This is the Sony SmartWatch 2 – a marvel of modern technology that’s had a variety of mixed reviews and feelings around the web. Opinion is split but I think we can all agree that ‘wearble tech’ is certainly about to take off in a big way. Everyone is jumping on the smartwatch badwagon. Samsung has the Galaxy Gear, there’s the Pebble, the Qualcomm Toq and rumored wrist-based devices coming from the likes of Nokia, Google and Apple.
So there’s clearly a market for this sort of tech and people want it in their lives. Some people I know have turned their noses up at smart watch technology – “What’s the point?” I hear them cry. They seem to think they’re a gimmick and perhaps they are. But when you look at the potential features, it’s hard not to imagine how you too could become James Bond – packing GPS navigation, a torch, a camera and even a laser into a little bit of kit on your wrist. Ok, so that’s a little exaggerated, but there’s potential there for sure.
Sony’s SmartWatch 2 is the second in the line (the clue is in the name) and is relatively well-priced compared to the other models on the market. At around £120 (ish) it’s an entry level model compared to the Galaxy Gear which has a whopping £299 price tag (at the time of writing). Sure, it doesn’t have the same features, but all smart watches have their pro’s and con’s. Yet, it is a Sony product, so don’t turn your nose up just yet.
The SmartWatch 2 has a smart design and quality of build that you’d expect from any Sony product, it looks great, has a modern appeal and fits nicely on the wrist.
Flexibility & Use
So, for those that don’t know anything about how smart watches work I’ll quickly summarise.
The Sony SmartWatch 2 is basically a clever watch that connects to your phone via bluetooth and allows you to both remotely control your phone and to receive updates directly to your wrist. For me, this was instantly appealing before I even got my hands on the watch. I liked the idea of being able to see incoming notifications without having to get my phone out of my pocket (or out of its pouch or unlocking it). Sure, I wouldn’t be able to reply to them, but I could instantly see if they were spam or less-than-important messages that could be dealt with later. And this functionality worked exactly as I had expected and has bought new joy to my life.
I am a competition fiend. I love signing up to competitions and as a result I’m signed up to a million newsletters, some which I care about, some I don’t. This means I get a lot of emails during the day, but most are unimportant. Now my phone (and wrist) buzzes and a quick glance and I can see there’s no point in unlocking my phone – I’ll deal with/delete that email later. So my watch is now saving me time as well as telling me it.
This notification feature works for most things (especially once you have the recommended apps installed (see below)). So even things like calendar updates, incoming calls and SMS messages will appear on the watch. You can answer or dismiss calls, but you can’t actually talk to your wrist just yet.
The next appealing feature for me was the ability to control my phone remotely using my watch. Something as simple as being able to skip tracks, pause music or find an new album to listen to without having to reach into my pocket and get my phone out (or unlock it) is instantly appealing. I have since discovered that apps are also available for doing things like using the SmartWatch 2 as a remote viewfinder when taking photographs from the phone (which could have interesting applications).
The Sony advertising claims the SmartWatch 2 is “life changing” – I wouldn’t necessarily go that far. It has certainly improved my digital experience and made life easier to some degree (or at least more convenient) but it’s hardly changed my life drastically. Having said that, it is certainly better than I expected and certainly better than the other reviews it has been given.
Honestly, the features aren’t mind-blowing. But then if you’ve read reviews or looked at the spec you won’t be expecting them to be. You can’t take photos or make calls using it and you can’t easily browse the web (though there is a browser if you’re mad enough to try).
There is some basic functionality of the SmartWatch 2 that’s worth highlighting. Again, it’s the simple things that make the watch appealing. For instance, you can change the watch faces to suit your mood and style. There are only a few to choose from, but they include both digital and analogue style faces. As default the display is slightly dimmed to conserve battery life, but you can still easily see the time with a quick glance. If it’s dark, pressing the power button brings the brightness forth for easier viewing, then you can press the home button to access the main apps on the watch.
(Most) installed apps are available on the watch for easy access and you can scroll through notifications and messages without having to delve into your phone. Sony recently improved this with a firmware update and it’s a simple feature that works well.
Beyond that, most other features are as a result of apps you choose to install. See further down this article for recommendations on those.
Here’s a quick summary of the up’s and down’s of the SmartWatch 2.
