Sony Smartwatch 2 £120
14th Oct 2013 | 16:02
A smartwatch which doesn't try and overdo things
Manufacturers appear to be falling over themselves at the moment as they try and get a smartwatch to market, and the Sony SmartWatch 2 is one of the first of the current batch to make it out the door.
There are a handful of competitors out there, most notably the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Pebble, but the market it still very much there for the taking with no clear leader just yet.
No one is quite sure what a smartwatch should offer, and what it shouldn't, so we find the current crop floating in no-mans land when it comes to the features they offer. Samsung has gone all out with the Galaxy Gear, while Sony has been a little more refined in its implementation.
And with refinement comes a more affordable price - the Sony SmartWatch 2 starts at £149 (around $200, AU$210) - that's half the price of its Samsung branded rival and while it may still seem a little on the steep side it's certainly easier to deal with.
One of the big trump cards for the SmartWatch 2 is the fact it's compatible with any Android smartphone running version 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and above, meaning you don't have to fork out for a specific Sony phone for it to work.
Sony hasn't exactly gone overboard on design, with the SmartWatch 2 a relatively uninspired square slab of glass, metal and plastic. That's not to say it's ugly, it just doesn't break any new ground.
It feels solid and there is a certain premium appeal about the SmartWatch, plus it's waterproof (sort of) so you won't need to take it off when you wash your hands, or cover it up when the rain comes down.
The SmartWatch 2 carries an IP57 certificate, meaning it will happily last up to 30 minutes in fresh water up to a depth of 1 metre - plus it also means it's dustproof too. Although we've heard reports that this might not be the case, so don't go jumping into the swimming pool just yet.
Measuring 42 x 41 x 9mm the Sony SmartWatch 2 isn't particularly overbearing and while it may be a tad bigger than your current time piece, your wrist won't feel swamped.
It also doesn't weigh a great deal - only 122.5g in fact - which actually made it lighter than our day to day watch, and after a while you won't even notice it's on your wrist.
The signature, oversized power/lock key which is slapped on the side of every Sony smartphone at the moment finds its way onto the right side of the SmartWatch 2 - it's easy to hit and responsive to all manner of prods.
You also get a trio of touch sensitive keys below the 1.6-inch "Transflective" LCD display, and if you're an Android user you'll instantly recognise these as the back, home and menu keys.
On the left is a covered microUSB port to allow you to charge to the SmartWatch 2, with the flap obviously being a vital part of making the watch waterproof.
If you've got some nails then it's relatively easy to flick open, although those lacking any length may find it a little trickier. The slender rubber connection between flap and watch doesn't exactly fill us with any great hope - we can see this is something which could break off pretty easily
We've bemoaned the strap on the Galaxy Gear for being rather tricky to adjust, while the Qualcomm Toq offers just one size which really isn't overly helpful.
Thankfully the SmartWatch 2 employs your standard watch strap, with a peg and a number of holes to ensure a snug fit to your particular wrist size.
There's a number of colours to pick from too, with two leather finishes in black and light brown, plus five plastic offerings comprising of black, pink, purple, turquoise and yellow.
If you're looking for something slightly more premium there's a black stainless steel strap option as well. And if none of those take your fancy you can fit any 24mm watch strap to the SmartWatch 2.
Sony has popped a relatively mediocre 1.6-inch, 220 x 176 TFT LCD display in the SmartWatch 2, which is no where near as detailed or bright as the AMOLED offering in the Galaxy Gear, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The Transflective (transmissive + reflective) display means the screen is always on, displaying the time, while making it really easy to see in direct sunlight and reducing battery drain.
It's a similar technology to the Mirasol screen used by Qualcomm on the Toq, but when woken from the passive clock display the screen lights up providing a brighter, more smartphone-esque experience.
While there are power and viewing advantages, everything displayed on the SmartWatch 2 is noticeably pixelated, but at the same time you're unlikely to be watching movies or viewing photos on this device - it's predominantly text only.
