on a good day and beyond horrendous on a bad day. After cycling through all the available notification tones and ringtones on the watch I decided to just leave it on silent the entire rest of my usage with it, a decision that proved to be just fine. The vibration motor on the watch works incredibly well and definitely lets you know when a notification appears, so there's basically no way you're going to miss this one.
Battery life of the watch was nothing short of excellent and generally lasted around 2 days or so on a single charge. If the health syncing functions were working fully it's entirely possible that the battery life could be a little bit less than this, but I can't see it being too much if at all since it's still syncing notifications and other data. Other functions of the watch that are constantly on, like the pedometer and heart rate monitor don't seem to negatively affect the battery life much, which is a relief to those who would like to use these features.
The Zeblaze Crystal is a pretty decent smartwatch that covers all the basics of what a smartwatch should be and doesn't go too much beyond that. At $60 you wouldn't expect this to be a cutting edge device with loads of features, and that's good since this is neither. It does look good, however, and features a design that is pretty trendy right now albeit a bit on the thick side. Software wise it pairs with the Fundo app, and although health syncing functions weren't working during the time of review it's possible this will get fixed in the future, as there were a few apps that could be installed on the watch via the app and full notification filtering is supported here as well. Overall if you're looking for a smartwatch that'll offer a couple different faces, act as a Bluetooth speaker and give you both hands-free calls and quick messaging replies this is a great one to consider. Otherwise you may be better saving your pennies for a considerably fuller featured Android Wear-powered smartwatch instead.