Smartwatches have been around for quite a while, Fossil were one of the first to release one in 2003 with their “Wrist PDA” watch and since then many brands have entered the market. The market for smart watches is heating up lately and there are major rumours that Apple are to release one this year, with that in mind lets take a look at Sony’s latest offering in the smartwatch market, the SmartWatch 2.
As the name implies it is the follow up to Sony’s original SmartWatch. In fact this is the third iteration of Sony’s smartwatch platform, the first being the Sony Live View which was released back in 2010.
I see a smartwatch as being an extension for a smartphone, not something that replaces it, I think sometimes some of the criticism of these watches seems to be because they are viewed as replacements which they’re what they are good at is seeing notifications and keeping up to date without getting your phone out.
A major selling point for this new Sony model is that it’s compatible with any Android smartphone running version 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and above so you’re not limited to Sony phones. Sony has made a number of improvements to this new version compared to the original Smartwatch, including an upgraded interface and a more slender water resistant case.
Sony SmartWatch 2 – Case
The Smartwatch 2 has a square case made of aluminium and at 9mm in height will easily slip under your cuff and is no more chunkier than the average wristwatch. It features a single button to the right side which switches it on and off and also wakes the watch to activate the touchscreen and this mimics a regular watch crown in looks. It is mostly finished in black with a nice subtle silver edging to it. On the left side is the micro USB port which allows for data transfer and charging.
When you first put on the Sony Smartwatch 2 you immediately notice its weight, it has an appreciable heft to it, whether it is too much is down to personal taste but I liked the feel of it. At 127g it isnt very heavy by wristwatch standards however compared to other smartwatches it is on the heavier side, the Pebble for example weighs 47g while the Samsung Galaxy Gear is 74g. At 42 x 41mm the Smartwatch 2 is similar in size to a lot of average sized sports watches.
One of the upgrades to this new model is a water resistance rating of IP 57 which means that it can be submersed in water up to 1m for about 30 minutes, which is good to know and an added feature often missong from other smartwatches – the Galaxy Gear is only slash proof for example. On the practical side of things this means you dont have to worry about getting it wet when washing your hands or the dishes, or being caught in a severe downpour. One thing to be aware of is that its watertightness is dependent on having the usb protective cover properly closed.
Sony SmartWatch 2 – Strap
The press sample I received came with a matching metal bracelet, but it also comes in a range of coloured rubber and leather straps. It uses a standard 24mm strap so you are able if you prefer to customise it with a different one of your choice instead of being stuck with Sony’s one. It could even look good with a gold strap since the watchfaces are displayed in gold tone.
Sony SmartWatch 2 – Dial
I hesitate to call it a dial, since the watchface is an LCD screen. The screen in this case is a 1.6in transflective touchscreen LCD (220 x 176-pixel TFT) which uses – unlike a lot of LCD displays- ambient light, so that a backlight is not always needed, this saves valuable battery power.
I liked the clean, simple sqaure design of the Smartwatch 2, the Sony brand name is placed at the top while “Back”, “Home” and “Action” buttons are placed at the bottom – similar to the Experia phone. One thing to note is that these buttons are inoperative until you press the button located on the right side of the watch. Initially people may be confused by this (as I was) as its slightly unintuitive, popping open the quick start section of the manual does away with any confusion however.
The Smartwatch 2 comes with five different watch faces which are selectable via the home screen. I liked the chosen designs which are a mixture of either analogue or digital in style, however a common criticism of the Smartwatch 2 has been that there are only five watch faces to choose from and no way to customise them. This drawback has recently been resolved with a new update which now adds customisable watch faces and also an editor so you can now still choose from the base set of digital and analogue watch faces available in various styles, but on top of that you also now have the option to create and edit your own watch faces.
You do this by starting with a blank watch face and then adding different watch designs and widgets to create one that you’re happy with. Along with the ability to vary the type of watch face from either digital or analogue ones in various styles you can also change its size. There are various widgets including a Bluetooth indicator, date indicator, battery life, alarm and new events, the app also gives you the feature of being able to change the background wallpaper on your home screen.