Set up and Smart Connect
The Sony SmartWatch 2 features NFC technology for easy pairing between watch and smartphone (assuming your Android handset has the contactless tech) - but this is just one step in what turns out to be a rather laborious set up process.
Just to clarify the point we made during the introduction, the SmartWatch 2 will work with any Android handset running Ice Cream Sandwich or higher - and if your handset doesn't have NFC you can use the good old fashioned Bluetooth connection.
It's Bluetooth which maintains the connection once the SmartWartch 2 is paired to your phone, and if you turn Bluetooth off on your phone the connection with the watch will be lost.
Before you go touching the back of the SmartWatch 2 (yes the back, not the front) to your phone you'll need to download Sony's Smart Connect application from Google Play.
Once installed simply tap the back of the SmartWatch 2 on the rear of your smartphone and hey-presto the two are connected. So far so good, but now it gets a little annoying.
Even though you've downloaded the app and paired the watch your SmartWatch 2 still won't work fully until you've installed various clients via the Smart Connect.
Open up Smart Connect, select the SmartWatch 2 and then tap the Accessory Application option. Here you'll be greeted with a list of apps which you need to install to allow the watch to pick up calls, texts and other notifications.
You'll need to install these one by one, with call handling, messaging, missed calls, emails and more all requiring this setup process. Considering the primary (if not only) reason you'll be purchasing a smartwatch is to have quick access to your notifications it's baffling why this process can't be automated.
For some apps, such as call handling and text messaging, you're done - the SmartWatch 2 will pop up with relevant information whenever anyone decides to text or call you - or if you fancy dialling someone from your wrist (although there's no speaker or microphone here).
If you're setting up email, Facebook or Twitter however there's more to do. Even if you've logged into the various accounts on your smartphone, you'll still have to login to them separately via the Smart Connect app for them to work with the SmartWatch 2.
Failure to do this will result in a message asking you to login being displayed on the SmartWatch 2 when you click the relevant app icon.
A word of warning when you do hook up your Facebook and Twitter accounts to the SmartWatch 2 - it can notify you of every update made by all your friends and by default everyone is selected in the notifications options.
If you don't go in and change this you'll find your wrist constantly vibrating as the steady stream of Facebook and Twitter updates filter through.
To adjust which notifications get to you, head back to the Smart Connect app and navigate to the particular service to then select which (if any) of your friends you want to keep track off.
You can quickly unselect everyone with one click, and if you don't want to be kept up to date with any of your mate's ramblings then you can choose to only get notified when someone interacts with you directly.
The flexibility in terms of notifications is impressive and it allows you to tailor your SmartWatch 2 experience to your own personality. It's just a shame it's a little convoluted.
A useful feature in the Smart Connect app is the ability to remove notifications and message history from your SmartWatch 2. If you get a ton of Twitter messages overnight you can mark them all as read if you can't be bothered to go through them.
If you're concerned about having all your messaging history stored on your wrist you can delete traces of them on the SmartWatch 2 on an app by app basis, without comprising the data on your handset.
Once you've managed to set up your Sony SmartWatch 2 you can actually get round to using it.
First up to get to the app screen on the SmartWatch 2 you'll either then to press the power/lock key twice, or hit it once and then tap the home keep below the screen.
That's because the first press turns on the backlight, allowing you to see the time in darker situations, and the second tap will take you through to the main interface.
What you get is a very basic version of Android will tiny application tiles appearing on screen - there's six on display at a time and you can slide sideways to see more - just as you would do on your phone.
Hit the menu key before the screen and you have the option to order the applications by alphabet or most recently used.
The screen wasn't always the most responsive and sometimes our swipes wouldn't convert into a page movement - you need to be relatively slow and controlled, a quick swipe will general result in you staying on the same page.
Issues with screen responsive were witnessed in other areas as well, such as selecting apps on the SmartWatch 2 and options in the menus.
