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Sony SmartWatch Review: Nice Concept, Poor Execution

Yan Matusevich
10

There something inherently appealing about the idea of an Android smartwatch. Maybe it's just the futuristic (and admittedly Star Trek-ish) concept behind the watch, but personally I couldn't wait to get my hands on this gadget and feel like a 21st century James Bond. As one of the first manufacturers to jump on the smartwatch bandwagon, Sony released its Sony SmartWatch recently aiming to fight its wait into the masses. Having played around with the watch for a while, here are my impressions on why the Sony SmartWatch is neither here nor there as a product.

Looks & Style: 

First disappointment: having expected to receive a full-blown watch, I was surprised to find that the SmartWatch itself simply clips onto a cheap-looking rubber armband. Although the gadget itself appears to stay in place, a sudden movement could potentially make the two pieces come undone, sending the small screen flying across the room (talking from experience, trust me).

A few more details about the watch itslef: at just 0.55 ounces the Sony SmartWatch is one of the lightest gadgets of its size and doesn't weigh down on your wrist. Shaped like a perfect square (1.42 inches x 1.42 inches) the display has a silver metallic edge to match the grey armband and comes across as mildly classy – at least from afar.

Unlike the iPod Nano and other similarly-sized gadget, the Sony SmartWatch has a truly tiny screen at just 1.3inches, surrounded by wide black margins on all sides. Given the tiny size of the watch itself, this seems like an unforgivable waste of space. If that wasn't enough to complain about, the screens visibility is very poor outdoors even when you stay away from direct sunlight. What's the point in having a “smart” watch if you can't even read the time?

Setup: Get out your user manual! 

Looks are swell, but what can the SmartWatch actually do? Before you can start doing anything with the watch, you have to pair it with your Android device. All the information (including date & time) comes from your phone. To use the phone, you have to install the Sony LiveWare app and then download the individual Smart Watch apps from Google Play (the LiveWare app comes preinstalled on Sony smartphones). The whole setup process can be drawn out and is in no way self-explanatory. So after downloading both the Sony LiveWare and Sony SmartWatch apps, you are ready to get starting with the extremely frustrating and painful pairing procedure.

Pairing your SmartWatch

First make sure to turn on Bluetooth on your Android device and shut down the SmartWatch by pressing the power button till the screen goes blank. Here comes the tricky part: to turn on the watch's “pairing mode” you have to long-press the power button for several seconds until the pairing symbol appears. The problem is that since the power button also turns the watch on and off, you end up getting stuck in a endless cycle of switching the phone on and off. I can't even begin to tell you how frustrating that is. Once you've figured out the right amount of seconds and your watch miraculously pairs up with your smartphone, you can finally check out what the SmartWatch is capable of.

Smartwatch apps:

There are a limited amount of custom-designed apps available for the watch for such things as Twitter, the weather, missed calls, text messaging, calendar and a music player. Add as many of them as you like and navigate through the watch by simply wiping your finger across the screen. Unfortunately, the app icons are smooshed together four to a screen with truncated names below them. Not very attentive to detail are we now Sony? Some of the watch widgets were more useful than others. While I definitely appreciated being notified about missed calls and texts, I don't really see the point in reading Facebook statuses and tweets cut up into tiny four-word constellations of words. Controlling the volume and switching tracks on your Android device from the watch was also definitely a plus, although it didn't always work perfectly. Also, using the Sony SmartWatch involves a lot of gestures and few may actually know that double-tapping a tweet automatically retweets it (a mistake I made several times in a row while trying to navigate back to the menu). Just remember: pinch the screen to go back in the menus.

SmartWatch bugs and issues: 

If you plan on replacing your “dumb” watch with this gadget, remember one thing: the watch must remain within Bluetooth pairing rage for it to work. So even a short phone-less trip to the bathroom can disrupt your connection and force you to go through the entire pairing rigamarole all over again. I mean, sure, in this day and age my phone is almost always by my side. Almost, but not always. Sadly, the SmartWatch cannot live even a second without an Android device at its side, meaning that you will have to keep them together like Siamese twins. To make matters worse, the watch tends to disconnect at random and re-pair again every now and then.

Price and rating: 

All of these faults could be perhaps tolerable if it wasn't for the gadget's exorbitant price. Paying $149 for a buggy Android phone-remote posing as a watch is beyond my comprehension.

I still believe in the vision of a smartwatch that will one day charm the hearts and minds of millions, but all have to say to Sony on its SmartWatch is: Nice try!