- Rudeness – with my wrist regularly buzzing, I quickly became aware that people might think I’m bored, clock-watching and have somewhere more important to be as I keep looking at my wrist while talking to them. It becomes a natural thing to do so though, as my wrist vibrates, I look, if only through habit. I then find myself explaining why and what I’m looking at so they don’t get offended.
- Geek Factor – people see your wrist buzzing and they know your’e a geek. My watch went off in the middle of a meeting once and a client asked ‘Is your wrist ringing?’ – I then had to explain that yes, it was.
- Waterproof? – there is some confusion among reviewers about the waterproofness of the device. Some say it is, some say it isn’t. I’m inclined to believe it isn’t and I don’t plan to test it out. This is disappointing though, especially considering I got it free with my Sony Xperia Z Ultra and that’s waterproof in upto 1.5 meters of water for half an hour. The Sony website says it’s “Splash/rain resistant. NOT suitable for showering, bathing, swimming, diving, snorkeling, water related work and fishing.“
- Cheap Strap – the standard watch comes with a rubber strap that’s a bit naff honestly. Comfortable, but it leads to a sweaty wrist. I’d recommend splashing out on the metal strap version instead.
- NFC & Auto-Connection – turn both phone and SmartWatch on and, as long as bluetooth is switched on, they both connect automatically. No hassle, no fuss.
- Battery Life – is more reasonable than you’d expect and being small it doesn’t take long to charge.
- Apps – there are apparently over 200 apps available that work with the SmartWatch 2.
- No Tethering – I was worried before I acquired the watch that it would get data and notifications via tethering and thus use my data (and breach my contract for no tethering). But it doesn’t data is provided essentially through a tunnel. Apps for the watch are installed on your phone and filter through to the watch. So there’s no need to worry.
Recommended SmartWatch 2 Apps
There are a few ‘essential’ SmartWatch 2 apps that are worth discussing as part of this review. Out of the box, the SmartWatch 2 has some pretty limited functionality, but there’s also a lot of potential as well. The downside of the Samsung Galaxy Gear is there’s only about 20 compatible apps, on the other hand, the Sony SmartWatch has far more available apps to play with, some free, some paid.
Not really an app that does anything mind blowing, the Sony Smart Connect app basically “allows you to decide what happens when you connect your smartphone to another device.” (i.e. the SmartWatch). You can choose time for events and delve right into customisation. It’s certainly a handy app to have.
An app by the same name and another official Sony app – this one allows you to quickly and easily find apps that are compatible and install them. As I mentioned previously, apps aren’t directly installed on the watch, they go on your phone then just work with the watch once they’re connected. So if you need to tweak app settings you’ll have to do it on your phone, through this app – so it’s pretty much an essential download.
Although there are a hodge-podge of available apps out there that will notify you for things like email, Facebook updates and other things, there’s not something for everything. But there is WatchIt! WatchIt is a great little tool for getting notifications on your wrist. It’s fully customisable and you will need to tweak it or you’ll get updates from everything, including things you don’t want. As an example, I just installed Spotify and had that running, every time a new track started playing my wrist buzzed with a new notification. I soon set WatchIt! to ignore notifications from Spotify. But for things like Hangouts that don’t have notifications as standard for the SmartWatch it’s a great solution.
This app pretty much does what it says on the tin – you open it up, it loads a map and shows you where you are. There’s nothing fancy like actual navigation or directions on it (yet) but it’s still quite cool.
I like Vfinder, though it’s clearly a bit gimmicky. Basically this app turns your watch into a remote view finder for your phone camera. You can then press the screen to take a photo. It has a few limited possibilities – like setting up your phone somewhere and taking a posed photograph or taking selfies with the standard camera rather than front-facing, without the hassle of trying to work out where the capture button is, that sort of thing. It’s quirky and fun, but it is sluggish.
Another photography related app, this one simply lets you browse your photogallery from your watch. Nothing special, as let’s face it the screen is tiny, but cool nonetheless.
This is a handy app that’s easy to use – play music from your watch. Notice I said ‘from’ not ‘on’ because it’s basically a remote control for music on your phone. But it’s a great app for skipping tracks, pausing music and browsing your albums without actually having to use your phone or get it out of your pocket. Good stuff.
Other than these, there’s a few standard apps you might like to install, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
So the conclusion? The SmartWatch 2 is a good watch and a step in the right direction for wearable tech. If I didn’t have it, would I buy it again? Yes, I probably would.