Sony SmartWatch 2 – Software
The Sony SmartWatch 2 comes with some apps already installed such as a torch- which is basically just a white screen- as well as a stopwatch. I did particularly like the alarm app which comes with a very strong vibration setting – very useful for waking yourself without disturbing anyone!
The Smartwatch 2 will be straightforward to use for anyone familiar with the Android interface, however setting it up in the first place is a little bit convoluted. To bypass the time display and access the main screen you first press the button on the right and press the home button. Once there you notice a Bluetooth connection indicator and a battery indicator are located at the top of the screen. If you don’t own a Sony Experior smartphone then you’ll need to download the SmartConnect App from Google play , once you’ve done this you’ll then be able to connect your handset to the watch using NFC. Quick one-touch pairing with any Android 4.0 and higher device is done via an NFC radio located on the SmartWatch 2’s back panel.
This is fairly straightforward to do however once you’ve completed this you’ll then need to go into the SmartConnect app and individually install each feature. This is a bit of a slow process because it means installing Twitter, Facebook and setting up your e-mail and so on one by one. And once you’ve done this you’ll then need to log into each one separately even if you are logged in on your phone so that the watch and phone can synchronise.
Once this is all completed I was able to check my emails and have a look at social media without any issues, although the single core 180 MHz(ARM Cortex-M4) processor can be a little slow at times and because the screen is slightly low resolution with no way of increasing font size it can be a little difficult to read sometimes as well. Processor power is always a trade-off, the more power, the less battery life, the Smartwatch 2 seems to have a decent balance, but you do occasionally experience lag, for instance when a notification is being accessed, but this is a fairly minor quibble. According to Sony the battery will last 3 to 4 days with normal usage which from my use seems a fair estimate.
The Smartwatch 2 also works with Bluetooth, its simply a case of using it to pair the watch with your phone. It can make and receive calls like the Galaxy gear however since it has no microphone or speaker you need to use a Bluetooth headset to speak to people or just use your phone itself. To notify you of incoming actions including phone calls the watch vibrates and a notification will pop up and allow you to dismiss or answer the call.
One of the major perks of this watch is there are plenty of other apps available on Google play, in fact a huge variety for a smartwatch with over 300 and counting. Interesting ones include the app called “find phone” which is very handy for those who have misplaced their phone, you just activate the app and your phone will vibrate and make a noise making it a simple task to find it.
The Runtastic android app will also sync with the Sony Smartwatch so this can be used as a basic fitness tracker, you can then track your workout easily with a glance at your wrist, however this will drain the battery more of course.
Although the Sony Smartwatch 2 does not have a camera like the Samsung Galaxy Gear, it does have the functionality of a slideshow to view images. Another photography app called “Camera smart extension” lets you control the shutter of your smartphone camera from a distance of up to 10 meters. This could be useful for monitoring a toddler, using your phone as a security camera or simply for “selfies”.
There are many more apps to choose from, one way of finding them is by using the Smart Connect app to search for them or by browsing the categories.
Sony SmartWatch 2 – Conclusion & Price
As an accessory for your android smartphone the Sony Smartwatch 2 serves this purpose very well as well as being able to replace a regular watch in a more practical way.
It’s fairly small low resolution display may be a drawback but is only really noticeable when compared to high-resolution smartphones. On the plus side there are many apps and it is also has much wider phone support and is cheaper than the Galaxy Gear, being compatible with all recent android handsets from 4.0 . Although it doesnt have native call-handling capabilities like the Galaxy Gear and it cannot pair with the iPhone – the Pebble or Martian Passport being options in this regard.
Apart from its smartwatch functionality is also works very well as a stylish timepiece which some other smart watches certainly don’t do, and thanks to its transreflective display and backlight its very readable in all lighting conditions. The huge range of apps for the watch also really enhances its functionality and to make further improvements Sony says that it is listening intently to customer feedback in order to further develop the watch’s features and software.
Overall the Sony Smartwatch 2 looks like a solid contender in the smartwatch race. It retails for $199 at the Sony store.
Sony SmartWatch 2 -Apps/Plugins Ready-to-go
- Call handling (answer*, reject, mute, volume handling)
- Missed call notification
- Music remote extension/music handling
- Smart camera
- Calendar reminder