 

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Comments

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  • mandi phillips May 28, 2012 Link

    would like direct access mandiphillips2012@gmail.com

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  • Sharon Lewis May 28, 2012 Link

    I can't say that I'm impressed.

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  • Christopher Eric Chavez May 30, 2012 Link

    Awwww man.. And I wanted like so bad to like it (been searching for a good smartwatch) =/

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  • Yan Matusevich May 30, 2012 Link

    Chris, I was sooo stoked about the smartwatch, but it just doesn't cut it. Otherwise, I would've been the first one to wear it all the time. Still love the concept...

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  • Christopher Eric Chavez May 30, 2012 Link

    Yeah, guess we'll have to continue waiting :(

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  • Christopher Eric Chavez May 30, 2012 Link

    Oh, and sup, Sharon... How you doin? O_o

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  • EviL FazZ May 31, 2012 Link

    Thanks for the review, but this isn't exactly new. I've been using these devices since 2006, when Sony (with Ericsson) first began selling these types of BlueTooth enabled watches and find it unforgivable on how little they have progressed in six years.

    Your absolutely right regarding how bad it sits in the strap. My LiveView ended up in the road half the time whilst cycling and ended up attaching it (improvised fixture) to my bike in the end, but the screen, although slightly too small (with as you say the stupid large framing edge) it's just not very usable in daylight.

    The main issue with it, it's a watch, it's referred to as a watch and used as a watch, yet doesn't work as well or as convenient as a actual watch. For one, you have press a button on the side, every time you want to see the time. Very annoying. If it loses connection with your phone, which is something happens frequently with this poor device, it doesn't always remember the time and needs to be re-connected again, manually.

    Lastly, the biggest feature they sadly lost through it's maturity and LED screen, was the auto lock device feature. When the MWB range lost connection (which was actually rare and decent then) to the mobile device it was paired with, it would 'lock' the device to whatever you use, which could be your typical Android lock screen, gesture lock, pattern lock or even phone pin. This was a brilliant security feature really and if you phone was forgotten somewhere or moved away from you (more than it's BlueTiooth range of about 10 metres) it would auto lock. It would also give a vibrating warning, that it's out of range and disconnected.

    Anywho, I think a combination of the MetaWatch and this Smart Watch with a much improved design (both are pretty cumbersome) would sell a lot better and I'd be prepaid to pay even £150 ($230-ish) if it was actually good... the MWB (100, 150, 150 update and 200) range were around £200-£250 and were worth it then, because they actually worked well and six years on, they still work pretty well (LED's have faded a little)... if somewhat rather dated.

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  • Günther Schroffner May 31, 2012 Link

    Sony is doing pretty poorly with the SmartWatch and LiveView. When the SmartWatch came out, the LiveView prices dropped which piqued my curiosity. €20 seemed like an absolute deal, so I ordered a LiveView. The first one was faulty, but it took me 3 weeks to realise it when it refused to turn the display on. I tried everything, charging it, firmware upgrade and reinstall, everything!

    The biggest issue with these devices is the fact that they can't hold a Bluetooth connection to save a life. The only way I managed to get one working on Android 2.3.7 was to modify my Bluetooth key and download a third party app that kept the LiveViewManager app active in the background. (I think the big issue here is that Live Manager app. It seems to get killed off pretty easily when it even works. If someone fixed that, maybe these things would work a little better).

    Anyway, 2 LiveViews later and an upgrade to Android 4 and I'm kicking myself for wasting money on these silly toys. But then again, there's always the i'M Watch and the ePebble, if you have a money burning a hole in your pocket.

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  • EviL FazZ May 31, 2012 Link

    I've seen and used 'I'm Watch'... and believe it or not, the Sony Smart Watch is far better and cost effective. I'm Watch is trying far to hard to do too much, has a horrible screen, is hugely over priced... but mostly, support for the product is zero.

    Currently I'd say the MetaWatch if you want to invest in this sort of tech, but that's a little old now (over a year or so) and can see it being updated any day soon, hopefully... because it needs it... and these types of products could be very useful and SO KooL!

    Although... with Google Glasses around the corner, maybe we won't need them?

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  • Aladin Q Apr 22, 2013 Link

    Hey EviL FazZ, you might have a look at "AutoLock" - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.quet.android.autolock

    Quoting you: << [...] Lastly, the biggest feature they sadly lost through it's maturity and LED screen, was the auto lock device feature. When the MWB range lost connection (which was actually rare and decent then) to the mobile device it was paired with, it would 'lock' the device to whatever you use, which could be your typical Android lock screen, gesture lock, pattern lock or even phone pin. [...] >>

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