I’d been toying with the idea of getting a smart watch for around 8 months, pretty much since I’d heard about the Pebble Kickstarter project that aimed to bluetooth to your Android or iOS device and display basic phone functions. My main reservation was the phone I had at the time, an Xperia Arc, which I liked but it wasn’t really capable of the multitasking needed to run everything smoothly. When I upgraded to an Xperia Z earlier this year, and a couple of the guys I work with showed up with their Pebble’s, I couldn’t not get one, and I went for the Sony SmartWatch.
Originally, Sony released the LiveView a couple of years back and that worked as a remote screen for Android phones, allowing basic operations like controlling music and displaying social media messages through a touch of a button. The next generation of the device became the Sony SmartWatch, which like the LiveView, connects via bluetooth to an Android phone or tablet, and now has a touchscreen display that can remotely operate a multitude of apps.
The design of the SmartWatch is fairly simple, it’s a square screen in an aluminium and plastic housing with a single button on the side, and a chunky clip on the back that means you can attach it to clothing or thin materials easily. It comes with two watch straps (white and black) and an adapter so you can use any other 20 mm watch strap with it. The straps are made of a soft vinyl-type material which I was concerned would get uncomfortable but so far is one of the better straps I’ve ever worn. The screen itself has a deep black border that makes the display smaller than the watch face by about 20%, but doesn’t strike you as an issue. The whole thing feels solid, well built and light but you’d expect that from something you’d wear on your wrist. It isn’t the most low profile of things to wear, due to the tech it’s packing it stands higher than most watches so you’ll have to make an effort to get a shirt cuff over it. The overall design is different to most watches and I suppose it’s exactly what you’d expect of remote display.
Setting up the SmartWatch to work with you Android phone is fairly straight forward, though the instruction manual makes it look harder work than it is. Simply install the two required pieces of software: Smart Connect, which is a fantastic app for automating tasks anyway, and the SmartWatch software (both are free on the Google Play store). Once everything is installed, switch on bluetooth and let the phone and SmartWatch do the rest, it syncs pretty quickly and you’re good to go from there.
The main screen is a clock face of your choosing (there about 9 in the options menu) and is set by default to go off after a few seconds, though you can have it on any time it detects movement, but that will seriously drain the battery. To activate the clock you either tap twice on the screen or strap, or press the button once, then to select apps you just swipe your finger across the face (left/right/up/down), and tap once to pick them. The menu structure is easy to get on with, widgets are on the top level, all apps are on the bottom level and everything is ordered dependent on how you set them up in the options screen on the phone. I have found the swiping to be awkward at times, the touchscreen is a lot less sensitive than current phone screens, which makes sense given what it’s being used for, but I had to get used to deliberate actions to confidently get it to respond. The display resolution is something that needs mentioning. All the press shots and the pack shots show crystal clear fine detailed icons but the resolution isn’t as good as that. Don’t get me wrong, the display is good but not quite what you want it to be.
What is as good as you expect is the way all notifications come through to the watch. Every time a text, email, tweet or phone call comes through you get a summary on screen and the watch vibrates, and for each action there’s a response you can take. For tweets, texts and emails you can send a stock response, and for phone calls you can accept or reject. Simple things really but quite fun when you’re sat in meetings reading your messages surreptitiously. You might ask what’s the point when you can just pick your phone up, but it does make some things simpler and more convenient in that you don’t have to always have it to hand to read the latest social network updates. It’s also great for those times you’ve left your phone on silent and someone’s trying to get in touch. Similarly, it’s handy to have quick access to music controls, or to have a GPS map of your current location on your wrist, or to get a quick weather update. There’s also an app that let’s you access your phone camera for those moments when you need to spy on someone from another room… It will be good to see what other apps are developed, especially as Sony have deliberately released technical information to allow people to mod the hardware.
So it handles the functions it should do, but what about the other aspects? The battery life isn’t bad, I’ve been getting around 3 days from a full charge with pretty consistent use, and that extends by another day if I switch it off overnight. This is without the screen permanently on, I’ve heard that you’d need to charge it every day if you pick that option. Saying that, I have to charge my phone every 2 days so I’ve not got a problem with the battery life on the watch. The charger itself isn’t great, and you’d expect proprietary connections for something like this, but this one can be a bit fiddly. I’ve mentioned the screen already, and I need to tell you to forget expecting to use this in bright sunlight. Like any LCD screen, ambient light can affect the clarity and this suffers badly from it. Put a pair of sunglasses on and you’ve just got a black rectangle on your wrist. This is always an issue with mobile devices but they can compensate by adjusting the brightness, you can’t alter it on the SmartWatch. It’s a shame really because outdoors is one of the places it’s most useful when your phone’s at the bottom of your bag or stuck in your pocket.
I do like the SmartWatch and it does all come together at points to make you realise with a bit of refining it will become a great little device, and seeing as Sony have announced the next version I’m confident there’ll be significant improvements. I had one of those defining moments 4 weeks after getting it where I was listening to music over bluetooth headphones while my phone was still in my jacket pocket, and I got a phone call. Tapping the accept icon and then adjusting volumes from the watch rather than digging my phone out was very satisfying. Is it really a watch though? I think no, it’s a second screen for a phone, and as long as you’re clear that’s what you’re getting then it’s a good piece of tech.
There are other options for bluetooth watches out there, with the e-ink based Pebble probably being the most well known, and Apple and Samsung are both widely tipped to announce their versions soon. I’d expect when this happens to start seeing more smart watches in the market place, and actually on people, but it’s worth knowing that Sony got to market first with these devices, and I’m hoping they’ll not get lost in the crowd like they did with the mobile division for a while. It’s also worth noting that currently the SmartWatch offers the most interaction with your Android phone than the others on the market, and comes in at least £50 cheaper than the rest. A great selling point!