Sony SmartWatch: Just How Smart Is It?

by Ed Caggiani on
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I’ve been a gadget geek since I was around 7 or 8 years old and got my first calculator watch. This “nerd” watch, as some people call it, was my first foray into multi-function devices and advanced personal technology. This was followed by watches that played games, were powered by solar cells, and held all my friends’ phone numbers.

Even my latest watch had to have some sort of techie gimmick to it. It’s a good ol’ digital Casio watch that also has analog hands. If that’s not enough, it would also sync to the atomic clock in Colorado to ensure it was always accurate. This simple watch has been on my wrist for years now and I haven’t really had the itch to get something new until recently when more and more companies are starting to release interesting wearable gadgets like Motorola’s MotoActv, the Pebble, the Nike+ FuelBand, and the WIMM One.

Sony’s Second Try

Among that group of manufacturers toying with the idea of wearable tech is Sony. They started with their universally panned LiveView watch. This watch was not a commercial success by any means but showed that Sony was starting to think about how to integrate watches and mobile.

Even with the slow start, Sony climbed right back on and released the Sony SmartWatch. In this second iteration, does Sony up the ante enough to have a hit? I recently decided to plunk down the cash ($118 from Expansys during a special they were having) and see for myself.

Hit the break for my review of Sony’s latest SmartWatch.

Look & Feel

Right out of the box the look of the SmartWatch is elegant. It’s simply a rounded square of glass with one button, and the back is a plastic spring-loaded clip which allows you to clip the watch on to a backpack, lapel, or watchband. As much as I hate to say it, the SmartWatch is very reminiscent of Apple’s iPod Nano. Hmmmm.

The Screen

The screen is a bit of a disappointment to be honest. The resolution seems fairly low and you can see the pixels if you look close. Responsiveness seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. It’s usually fine but sometimes it seems to lag a bit and miss my touches. My feeling is that this occurs when the Bluetooth connection is shaky.

Battery widget displaying phone’s battery status


Which brings me to my next point.

Connectivity

The way the SmartWatch works is by connecting to your Android phone through Bluetooth. The phone runs Sony’s LiveView software which you use to configure your watch (more on the software later). The first time you turn on the watch, it goes into pairing mode. From your phone you have to go into your Bluetooth settings and select the SmartWatch to pair it. Seems easy enough.

Except it didn’t quite work out that way. First, the pairing actually worked but it was unstable. It would connect for a second, then disconnect, then reconnect, etc. I unpaired it and reset the watch and tried again. This time it seemed to work a little metter and I got a popup window on my phone telling me there was a firmware update for the watch and to click OK to update.

I clicked OK and the watch would disconnect during the firmware transfer from the phone to the watch. I’d reconnect by turning Bluetooth off and back on and try again with the same results. I couldn’t get the upgrade to transfer because the Bluetooth connection would inevitably drop. I had no choice but to simply keep trying and hoping for the best. Then one time out of sheer luck, it finished! Phew. Finally.

The firmware update helped with the connectivity issues and made it much more stable, but it’s still not 100%. Every once in a while, for no reason at all, the watch disconnects from the phone (it vibrates three times fast when it loses a connection, so you’ll know). It usually reconnects after a few tries and stays stable again for hours. It’s hit or miss.

The dreaded disconnect screen

I am using the SmartWatch with my HTC Evo 3D, and Sony says it should work with most Android phones but can’t be certain it works well on every one. For me, the connectivity is just fair. For others, it may be 100%. Your mileage may vary.

LiveWare Manager

The first thing you need to install on your phone is the Sony LiveWare Manager. This is where you configure all the apps for the watch. Since the watch is essentially useless without your phone, you will be using LiveWare Manager a lot during the initial setup. The idea is that the watch is basically just a window to your phone and can send remote commands through to perform actions on your phone.

For example, by downloading the Weather SmartPhone app through the LiveWare Manager, you now have an icon on your watch that launches the local weather. The settings for the weather are all set in LiveWare Manager, and the app on the phone pulls the data. The watch app simply displays that data.

