Sony SmartWatch Review: Not Smart Enough

With a colour, multi-touch screen attached to your wrist acting as a remote to your Android device’s incoming emails, tweets, Facebook posts and messages, you’d think that the Sony SmartWatch would be a piece of kit that a geek like me would be thrilled to strap on and use proudly all the time. At least that’s what I thought when I pulled it out of the box. The reality is in fact, very different.

What Is It?

The Sony SmartWatch isn’t much more than what I described above. It’s an Android 3.0-powered smart watch available in either black or white band and face, that tethers via Bluetooth 2.0.

Once it’s connected you configure an app that will determine what is funnelled up to your wrist. Tweets, Facebook posts, text messages, emails, phone calls and even the weather will be sent to your little square-faced friend.

We got ours from the good folk at MobiCity, and if you want to do the same “>you can buy it for $149.95. You can also pick it up from Sony Centres and from the online Sony store.

What We Liked

The Sony Smart Watch does have a few things that you’ll like.

The battery life for example is stellar for a Bluetooth device of its size. It’ll happily trundle along for about three to four days of heavy use with your Android device before it begs for some juice. If you’re only using it to check the time and the odd message, it’ll last longer up to a week.

The clever integration of the charger is also worth noting. Instead of whacking a great, ugly port on the side of the watch and covering it with a half-baked flap, Sony decided to cleverly hide the inductive charging port underneath the band clip. When you run low you can unclip the watch from the band and slide the charger underneath the clip to charge it.

The multi-touch LCD screen on the watch is nice and bright, too. Nothing worse than getting a smart watch and not being able to read the time on it when you need to.

The way you interact with the device is also pretty amazing. If you get a new interaction the watch will gently vibrate on your wrist to tip you off. It’s not too rough; it’s more like a gentle nudge that something’s going on, rather than a violent shake to forcibly drag your attention away from what you’re doing.

Once something gets pushed to the watch, it will show you a small logo that corresponds to the event so that you can choose to either swipe or double-tap on the screen to acknowledge and open it, or just tap the power button once to ignore.

When you’ve got multiple apps buzzing you and you want to check in with your gadget, you double tap the watch to wake it up before navigating around the device through a series of swipes and pinches. You’ll need to read the manual to figure out which swipes and pinches correspond to which action, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really quite nifty to wave your hand around the device like you’re a student at Hogwarts to get all the information you need without having to touch your phone.

It’s also great that it doesn’t need a Sony Xperia-branded smartphone to get the most out of it. You won’t get any worse an experience using your Samsung Galaxy S III with this instead of something like a Sony Xperia P, and that’s nice.

Sony obviously recommends its own handsets for best results with the device, but also lists these Android devices as compatible stand-ins:

• HTC Desire S
• HTC Wildfire
• HTC Wildfire S
• Motorola Defy
• Motorola Droid 2/Milestone 2
• Motorola RAZR
• Samsung Galaxy 5
• Samsung Galaxy Ace
• Samsung Galaxy Fit
• Samsung Galaxy Gio
• Samsung Galaxy Mini
• Samsung Galaxy S II
• Samsung Galaxy SL

Now obviously that list is a little dated, but you should be fine with newer devices, too.

No Like

As you can probably tell by now, I love the idea of a smart watch.

I purchased a red iPod Nano as a Christmas present to myself last year and turned it into a watch with the aid of a $34.95 band from the Apple Store. It doesn’t connect to my iPhone though, which I really dislike.

I love the idea that you can attach a screen to your wrist that will present you with information you need as it happens, without having to fish through your bag for your smartphone.

The Sony Smart Watch acknowledges the concept of a smart watch-lover’s utopia, but it doesn’t quite get all the way across the line, and it’s not the fault of the watch, either. It’s the software that’s the problem.

The hardware of the watch — despite the fact that it feels a little cheap and flimsy — is good enough, but the software that powers it — a little scamp by the name of the Liveware Manager — is nothing short of rubbish.

Pairing the device is quite a mission, especially if you accidentally get out of order on the five or six steps it takes.

First, you’ll need to get the Liveware Manager from the Google Play store, then, you’ll need to pair the watch via Bluetooth. Once that’s done, you’ll be whisked over to the Google Play store again to download the SmartWatch application that it needs to connect to Liveware Manager.

Once you’re and the device is paired, you have to decide which apps you want sent to the phone. Naturally, I wanted all of them, but it’s not as easy as saying “Select All” and installing them. You instead have to go through the installation process of each app one by one to install them onto the phone and enable them with the Smart Watch. To me, that’s not very smart. Why isn’t there one software package that gets you all of the apps for the device in one fell swoop?

Once you’ve installed apps like Twitter, Facebook, Messaging and Weather, you have to tell the device what information you want thrown up to your wrist from your phone. I’m a Twitter junkie and I use it to keep up with my friends throughout the day. So I decided that instead of the Smart Watch giving me all of the new tweets from the 1250 people I’m following, I’d only like it to buzz me when I get a new interaction, direct message or @ reply that mentions me.

Out of the box, the notification settings automatically send everything to you, and that’s fine, but what would have been nice would be for the software not to crash when I wanted to unselect all of my Twitter contacts at once. Instead I had to go through over 1250 people and uncheck all of them, one by one. The same goes for Facebook.

So what happens is that you get spammed constantly with an endless stream of Twitter, Facebook and calendar updates because the software won’t let you turn them off without crashing. It can make for a real nightmare if your co-workers and see the watch spamming you too.

I sat in a meeting with Danny Allen, our fearless publisher, and the watch buzzed and lit up once a minute for the entire hour-long meeting. Naturally, if something is buzzing on your wrist, your brain programs you to look at it. Now Danny knew that I was testing this thing, so he was aware of why I kept looking at my watch, but to the uninformed, it looks like you’re really bored of the meeting and that the person you’re with is responsible for keeping you from some place you’d much rather be.

These problems weren’t restricted to the software on the phone I tested the SmartWatch with either. The software was either buggy, laggy, crash prone or downright unusable on all three phones I tested it on: the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Sony Xperia P and the Sony Xperia U. It’s a real shame too, because what good is a SmartWatch that only tells the time. Then it’s just a watch.

Also, what’s with only one watch face? It might have just been me not being able to find more, but even the iPod Nano has a choice of more than one face. It has 18 in fact.

Should You Buy One?

The software only seems to be an issue when you get it to do large batch tasks at once, so if you don’t follow many people or you aren’t friends on Facebook with a lot more, you should be able to make do with the Liveview Manager.

As far as the watch itself is concerned, it doesn’t really feel like it’s worth $189.95 because of the all-plastic construction and the cheap-feeling rubber strap it comes with out of the box.

If you’re desperate for a watch-like remote to your Android device right now, then the Sony Smart Watch is for you, but if you like your tech to integrate pleasantly into your life and not make you a social pariah, then perhaps this isn’t the product for you. The Sony Smart Watch is a nice concept, poorly executed.

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