The Sony SmartWatch 3 is Sony's latest foray into the world of tech wearables. Sony is no stranger to smartwatches - in fact the SmartWatch 3 represents Japan's technology powerhouse's fourth iteration into perfecting the computer wristwatch. Given that Sony are on their fourth attempt to bring smartwatches to their mainstream consumers, just how does the Sony SmartWatch 3 measure up? We go into detail on our thoughts of the Sony SmartWatch 3 in this exclusive review.
Is Sony's latest SmartWatch 3 worthy of taking over from its older brother, the SmartWatch 2?
Disclaimer: This review is based on pre-production test/debug firmware on a Sony SmartWatch 3 supplied to us for app development purposes. There may be changes in software, features and bug fixes upon release to the general public.
Sony's youngest smartwatch brothers side-by-side
In this review we go hands-on with the Sony SmartWatch 3 and put it up against its older brother, the Sony SmartWatch 2. Read on to find out what we think and what to expect as soon as you can get your hands on your very own later this month!
Sony's previous (third) attempt at introducing the humble consumer to smartwatches back in October 2013 with the Sony SmartWatch 2 unfortunately failed to change the world. The Sony SmartWatch 2 was a stylish device that worked with a range of Android devices from any manufacturer, not just Sony. It featured a touch-enabled full colour screen, a proprietary Sony user interface, IP57 waterproofing and dust-proofing certification and a trans-reflective screen that provided excellent sunlight visibility along with a low power mode that delivered four-plus days of battery life. The SW2 had the basic bells and whistles that you'd expect from a smartwatch back in 2013 but unfortunately didn't offer enough to convince people that they needed a computer on their wrist. Fast-forward to a year later and Sony have announced that the Sony SmartWatch 3 will be arriving 23 October 2014 in the UK. So just how much has Sony changed the SmartWatch 3 from the SmartWatch 2?
The Sony SmartWatch 3 presents itself in an all-new sporty-looking design aimed at the tech-enabled fitness fanatics, Sony loyalists and anyone that wants to give a smartwatch a go. Sony has dropped its obvious chrome Sony logo branding from the front, this time preferring a more discrete minimalist look. The SW3 features a 1.6" touch-enabled bevelled glass screen (more about the screen later) packaged in a water and dust-proof stainless steel casing. The main body, or core, of the watch is removable and fits snugly into a black (or lime green) soft-touch silicone strap that features an adjustable metal clasp embossed with the Sony logo. The clasp is easy to adjust without the need for any tools and fastens securely to your wrist. The core pops out easily and allows you to personalise your watch with a different proprietary Sony strap with white and pink available for purchase separately after launch. We liked the feel and function of Sony's new silicone strap but were disappointed to find that there's no way of fitting a standard watch strap like its predecessor and many of its competitors offer. We hope that Sony follows the path of Apple and brings out a range of non-sporty, more dressy and classy watch strap designs to appeal to a wider audience. We loved having the flexibility of dressing up the SmartWatch 2 with our own unique watch straps whether they be leather, metal, nylon or plastic.
The SmartWatch 3's solidly constructed stainless steel and glass core feels a lot more premium and durable than its older brother's lightweight aluminium and plastic body.
The Sony SmartWatch 3 not only looks different from the outside but is different on the inside too! Sony have beefed-up the tech specs of the SmartWatch 3 to include a much more powerful quad-core ARM A7 1.2Ghz processor along with 512MB of RAM and 4GB eMMC storage for things like your MP3 music on the go. This is leaps and bounds over its one year older brother's 180Mhz SINGLE CORE processor - sure technology evolves at a rapid pace but this is extreme! Whilst we had very little issues with the performance of the SmartWatch 2, it's nice to see that Sony has brought the specs of its latest and greatest watch into strong competition with its rivals. The user interface of the SmartWatch 2 chugged away happily most of the time with normal use but the SmartWatch 3 one-ups its older brother with its zippier response to touch and smoother transitions between swipes. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't get the SmartWatch 3 to feel laggy at all - everything is now buttery smooth, just how a smart watch should be.
