We’ve already covered Sony’s 2nd generation smartwatch over at AndroidGuys where great hardware was unfortunately let down by the same half-baked software we’d become accustom to seeing on smartwatches. That was until Android Wear made an appearance, and since then we have seen a number of offerings from companies, one of which is Sony who took the opportunity to release the 3rd generation of their smartwatch running Android Wear.
The review focuses primarily on the hardware, since the software is consistent across all Android Wear devices, but will touch upon the experience of using the software to compliment the underlying hardware performance.
With the software all being the same, it really is down to the hardware to differentiate the various Android Wear smartwatches from each other and Sony are the first to include standalone GPS functionality in their watch for us away from the smartphone.
The SW3 has a 1.6-inch 320×320 TFT LCD display, which does the job nicely, it’s nothing fantastic being able to spot pixels rather easily, but outdoor performance was never an issue. On the right hand side of the device is a single button which can be used to power-on the device or wake up/dim the screen. Unlike other Android Wear smartwatches, Sony’s Smartwatch 3 keeps a dimmed display on at all times giving the appearance of a genuine timepiece as opposed to a dark black block on your wrist when you’re not using it. Under the hood is a quad-core ARM A7 clocked at 1.2GHz, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of on-board storage, so it’s no spec slouch.
The watch itself is unique in that you can easily pop the actual watch module out of the rubber strap which makes for cleaning it and changing straps easily, or sticking it in your backpack if you don’t actually want to wear it as a watch and instead as just a GPS tracker.
Unfortunately, the bespoke feature of being able to pop the unit out of the strap means that standard watch straps won’t fit the SW3 and you’ll instead have to settle with Sony’s official offerings. The strap Sony bundles is nice, although you’ll find it attracting all kinds of dust and marks due to the rubber body, but it feels good. Because the strap joins the SW3 body at the top of the device, it sits off-set from your wrist which actually makes the watch feel alot more natural akin with the curve of your wrist, and doesn’t feel like it protrudes from the wrist, like the Moto 360 for example.
The clasp is extremely well done and allows the strap to be resized very easily by just sliding it up the notches. I have found myself catching the clasp occasionally undoing the SW3, so maybe that Sony lip could do with a less pronounced edge.
The standout feature of the Sony Smartwatch 3 is undoubtedly the built-in GPS that will allow you to use the device without having to take your smartphone to track your location. That means any run, walk, or cycling session can be easily tracked without having to carry two devices, which is exactly in my opinion where a smartwatch fits in. I don’t want to have to carry both a smartphone and a smartwatch on a run, something that simply sits on my wrist, tracks my run, and syncs when I get home is perfect, and Sony have really hit the nail on the head including this. Couple this with the fact you can now play music directly from your smartwatch to a headset and you’ll never need your smartphone when exercising again.
Whilst having the GPS module is fantastic, Android Wear apps still need to take advantage of the standalone feature and unfortunately there aren’t many apps that do, rendering this brilliant idea pretty useless. Sony’s own LifeLog app utilises the standalone features of the SW3, as does a few mentioned in this blog post, but it would be nice to see the big players update their fitness apps, which will surely only be a matter of time.
Battery and Charging
Unfortunately, the charging is where the Sony Smartwatch 3 is let down; in an alternative world where the Moto 360 didn’t exist, flipping that little rubber cover off to reveal a micro-USB port wouldn’t be too much of a problem, and on the positive side it means I can pretty much charge the SW3 anywhere since I always carry a micro-USB cable, but it’s not as easy as just dropping your smartwatch onto a dock for a bit of wireless charging.
The IP68-rating of the Sony Smartwatch 3 is what dictates this design, and it’s by no means a deal breaker, but can just be fiddly to put on to charge in the dark, which is most likely when you’ll be charging your watch.
On the topic of battery, I wouldn’t worry. Sony’s Smartwatch 3 was easily getting me through a day and sometimes even 2 days without charging it. On day 2, if you were to run it that long, you’d be looking at running out of juice at around 8pm, but the SW3 is easily a 36-hour performer when it comes to battery. I took my SW3 out this morning at 8am and at time of writing (7:30pm) still has 63% left. It’s been a light day for notifications, but Sony have definitely figured out the battery problems that plagued other smartwatches.
Sony’s Smartwatch 3 is certainly no slouch in the specs department, and the performance of Android Wear shows, it is smooth with little to no stutters only struggling when swiping through the watch faces at speed. The battery life is incredible, at least compared to the competition (it would still be nice to get a week from a single charge, but I think that’s a while off).
The 3rd attempt at a smartwatch for Sony has definitely resulted in a big improvement; the SW3 packs in a unique GPS feature that allows you to use the device without a smartphone, and it feels at home and not like a smartwatch on your wrist.
However, it’s not round, and for some this is not a deal-breaker, and if you’re one of them then you should absolutely go and buy the Sony Smartwatch 3 right now as it’s the best square-faced smartwatch on the market. But, despite all the SW3’s strengths, it’s tough to detract from the design of the round watches, especially the Moto 360. Watch faces seem to look better, as does Android Wear, not to mention that is the primary shape of watches we see on wrist these days.
So what’s the verdict?
If you’re a gymmer, runner, walker, cycler, then it’s a no-brainer – the GPS standalone feature is great, and will only get better when Android Wear apps take advantage of it.
If you don’t care about the shape of the watch face then buy it, it will not disappoint!
But, if you love the idea of a circular watch face design, then despite all the Smartwatch 3’s strengths, it’ll be worth waiting, and hopefully Sony will bring us a circular Smartwatch 4!