While poor screen responsive was the issue some of the time, at other points the lowly power of the 180MHz processor was to blame for a sluggish reaction time.
This lead us to believe our presses hadn't registered, when it fact the SmartWatch 2 was just taking its time. This made usage slightly frustrating as quickly checking a message suddenly took longer than getting our phone out.
Along the top of the display is a slender notifications bar displaying the time, clock and Bluetooth symbol, and like in Android you can pull this down to see your latest notifications.
There's no quick settings or additional widgets on show here, basically because there's no space, and to be honest we didn't really expect anything else to be hidden in here.
You can tweak a handful of things on the SmartWatch 2 via the settings app where screen brightness, vibrate toggle and clock faces are among the options.
Bluetooth can be toggled on and off here, but as we've already mentioned in this review turning it off will see the connection ended between the SmartWatch 2 and your smartphone.
The SmartWatch 2 will still function without this connection, with the clock, alarm, timer and flashlight all working as standalone capabilities.
In terms of screen brightness we found that around 30% was usually more than enough to see what was happening on screen. We only needed to turn it up all the way when in direct sunlight.
We were a little disappointed that there were only five watch faces to choose from, with just one digital display and four analogue clocks on offer.
The four analogue options all sport the same design, the differences are white on black and black on white, plus the addition of the date on two of them. It's underwhelming to say the least and we'd have preferred a digital face which also displayed the full date as well as the time. Sony, take note.
You can also set up a pin from within the settings menu which keeps all your notifications away from the prying eyes of anyone who happens to get hold of your SmartWatch 2.
The pin only activates after 5 minutes pass since you last interacted with the SmartWatch 2, it won't automatically engage as soon as you lock the device - so keep that in mind.
Everything is pretty self explanatory on the whole, and if you're used to Android the Sony Smartwatch 2 isn't difficult to use - once you've set it up that is.
It's not the most attractive of interfaces however and that's down to the poor quality display which results in an extremely pixelated experience - it may be functional, but it's not going to win you over with looks.
Another issue with smartwatches is the size of the screen and thus the size of the text on said screens. The Sony SmartWatch 2 is no exception here, with text tiny and no way to increase it.
If your eyesight isn't the best there's really not much point getting the SmartWatch 2, as it'll be a chore every time you come to look at it.
Calling and messaging
We're always on the lookout for ways to make calling people easier and quicker, and while the Sony SmartWatch 2 allows you to make and take calls - you can't actually communicate verbally with it.
Unlike the Galaxy Gear with its built in speaker and microphone, the SmartWatch 2 requires you to be hooked up to a hands-free headset or in-car system to make and take calls on - or you could just use your phone if you're not driving.
If someone calls you their ID will flash up on the vibrating watch with answer and decline keys allowing you to make or break the connection.
Handy if you don't want to take to someone, but hit answer while walking down the street and you're left frantically scrabbling in your bag or pocket for your phone - so you can actually speak.
That's if you're using a Sony smartphone though - any other Android mobile and you only get the decline key on screen. This is one of the shortcomings of the SmartWatch 2 if you don't use it with a Sony Xperia phone.
The phone app on the SmartWatch 2 gives you access to your full contact list, although the lowly processor returns to haunt you with crippling slow load times for all your buddies.
It also pulls through your favourites and call log, while the keypad lets you tap in a number the old fashioned way. Once again though it's only useful if you're connected to some form of hands-free system, otherwise you might as well just get your phone out.
There is a few seconds of lag between your smartphone and the SmartWatch 2, so if someone calls you, you'll feel/hear your phone before the watch reacts. This means you find yourself halfway through going for your phone when the SmartWatch 2 buzzes.
You're then left with a tricky situation - do you continue the action you've already started of digging out your phone, or change tack to check your wrist with a high chance you'll have to get your phone out anyway? Sure it's only a few seconds, but it's long enough to create that doubt and ultimately frustrate.