Weather widget

Watch Apps and Widgets

Most apps have the option of being displayed as a widget on the watch. The SmartWatch has a row of widgets you can get to by swiping left/right. Swiping up/down switches between the row of widgets and the row of apps intalled in LiveView Manager. Displaying an app as a widget means you don’t have to launch the app from your watch, you can just swipe to that widget on your watch and see the latest synced data. The order of the apps and widgets can be changed in LiveView Manager.

There aren’t all that many apps for the SmartWatch available yet. Some of my favorites include Phonebook, Music Player, Calendar Reminder, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail Notifier, and VFinder.

VFinder is interesting in that it allows your watch to display the video feed from the camera on your phone. Swiping up on your watch takes a picture. Cool concept but not terribly useful for every day situations. But it makes a good demo to show off to your friends.

Gestures

The SmartWatch accepts touches, swipes, and two-finger taps. Swipe left/right to move between screens, swipe up/down to switch between widgets or apps, and touch with two fingers together to go back. This scheme works well, but the two-finger taps to go back takes a little getting used to. Many times, it won’t register both fingers and it performs a single tap. I’ve realized that it works better if I do a pinch closed gesture instead.

The Time

This is a watch. It should do that better than it does anything else. To that degree, the SmartWatch does well. Its default screen when turned on is a digital clock with the time and date. To get to the apps and widgets you have to touch the clock. To get back to the clock you have to do the two-finger back gesture described above as many times as necessary to get back to the clock.

What would be nice is if the SmartWatch had multiple clock formats and skins to choose from. The default digital clock is the only option. There is at least one clock widget in the Play Store that can give you some different clock faces, but I have yet to find anything that compelling. Also, the default clock remains the same, this is just a widget you can swipe to.

The Good

  • Great looks, not too thick.
  • Elegant in its simplicity.
  • It vibrates when alerts, calls, texts, or other notifications are received.
  • Comes with a black watchband and an adapter to use on any watchband. Colorful watchbands are also available from Sony.
  • Battery lasts at least 2 or 3 days.
  • You can send a call to voicemail with a tap.
  • You can send pre-canned text messages to specific recipients right from the watch.
  • LiveWare Manager is a good centralized location for setting up the watch. no need to work on the watch’s small screen to set things up.
  • Extensible architecture for apps and widgets could be promising if developers start making cool apps and widgets.
The Bad
  • By far the top negative thing about the watch for me is the spotty Bluetooth connectivity. Keep in mind that I have only tested this on my HTC Evo 3D and it may work much more solidly on other devices. I’ve read other reviews that mention it’s solid on their phones.
  • Screen sensitivity seems a bit off. Sometimes I have to touch twice before the touch is acknowledged. Some of this could have to do with the spotty Bluetooth since the watch tends to freeze a bit during connection handshakes. But the two-finger touch gesture always seems more reliable as a pinch.
  • Not many apps yet. Hopefully this will get better over time, but I think I have 95% of the free SmartWatch apps installed already and I only have 21 apps installed.
  • Watch is useless without a phone. Sure, the time will stay set if you get disconnected, but if you reboot the watch, it loses everything and needs to be synced up again with a phone.
  • Gone are the days of simply glancing at your wrist to get the time. You have to hit the button to turn the screen on to see the time. I understand this is a battery saving technique, but it would be nice to have some sort of low power mode where the time is always visible.
  • General bugginess and crashing. Sometimes launching an app crashes the watch and it reboots itself. Or worse yet, it will freeze and you have to manually reboot it by holding down the power button. This is still a work in progress. Future firmware updates could stabilize things, as could updates to specific misbehaving apps.

Conclusion

Well, with everything I’ve had to say about the Sony SmartWatch, you might think it’s not very smart at all. To a degree, I would agree with you. There’s really no smarts on the watch itself. All the heavy lifting is done by your phone. And with the occasional crash and unreliable Bluetooth, it does sometimes feel like it’s a beta product.

But am I happy with it? Well, for me, I’d generally say yes. It’s a step in the right direction and perfect for gadget freaks and early adopters like me to play around with. I would have to say, however, that it’s not ready for prime time mainstream use. Too many little glitches for a “normal” person to put up with.

I’m glad I took advantage of the deal Expansys had on the watch for $118 shipped. Now it’s back up to $148.99, which I think is really a bit too high for a watch that’s not fully baked yet.

