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Review: Sony SmartWatch 2

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October 10, 2013

Gizmag reviews the new Sony SmartWatch 2

Gizmag reviews the new Sony SmartWatch 2

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Does a more advanced smartwatch make for a better smartwatch? We considered the Samsung Galaxy Gear to be a barrier-pushing watch, with features like a camera, voice dictation, and phone calls. But then again, it's also only compatible with one phone at launch. Sony's newest SmartWatch, meanwhile, falls into the keep it simple, keep it compatible camp. Are rock-solid notifications and Android-wide compatibility enough? Let Gizmag try to help you answer that, as we review the Sony SmartWatch 2.

Less is more?

The SW2 supports notifications from Google's Gmail app, as well as SMS, Twitter, and Faceb...

In many ways, Sony's SmartWatch 2 (SW2) is like taking the Pebble smartwatch, removing its open-source SDK, and giving it a color touchscreen. Like the Pebble, it lacks smartphone-like features like a camera, microphone, and speaker, which means it will never have any of the Galaxy Gear's more eye-catching features. Sony opted instead for the most basic of smartwatch hardware feature sets.

The biggest perk that the SW2 offers is compatibility. While the Galaxy Gear only plays nicely with one phone at launch (with support for several more Samsung Galaxy phones coming soon), the Sony watch is compatible with most recent Android handsets. As long as it runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (released in late 2011) or higher, then the SW2 will work with it. The iPhone, however, is a no-go; Pebble is still the only significant option there.

The SW2 pairs via the Sony Smartwatch 2 Android app (available for free in Google Play)

Setting up the SmartWatch 2 is a breeze. It has an NFC chip living inside, so if you have an NFC-compatible phone, all you have to do is tap the back of the watch against the back of the phone. This will prompt you to download the required Sony Smart Connect and Smartwatch 2 companion apps. Tap the watch against the phone, tap a few confirmation buttons on your screen, and you're all set.

Phones without NFC capabilities don't have to work too much harder, but their owners will need to search for the Play Store apps manually.

Hardware

The plastic power button on the side looks almost like a winder from a distance

The SmartWatch 2 isn't ridiculously thick or bulky. It has a depth of 9 mm. It feels fairly comfortable on the wrist, but, at least with the default band, we preferred the feel of both the Galaxy Gear and Pebble. The silicone strap version we tested (it's also sold with a stainless steel band) weighs 123 g (the watch face weighs 48 g), and we thought the strap looked and felt very cheap.

Even if you agree with us that the default silicone band feels subpar, there are options. That's because another feature the SW2 has in common with Pebble is that you can customize its band. If you want to go with something bolder like leather, bright colors, or, hell, 18k gold, then you can swap its default band for any standard 24 mm watch strap. There's also that variation with the metallic band, but we didn't test that version.

Side view of the SW2

The watch's face features a button on the side, which, from a distance, resembles a classic watch's winder. When you touch it, though, it feels more like extremely cheap plastic. Pressing this button turns on the backlight and wakes/sleeps the device. Three capacitive menu keys (back, home, menu) also sit below the screen, which do exactly what you'd expect them to do while navigating the SW2's barebones UI.

The SmartWatch 2's screen isn't the sharpest, and your eyes will definitely notice its pixels. The screen has 220 x 176 resolution spread out over 1.6 inches, which comes out to 176 pixels per inch. The screen is a transreflective LCD, so when lighting is adequate, its display merely uses contrast from the reflected light, rather than its own backlight. When the lights go down, though, you can still easily view the screen by pressing that side button to ignite the backlight.

Notifications ... and not much else

Unfortunately Gmail messages get cut off after just a few lines

The SW2 falls into what we'd call the notification terminal class of smartwatches. After setting it up, the watch will give you a subtle vibration when a new notification comes in (at least from a select group of apps). You can scroll through complete text messages, and see the first few lines of emails. Unfortunately, though, in the Gmail app, only a couple of sentences typically make it onto the watch before getting cut off. After reading a notification, you can go back to the corresponding app's icon to re-read them.

The SW2 has a much narrower focus than something like the Galaxy Gear has. But then again, the SmartWatch 2 is, at least right now, a bit more versatile at delivering those notifications. That's because the SW2's notifications don't just work with calls, text messages, calendar events, and emails from the stock email app, but it also adds apps like Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook to the list. You'll just need to install separate (free) plugin apps from the Play Store and grant them the necessary permissions.

The watch with rubber strap weighs 122 g

SMS messaging notifications work much better than the Gmail integration. Not only do you get to read each full message, but you can also scan your entire messaging inbox at any time. Of the three big watches we've reviewed – the Pebble, Galaxy Gear, and the SW2 – the SmartWatch 2 is the only one that lets you browse your entire SMS inbox. It's a nice touch, and one we hope those watches add soon via software updates.

If you walk around wearing a Bluetooth headset, then the SW2 can also allow you to answer or reject the call from the watch, picking it up right on the headset. But we wouldn't consider this a selling feature, especially when compared to the Galaxy Gear's native call-handling abilities.

You can track your Runtastic workout on your wrist

The SmartWatch 2 also syncs with the Runtastic Android app to serve as a basic fitness tracker, though it's worth noting that your phone is still the device that's tracking your workout, including the expected battery drain. The SW2 just shows you the data in that convenient, glanceable spot on your wrist.