When you receive a notification or a message the Sony SmartWatch 2 vibrates and flashes the alert up on screen, allowing you read the latest missive without having to press any buttons.
The alert displays for about 10 seconds before the SmartWatch 2 reverts back to the Transflective clock display - ensuring your battery isn't drained by the bright screen constantly being on.
That's all well and good, and apart from the text being a little on the small side it's a system that works pretty well on the surface.
Tap on the tweet, text or facebook message though and you're left feeling as though you've only been given half the experience. We're now accustomed so seeing all our missives in chronological order with all previous replies neatly available with a simple up scroll.
It feels like with the SmartWatch 2 we've taken a step back in time, with messages coming through on a singular basis, unconnected to anything before them.
Want to see what that Twitter "@" reply stream looks like, or what you previously text your mate to prompt such a baffling response? Well it's off to your smartphone as the watch cannot help you.
You can reply to text messages from the SmartWatch 2, but that's the only communication you can send from it.
Even then you're limited to a handful of pre-written templates, which can be edited in the Smart Connect app.
It does at least work and its pretty simple to do, plus it would be near on impossible to type on such a small display.
Another slightly irritating feature is the clearing of notifications - or the lack of this. Receive a text message, read it on the Sony SmartWatch 2 and the new notification icon will disappear from the watch.
Head over to your phone though and the same message will still be showing as unread. The issue doesn't exist the other way round - if you read a message on your phone first the notification is automatically cleared on the watch.
In its self it isn't a huge issue and something which can probably be addressed in a software update, but these annoyances are being to build up, all of which detract from the overall experience of using the SmartWatch 2.
It's much the same story for emails, with everything but the text stripped out and no stream of messages to view a conversation as a whole.
Viewing newsletters on the SmartWatch 2 is a pretty pointless endeavour as there's no images and web links are not supported so you won't be clicking anything. You're much better off getting your phone out.
Unlike with text messages there's not even the option to reply to emails with stock templates - you're forced to go to your phone if you fancy sending a witty retort back.
Battery life and apps
Sony reckons you'll get three to four days use out of the SmartWatch 2 on a single charge and from our time with it we found this was pretty accurate.
Our Sony SmartWatch 2 certainly didn't have any issues lasting a whole day, and it could comfortably see out 48 hours. Getting into a third day and the low battery icon would sometimes creep in towards the end of the day, but it you're conservative then it could welcome in day four.
Considering the screen never fully turns itself off - displaying the non-backlit clock face at the very least - it's an impressive show, but to be fair the last thing we want to be doing is charging our watch every couple of days.
Of course a large portion of battery drain is reflective on the number of notifications you've set to pop up on the SmartWatch 2. If you have every account under the sun syncing to the watch then the screen will keep lighting up with message previews and thus will drain the battery more.
Just have your text messages and some selective social updates coming through though and the Sony SmartWatch 2 will last much longer on a single charge.
The SmartWatch 2 will comfortably last longer on a single charge than comparable usage on the Galaxy Gear - but its rival does have a brighter, crisper more power hungry display and a lot more going on under the hood.
As well as the low powered screen technology there's also the modest amount of processor power inside the SmartWatch 2 which doesn't exactly lend itself to sparkling performance, but at least it's kind on the battery.
As the SmartWatch 2 builds on its predecessor, the SmartWatch, an APK has been in the hands of developers for a while so there's already a selection of apps available on Google Play above and beyond Sony's own offering.
While it's great to have so many applications at your disposal straight out the box, going about finding the ones you actually want to use proved to be a little more difficult.
The Smart Connect app offers up a shortcut to search for applications to go with the SmartWatch 2 and with a range of categories to narrow your search by it appears to be a helpful offering on the surface.
Select a section though and you're taken to a relatively sparse list of available applications which appeared to differ depending on which handset we were using. The apps displayed were not always relevant to the category selected either.
