ZTE Quartz watch review: The Best Android Wear value, plain and simple

The ZTE Quartz is a big and somewhat pedestrian entry into the Android Wear 2.0 fray, but you won't find a better 3G watch for the money.

Android Wear might not be the most powerful or versatile wearable OS, but it’s always had one big advantage over its competitors: variety. The first round of Android wearables was a diverse lot—square and round, classic and sporty, big and small—and no matter your taste, you were pretty much guaranteed to find an aesthetic that suited your wrist.

With the new crop of watches, however, variety has taken a back seat to size. Nowhere is that more evident than with the ZTE Quartz. It doesn’t have NFC, LTE, or a heart-rate monitor, but it’s just as big and bulky as its higher-priced peers that do.

Maybe it’s the beefy battery and 3G chip that makes the Quartz so big, but whatever the reason, it’s one more watch that will just be too much for most wrists. That said, its attractive price makes it an excellent entry-level watch for people who want to stay connected while leaving their phone (and charger) at home. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a first-generation Android Wear watch for this price, with or without cellular connectivity.

Go big or go home

ZTE’s first wearable device is unmistakable and unapologetically an Android Wear 2.0 watch. Its 1.4-inch AMOLED screen takes up much of the body, but its frame—while definitely noticeable, particularly in the lugs—isn’t quite as commanding as some other Android Wear 2.0 watches.

zte quartz thickness Michael Simon/IDG

The ZTE Quartz is the biggest, but it is one of the thickest Android Wear watches.

So, if you have a small wrist, you can add the ZTE Quartz to the list of Android Wear 2.0 watches that aren't made for you. While its price is tempting, its 45mm size and 14.5mm thickness will just be too large for many people. And like other Android Wear 2.0 watches, it has a decidedly male aesthetic, with a stainless steel bezel etched with hour markings, and a default face that features digital chronographs for the day, steps and battery level.

Size aside, however, the ZTE Quartz doesn’t feel like a $192 smartwatch. Its metal case looks more luxurious than the pricier Huawei Watch, and its 3-ounce weight gives the watch some substance without weighing down your wrist. If I have any complaints, it’s that it’s kind of bland, lacking any real character or personality.

Buttoned up

The Quartz's textured silicone strap matches nicely with the metal face, but it’s a bit stiff and tended to pinch my wrist. Add in a sweaty exercise session (or just a particularly hot day), and it gets even more uncomfortable. However, since it uses a standard 20 mm connection, you can easily swap out any band you’d like.

zte quartz button Michael Simon/IDG

With a single button and a simple design, the ZTE Quartz won’t stand out from other watches.

Unlike its peers, the Quartz features a single back/apps/Assistant button, so to restart or power down, you’ll need to head into the settings. The one-button operation is a throwback to the first-generation Wear models, and something of a step backward for Android Wear 2.0, which introduced customization and scrolling with the LG watches. For example, the LG Style Watch has a single button as well, but you can spin it to scroll through menus, and it uses short and long pressing to power down and summon Google Assistant. I’d have preferred that approach or a second button on the Quartz.

And one more quibble: If you’re going the one-button route, it would look better if it were centered on the side. As it’s placed on the top right of the Quartz, it looks a touch out of place.

Pay cut

While the Quartz does have GPS, you won’t find a heart-rate monitor on the underside. ZTE says it was left off because heart rate sensor tech isn’t ready for prime time, but I suspect price was just as much of a factor. The goal here was to create a cheap, always-connected watch, and I assume a heart-rate sensor would have pushed it over the $200 threshold.

zte quartz back Michael Simon/IDG

Sorry, fitness fans, there’s no heart-rate monitor on the back of the ZTE Quartz.

You get IP67 water resistance, but there’s no NFC chip. That means you won’t be able to use Android Pay, one of the major new features of Android Wear 2.0.

That’s a major bummer, because ZTE’s big pitch with the Quartz watch is that you can leave your phone at home. Since there are so few Android Wear watches that support Android Pay, NFC could have given the Quartz a big advantage. Still, whether it was a cost-cutting move or a battery-saving move, we’ll have to wait until the Quartz 2 to be able to buy things.

All-day coverage

ZTE has packed a 500mAh battery inside its watch, and that’s more than enough to comfortably last a full day, even with 3G connectivity enabled. There aren’t any power-saving modes like in the Huawei Watch 2, but I didn’t have a problem making it through an entire day with the brightness turned up and the always-on display enabled.

zte quartz cellular Michael Simon/IDG

You wouldn’t expect a sub-$200 watch to have 3G connectivity, but the Quartz does.

