The Sony SmartWatch 2 may not offer up the feast of features of its Samsung rival, but perhaps simplicity is the way to go with smartwatches. Has Sony managed to nail it, or like the first SmartWatch incarnation, is this the second-worst thing Sony's ever made?
The SmartWatch 2 is, as the name suggests, the successor to Sony's original SmartWatch, which we called "the worst thing Sony has ever made" when we reviewed it in July 2012. This time 'round, it's a device we're taking a lot more seriously -- basically because everyone and their mum is rumoured to be working on one at the moment, so competition is fierce.
The good news is the SmartWatch 2 will work with any Android smartphone running Ice Cream Sandwich (that's version 4.0, folks) and above, meaning it absolutely smashes the Galaxy Gear in this respect.
Using NFC and Bluetooth 3.0, the SmartWatch 2 pairs and connects to your smartphone, delivering all your notifications to your wrist with a pleasurable vibration every time one arrives.
It also tells the time, which is novel, along with providing calendar appointments, a stopwatch app and a dubious flashlight without you needing to dig out your smartphone.
And yes, we have considered locking ourselves in a dark room and turning vibrate on permanently... but that's another story.
It's fair to say that the design of the Sony SmartWatch 2 isn't exactly inspired -- it's a black, square slab of glass, metal and plastic and while it still looks relatively premium it's not quite as eye-catching as the Galaxy Gear.
An ace up the sleeve of the SmartWatch 2 though is its IP57 certificate, making this smartwatch dustproof and waterproof up to a depth of one metre for 30 minutes. Couple that with the sturdy build, and we'd almost go as far to say this watch was rugged -- but we won't.
The main attraction is the 1.6-inch Transflective display on the front, although it sports a rather disappointing 220 x 176 resolution which results in everything looking very pixelated.
That Transflective technology means the screen never fully turns off -- hit the huge power/lock key on the side of the SmartWatch 2 and the backlight will die, but the time will still display, using the ambient light around you to stay visible. This means you can view the SmartWatch 2 in direct sunlight and still see the time - a nice touch, in this digital age.
There are a trio of touch keys below the screen -- back, home, and menu -- while on the left a little flap covers the microUSB port which is used for charging.
The strap itself comes in a variety of colours and materials which will no doubt excite every fashion-conscious hipster on the planet. There are five plastic options (black, pink, purple, yellow and turquoise) joined by black and light brown leather offerings, and topped off by a black stainless steel setup.
Thanks to its normal, watch-like strap the Sony SmartWatch 2 feels, well, like any other watch to actually wear. At 122.5g it's actually slightly lighter than our day-to-day timepiece, and if you're a regular wrist-wearer then you won't notice any difference when you slip this on.
As mentioned, the dust- and waterproof body means you'll be able to jump in the bath, shower, swimming pool or local fishing pond without fear of damaging your new toy, with the metal trim around the edge of the SmartWatch 2 manages to keep just an air of professional about it.
We didn't have any issues when it came to viewing the screen with the Transflective display performing marvellously in well-lit areas -- both inside and out -- while a single tap of the power/lock key engaged the back light allowing us to see the time in the dark.
Even in direct sunlight outside, turning the brightness all the way up meant we could still see what was happening on screen without too much of an issue.
There's no speaker or microphones built into the SmartWatch 2, so if you're looking to have a conversation you'll need to whip out your phone, but the inclusion of a microUSB port and built in NFC means there's no need for a silly charging case -- take that, Galaxy Gear.
Let's get our major gripe out of the way first. The Sony SmartWatch 2 is a real pain to set up. First you'll need to download the Smart Connect app from Google Play if you're not rocking a recent Xperia smartphone -- then you'll need to pair your handset with the watch via NFC.
Those two steps, to be fair, are straight forward -- but that's just the beginning, people. You've then got to go into the Smart Connect app and install each feature separately.
That means installing text messages, email accounts, Facebook, Twitter and the rest, one by bloody one. And we thought smartwatches were supposed to make life easier.
Once you've got that out of the way you'll then need to login to your social networks and email accounts in Smart Connect -- even if you're already signed into them on the phone -- for them to sync with the watch.
When you're all set up you can get down to the business of actually using the SmartWatch 2, but if you're hoping for a fluid experience you've come to the wrong place. The single-core 180Mhz processor isn't up to much, and sometimes when you think it hasn't registered your tap, it actually has...it's just taking ALL DAY to process it.
