updated 06:21 am EST, Thu November 7, 2013
Sony SmartWatch 2, better made, more functional, faster
Sony started experimenting with Android smartwatches in 2012, sometime before there was any real hype about the concept. After giving the original Sony SmartWatch an update in earlier this year that extended its functionality considerably, Sony has now released its SmartWatch 2. The new device is much more substantial in its fit, finish, choice of materials and build quality bringing a new level of all-round refinement to the experience. So is it worth the trouble of owning yet another device that you have to charge?
The Sony SmartWatch 2 is made from aluminum with an anodized black finish, weighing in at 123g. Set against this is a nice contrast of a natural polished silver finish revealed through a chamfered edge that has been revealed around the bezel of the device. Another nice touch from a stylistic perspective is the inclusion of the silver aluminum power button that has become a feature of its high-end smartphones. While functional, it also conveys a sense of nostalgia for classic timepieces, giving the impression that it's a traditional watch at a glance. Like most traditional watches, the Sony SmartWatch 2 is also water resistance, in this case the IP57 standard for electronic devices. It comes packaged with either a black metal wristband or black silicon wristband, while it Sony is also selling a number bands in different styles and colors so you can tailor its look to suit your individual tastes.
Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Gear, which has been poorly received for trying to do too much, while having a short battery life, Sony has kept things relatively simple, building on the successful formula it established with its first model. However, it has significantly improved both the speed and performance of the interface, while also boosting battery life considerably. Sony claims that the SmartWatch 2 can last for up to 7 days (always on) with light use, or between 3-4 days (always on) with normal use. In our testing we found this to be quite a reliable guide as to what you can expect, making it quite practical. Adding to the overall user-friendliness of the device, Sony has also dropped the original proprietary charging cable that came with original in favor of a common micro-USB connection, much to our relief.
In terms of functionality, the Sony SmartWatch 2 continues with the formula it began refining with the original SmartWatch. It runs a version of Android that is compatible with any Android device running Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' onwards. It is also very easy to set up and use thanks its integration of NFC for one-touch pairing with NFC-equipped smartphones - it paired instantly with our Sony Xperia Z Ultra, as well as the brand new Google Nexus 5, which is running Android 4.4 'KitKat.' Also helping to keep power consumption low, Sony has opted to integrate the Bluetooth 3.0 standard that keeps radio energy low and well within acceptable health guidelines for electronic devices (for those of you who may have been wondering).
The Sony SmartWatch 2 centers on a 1.6-inch transflective LCD display with a 220x176 resolution. It's not the most high-resolution display you will come across, but it is certainly up to the task - you can read text in email messages, text messages, and RSS feeds with little trouble. The SmartWatch 2 continually shows the time, so you don't need to press the power button to tell the time. To preserve battery life, it does this without the backlight on, so while it is not as crystal clear as when the backlighting is on, it is still quite effective and works well in indoor and outdoor situations. You will need to power it up to read it at night, but it certainly pops in that context -- so much so, that Sony has also built in a flashlight function allowing you to use the SmartWatch 2 to light your way in the dark. There are also several different watchfaces to choose from, while you can also adjust the overall brightness of the display as well.
As we mentioned earlier, the Sony SmartWatch 2 is much faster than the original model. Unlike the over-powered Samsung Galaxy Gear, which incorporates a dual-core chip, Sony uses a single-core chip that is fast enough to ensure slick performance, while sipping power much more conservatively. The UI is completely stutter free and works exactly as you expect it would, while it also incorporates touch controls on the front bezel for easier navigation. Functionality can be extended by installing one of the many official and third-party apps that can be downloaded through your smartphone from the Google Play store. However, core functionality like vibrating to alert to phone calls, text messages or other notifications is very effective. If you are wearing Bluetooth-enabled headphones, you can even take calls directly by interacting with the SmartWatch 2, though you can't talk directly into the device.
If you still like wearing watches, love your technology, are sick of missing important phone calls, want a better way to get notifications, or want to remotely control your music or camera, the Sony SmartWatch 2 is definitely worth checking out. It is high-quality piece of hardware that keeps its functionality simple and because of this focus, is a very useful accessory for smartphone owners. We can see Sony integrating fitness tracking functionality into a SmartWatch 3 down the track (which would certainly increase its overall appeal) but even without, it remains an interesting and worthwhile device. Its wide compatibility with Android-powered devices is also a big plus, while Sony will continue to update the software ensuring that it remains compatible with devices that will hit the market in the short to medium term.
By Sanjiv Sathiah