And that big battery makes its marquee feature, 3G connectivity, far more useful, as you won’t have remember the clunky charging cradle when you leave your phone at home. And it charges fast too, as long as you connect it to the charging dock correctly. The somewhat bulky bundled cradle fits the watch to a tee, but its snugness makes it hard to tell if the watch has properly attached to the four pins. On more than one occasion mine didn’t seat properly, and I woke up to a watch with barely any juice left.

Because notifications and phone calls data is so small, the difference between 3G (ZTE’s approach) and faster LTE is virtually nonexistent. I’ve used an LG Sport and Samsung Gear S3 Frontier, both of which are equipped with LTE, and their user experiences when receiving data felt essentially identical to that of the Quartz. Until the spectrum is completely gobbled up by 4G, 3G is a cheaper, more power-efficient solution for smartwatches, and ZTE was smart to go that route.

However, you’ll need to be a T-Mobile subscriber to take advantage of ZTE’s 3G. And, in fact, you can only by the Quartz through T-Mobile. The watch taps into the carrier’s new Digits service, so you can share your regular phone number with your wearable. It’ll cost you $10 for the privilege, but since the Quartz will only set you back $8 a month (if you opt for the 24-month installment plan), it’s an extremely low entry cost, and easily the least expensive way to get a phone on your wrist.

Watch and listen

Making calls isn’t generally one of a smartwatch’s primary functions, but it’s actually a pretty good experience on the Quartz. The app is as you’d expect, displaying your contacts, recent calls, and a tiny dialer, with incoming calls popping up as they should. But the killer feature is the actual conversation itself.

zte quartz speaker Michael Simon/IDG

I don’t generally pay much attention to the speaker on my Android Wear watches, but the Quartz’s is quite good.

ZTE has fitted the Quartz with a pretty stellar speaker that makes calls sound almost as crisp as they do on your actual phone. I heard every word clearly, even when I asked the person on the other end to whisper. And the speaker is loud, too. Granted, it won’t be as annoying as the person on the train using their speaker phone to make dinner plans with their buddies, but you’ll probably want to lower the volume when answering a call in public.

The speaker is also surprisingly great for playing music. Where I wouldn’t even consider using any other my other watches to play tunes without a set of Bluetooth buds, I could see using the Quartz in lieu of a Bluetooth speaker at the beach or on a bike ride. I compared it against the LG Sport, and the sound on the Quartz was significantly louder, clearer, and fuller. I mean, it’s no Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, but it’ll do in a pinch. And streaming music through Spotify or Play Music over 3G was surprisingly quick and virtually lag-free.

Lack of character

With 3G connectivity and an impressive speaker, you would think that the ZTE Quartz would appeal to runners and other athletes. But if that’s the case, they might be a little disappointed in the fitness capabilities of the watch.

zte quartz sport Michael Simon/IDG

The Sport face on the ZTE Quartz isn’t very fitness-minded.

It’s not just that it doesn’t have a heart-rate monitor. The Quartz doesn’t compensate with any additional fitness features at all. Google’s stock Fit and Fit Workout apps are present, of course, but ZTE doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Where sporty wearables like the Huawei Watch 2 and New Balance RunIQ make a firm commitment to fitness with their own activity-minded apps and complications, the Quartz doesn’t embrace its athletic side at all. Even its “Sport” face offers nothing in the way of an activity tracker (though its green hue and streaking second hand will probably look good with a workout outfit).

As such, the Quartz watch doesn’t really have its own identity. While it has GPS, there isn’t a particular emphasis on running or cycling. It has a 3G chip, but without NFC, you’ll still need your phone for Android Pay. And it has a great speaker but nothing unique to complement it, like a bass booster or an equalizer-inspired watch face. That sounds like a lot of criticism for a $192 watch, but I’m just pointing out missed opportunities. With an extra feature or two, the ZTE Quartz could have been easily been the Huawei Watch of Android Wear 2.0.

Should you buy it?

The decision to buy any Android Watch is dependent on multiple factors, but in the ZTE Quartz’s case, there are two main ones to consider: Do you need Android Pay? Are you a T-Mobile customer?

If the answers to those questions are no and yes, respectively, then the ZTE Quartz is a no-brainer purchase (assuming it fits your wrist). At just $192, you’re not likely to find a better deal for a 3G Android Wear watch, even if you opt for one of the marked-down first-gen versions. All-day, independent connectivity is quite a feat for a sub-$200 2017 watch, and if that’s one of the features you crave, there’s very little reason reason not to pick one up.

It might not be the flashiest watch around, but with the money you save you can buy a real fancy band to go with it. 

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Michael Simon

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