January 22, 2021
Zepp E smartwatch hands-on: Gorgeous hardware marred by frustrating faults

Zepp E smartwatch hands-on: Gorgeous hardware marred by frustrating faults


The Zepp E is a beauty with an always-on display option, but it’s missing one key feature and needs some help in the app department.


Rick Broida/CNET

Say hello to Zepp, a wearable-tech brand that in 2018 was acquired by Huami, which also owns Amazfit. Amazfit makes wearables as well, including one of my personal favorites, the $80 Bip S. The new Zepp E is the posh ying to that affordable yang, a $250 smartwatch with a gorgeous display and plenty of health and activity features. However, built-in GPS isn’t one of them and various software issues mar the experience of using this watch. In its current state it’s hard for me to recommend.

That’s too bad, because it’s a beauty, with a screen to match. 

Read more: The best smartwatches of 2020

Hardware heaven

You know from the get-go the Zepp E is no budget watch: It comes in a long, hefty box reminiscent of Apple’s and seems a bit opulent for a smartwatch. I tested the circular model, but there’s also an Apple Watch-like square version that’s not yet available in the US. 

Zepp built the E into a 42mm stainless steel case that measures just 9mm thick. Its bright, razor-sharp AMOLED display resides under curved glass, a striking design choice that, with some faces, makes it look like the screen goes edge-to-edge. There’s some bezel, of course, but it’s virtually invisible when looking at a face with a black background. I did notice, however, that the screen was harder to read under bright sun than my Apple Watch.

zepp-e-ice-blue

The Zepp is available in four colors, including Ice Blue, shown here.


Zepp

The Zepp’s watch-face library is one of the best I’ve seen, with a generous mix of whimsical, stylish, traditional and health-minded options. Some of the faces support customization, meaning you can choose between various widgets in different spots. Cooler still, each face has its own unique “always-on” variant as well, which is one of the E’s notable features.

Battery life is another one. Zepp promises up to seven days of “typical” usage or 15 days in basic watch mode (without heart-rate tracking and other frills). If you opt for always-on mode, that can easily drop to 2-3 days, which is still an improvement over most premium smartwatches out there like the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch 3. Those last anywhere from 18 to 24 hours.

I was less impressed with the proprietary magnetic charger, which works in only one orientation. When you go to connect it there’s no way to tell which end is “up,” so there’s a 50/50 chance it’ll be positioned the wrong way. (If it is, the magnets will repel instead of attract.)

Healthy skepticism

In addition to heart-rate monitoring, the Zepp E can measure your blood-oxygen saturation, a capability that Apple touted in the new Apple Watch Series 6. It also promises to alert you if it detects high levels of stress, though it’s not immediately clear what would trigger such an alert or what actionable steps you’d be advised to take. It also gives you a stress score, which is equally confusing. I reached a max stress score of 54, but I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.  

I’m more enthusiastic about the watch’s Personal Activity Intelligence (PAI) tracking, because the app does a good job of explaining how that works and why it’s useful. PAI is a combined, cumulative look at activity and heart rate: The more you elevate both, the higher your score. But I did start to question the accuracy of some of these metrics. 

Although the watch seemed to provide accurate resting heart rate numbers, it tended to be way off while I was exercising: either too low or too high, or just inconsistent. I believe the watch was placed properly on my wrist and making good contact with my skin, so I’m don’t think it was wearer error. 

Another frustration: During a run, I pressed the side button to dismiss a notification and ended up back at the watch face, with no easy way get back to my run stats. I had to stop in my tracks and navigate back through the workouts menu to get there. After that happened, notifications stopped appearing on the watch (even though I could hear tones for them in my headphones). And to top it all off, a call came in while I was running, causing the E to reboot — and lose all the current run data.

While some of these issues can be fixed with future firmware updates, the one thing it can’t fix is its lack of onboard GPS. The Zepp E offers only connected GPS, meaning you’ll have to bring your phone along with you during an outdoor run or bike ride if you want to track your route. Even the $80 Bip S has proper built-in GPS; to me it seems inexcusable that the Zepp didn’t include it.

The Zepp app offers some gorgeous watch faces, but other aspects of it are inconsistent and not very intuitive.


Rick Broida/CNET

Zepp’s the way the cookie crumbles

During daily wear, I encountered a few annoyances. For example, sometimes call alerts (in the form of “ring-ring” vibration) happened after my phone had stopped ringing. There’s a setting that lets you delay call notifications, which I thought might explain this, but it wasn’t enabled. I also found it frustrating that I couldn’t increase the font size on the screen and that various message sources (such as Slack) were identified simply as “app” rather than their actual name.  

Speaking of notifications, you can’t respond to them. There’s no way to answer a text, for example, nor can you use the watch for any voice features (like calls or Alexa commands).

I’m also disappointed by the Zepp app, which is the same one used for various Amazfit products (including the Bip). It’s divided into three main sections — Home, Enjoy (huh?) and Profile — all of which look completely different from one another. To change any Zepp E settings, you venture into the Profile section. It’s fairly straightforward, but there are a lot of options to sift through.

It’s easy enough to forgive a mediocre app when you’re talking about an $80 smartwatch, but it gets harder to ignore when you’re talking about a smartwatch that’s three times the price. It needs a usability overhaul.

The price is (not) right

For iPhone owners in particular, it’s hard to recommend the Zepp E at $249 when you can get the Apple Watch Series 3 for as low as $199. (At this writing, in fact, it’s still on sale for $169.) The latter is more tightly integrated with iOS, allowing you to reply to text messages directly and even have phone conversations.

Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy Active 2 sells for $249 offers some distinct advantages over the Zepp E, like its touch bezel, LTE option and FDA-cleared electrocardiogram (ECG) feature, all for the same $249 price tag. 

The Zepp E deserves praise for its lovely design, solid battery life and gorgeous selection of watch faces, but I don’t feel those are compelling enough to compensate for weak software, questionable health readings and lack of onboard GPS. There are better options available from the Amazfit brand that cost considerably less.

Zepp E specs

Shape Round
Watch size 42mm
Materials/ Finishes Stainless steel
Display size, resolution AMOLED
Dimensions 42.2 x 42.2 x 9.1mm
Weight 32g
Colors Onyx Black, Ice Blue, Polar Night Black, Moon Grey
Always On Optional
Interchangable bands Yes
GPS Connected GPS
Automatic workout detection No
Compass No
Altimeter No
Water resistance Yes, up to 5 ATM
Calls Alerts
Notifications Yes, but no replies
Microphone No
Voice assistant No
Music Playback control only
Mobile Payments No
Sleep tracking Yes
Special features SpO2 tracking
Emergency features No
Compatibility Android and iOS
Power Proprietary magnetic connector
Battery life 7-15 days
Price (USD) $250

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