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Why I wear this $220 smartwatch even after testing Garmin and Apple watches

Over the past month, the Amazfit Balance, running on Zepp OS 3.0, proved to me that it's worthy of being anyone's primary smartwatch.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Amazfit Balance
Matthew Miller/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Amazfit Balance smartwatch is available now for $219.
  • It features a sleek and stylish design with a brilliant AMOLED display, accurate GPS, and a list of health-tracking features.
  • Just be prepared for the data-heavy companion app, which will take some time to familiarize with.

As a reviewer of wearables here on ZDNET, I've been spoiled by the opportunity to test out flagship smartwatches from Apple, Samsung, Garmin, Coros, and many others. As I was looking to try out something new at the end of 2023, the latest Amazfit Balance Special Edition watches caught my eye, especially at their starting price of $220.

Also: My favorite hybrid smartwatch just got smarter, and its battery life is still incredible

Over the years I have tested several Amazfit watches and have been impressed with the hardware and software experience that I've gotten for the money -- so much so that I bought myself the Woodland model of the Balance series.

After a month of use, the Amazfit Balance remains on my wrist and continues to meet the needs of a casual athlete like myself. In fact, it even beats out my Apple Watch in some regards like importing interval workouts from my phone. Here's why else the latest smartwatch is worth considering.

View at Amazon

For the fit and finish, the Amazfit Balance is only 10.6mm thick and just over 40 grams (with a strap), so it fits seamlessly on my wrist and under my winter long-sleeve shirts. Sleeping with the watch hasn't been a problem either, and it's handled being worn out in the rainy Pacific Northwest thanks to the 5 ATM water-resistant rating.  

In my testing with two other, more expensive watches, the overall heart rate readings were mostly the same, though there were moments when the Amazfit would trail by 5 to 8 beats per minute. Again, this is a $200 wearable competing against ones that cost two to three times as much. 

amazfit-balance2
Matthew Miller/ZDNET

GPS tracking was almost the same as measured with a $1,000 Garmin watch, even in areas that were heavily wooded and included peaks and valleys. I also tested the sleep tracking of the Amazfit Balance while wearing my Oura Ring, and the changes to sleep stages, heart rate, respiratory rate, and other metrics were impressively about the same. 

Also: New Oura Ring feature measures your ability to recover from stress

The data capturing on the Amazfit is extensive, as you'll quickly discover in the Zepp smartphone application. The Zepp app has evolved over the years, but not necessarily for the better, as there's an exhaustive number of taps needed to explore all of your data, set up your Amazfit experience, and gain specific insights on your workouts. I like to tinker with all of the data, but navigating the user interface will not be everyone's cup of tea.

For example, to sync your watch to the app, you must tap into the profile tab, scroll down to find watch settings, and then scroll through another list to find sync options. This level of customization for your personal needs makes the watch feel like a much more expensive wearable than it is, but the experience can also be daunting. Thankfully, once you get everything set up the first time, the main app experience only revolves around the home, sleep, and workout tabs.

Also: This sports watch has a ChatGPT-like running coach. Here's how it works

The Amazfit Balance supports Amazon Alexa as a voice assistant, has a speaker and mic so you can use it for calls connected via Bluetooth to your phone, and can even record voice memos while you're working out (if you have the breath to do it.) I'll note that offline music is supported but only if you upload MP3 files. On-device streaming services are not supported.

amazfit-balance5
Matthew Miller/ZDNET

This is the first Amazfit watch powered by Zepp OS 3.0, and with this newest version of the watch software, there are more than 150 downloadable apps in the store, you can connect to external workout devices (power meters and heart rate belts), sensor capabilities are enhanced, and developers have more ways to optimize the watch for users.

The Zepp experience isn't fully supported in the US; you can't use Zepp Pay for NFC payments. There are also new subscription-based services available called Zepp Aura and Zepp Fitness that can make the overall experience somewhat confusing, with partial access to features included for free and advanced functionality only available when you pay for it. For what it's worth, I did not test any of the subscription services and the watch was still sufficient for my lifestyle needs.

Lastly, the Amazfit Balance is advertised for lasting up to 14 days between charges, with a drop to just five days when the always-on display is enabled. With my two to three runs a week and daily use -- with the always-on display disabled -- I only needed to charge the watch just every 7 to 8 days, which was fantastic.

ZDNET's buying advice

If you are looking for an affordable smartwatch that lasts more than a week with heavy use, has a brilliant AMOLED display, is sleek and slim, measures all the essential health and wellness metrics, and even lets you deal with phone calls from your wrist, then the Amazfit Balance is the one to get. The companion app will take some getting used to, especially at the beginning, but everything else about the watch more than makes up for it.

One last tip: The watch uses standard 22mm bands, so you can find hundreds of other band options on Amazon to match your style. 

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