Sony SmartWatch 2: Worth the wrist? (review)

4 Aug 2014

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With more competitors on the market than you can shake a stick at, can the Sony SmartWatch 2 offer more than its competitors across the board?

Those involved with technology or are in-the-know when it comes to gadget releases will be sick and tired of hearing about how wearable tech is the ‘next big thing’ in terms of consumer products.

One such smartwatch which aimed to be the go-to watch for Android devices was the Sony SmartWatch 2.

On its release, it was heralded as the first Android-compatible smartwatch that was destined to take the market by storm.

However, in the meantime, we have seen the inclusion of some other higher-end smartwatches that have been arguably more heralded including the Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 and it remains to be seen whether these early adopters are spending the equivalent of high-end luxury watch prices on a touchscreen watch?

Design

The design of the SmartWatch 2 is fairly basic, but not in the sense that it will have parts falling off or turn your wrist green like a laughably bad ‘Rolax” that someone might buy in a street market.

The strap on the version I tested consisted of comfortable silicon that more importantly doesn’t cause any chafing or issues when used in higher-intensity situations like jogging which, as a piece of wearable tech, is going to be one of its biggest uses.

For those who are more likely wanting to show it off at a client dinner, it also comes with a traditional stainless steel linked wristband.

As for the watch itself, it too is a pretty minimalist black square design that aside from the main screen has three touch buttons to go back, take you to the home screen and select options which are relatively good in terms of response time with little lag.

The only physical button on the watch is the power button which also acts as the screen unlock, with a PIN if you decide to activate it.

I have to say it looks quite nice to look at, and as someone who isn’t in to some of the louder and more garish sides of technology, it’s definitely something I don’t mind wearing and is certainly geared towards business types and professionals in comparison with, say, the Galaxy Gear 2 which has a more universal appeal.

Operating system

Despite my previous praise for the watch’s design, it has to be said that its operating is, frankly, more reminiscent of a software design and clarity of a Nokia phone from the early 2000s.

In terms of connectivity, the SmartWatch 2 is both NFC and Bluetooth enabled to connect to the device, and once the Sony Smart Connect app is installed, it’s a relatively simple process of connecting.

However, it still feels very much like being at the early adopter stage with the navy blue background appears jarring with the pixelated apps at the front of the screen which has a resolution of 220 x 176-pixel.

While hardly expecting to find the clarity of a 10in tablet on a LCD 1.6in screen, it just has the look and feel of something not quite reaching its potential, in fact, it doesn’t appear much different from the demo model I was presented before its launch last year.

The loading of apps can also be frustrating and buggy at times and once again look like something from a by-gone era, particularly Facebook and Twitter where photos and links are squeezed into a small line of text which in many cases you need to select before you can even have an idea of what a person is trying to say.

Review – Sony Smartwatch 2

Lag proved to be a real issue with the apps downloaded through the Google Play Store.

While the Smart Connect app provided by Sony centralises all the app installations and management of the watch in a handy menu system, it can’t control the fact that most of the apps available are simply rubbish and un-usable, not necessarily the fault of Sony, mind you, but it’s still attached to their name.

For example, as I tried to play a number of games, the lag was unbearable to the point I tapped the screen for 30 seconds, only for it all to catch up another 30 seconds later in one felled-swoop.

This was a common occurrence on most apps I tested bar the standard ones that come with the watch ie stopwatch, phone, torch etc.

Apps

When Sony released over 400 new apps back in April of this year, it was hoped that it would finally have a whole host of new uses for the watch and, in theory, it would be hard to disagree that controlling your music player from your watch or being able to play the classic Snake game on the go would be great additions.

And yet, what do even the most basic of apps really accomplish? The app that shows you when you receive a call and the log of call information is a worthwhile function, and yet, you can’t even answer a phone call (bear in mind the watch does not include an internal mic so this only covers answering the phone which is in your pocket) unless you own a Sony Xperia phone.

Perhaps the most baffling addition is the inclusion of an app that lets you take a photo on your phone using the watch, as if using it on your phone was too boring.

That is, if you happen to have the phone screen unlocked also as it won’t work if you’ve left your phone down for 2 minutes and the screen has locked itself.

The concept might make sense if the person’s phone was of an SLR quality and they wanted to take a photo remotely, but otherwise it is pointless.

Even text messaging appears to be beyond the capability of interaction. Similar to Facebook and Twitter notifications, text messages will appear on screen when they come in but even though a keypad exists on the watch, there is no capability to type out a message back to the person without taking out your phone.

Verdict

There’s no denying that the Sony SmartWatch is priced somewhere in the lower ranges of smartwatches with online prices starting at €130.99 while, say, the Galaxy Gear which with Littlewoods Ireland is going for €419.

But even it being at the lower end of the scale in terms of price range for a smartwatch, I personally find little reason to go with SmartWatch 2 given its laggy performance, poor visuals and lack of what would appear to be real use, especially at the price of lower-end smartphone.

There’s the mentality that when someone makes a purchase, unless it is absolutely necessary, to never go and buy the cheapest but rather spend that little bit more and have something you would be happy with.

This thought-process couldn’t be truer when it comes to the SmartWatch 2.

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Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com