Sony must have listened to the feedback from the users of the SmartWatch 2 because this time around they've vastly improved the screen on their latest smartwatch. The SmartWatch 3 boasts a 320x320 resolution 1.6" transflective display that offers superb colours, sharpness and visibility even in bright sunlight. It's quite simply a gorgeous screen to look at compared with the SmartWatch 2's relatively low resolution 220x176 display. Whilst both generations feature a 1.6" transflective display, the SmartWatch 3 is slightly more squarish which makes it more suitable for round watchfaces or square watchfaces in comparison to the SmartWatch 2's more wide rectangular shape. This is definitely something that we are looking forward to designing on when we being to release some new JJW Watchface designs on Google Play (via www.julianjwong.com
Sony's use of Google's new wearables operating system, Android Wear, makes its debut on the Sony SmartWatch 3 and boy is it different to last year's model. The SmartWatch 2 was based very much upon the typical Android user experience featuring a grid of icons that were used as shortcuts to launch apps. There was the typical Android home, back and menu capacitive buttons located on the lower bezel on the front of the watch. Everything on the SmartWatch 2 felt familiar to Android users and it wasn't a steep learning curve for the average user. Enter Android Wear on the Sony SmartWatch 3. Things have been significantly mixed-up here with a new way of doing things. Android Wear's user interface is based on displaying and swiping away a series of 'cards' that pop up based on your activities and Google's predictions of what information they believe might be useful to you at the time. Mirrored on the Google Now experience on your mobile phone, Android Wear not only brings you its informational cards but gives you voice control and voice searching to your wrist. Now you can almost feel like Dick Tracey talking into your watch - although I say almost as the SmartWatch 3 does not provide the ability to make and receive voice calls via your wrist. The microphone is provided for voice input only and there's no corresponding speaker for playback or reading Google's words of wisdom back to you once you've made a search or initiated a voice command. Given that the traditional app icons user interface is no longer available, users are forced to launch apps or tasks by speaking into their wrist. Users can initiate a voice search or voice command either by pressing the physical button on the right-hand side of the watch and tapping the screen or by swiping on the screen and then tapping it. The familiar Google Now-like search screen pops up directing you to 'Speak now' (or forever hold your peace :)). Instead of tapping the screen to initiate a voice search or command, you are also able to command your watch to begin a voice activity by using the phrase 'OK Google' similarly to what you can do on your phone. This way of initiating voice activities was a bit of a hit or miss for me - sometimes it worked, other times it didn't. Perhaps it was my Australian accent that confused the watch. However once I got into the voice search/command mode Google would fairly accurately interpret my voice most of the time. Great! Google understands my Aussie accent! But what I found was that whilst searching for information by voice worked well, giving voice commands just wasn't as intuitive as I would have liked it to be. Voice commands to Android Wear such as 'Start Stopwatch' would bring up the built in stop watch app just fine but commands like 'Play music' or 'Play next track' just wouldn't work in the way that you'd expect it to. They'd simply bring up search results instead - unfortunately not very helpful. I'm sure that there's a whole heap more useful voice commands to use on Android Wear and when we find them we'll be sure to publish another article to let you know just what they are!
This time around Sony have increased their water-proofing and dust-proofing specs for the SmartWatch 3. The SmartWatch 3 carries an IP68 rating which means it has been scientifically tested to be able to withstand water immersion to a depth of up to two metres for up to 60 minutes - an impressive upgrade that doubles the SmartWatch 2's IP57 rating of 1 metre submersion for 30 minutes. Whilst we haven't subjected our shiny new device to submersion in a two metre deep pool for 60 minutes, the sealed construction and rubber sealed micro USB charging port leaves us with no doubt that this watch will hold up to Sony's claims.
Unfortunately due to our early hands-on with this device we were unable to find any apps that are able to take advantage of the Sony SmartWatch 3's built-in GPS receiver. We believe that apps will probably be made available to make full use of the watch's GPS capabilities closer to launch. We'll be sure to update our post as soon as we get a chance to test it out. Anyway the fact that the SmartWatch 3 has GPS makes it another step ahead of its predecessor and we can see how having a dedicated GPS sensor could be useful for activity tracking apps for those who like to get outdoors for a run, cycle or hike.
Again, due to our early hands-on with the Sony SmartWatch 3, we were unable to find any apps that are able to make use of the watch's 4GB eMMC memory. Again, we'll be sure to update our post as soon as we get a chance to test it out.
NFC and Bluetooth
The Sony SmartWatch 3 features NFC and bluetooth for pairing to your Android smartphone similarly to the SmartWatch 2. The NFC feature on our developer release watch wasn't working for us but we managed to pair it easily without needing to use NFC. The Android Wear app on our phone stepped us through a wizard to get it set up so it connected over bluetooth without a problem. Sony's latest smartwatch uses Bluetooth 4.0 instead of the previous version's Bluetooth 3.0 standard meaning it should translate into better battery life for the watch and your phone. It's important to note that some older devices may not have Bluetooth 4.0 support and therefore you should make sure that you check your phone is supported before making the purchase.
The battery life of the Sony SmartWatch 2 was rated to be between 3-7 days. With moderate usage we were typically able to squeeze four days from the SmartWatch 2. With any new device, one would normally expect improvements in features and specs but unfortunately the SmartWatch 3 drops its battery life rating down to a measly two days. Whilst two days is a significant downgrade from seven days and even four days, Sony's Android Wear device is still a leader when compared with its competition such as the Moto360 which barely manages to scrape in 16 hours! In our first days of having the watch, we were able to accurately measure the SmartWatch 3 to having almost exactly two days, or 48 hours, battery life by using the built-in stopwatch app and monitoring the watch right until its final moments before switching off. We achieved the two days battery life with moderate usage and the screen always on (i.e. switching to low power monochrome mode when not in use). We feel that Sony is right on the mark with its two day estimated battery life. Given that most people are used to plugging in their phone to charge every one to two days, we think that charging your smartwatch will just become part of the routine.
Whilst we've only had our hands on the Sony SmartWatch 3 for a few days, we've grown to really like what the future holds for Sony's latest foray into wearable devices. When the SmartWatch 3 was first announced we thought that Sony took a huge step backwards in terms of design and styling but after having held one and worn one, we feel that the Sony SmartWatch 3 is a worthy replacement for its older brother. The build quality is excellent and the display is a joy to look at and use. It will take SmartWatch 2 users a little while to adjust to the new user interface of Android Wear, but we feel that Sony has made the right decision in adopting the Android Wear platform for the SmartWatch 3. We know that Google is busy working behind the scenes to bring us something really great with the next updates to Android Wear and can't wait to see what the future holds.
We hope that you've enjoyed reading our detailed review of the Sony SmartWatch 3 and are keen to hear what you think of Sony's new smartwatch. Please let us know in the comments below or jump over to our Facebook Page www.facebook.com/JJWwatchfaces
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