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Hands-on with the Zepp Z
Hands-on with the Zepp Z IBTimes / Jeff Li

There's a different trend when it comes to the development of smartwatches compared with smartphones. For mobile phones the focus is on the premium end: bigger camera, faster CPU, higher specced display - while the affordable end trails behind. In contrast, for smartwatches the development on the premium end is fairly slow and incremental - while the affordable end takes leaps and bounds. And Amazfit is arguably on the cusp of that leaping and bounding.

Starting from the Amazfit Bip, the Xiaomi backed company showed the world what can be done with a sub-$100 smartwatch: a 45 day battery life and equipped with most of the functionality that an average person needs. Amazfit continued to push forward its revolution with the release of the GTR and GTS, watches that had premium build but still costing only a fraction of Apple Watch or Samsung Gear.

And now Amazfit is going into its next phase of evolution, showcased in the first watch under its new branding Zepp: the Zepp Z. What does the future look like for the Chinese smartwatch maker? Let's take a glimpse by going hands-on with the latest from Huami - the parent company of Amazfit and Zepp.


Premium Build Material: Titanium Case

The first time Amazfit came up with an impressive watch build was with the GTR, which was made of polished stainless steel, a build that continues with the GTR 2 Stainless Steel edition while the GTS goes for machined aluminum cases. The Zepp Z goes instead for a brushed Titanium case. Anyone familiar with titanium will know that they are in fact lighter in weight, and the Zepp Z does weigh 20% lighter than the Stainless Steel 42mm GTR at 40g (without strap).


Whereas the GTR 2 got rid of the ceramic bezel that I was a fan of on the original GTR, the Zepp Z went for an inscribed index on its titanium bezel. Upon close inspection, you can actually see indentation at each index - not just a cheap paint job that will easily worn off over time. The bezel plays a practical role during normal use as the index for the always-on display, that often only shows the minute and hour hands. It's a tasteful implementation that's executed meticulously.


Polyamide with Glass Fiber Back

The true highlight in the build of the Zepp Z however is on the back of the watch, where the watchmaker completely overhauled the material design as well as the recharging technology. Instead of the plastic back of the GTR, a polished contoured back takes its place. At first glance I actually thought it was a ceramic/glass back which would add an unjustifiable cost to the product, however upon further research I found that Zepp is using a polyamide with glass fiber (PA GF) material which has excellent impact resistance and low water absorption - two properties that make them great for the back of a watch.


New Magnetic Wireless Recharging

The other thing revolutionary about the back of the Zepp Z is its charging port. Gone are the rather primitive metal nodes of the GTR/GTR2, replacing them are two reflective black crescents. Zepp describes it as magnetic wireless recharging, which can be oriented in any angle and does not need to be lined up like the old metal contacts. The new back definitely looks much more polished and advanced than the old design, and the seamless construction is a step up for the future Zepp product line.


Triple Controls and Crown Navigation

The navigation of the Zepp Z is also upgraded from the Amazfit GTR range, where there are now 3 physical controls rather than the 2 buttons. I call them controls, because they are not all physical buttons. Rather the bottom is a button, the middle control is a rotating crown and the top is actually a capacitive button.

The top capacitive button honestly threw me off a bit, as it is disabled out of the box, and must be activated through the settings menu. But since it's shaped like a conventional button, I mistaken it as a decorative button that had no real function. In fact it is dedicated for health scanning functions - whether used for activating blood oxygen level, heart rate or PAI scanning, and is only activated while the user is wearing the watch.

The rotating crown is quite an addition to the watch controls, as it's smooth operation saves the user from touching (and blocking) the screen itself. It's very intuitive, just like the digital crown on the Apple Watch, it can be pressed as a button while scrolling through and offers an additional interface to the user.


Smoother Interface and Animations

Compared with the original GTR, just like the GTR and GTS 2, the Zepp Z has a more responsive interface and smoother animations for a more polished user experience. Unfortunately that also means you end up with a shorter battery life compared to the original model - but the 2 week battery life is still not bad. One can argue that with the new easier recharging system it's not a big deal to drop the watch on the charging puck every 14 days or so.

The Zepp Z has its own range of watchfaces that can be downloaded from the Zepp App. Some exclusive designs are different from the GTR 2 offerings, with many more dressy and less sporty, and each design has its own corresponding always-on simplified design.

Internal Memory and Faster Transfer

The original GTR had extensive user generated watchfaces, but the upload speed was excruciatingly slow, and the watch only allows one design to be saved internally each time. The Zepp Z allows for multiple faces to be saved, and has a much faster uploading speed.


Final Verdict

Zepp Z is a significant smartwatch for the rebranded watch brand. It showcases new developments that the company is going into for its future product lines, and they have managed to continue to make right decisions, retaining themselves as one of the best smartwatch makers in the industry.


The continuous improvement in its hardware while keeping the software need-based and not bloated with functions that only few people use, makes Zepp Z a hopeful first watch under the new brand, and we look forward to what Zepp will come up with next. As a smartwatch that is classy, highly wearable, durable and functional, we're awarding the Zepp Z as our recommended smartwatch for business travelers.

David is a tech enthusiast/writer who is often on the move and is on a mission to explore ways to make his overhaul flights more enjoyable. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Business Travelers.