Sony SmartWatch 3 review: technically the best, visually the worst
The Sony SmartWatch 3 was presented at IFA 2014 – the third smartwatch from Sony – and a new stainless steel edition is coming soon. If you hadn't paid much attention to the previous Sony smartwatches, that's probably because they weren't very interesting. Let's see how things have improved since then in our Sony SmartWatch 3 review.
- Good processor
- Charge with USB (no adapter)
- IP68 water-resistant rating
- Built-in GPS
- No heart rate monitor
Sony SmartWatch 3 design and build quality
You never forget the first impression you get from a device and it frequently influences whether we want to buy it or ignore it. The SmartWatch 3 fails across the board on this front. The design is lackluster, the digital readout unimpressive and the rubber bracelet strap looks cheap and inferior. After just a few hours of wear, the wristband starts accumulating dust, hair and bits of worn-off skin, either stuck to it or buried in its grooves.
The wristband closure of the SmartWatch 3 is also not very practical. For my narrow wrist I had great difficulty in finding the appropriate setting between too tight and too loose. The watch is completely enclosed in the rubber bracelet too, so the overall size seems significantly greater in proportion to the actual display.
The SmartWatch 3 comes into its own with regards to sports though. At 66 grams, it is lighter than many other smartwatches, the rubber band is obviously impervious to water and sweat and the entire device is IP68 rated (water-resistant to a meter-and-a-half for 30 minutes and dustproof).
The Sony SmartWatch 3 specs include an accelerometer, gyroscope and built-in GPS: ideal for runners and athletes. The band comes in black, white, pink or green color options and is a standard 22mm band, meaning you can switch it out for basically any other band on the market. As mentioned above, a stainless steel band version is going to be available soon for around 50 USD more.
Unlike the LG G Watch R or the Asus ZenWatch, the Sony SmartWatch 3 has no pogo pin contacts on the back for charging. Instead, the SmartWatch 3 is charged directly with a USB cable via the IP68-rated micro USB port. On the right side we find a button for turning the display on and off and for accessing the settings menu.
The Sony SmartWatch 3 thus leaves a contradictory impression on me. Athletes will be impressed by its lightness, the extra sensors and the resistance to water and sweat, but pretty much everyone will find themselves disappointed that these features seem to have come at the cost of attention to design and elegance.
Price and Availability
The Sony SmartWatch 3 price sits at around 230 USD or 150 GBP on Amazon. The Sony SmartWatch 3 release date was November 11, 2014.
Sony SmartWatch 3 display
The 1.68-inch LCD display is easy to read even in daylight. The pixel density of the 320 x 320 pixel display comes in at a mediocre 269 ppi and although the color reproduction is satisfactory, there is a slight yellow tint visible.
Auto-brightness that beefs up in direct sunlight and dims in less intense lighting is good and works well. If you don't want the watch lighting up every time you move your arm near your face you can disable or enable always-on in the settings.
- Everything coming up at MWC 2015
Sony SmartWatch 3 software
Since its launch in the summer of 2014, Android Wear has seen some decent improvements. The usual teething problems of a new platform like precarious battery life or the lack of support for GPS have been resolved, while other issues are still present.
If you're looking for built-in Wi-Fi support or an NFC module you're out of luck here (and with basically every other smartwatch). On the app front too, developers could do much more.
With the Apple Watch coming in the near future the attention paid to smartwatches in general will heighten and we can be assured that interest in Android smartwatches will rise as well, in turn generating more incentive for app developers.
Once connected to your phone via the Android Wear app, the apps on your smartphone automatically communicate with the Android Wear-powered device. You can find Android Wear mini apps in the Play Store and Sony has also provided a separate companion app to manage Sony's proprietary apps.
On the main screen you'll get obvious data like time and date and you can swipe in various directions to access additional information such as pedometers, battery life and notifications. Swiping also lets you dig deeper into notifications or dismiss them entirely.
As with most Android Wear devices, some notifications must be opened on your smartphone to be viewed properly. A Quick Settings menu allows you to toggle the display between a dark (cinema) mode and bright daylight mode.
The vast majority of actions carried out on the SmartWatch 3 can be handled entirely by voice. Android Wear-enabled apps allow for dictated messages or notes, instead of typing them, as well as voice commands to call a particular person or set a reminder. Some apps, however, reveal small buttons on the display, such as the remote for Google Play Music.
One special SmartWatch 3 feature from Sony is the built-in GPS sensor. While other Android Wear watches are always dependent on a smartphone to record spatial data for sports activity, the Sony SmartWatch 3 can undertake this task on its own. Unfortunately, the heart rate monitor that is a standard for all other Android Wear smartwatches is strangely missing on the SmartWatch 3.
Sony SmartWatch 3 performance
Admittedly, Sony has more hardware installed in the SmartWatch 3 than is currently being used. For example, the GPS sensor was activated only recently by an update to Android Wear. Likewise, the SmartWatch 3 already has hardware support for NFC and Wi-Fi; these features just haven't been switched on by Google yet.
The quad-core 1.2 GHz ARM Cortex A7 CPU powers everything well, with the usual memory of 512 MB and flash memory of 4 GB. The same occasional dropouts and connection problems I have already observed with several other wearables also appeared on the SmartWatch 3, though. These issues will hopefully be resolved in future with a software update and are not necessarily Sony's fault.
Sony SmartWatch 3 battery
In my several weeks of testing, I was able to test the battery life extensively. In my daily routine I would use the SmartWatch 3 each morning to read multiple emails and answer verbally. During the day I was receiving frequent notifications and performing some minor tasks.
At this rate of usage I would be lucky to make it home without needing a charge, so I generally recharged the SmartWatch 3's 420 mAh cell at work to make it through to bedtime. On the weekend, however, when the device saw less intensive use, the battery life grew markedly. On a light usage day without using voice commands the SmartWatch 3 could easily make it through to a second day.
My advice would be that whenever you know you're not going to be using the watch for a while (meeting, movie, lunchtime conversation) that you put it into airplane mode until you need it again. This way you'll get the most out of the battery without being overwhelmed by notifications when you really don't need them.
Sony SmartWatch 3 technical specifications
On the hardware side, the Sony SmartWatch 3 stands out from the crowd, but some of its brightest features are not yet enabled by Android Wear. Still, it's a solid performer with the added bonus of built-in GPS. The design of the smartwatch, however, does it no favors, being the least attractive of all the options available: not a plus for a device that should also be considered as an accessory.
If you're more interested in the hardware, performance and functionality of your wearable, then the Sony SmartWatch is a good choice. Especially once NFC and Wi-Fi are enabled by a future update to Android Wear. But until then, Sony has to make do with three stars, because the SmartWatch 3 provides very similar performance to much better-looking (and similarly priced) rivals like the LG G Watch R and Moto 360. The Asus ZenWatch performs just as well, looks even better and costs even less.
Smart watches to big for me.