We’d been eagerly awaiting Sony’s Smart Watch when we got our hands on one, along with a Sony Xperia U Android smartphone to test it out.
The Smart Watch is a small (36 x 36 x 8mm, 15.5-gram) device that clips onto an included silicon wristband. It connects to your Android phone via Bluetooth 3.0, and acts as a display for SMS, email and social media alerts. It’s designed for Sony Xperia phones, but Sony says it will work with other Android devices provided you manually install Sony’s LiveWare Manager and Sony SmartWatch software from the Google Play store. We couldn’t pair the device with other Android phones over Bluetooth, so we’re unable to confirm that.
The watch is essentially a ‘dumb terminal’ for a connected phone – Smart Watch applications are downloaded to the phone via the Google Play store rather than residing on the watch itself.
At the time of writing, available applications include a selection of phone handling applications and notifications, Endomondo Sports Tracker, Facebook, Twitter, Email, Music player (view track name/skip tracks playing on the phone), and Weather.
Note that none of those fulfill the role of stopwatch, timer or world clock – so this is more of a pager than a watch. I’d have thought that if you designed a smart watch, you’d implement the basic functionality of a $100 sports watch before you started with the Facebook and Twitter clients. Apparently not – perhaps that’s why I don’t design smart watches.
On the device, you control applications using its single button and 1.3-inch 128 x 128 multi-touch screen. The clock is only visible for a brief period after you press the power button. Three clock faces – two digital and one analogue – offer no colour or style customisation. Time is automatically set from your phone.
Tapping the screen opens the user-selectable widgets. You can flick between notifications and music playback with a single-finger gesture, for example, or flick down for a full list of applications. Tap on an application to launch it, and use a two-finger ‘expand’ gesture to go back. It’s easy to learn, but making a two-finger gesture on a one-inch screen was difficult.
If you disconnect or turn off your phone, the Smart Watch functions as a regular watch, until you turn it off and back on: then it just sits there waiting to be paired with your phone.
Advertised battery life is up to one week of ‘low usage’, 3-4 days of ‘typical usage’, and one day of ‘heavy usage’. Apparently I’m a heavy user, because 1-2 days was the most I got before having to recharge via the included USB cable. The proprietary connector that clips into the watch base kept falling out unless I sat it carefully on the desk.
Sony’s Smart Watch is a neat Android accessory and tech-toy. It’s great to be able to discreetly check your wrist in the middle of a meeting – rather than taking out your phone to check for an urgently awaited message. The ten-metre range also means you don’t have to carry your phone around the house, just to make sure you don’t miss an important call. However, it’s no replacement for a wrist-watch and will disappoint those hoping it can be the smart watch it claims to be.
Altogether, it’s a nice idea, but to make its way from toy to tool, the Smart Watch needs more autonomy from the phone, better timekeeping functionality, and perhaps a re-think of the OLED screen that results in short battery life and 1970s-style push-to-view functionality.