Having had the original Smartwatch and the Smartwatch 2, it’s pretty much a given I was going to get the Smartwatch 3. I held off for a while whilst the Android Wear firmware sorted itself out, and in February it felt like time to make the upgrade, especially as the metal strap version was about to release. After 3 weeks of use what impression has it left me with?
First off, the Smartwatch 3 is probably the most feature rich wearable on the market at the moment. Let’s run through the main specs:
- Quad ARM A7 running at 1.2 GHz
- 512 MB RAM and 4 GB Storage
- 1.6″ touch display with 320 x 320 pixel resolution
- IP68 water protection rating
- Ambient Light Sensor, Accelerometer, Compass, Gyro, GPS, Microphone
- Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, Micro USB, WiFi Ready
- Swappable wristbands/straps
There’s a lot on there for connectivity and built in tech, which make for great selling points, but hit us with the first issue – there’s almost too much going on, most of it good, some of it a bit bizarre. The image quality on the display is good, the screen hardwearing, the touch response is sensitive but not overly so, and the water and dust resistance makes it practical for everyday use. The whole unit feels substantial and has a good build quality, though if you’re not a fan of silicone straps you’ll want to change that quickly. Out of the box the best word to describe it is… satisfying.
With the internal GPS and WiFi chips it should be leaps and bounds ahead of all the other watches out there, unfortunately they’re not fully supported at this point in time. The GPS at least can be used with the Runtastic app meaning you don’t have to take your phone out running with you, but it’s the only app that supports it. You might think that there’s a missed trick here if you like to exercise to the music on your phone, Sony have it covered though with the 4 GB internal storage that lets you store music from playlists, and the fact you can pair Bluetooth headphones to the Smartwatch 3. I’ve hooked my SBH50’s up to test it out and was impressed with the ease and quality that’s there. However, the WiFi piece is just pointless at the moment. The idea you’d be able to stay connected to some features whilst out of phone range is fantastic given the limitations of the previous devices, so it’s very disappointing that it’s not supported by anything. Yet.
Given that this is the 4th generation of the Smartwatch series, Sony have refined the overall look and feel of the device so it becomes more like something you’d wear everyday. The last version was nearly there, and the best feature of that one has been carried over – the fact that the watch display is visible at all times. Having an inverse low power image of your chosen watchface on screen makes this more like a timepiece than just a remote display. It’s also a lower profile so it fits under shirt cuffs easily, and the swappable straps is a nice touch that’s come from the original Smartwatch. Only one strap is included in the pack, and currently you can only buy the white replacement from most places, which is a shame because the lime green/yellow is pretty cool looking. Popping the electronic unit out is a piece of cake, so changing things around is quick and simple.
It’s a good job that it pops out easily because the charging point is on the back of the watch, and on a hinged rubber cover, so it’s a bit fiddly to get the micro USB charger in cleanly. Sony really should have thought that over a bit more, but then with the cover pressed against your wrist you’re unlikely to pop it open out in the rain and fry the innards. Another thing they should probably have thought over is moving to Android Wear, I’ve mixed feelings about it. On one hand, tapping into Google’s operating system means much less work for the Sony techs and you know it will be fully supported for a long time. On the other, Sony had a fully featured system already where they’d released the source code out to the dev community to get new and interesting uses for the watches. Android Wear is great to look at and easy to use, transferring the Google Now card principle to the device, and really incorporating the voice recognition into the overall function. It is very good, and it comes with a price. If your phone loses an online connection then the voice commands don’t work, which means one of the most basic features is gone – the ability to instigate a call.
With no internet connection you need to reach for your phone, which might seem trivial, but it’s quite annoying when you’ve spent the money on a wearable that’s perfectly capable of doing the job. Try sending a text after picking it from the menu screen and you’re greeted with “Can’t reach Google at the moment”. I don’t need to reach Google to send a message, or to select one of my contacts to phone, it’s a step backward in functionality. I’ll stress though, this is a limitation of the software and not the Smartwatch 3, but it needs highlighting because it reduces what you can do. If like me, you move from a Smartwatch 2, you even end up feeling like you’ve got a basic model that’s gone backwards 3 years. Forget how many different watchfaces you can have, just let me access more of my own device. On the flipside, the Android integration does make things much smoother and more intuitive, and it is a more aesthetically pleasing display.
Should you go out and buy one or upgrade at the £180 price point? That’s the real question here, and it depends on where you currently sit. If you’re new to wearable tech and don’t want to buy into the Apple ecosystem then jump straight in and get this. If you’ve had another brand Android device for a while, this is a great upgrade. If, however, you’re using the Smartwatch 2 then stick with it for a while longer. Until the latest iteration gets more GPS supported apps, independent WiFi, and some of the remote access functionality back, you’re not missing out. I really like what they’ve done with the Smartwatch 3, I just can’t help feel that it’s going to be overlooked by many because of the expanding choice in the market, and the fact that the key selling points can’t actually be demonstrated, or even used all the time.