MadDog
MadDog

Sony SmartWatch 3 Review

    Android wear has been about for a while, and we are now on second generation watches, but should you go out and buy one?

    We take a look at the Sony Smartwatch 3, Sony's first foray into Android wear. At IFA 2014 it was slated as being boring, but can it give those fancy round watches a run for their money? And more importantly, is it worth upgrading from Sony's previous watch, the SW2 which is still availalble, for a lot less money

Well I thought it time to give Android Wear a go.

Coming from a Sony Smartwatch owner I was a little frustrated with Sony’s support for ‘non-standard’ android apps such as BBM and needed a solution for this, instead of installing 3rd party apps to solve the problem.

Having spent a while pondering over the options available out there, the obvious choice was the amazing looking Motorola 360, but concerns around battery life not lasting 24 hours, and of course that segment at the bottom of the screen where the light sensor gizmos is located put me off. The LG G-Watch R is just far too big for my wrists, so I looked to Sony’s new offering.

I wanted to hold out for the metal edition, which has been mentioned on numerous websites, but no real images have been released, so I snapped up a bargain on a nearly new black version.

When Sony announced their SW3 at IFA 2014 it was slated by most for being ‘boring’ and underwhelming, but real-world reviews are proving to be favourable.

Yes the SW3 has been reviewed to death by people who are paid to write reviews, so what about a review from a real end user? I’m going to skip the technical details and give real world information.

As previously mentioned I’ve been a SW2 user – Sony’s previous smartwatch that used a heavily customised version of Android, and required additional apps to be installed to enable functionality such as viewing SMS, Calendar Appointments, Controlling Music or even taking photos using your watch screen as a viewfinder. I could easily get 3-4 days out of the old watch so the expectation was high for this watch.

ON THE WRIST

On the wrist, the watch doesn’t feel bigger than the old watch, but it is marginally larger mainly due to the strap that the watch sits in. Yes that’s right you can pop the watch out of the strap and fit a different coloured strap, the choice of colours is limited at the moment and it’s disappointing that you can’t fit a metal strap at the moment.

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The standard strap is a dust and fluff magnet, but if starts looking bad, then just run it under the tap as it’s all waterproof.

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I hated the plastic strap on the SW2 as it got very sweaty, but this doesn’t seem to be the case with the SW3, and it has a very nice looking metal clasp, which doesn’t feel too sturdy, but in the three weeks I’ve had the watch I’ve only accidentally knocked it open once.

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CHARGING

Sony have not opted for wireless charging in their watch, but instead have carried over the micro usb charging from the SW2, this works well for me as I can charge the watch whenever I like without needing a specialist charger or an Qi charging plate. My opinion may change if I start owing Qi devices, but at the moment they are absent from my home.

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BATTERY LIFE

While we are talking about charging, I should mention the all important battery life.

With most manufacturers getting excited about getting one days use from their watch (Apple included), Sony have managed to achieve two days battery life. I have made no tweaks to my watch, it’s all at standard settings and I can take the watch off charge at 6:30am on day 1 and it’s usually on about 3% by 10pm on day 2. Day 1 usually ends at about 55%, but today on day 1, it sits at 64% and it’s 8pm. When the watch gets below 10% you are nagged to charge, and at 5% the screen is shut off in standby mode to eek out that bit more battery life

SCREEN

The screen is a giant step up from the SW2, and I’m not a screen snob, but it does the job perfectly well for me and I have no need for a 1080p or 4k screen on my wrist (or whatever the newest fad is)

A neat feature of the Sony watch (and this may be on other watches) is that the screen lights up when you lift your wrist to see the watch face, this can be a bit hit and miss, but it generally works well, although it does have a habit of lighting up when I move my hand from my gearstick to the indicator in my car!

If you want to dim the screen, just placing your hand over the screen dims the screen, which is quite a neat trick, and easier then pushing the bezel/button on the side of the watch.

Tap the screen and the watch is awake again.

You can also change the watch face, Sony ship a few faces with the watch, and there are some amazing 3rd party watch faces out there, but as Google have not yet released an API for watch faces, some of these can cause battery drain, I’ll live with the standard faces until then.