Choose "photography" for example and the app which comes top of the list is "Runtastic Pro" - a running app, nothing to do with taking pictures. Seriously, what's going on here?
We found the best thing to do was to select on of Sony's own apps and then select the "view more apps by this developer" option, as there's a range of useful offerings from the SmartWatch 2's creator.
One app we really liked (once we'd managed to track it down) was the free 'camera smart extension' - tap the icon on the SmartWatch 2 and you're Android phone will automatically launch into the camera app - it'll need to be unlocked though.
From there you can then control photo capture and video recording from your wrist, but as the feed from the phone's camera lens is streamed via Bluetooth you get extremely laggy playback on the tiny 1.6-inch display.
That said, when it does work it works well and you can have a lot of fun with this application.
The music player and 'calendar smart extension' are both free and worth a download, with the former providing play/pause, skip and volume controls on your wrist - it doesn't support third party players such as Spotify though.
Meanwhile the 'calendar smart extension' is a handy app allowing you to see all your upcoming calendar appointments, although it has a tragic flaw. Anything marked as an "all day" event in your calendar will be displayed on the day after it's actually scheduled on the SmartWatch 2.
It's a baffling issue and one which confused us greatly until we worked out what was going on.
Find my phone is a must-have app for anyone who's constantly misplacing their phone at home or around the office.
If you've managed to lose your latest Android smartphone just tap the app on the SmartWatch 2 and it'll make your phone vibrate and make a noise, allowing you to track it down. Just make sure you're within Bluetooth range.
There are of course a number of paid for applications available to SmartWatch 2 users as well, such as the aforementioned, and badly categorised Runtastic Pro, allowing you to grow your app collection further.
Hands on gallery
The Sony SmartWatch 2 - should you buy it? Well do you really need a smartwatch? In fact, does anyone need a smartwatch in their current form?
Probably not - the technology is growing but it's yet to set the world alight, amaze us or actually make a decent case for itself as a vital piece of kit.
That's not to say the SmartWatch 2 is rubbish. It offers up a whole host of features and while it doesn't particularly excel at any point, our mates were certainly impressed when we showed it off to them.
A water resistant, dustproof smartwatch which isn't overly cumbersome on the wrist is certainly a big positive for the SmartWatch 2 and while it's not going to wow anyone with amazing design, it certainly is practical.
The ability to change the strap with any 24mm watch strap will appeal to some, but it's really the price which helps the Sony SmartWatch 2 stand out from the crowd.
At almost half the price of the Samsung Galaxy Gear it's difficult to justify why you'd opt for this over the SmartWatch 2.
Battery life was pretty impressive with the Smartwatch 2 regularly getting most of the way through a third day on a single charge, plus the range of applications available in Google Play gives you some decent additional options - even if they are hard to find.
While various features of the Sony Smartwatch 2 are "nice", we haven't fallen in love with any of them and we're still struggling to see why we need a smartwatch in the first place.
Sure having notifications pop up on your wrist is convenient, to a point, but consider the tiny text size and the lack of message streams and you're really only getting half the picture.
For the full communication experience you'll still have to phish your phone out of your pocket, and a sluggish UI will force you to your phone even more often.
Smartwatches should make everything a little easier, but the complex setup procedure for the SmartWatch 2 is anything but and frankly we got rather bored of the laborious process.
If you are absolutely desperate for a smartwatch then we would recommend the Sony SmartWatch 2 over the likes of the Pebble, Qualcomm Toq and Samsung Galaxy Gear, but if you're not really bothered then we'd advise to steer clear.
The SmartWatch 2 still feels a little half baked. There are some interesting functions such as the camera extension, and the idea of getting notifications and messages on your wrist is cool.
But it's the sluggish interface and poor implementation of core apps which ultimately let the SmartWatch 2 down.
We could forgive the low res display if the SmartWatch 2 worked smoothly and provided better functionality in the main communication applications - but as it stands this is still very much a work in progress.