Sony SmartWatch Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Small, sleek design; Shows useful information at a glance; Facebook and Twitter integration

The Cons

Limited number of apps; Hard to read outside; Only works with Android phones

Verdict

The Bluetooth-connected Sony SmartWatch puts information from your smartphone always at arm's reach, but it's not as versatile as we'd like.

Smartphones keep us connected wherever we are, but it can be a pain to dig them out of our pockets or purses while we're on the go. The Sony SmartWatch is designed to eliminate that step by streaming information--be it Twitter updates, email or caller IDs--right to your wrist. This $149 device has a few other tricks up its sleeve too, but is it polished enough to appeal to more than just the aspiring Dick Tracys of the world?

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Design

Sony SmartWatch DesignAt 1.42 x 1.42 x 0.5 inches, the Smartwatch is slightly smaller, but slightly thicker than the iPod nano (1.61 x 1.48 x 0.35 inches). The design is simple but elegant. The face is black with a silver Sony logo at the top and is ringed in metal, with a small power button on one side. The bottom, which includes a spring-loaded clip, is white plastic. Underneath the clip is a small port where you connect the SmartWatch's proprietary USB charging plug.

The Smartwatch comes with a gray rubber wristband (black, white, pink, teal and blue are also available for $19.99 each). The 0.55-ounce Smartwatch was as comfortable to wear as any watch, but it stood up a little high on our wrist. Overall, though, we like its look; it's more elegant than the WIMM and I'm Watches.

MORE: Smartwatches: Why Their Time Has Finally Come

Display

Sony SmartWatch DisplayThe SmartWatch's 1.3-inch OLED display has a resolution of 128 x 128, which isn't high by any standards (the iPod nano's is 240 x 240 and even the WIMM watch is 160 x 160). You can see individual pixels, which makes everything look grainy, and the screen was hard to read outdoors, even in overcast conditions.

To conserve energy, the screen times out after 15 seconds. While it saves juice, we wish we could adjust the time ourselves. At least the WIMM watch has a monchrome mode that displays the time at all times. With the Sony SmartWatch, you have to press a button.

Setup

Before using the SmartWatch, we first downloaded the LiveWare manager app from Google Play (according to Sony, this app will be preloaded on all Sony Ericsson phones). Then, we paired the SmartWatch with our Nexus S 4G. Unlike the WIMM One watch, the Sony SmartWatch lacks Wi-Fi, so it must be paired with a phone to receive apps and updates.

The LiveWare app is used to install apps onto the SmartWatch itself. While these apps can be found in the Android Market, and include Twitter and Facebook, they're essentially extensions optimized for the SmartWatch, and are different from the standard Android apps of the same name. (The easiest wasy to find them is through the LiveWare app). There are currently about 30 apps available, and include not only those two social-networking apps, but a hodgepodge of others from email and Find my Phone to Tic-Tac-Toe.

Interface

Sony SmartWatch InterfaceWith only 1.3 inches at its disposal, space is at a premium on the SmartWatch's display. Still, it manages to cram in two interfaces: Widgets and Apps. The latter shows icons for each app you installed, four to a screen. Swiping to the left or right reveals the apps you've installed. Apps are opened by pressing on the respective icon, and a pinch gesture closes it.

If you're on an apps page and you swipe downward, you access the widget section of the interface. Akin to the widgets on Android phones, the SmartWatch widgets show tweets, Facebook updates, weather and so forth in real-time.

Sony SmartWatch Just about every app has a corresponding widget, which you can choose to activate using the LiveWare manager. However, there's usually little difference between what's displayed on a widget and what's displayed on an app, so the main benefit is one less gesture to perform.

At the top of every screen is a small battery indicator as well as the time. Overall, the interface is simple, but effective.

There are several different clocks you can download, but unfortunately, the default black-and-white digital clock is the only one that appears when you wake the watch from sleep.

Facebook and Twitter Integration

Sony SmartWatch TwitterAny time a new message, tweet, or Facebook update gets posted, the SmartWatch emits a small buzz, and the appropriate icon appeared on screen. We wish that it would show the message itself, and not just the Twitter icon, for example. In order to see the actual tweet, you have to press on the screen.

The SmartWatch isn't just a passive device for catching up on what's going on around you. It can also be used to respond to messages. For example, the Twitter app shows three options at the bottom of each tweet: View in Phone, Send a Canned Reply, or retweet.

We liked that the SmartWatch was smart enough to open the Web pages for Twitter and Facebook if we didn't have those apps installed on our phone, or if we did, opened the app itself. However, the small display on the SmartWatch meant a lot of scrolling if the tweet or post was particularly long.

Music Player

Sony SmartWatch Music AppOther apps include Music player, which let us play and advance tracks on our phone, as well as adjust volume. Too bad it didn't display the track names. The Weather app shows the current local conditions as well as a three-day forecast;

Voice Call and Phone Integration

Sony SmartWatch Phone PairingIf a call comes in, the SmartWatch starts buzzing, and displays the number of the caller, along with the option to silence the buzzing, or hang up the call. If you pair the SmartWatch with a Sony Ericsson Xperia phone, you will also see an option to answer the call. 

One of the more useful apps is Find My Phone, which lets you activate an alarm on your phone remotely, and it alerts you when your phone moves out of range of the SmartWatch.

The neatest app, though, was VFinder, which let us use the SmartWatch as a viewfinder for our phone's camera. When we opened the app, it turned on our phone's camera, and streamed the image to the SmartWatch. A swipe gesture let us capture images, too, but occasionally, the app would crash.

Performance and Battery Life

For the most part, the SmartWatch was pretty painless to use. Its touch screen was responsive; there weren't too many times that we had to tap the display more than once. The device opened apps quickly, and scrolled from one page to the next smoothly.

Sony claims that the SmartWatch will last about four days on a charge. After using the watch for two days, we had roughly half a charge left, which is much longer than our anecdotal tests with the WIMM watch, which needed recharging daily.

What's Missing

There are plenty of apps we would like to see make their way to the SmartWatch. An ESPN ScoreCenter app would be great, and the only email app is for Gmail. The Gmail app only shows that you received an email, and not from whom, or even the subject line.

Verdict

OutroLike the I'm Watch and the WIMM Watch, the Sony SmartWatch shows promise, but needs plenty of work--mainly on the part of developers--before it will appeal to more than just early adopters. At $149, it's $20 more expensive than the iPod nano, and, unlike other smart watches, pretty much becomes useless when not paired with a phone. But for those who have trouble digging that Galaxy Note out of their pockets, the SmartWatch could be just the ticket.

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Author Bio
Michael A. Prospero
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor
Michael A. Prospero has overseen reviews on Laptopmag.com since 2007, focusing on producing the most thorough and authoritative mobile product reviews. After receiving his Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia in 2003, Mike worked at Fast Company. Prior to that, he worked at The Times of Trenton, George and AlleyCat News.
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Size 1.42 x 1.42 x 0.5 inches
Weight 0.5 ounces
Company Website www.sonystyle.com