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ANDROID WEAR

The concept behind Android Wear (if you didn’t know) is to push the notification cards from your phone to your watch. When I read the initial reviews that tried to explain the concept, I just didn’t get it, but having used it, suddenly it all makes sense. That’s not to say there isn’t niggles with the concept, but I’ll cover these later.

When a notification arrives on your phone, it is then pushed to the watch, seconds later. Every time you receive a notification, the screen will light up and you will be shown a preview of your notification, you can then scroll through this notification and view the whole e-mail, if you fail to view the message after 5 seconds the screen will dim and the top edge of the most recent notification will be displayed, you can then simply tap the screen to wake it, and then drag up the notification to view it or swipe down to hide it. Once done, swiping the notification to the left removes it from the watch and from your notifications drawer on your phone.

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Amazingly most apps seem to work on the watch without any 3rd party software, such examples are:-

Phonecalls

E-Mail

Text Messages

BBM

Calendar Reminders

Copy upload notifications

Bejewelled Blitz

Facebook

Twitter

Linkedin

Sonos

Google maps

Google Fit

Google Music

I’m not a big app user so have yet to test further

The Sonos functionality is interesting, without any support from Sonos (who seem somewhat shy to support new technologies at the moment), you get a card on your watch that allows you to pause the music (complete with album art) , and a swipe to the right allows you to skip tracks and set the volume – pretty cool!

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Google maps pushes text directions to your watch screen, so you can keep your phone in your pocket and navigate via the watch, but when I tried it in the rain in central London trying to find a client site with slightly un-reliable GPS, it was easier to use the phone screen to see the road ahead. I’ve yet to try out other apps on the watch, but I understand the Google Camera app works well with Android Wear.

My one niggle is that if you have multiple notifications of the same type, such as e-mail, you cannot drill down into an individual e-mail, you have to pick up you phone and look there.

GOOGLE NOW

Google Now is how you are meant to get stuff done on you watch, my first few attempts to get anything done failed, but then it suddenly seemed to get what I wanted to get done.

When the screen is ‘awake’ which means lit-up, the watch will respond to the OK Google command

Yes you do feel a bit of a tit idiot saying to your watch ‘OK Google, set a timer for 10 minutes’, but when I’m at home (and my cooker timer is currently broken) it’s actually really useful. And you can do simple maths too!

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A session of trying to insult my iPhone toting friend resulted in some very strange text messages being sent, sometimes having to confirm which phone number to send to.

I can see the possible uses when you are in a pinch, but for every day use I’m not sure, and you won’t see me using it in public

OTHER STUFF

The Sony watch also packs 4gb of internal memory for uploading music to, which can then be used via Bluetooth headphones paired to the watch, I’ve yet to find my Bluetooth headphones to test this (I’ve got a set of Earins coming from Kickstarter in 2015). I’ve also seen that music transfer can be a bit fiddly and requires the phone to have something like 70% battery

There is also GPS built into the watch, which is another feature to test when I actually start running again, otherwise I’m not 100% sure where else I would use it. App support for GPS is somewhat limited at the moment.

NFC is also included but there is no real support for this in Android wear.

According to the spec sheet, there is also WiFi included, this is not activated yet as Android Wear does not support it, but it’s good to have it there for future functionality.

WRAP UP

Well I’ve rambled on for 1400 words so time for a wrap up, so first lets give the good and the bad points

THE GOOD

Standard charger

Comfortable design

Two day battery life

Great app support as standard

Waterproof

Wifi for future functionality TBA

THE BAD

No-standard straps

Price - £180 is a lot for a watch that could be outdated soon

No wireless charging – I suspect this will be an issue for some

To sum up, I don’t regret splashing the cash on the SW3, it fills the feature gaps that the last edition, the SW2, had, and I’m excited for what Google have planned for Android Wear, and I really hope that a metal strap will be released in 2015 for it.

Do I regret not going for a round watch? Well no, not really, if you look at the screenshots of the round watch faces, yes they look good as a watch, but for getting the job they were designed to do done, you seem to lose a lot of text from the google now cards, it seems to me to work better on a square screen!


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