Review of Sony SmartWatch 3
Sony is no stranger to the world of smartwatches, having launched the first in its SmartWatch series when the Apple Watch was still just a twinkle in Tim Cook’s eye. Now in its third iteration, the Sony SmartWatch 3 is looking to win over an ever expanding wearable market by plugging into the Android Wear ecosystem for the first time. So how does it stack up against the ever expanding competition?
First thing’s first, Sony’s watch has a very clever screen. The 1.6 inch transflective display allows it to pull off the useful trick of displaying a full LED touchscreen while the watch is in the use, and then dimming to a much lower power black and white mode while on standby. This means that your screen will look like a phone screen half the time, and an old school Tamagotchi the rest of the time. It sounds strange, but it works really well, and certainly much better than most other Android Wear devices where the ‘always on’ screen drains the battery flat.
The screen is bright and easy to use, but unfortunately only comes as square – no round option available here. The size of the screen also means that the watch looked pretty bulky on my wrist and would look huge on anyone with more slender wrists. As with most Android Wear watches, the Sony SmartWatch 3 uses a single button on the side which I found to be frustratingly sticky and hard to press while on the go.
Unlike its predecessor the SmartWatch 2, you won’t be able to use your own watch straps to mix and match. Instead, thanks to the design of the watch, you’ll be locked into Sony’s own specifically made bands. These aren’t too unreasonably priced (this isn’t an Apple Watch after all), but there’s not very much variety or choice. Overall though, the build of the watch is of a very high quality, and you’ll be able to get this watch reasonably wet without worrying about it.
In terms of specs, the SmartWatch 3 sports a pretty impressive 512MB of RAM, keeping Android Wear pretty nippy, and 4GB which will fit all the apps you could want as well as enough music to last a marathon or two. You won’t find a heart rate monitor on this one, so if that’s something you really care about then this is not the watch for you. However it does include pretty much everything else you’d expect from a high end smartwatch, with GPS, accelerometers, Bluetooth, WiFi, and even NFC.
When it comes to accuracy, the two things to test on the Sony SmartWatch 3 are its pedometer and its GPS and location tracking. When it came to the pedometer, the watch seemed to do a pretty good job of getting things spot on, although if you wear the watch while typing it will occasionally pick up a few extra steps here and there – even more so if you gesticulate wildly while talking like I do.
The GPS worked on the whole, although I did find that it would take much longer than I would have liked to find a signal. What was more frustrating though was that it didn’t have a simple way of alerting you as to when the watch was and wasn’t using location tracking. There are few things more annoying than coming back from a run to find that half the route wasn’t fully recorded. At this point, I probably wouldn’t use this as a running watch without my phone also with me as a GPS back-up.
As an Android Wear device, the SmartWatch 3 offers access to the Android Wear app store and plenty of choice as a result. Pretty much all of your favourite apps will be available to download onto your device and on the whole they perform well. This means that whether you’re using your favourite fitness or sleep tracking apps, or using Google’s own Fit platform, there’ll be something for you.
The pre-loaded Android Wear apps such as Maps and Hangouts are also pretty good if not a bit frustrating to use at times. And while fitness apps work well at showing information and giving you simple controls for your workout, anything more in-depth tends to get lost on the wearable platform.
On the software side, the Sony SmartWatch 3 performs pretty much identically to any other Android Wear watch out there. It’s a solid experience too, with the latest version of Android Wear being much more user friendly if not still with plenty of frustrations.
In terms of the watch itself, the always on screen is not just clever, but downright useful, showing useful information such as timer countdowns or steps taken while the battery-draining elements of the screen are turned off. This is particularly good when it comes to using the watch while running. After all, tracking a run is all well and good, but sometimes you want to be able to see your progress and pacing in real time.
My major gripe with Sony’s watch though is just how uncomfortable it is to wear for long periods of time. The silicone sports strap has a very clever clasp mechanism, but as well as picking up dust and showing marks, the strap was very uncomfortable after a few days of constant wear. Maybe I have strange wrists, but I found the strap to either be too loose, or pinch in unexpected places. Since one of my main criteria for a wearable be that it is actually wearable, I found this to be a slight disappointment.
Sony’s SmartWatch offers a pretty decent battery life for an Android Wear device, with a full charge of its 420mA lasting around 36 to 48 hours. It could easily last a day, but would start complaining of low battery if you kept it on for that second evening. Compared to some of the older Android Wear watches which couldn’t even make it through a single day, this is a huge leap forward, but you probably will still have to charge this watch most nights which could make consistent sleep tracking difficult.
The Sony SmartWatch 3 also charges in a more conventional way than most watches out there, using a simple micro USB cable to charge. At first this seems great – after all you can find these cables pretty much everywhere these days. However, because of where the charging port is placed (in the top corner of the back of the watch), getting the cable in is extremely fiddly. After struggling with this set-up for a week, I now understand why other smartwatches have their own magnetic or wireless charging docks.
Starting at £189, the Sony SmartWatch 3 has positioned itself as a more premium product which still won’t break the bank. However, the pricing has left me confused as to where it sits in the market. If you’re looking for a cheap entry point into the world of Android Wear smartwatches, then this one is probably a little pricey.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for either a really nice looking watch (which can also dosend you notifications) or a proper fully featured running watch, I would recommend spending that little bit more to get a smarter looking watch from Huawei or Motorola, or a more accurate running watch from TomTom or Garmin.
Sony’s latest smartwatch has some very clever features, with its screen being the stand-out feature for me. Frankly I can’t understand why more smartwatches haven’t utilised the technology. It’s also not a terrible choice for a running watch if you’re totally sold on the Android Wear ecosystem.
However, I’m still unconvinced that the SmartWatch 3 has a big enough audience, even amongst the small percentage of us who wear small computers on our wrists. The truth is that there are better performing running watches out there for those really into their fitness, and there are better looking and more comfortable watches for those who want a high tech fashion accessory. Unfortunately while the SmartWatch 3 is technically very clever, I just can’t see anyone getting particularly excited about it.