The Sony SmartWatch 2 (SW2) is Sony’s third generation smart watch, and the successor to what Sony simply called the Smart Watch. The current model is an advance in all aspects from the previous edition. The SmartWatch 2 is perhaps more properly described as a second screen for your phone, as it’s not a standalone item, it relies on being tethered to your phone via Bluetooth to receive its smarts.
In the box you get the SmartWatch 2 with a black silicon band, a quick start guide and a very short micro USB cable which must be designed for plugging into your computer. A charger was a separate item, but with Sony using the micro USB standard, your current phone charger will be fine. The SW2 accepts any 24mm band, so personalising it isn’t an issue.
The watch doesn’t have a speaker or microphone, so there’s no making or answering calls like Dick Tracy, though you can reject calls with a message, or answer them via your phone. In this review I have used the SmartWatch 2 with a Nexus 4.
A watch is not seen as a necessity anymore, as the mobile phone is now ubiquitous and performs the same functions, plus much more. Can the wrist watch make a come back? I’ve spent the last week with Sony’s latest smart watch to find out.
Hardware and Build
The Sony SmartWatch 2 is a good looking device, in a handsome square way, with an aluminium frame that is matte black around the sides and a polished bezel. The rear of the device is plastic, and the single physical button that’s in the traditional winder position is metal, which follows Sony’s recent power button design theme that’s seen on the Xperia Z1 and Z Ultra.
The only exterior port is for a standard micro USB cable to charge the device. It takes less than an hour to charge from flat, and then will run for 2 days under heavy usage, or three to four days with more moderate use. The port has a plastic flap to seal it which can be a bit tricky at times to open as it sits so flush with the frame that you have a hard time even seeing it. Once closed, the watch is water resistant in up to one metre of water for 30 minutes and dust resistant – the watch is rated at IP57 for weather resistance.
The build is very solid, and after a week of tormenting it in a hostile commercial kitchen environment, the SW2 still looks new. With the included silicon strap the watch weighs 123 grams, and is very comfortable to wear.
This is the area where the SmartWatch 2 shines, and is also a small let down. The SW2 is always on, which makes it very useful in its main purpose, and that’s being a watch. You can glance at it to tell the time and date, whereas some other watches require you to press the power button to activate it. It truly is a hands off device, and the notifications that flash up accompanied by a short burst of vibration are very easy to read.
There are three capacitive buttons on the bottom edge of the bezel. They are the standard Android back, home and action button. The screen can be picky when you first swipe it, but with practice you discover that it likes a light touch. Sometimes the reaction to your presses can be slow, making you think that it hasn’t registered your input, at other times it feels quite snappy.
In full sunshine the transflective display becomes even easier to read. When not powered up, the screen is still on, and if you choose one of the more traditional watch faces that mimic a classic analogue style face, then you would be hard pressed to know that this is an electronic watch.
The small let down is that when you press the power button and go into the function pages, the low dots per inch show. The LCD colour touchscreen is 1.6 inches with 220 x 176 pixels (176 DPI), which does look a bit pixellated at times. So it’s not as sharp as it could be, but I found that it really doesn’t matter on a 1.6″ display that you only glance at from time to time.
The SmartWatch 2 has very good battery life for a device of this type. With every notification and alarm that I could muster, making the watch vibrate and flash its screen on almost constantly sometimes, the battery lasted for 48 hours. When I toned down the notifications for my sanity, and untethered it from my phone when not needed (such as sleeping), then the battery would last for at least three days. Charging via a standard phone micro USB cable takes less than an hour. A downside is that the watch causes your phone to lose charge more than usual.
The SmartWatch 2 is very easy to initially set up by either pairing it with your phone via NFC, or if you don’t have an NFC enabled phone, then by downloading the Sony Smart Connect (LiveWare Manager) app and pairing it with that. If you have NFC then all that you do is touch the back of the watch with the back of your phone (enable NFC in your phone’s settings). When paired, your phone goes to Google Play and asks you to install Smart Connect.
You only have to pair once, then the watch is tethered by Bluetooth. The SM2 has support for Bluetooth 3.0, not the more modern Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy, but this doesn’t seem to affect the battery life of the watch. The Bluetooth range is about 10 metres, after that the watch will disconnect, then reconnect when within range again automatically.
Sony Smart Connect is a Live Ware manager, and all of the apps that you install are Live Ware extensions. When you download an app that you want, it doesn’t show up in your app drawer as usual, it will be filed in the Installed Applications page of the Smart Connect app, which turns out to be very handy.
The watch comes with very few apps installed from the get go, such as an alarm and timer, but the Smart Connect app has a list of suggested apps for you, and installing the ones that you want is easy. Smart Connect also has a search function that will search for apps that are optimised for the SmartWatch 2, and lists categories such as Communication or Notifications to make it easy to search for what you are looking for.
Sony claims that there are hundreds of optimised apps, but apart from the dozen or so Sony apps, there are probably only about another dozen third party apps that are worth looking at.
The official Sony extensions that I have installed are:
Third Party apps that I have installed are:
The notifications that the SmartWatch 2 can display with these extensions installed are:
Using Augmented SmartWatch Pro, there are more notifications and alerts such as WhatsApp, Skype, KiK Messenger, Viber, Instagram alerts, eBay, Textra, GoSMS, ChompSMS, Exchange Email, K9 emails and more. Augmented SmartWatch has been unresponsive a few times, but a reset of the watch fixes that. So it’s slightly unstable, but the functions that it brings are worth it.
Of note is that answering a call on your phone via the watch is only an option with the Sony Call Handling app on a Sony Xperia phone. On other phones you only have the option of rejecting the call. That’s why I have installed Call Handling Pro to get around this bug. You can also activate the loudspeaker on your phone when answering a call using this app.
All of the notifications and alerts that you get on the watch are an abbreviated version of the message, with no option to show it in full. It’s enough to find out who is sending you a message and from there you can decide if you should get your phone out and respond, or if it could wait. It’s enough to see a whole tweet, but you can’t click on the message to see more or follow a link.
There are five watch faces that come bundled with the watch, an uninspired generic digital face, then there are four faces based on a similar theme of a classic analogue face that looks very good, one is black with the date and 12-6-9 numerals, then white with the date and 12-6-9, the last two are the same but with out the date and numerals. A bit more creativity from Sony wouldn’t go astray here.
Sony Smart Watch 2
ConclusionMy initial impressions were that this watch was good, but not great. After reviewing the unit for a week, adding third party apps that improved the functionality for me, I am now impressed. The watch can handle living on a wrist and not having to worry about splashes, spills and the occasional full on dunking, the silicon band is comfortable and suits the watch in a chunky way, the display is easy to read under all conditions, and it can last for days in between charges. The less positive experiences is that it is sometimes slow to react to touch, and some of the Sony apps could be more creative in their design.
The SmartWatch 2 would be improved with a faster processor and a higher resolution screen, but these would probably come at the sake of battery charge life.
I think that the most important thing is that I was no longer instinctively reaching for my phone when a message came in, I just glanced at my buzzing wrist watch to see the message, then decided if I wanted to fish out my phone.
The Sony SmartWatch 2 is a good effort by Sony, and for those that have a need or want for such a device, then it is well worth purchasing. But not at the $354.95 price that Sony Australia is selling it for. Many online retailers have it for around $200, which is a much more reasonable asking price.
Though there is a whisper about a Gem of a watch in perhaps the near future.
What do you think of smart watches? A passing fad or here to stay? Let us know in the comments!