My bottom line: Gadget freaks and early adopters only.

Check out more pictures in the gallery below.

» See more articles by Ed Caggiani


  • Richard Bown

    Early adopters only? Sorry but early adopters have already bought the Sony Ericsson liveview smart watch a year ago. And the connectivity problems you highlight were exactly the reason why I got rid of mine after two months. A great idea, poorly executed and not fixed in this second generation product. I still want a smart watch, so have helped fund the pebble product on kickstarter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mcpuffin Iordan Nikolov

    bluetooth is just extra microwaves emitting onto your body.

    • http://twitter.com/GLTease CPG

      yes, thats right .. wear this watch and die!!!!

  • twilight

    I use this watch with Samsung Galaxy Note with almost no connectivity issues but of course you should be in phone’s 10metres Bluetooth range..
    I think you haven’t discovered that there is an option for clock to always on when movement detected.. It’s in clock settings in Liveware.. the clock in this power saving mode is simple but still good.. FYI there is no option in ipod nano to set the clock always on so this is a plus for Sony..
    The things I hate about this watch
    no standard charging cable, it can only be charged with it’s original cable as the connect part is different
    screen is not half as good as ipod nano, it’s really a big minus!
    there is no option to use it’s main clock function when it’s not connected to phone.. So in order to use this watch you have to have a compatible Android phone in range!
    I’d throw it away if there wasn’t an option to set clock always on, otherwise it would be useless.

    • jj

      that’ nice mate…i’m still going to buy that watch only for just two things….a clock and a notificator so that i don’t need to always hold my phone specially in the crowded and full of snatchers area…sorry for my english….:)

  • Richard

    bro, do you know if the ‘smartwatch’ volume control works in the ‘Doubletwist’ APP? or just work with a music player from sony? i want to used with an htc evo 3D :)

  • aamp

    Sony doesn’t get it. They introduced the LiveView concept and then released a products with terrible connection issues. They won’t help the community trying to make better use of the original LiveView even though they’ve completely abandoned updating it (fixing it) for themselves… Sony’s loosing customers by doing things like this. Even it’s phones don’t get timely updates – why buy Sony??

  • chris

    Agree with bluetooth issues. I have HTC desire and trying to keep it connected to the watch is like trying to balance a golf ball on a nail….very very annoying. Buzz buzz on the wrist I feel as it says no connection. Hey mate have a look at my new phone…oh wait no connection. Talk about a custard pie to the face!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mimaricar Mohamed Idris Maricar

    I have used the previous version that is the LiveView and I m pretty sure that Smart Watch is much better with my Arc s that’s infact an older phone of thelate SE. I mean the connectivity is cool and it shows up on the N Bar when it’s connected. Now I have given my liveview to my wife who has xperia u and it seems to work better with her phone than mine. So my conclusion is you have to try with a Sony phone to actually feel it’s rite working nature. Btw, there is a simple tip tour that teaches you how to use the device. To go back you pinch 2 fingers and it works perfect..

  • need2know

    can i use smartwatch apps in sony liveview?

  • Graciela

    So Smartwatch is Useless if the Bluetooth Disconnected?

    • http://www.farrstdevelopments.blogspot.com/ Stewart Farr

      yep. even the “watch” part doesn’t work. Which is really frustrating because if your phone dies…….all you have on your wrist is a glorified bit of jeweler that a 1970′s casio could do better job at being a watch.

  • Big Easy

    I just bought the Smartwatch and love it. I have the HTC OneX 4g lte and it works Awsome. I haven’t detected any flaws yet. I got mine for less than $100 on amazon.

  • jamez

    I have the watch for about a month now and have had no problem with connection to my HTC Desire S. Besides all the Cons you mentioned have been addressed in the newest update. No connection problems, Low power consumption always on watch. The only flaw which remains is the fact that the watch is useless without connection to a phone, however this is connected to the core functionality of the watch.

    • http://www.farrstdevelopments.blogspot.com/ Stewart Farr

      I think its a pretty small request to allow the watch to still tell the time when its not connected to a phone. Hell there should be a firmware update that could do it.