The SW2 also lets you access your phone's music controls (that seems to be a standard on the current batch of smartwatches), and there's a plugin that lets you browse your phone's image gallery too. Unfortunately, though, the watch's crappy resolution makes this a less than spectacular experience.

Water resistance, battery life

The SW2 is water resistant, rated at IP57

The SmartWatch 2 has an IP57 water and dust resistance rating, meaning it can sit in one meter (3.3 ft.) of water for 30 minutes without going kaput. And indeed, we tested the smartwatch by dunking it in a glass of water, and saw no ill effects afterwards. In the realm of smartphones, Sony has taken water resistance more seriously than any other manufacturer, so we weren't surprised to see the company's smartwatch live up to that billing.

Sony advertises three to four days of battery life with typical use. Based on our testing, we'd say that's a solid estimate. It's nice not to have to charge every night, but you'll probably want to plug in its included microUSB cable once every two or three nights, just to be safe.

Wrap-up

We thought the default silicone band on the SmartWatch 2 felt cheap

There isn't anything particularly new or cutting-edge about the Sony SmartWatch 2. It's notifications, it's wrist-based fitness tracking data, and it's music controls. And you can take it underwater and extend its battery life for days while doing those things.

The overall package sounds solid enough on paper, but we weren't particularly smitten with the experience of using Sony's new watch. If you own an Android phone and are looking for an easy and convenient way to get notifications, then the SW2 is one of several solid options. Just know that you aren't getting much more than that. You also might want to be prepared to invest in a smarter-looking band than the included rubber one, and prepare your eyes for a very pixelated-looking display.

The Sony SmartWatch 2 is already available in Europe for £149 (or £169 for the metallic wristband version). Sony hasn't yet announced any US release date or pricing info.

Like the idea of a smartwatch, but not completely sold on the SW2? Then you can hop on over to our reviews of the Pebble and Samsung Galaxy Gear.

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
6 Comments

Still too thick and wristband to bulky. Forget having to have the cellphone still in a pocket- to me that is whole idea of a wristwatch phone- not needing the extra thing. Make a belt buckle or shoe accessory that carries the needed extra phone gear if necessary. Flip up for keyboard if making the watch this thick- swivel too.

zekegri
11th October, 2013 @ 05:10 am PDT

No NBS synced seconds no soap.

The Sony Logo is beginning to drag things down now, looking very old and tired.

b

Island Architect
11th October, 2013 @ 11:12 am PDT

I would call the new, so-called 'smart' watches "busy" watches because they just reduce smart phone-like apps to a 'watch'. A really smart watch reduces routine maintenance of a of a traditional watch - winding/charging or battery change, adjusting for time zones, DST - all to zero. It should be impervious to environmental concerns such as weather, water and its depth, or altitude.

The Sony and other busy watches I've seen have square corners to catch on things. That is not such a concern on smart phones and tablets, but for a wrist-worn device it is.

Therefore I suggest you review the Casio - Protrek - PRW5100YT-1 against some of the new smart watch ilk.

Chrysoberyl1
12th October, 2013 @ 11:44 am PDT

Hi Will,

You should try out my app eNotify. It is capable of showing the *entire* Gmail email on your Sony smartwatch and SW2. It supports IMAP-IDLE [Instant push emails for gmail]. It works for Exchange/EWS and pop accounts as well. it supports power-user cases like "Only send the email to my watch if it is from my boss and arrived Mon - Fri between 8am and 5pm". It is a completely standalone app -- no dependence on k9 or gmail apis or anything else so you're free to use whatever stock apps you'd like for your email needs.

Regards,

Glen

Glenn Cooke
13th October, 2013 @ 10:00 am PDT

The Casio Protrek PRW5100YT-1 is a $700 watch that while cool as a technical watch isn't anything like a "smart" watch or data watch - it's in a different league.

I think the best in class in it's day (2003) was the Timex Datalink Ironman USB. It held contacts, text lists, calendars, multiple alarm types and alarms modes, multiple time zones, was water resistant to 100m, looked like a normal sport watch instead of an electronic brick strapped to your wrist (and there was a "dress" version), was certified by NASA for space travel, cost less than $100 and had a 2 year battery life unlike your phone that can hardly make it through the day without being recharged. It could be programmed for other functions (if you were hard-core). It had to be plugged into a USB port to update though, which I'd do weekly. It didn't constantly interrupt your day with the latest email or twitter nonsense. I never missed a meeting, birthday, or anniversary (which were all different categories with different notifications available) and didn't have to fish it out of my pocket to check for anything like you do with a phone. If Timex had continue to develop the watch it could have been a real hit if they added wireless comm.

bret-h
14th October, 2013 @ 03:14 pm PDT

'Notifications ... and not much else'... Strange that you say that about the Sony Smartwatch 2 unyet you give the Toq Smartwatch a glowing review even though it too only does notifications - and more briefer notifications at that and the Toq is not even water resistant!

Personally, I find the silicone strap to be the most comfortable and prefer the 'techie' look that it has. The button on the side of the watch feels nothing like 'cheap plastic' but more like aluminium...

The updates are frequent and now full e-mails can be read and like the Toq, you can reply to sms messages with pre-defined and editable templates.

The Sony Smartwatch 2 does all of the things a Toq smartwatch can do and more and it's IP57 water-resistant. I shower with mine on and have no problem. Oh, and it's half of the price of the Toq.

Sony Smartwatch 2 - bloody good affordable watch.

Highly recommended!

Jamie_S
27th January, 2014 @ 02:37 pm PST
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