Sony Smartwatch 2 Review
The Sony SmartWatch 2 is one of the latest smartwatch offerings along with the Samsung Galaxy Gear, that follows in the footsteps of the Pebble and the previous, rather unloved, Sony SmartWatch. Wearable tech is certainly coming of age, but is this device the mass market watch we’ve been waiting for or something strictly for the outdoor geeks and early adopters to play about?
It’s priced at £149.99 for the silicone strap or £169.99 for the metal strapped version, but available at considerably less (at time of writing the silicone strapped version was going for just over £112 and the metal strap version around £130 on Amazon).
Whats it like?
It’s striking that the watch is both stylish and light, and can pass for a normal watch until you start to swipe your finger across the face and begin reading intently. It’s certainly stylish, and can be customised with any watch strap that fits. It’s certainly not bulky, being satisfyingly slim and is only slightly larger than the Garmin 110 GPS watch. Some of the images we’ve seen on-line make it out to be huge, but we reckon that they must have particularly svelte wrists.
The watch face is a touch-screen interface, clearly viewable in sunlight. But the resolution is average, at 220×176 pixels, or 176 pixels per inch compared to over 300 on your typical high end smartphone. It’s adequate, if nothing more.
As you’re reading this review on Mud and Routes, you’ll probably be keen on getting outdoors, and glad to find that the SW2 is waterproof to IP57. That’s good for 30 minutes in 1m of water, so you can get away with using this swimming let alone worrying about getting it wet in heavy rain. That is dependent on the charging port cover being put securely in place, which can be fiddly to open for charging.
Setting It up?
Setting up the watch for the first time is painless, activating the Bluetooth and NFC on the mobile and pairing as you’d do with any other Bluetooth device with adequate instructions on the watch. Just make sure you install the proper SW2 software and not the older version!
The SW2 will function with any compatible Android phone, unlike the Samsung Galaxy Gear which works with a limited number of handsets. For once, iPhone users are left out in the cold, perhaps an indication of which way the wind’s now blowing? They can however plump for the Pebble or wait for Apple to bring out their own (probably expensive) watch. For a comparison of the SW2 and the Samsung, visit this page.
So What Does It Do?
It’s an idea to start with what the watch doesn’t do. As it’s essentially a remote screen for your mobile, it doesn’t do much at all without being paired with a compatible Android Smartphone (4.0 or above). Neither can you speak into the watch to answer a call, you’ll need a Bluetooth headset in order to do anything like that.
Essentially, the SW2 is utterly dependent on the apps that you can install upon it for functionality. It’s main function is to pass notifications or alerts to the user from the phone, something it does by vibrating discreetly as it’s silent as well as acting as a remote control for certain phone features. There’s no memory, GPS or any useful functionality built in to speak of. But at least it still functions as a watch, whether paired with a phone or not. One major annoyance we found was that the watch continues to vibrate in the night, with no option to add usage profiles. You could of course, set up a timed profile on your mobile to disable Bluetooth at that time, but it seems inelegant that there’s no way to limit these directly.
The SW2 manages to keep paired effectively enough to the phone, and vibrates when you get out of range of your phone, and usually re-connects seamlessly. The battery life is advertised as 4 days in typical use, which after the initial few days of intense use seemed close enough to the truth.
There’s a basic user interface on the SW2 that allows you to change simple settings such as the watch face, but little else. We found the interface, while simple enough, initially required us to navigate our way through three steps to get to the apps, even once activated. This was frustrating, but we thankfully found that pressing the on button twice rapidly took you to the last open app. It would be good to be able to customise this so that you had the option of the last running app opening one one touch, essential for using the watch while running.
Ok, So What Do The Apps Do?
While we’re impressed with the hardware, it’s the apps that provide the functionality.Other than installing the SW2 app on your smartphone, you’ll need to install various other apps in order for the watch to do anything. As it stands, you can use the watch as a, er, watch, stopwatch, alarm and a torch which basically turns the screen white. Anything else you’ll need to install from the SW2 app on your phone. This adds functionality for you to get SMS, email, twitter and Gmail alerts on your watch with the ability to reply with a smiley or pre-set response to the SMS. The email apps are OK, but the Twitter app adds all new accounts that you follow to the notification screen, which gets annoying quite quickly. The lack of a G+ app is also a major disappointment.
The apps that did impress were the camera remote control, gallery viewer and the media player controller. The camera remote is handy for taking selfies or timed photos, as you are able to view the photo on the watch before taking it. With new smartphones that lack physical buttons, it’s almost impossible to take a selfie with the quality rear camera, but using this you can. Rest the phone on a rock or a wall and there’s your summit shot sorted. You can then review your images in the gallery viewer, though the tiny screen hardly does your images justice.
The Music Player app is my favourite app so far. You get limited control of your music, being able to slide left and right to select different tracks but you have to do so individually, which soon becomes a chore. By connecting your phone to a speaker you can change tracks while you get on with cooking, chilling, running, or doing whatever you want.You can also control the volume, but that can be a bit fiddly. Alternatively, there’s a third party Spotify app that requires you to set up the playlist on your phone and only allows the skipping of tracks without any other features such as volume control, but at least there’s an app for it!
As far as active use goes, there was only the Runtastic app that we rated for running available at the time. However, while it displays loads of useful stats about your run, we felt that the compatibility was made without any regard to the capability of the watch and can’t believe that there isn’t a progress map built in. Extras such as an elevation graph would also be expected, with the display being customisable to the user. It may be a free app with the watch, but it’s priced at £4.99, which is premium for a smartphone app. However, we’ll assume that this was rushed for the launch and will hopefully improve over time. It does currently offer about the same functionality as a basic GPS watch, which is still impressive. We’ll be running a comparison between the SW2 and a Garmin GPS watch over the coming month, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Other outdoorsy apps were less impressive, with a couple of map apps available. One, GPS Map 2, that displays an Open Street Map view with your location and GPS Viewer which shows your location on a Google map. Both are functional enough, but they’re not particularly impressive. I’d hoped that something of the quality of Backcountry Navigator or Viewranger would be able to show my location on an OS map, but unfortunately that’s another app let down.
What you get for your £150 is essentially an expensive wristwatch that provides limited control of your smartphone and alerts for most type of messaging and social networks (but not all). While you can log your runs on your phone, you can check progress reasonably easy with this watch, as well as change any music you’re listening to. While it’s an impressive bit of tech, the apps available at present severely hamper it’s usability. There’s no doubt that these will be much more commonplace in the next few years, but until there’s more than a few 100 apps available, and better quality ones at that, these are strictly for the must have gadget freak.
Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.
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