It is, at least, easy to use and anyone vaguely familiar with Android or any point-and-press interface won't find themselves being outfoxed here.
We were disappointed to find there were only five watchfaces to choose from, with just one digital display and four analogue clocks on offer. This is after all a watch, and considering it's got the cheek to also call itself "smart", we'd have though Sony would be able to muster up some more options for us.
Another issue is that screen -- that small, low-resolution screen. Text appears tiny with no way to increase its size, and the resolution means nothing looks particularly attractive either. If your eyes aren't up to too much, you'll find it pretty tricky to read what's being displayed.
It does work though, and we had no trouble getting emails, texts, and Twitter alerts to display on the watch, although Facebook was rather hit and miss. Some work needs to be done there.
You get a smattering of applications above the general messaging options, with an alarm, flashlight and timer all coming as standard. Sony offers a range of additional apps which you can download via Google Play, but you'll do well to find them all and we wonder why it doesn't have more of its own front and centre in Smart Connect.
The Smart Connect app on your phone has a shortcut to app categories, although we found some apps showed up in the wrong places, with some not displaying at all.
We liked the "smart camera extension" allowing us to control our phone's snapper from the SmartWatch 2, but it was a bit of a rascal to find -- while Runtastic Pro was inexplicably chilling out at the top of the "Photography" category list.
Another free, Sony-made app worth downloading is "Find Phone" -- perfect for those of you who regularly misplace your handset at home or in the office. Just tap the app on the SmartWatch 2 and you phone will vibrate and make a noise allowing you to hunt it down. Perfect for a simple game of hide and seek with the kids too.
At half the cost of the Galaxy Gear, we struggle to see why you'd plump for the Samsung smartwatch over Sony's cheaper offering. The ability to swap the strap to any 24mm standard watch strap is also handy, and the battery life is pretty impressive.
There's a decent range of apps available in Google Play for the SmartWatch 2, allowing you to get more out of it than the basic messaging functions and helping you justify your outlay to your loved ones.
Overall the Sony SmartWatch 2 still feels a little half-baked; it's made some decent strides in an attempt to bring communication to our wrists, but the sluggish interface, low resolution display, laborious set up and lack of message streams greatly hinders its usefulness.
To put it simply: We haven't fallen in love with the SmartWatch 2, or anything it does, and that's part of the problem, because if we don't love it, why would we spend money on it? Surely the main prerogative for a smartwatch is to make life easier, and sadly Sony's SmartWatch 2 doesn't really do that yet.
- Lag between the phone receiving a notification and the watch buzzing can be a second or so at times, at which point you've already started to move for your handset when your arms starts to vibrate. Then you're left in the tricky situation of "do you continue to reach for the phone, or check your wrist knowing there's a good chance you'll need your phone anyway?"
- Facebook rarely worked properly, with most notifications failing to find their way to the SmartWatch 2.
- Finding new apps can be a chore as Sony seems to have done its best to hide the half decent ones from obvious view.
- Battery life was impressive, and we regularly got almost three days out of the SmartWatch 2 on a single charge.
Should you buy any smartwatch at the moment? Probably not. If you want something to show off to your mates down the pub and have a spare £150 to burn then sure go for it. If you're desperate for a smartwatch then the SmartWatch 2 is a better shout than the Galaxy Gear.
But at the end of the day, we struggle to see why anyone needs one. The Sony SmartWatch 2 doesn't exactly cover itself in glory, and it doesn't really make life any easier. It will often frustrate and we're not sure that's a price worth paying for something which will tingle your wrist once in a while.
The first few hours, perhaps the first couple of days you'll probably quite enjoy it, but then, the novelty wears off pretty quickly. Smartwatches are the Kinder Surprise eggs of the tech world -- they've got so much promise, but ultimately the prize leaves you feeling a little bit mugged off.
- Network: Bluetooth 3.0
- OS: Android (modified)
- CPU: 180MHz single-core processor
- Screen: 1.6-inch 220×176 pixel TFT LCD
- Durability: Water resistant IP57
- Weight: 122.5g
- Colours: 5 plastic straps, 2 leather, 1 stainless steel
- Price: Starts at £149
- Fictional: will make you coffee