Asus to launch $199 smartwatch this month

The ZenWatch runs Android Wear and is one of several smartwatches expected at IFA in Berlin

The Asus ZenWatch on show in Berlin on September 3, 2014

The Asus ZenWatch on show in Berlin on September 3, 2014

Taiwan's Asustek Computer plans to put a smartwatch on sale later this month for US$199 or €199, the company said Wednesday.

In launching the ZenWatch, Asus joins a growing number of electronics companies chasing after customers in the new but as yet untested product category.

The watch has a 1.6-inch OLED (organic light emitting diode) display with a curved and toughened Gorilla Glass face that's surrounded by a stainless steel body, said Mitch Yang, vice president of the Asus design center, during a news conference at the IFA tradeshow in Berlin.

It runs Android Wear, a recently launched version of Google's Android operating system that has been customized for use on watches, with Asus-developed user interface elements. For example, the company has packed around 100 different watch face designs into the unit.

The watch is intended to be used with a smartphone, paired over Bluetooth. It can be used as a remote viewfinder for picture taking, and wearers can silence a ringing phone by covering the watch face with a hand. A tap on the screen of the watch will also force the paired phone to emit a sound -- something intended to let users find phones that might be lost in the home. It's unclear if the technology can be used in reverse to help find a lost watch.

The watch has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, 4GB of storage and a built-in microphone. It measures 50.6 millimeters by 39.8mm by 9.4mm and weighs 50 grams. The strap adds an additional 25 grams.

Smartwatches are expected to be one of the major themes at this week's IFA electronics show in Berlin.

The launch of the Android Wear software has prompted a number of companies to develop their own products as the industry tries to evaluate consumer opinion and whether the product category might score a hit with consumers. The reactions of consumers at the show will form part of that evaluation, but most important will be their reception during the end-of-year buying period.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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