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Sony Smartwatch 2 (SW2) review

My colleague here at work tells me I have an addiction. I’m addicted to gadgets, and it’s true. Hi my name is John and I am Gadgeholic 🙂 Perhaps I need to start a GA (Gadgeholics Anonymous) group to help deal with my addiction. The problem is rehab is for quitters, and I ain’t no quitter 🙂 I know I shouldn’t make fun of addictions 😦 Moving on …

Back in 2012 I played with the Sony MN2 smart watch. It was an abysmal failure IMHO. It was so bad it could not tell time if it lost contact with the phone. It couldn’t last a day. And looked like a cheap piece of plastic. I hated it so much I returned it to the Sony store from whence it had come … Thank goodness for return policies (and the forethought I had to check the return policy before buying it).

Fast forward to now (actually it was announced Jun 2013) and we have the latest generation of it. Sony has made a number of updates to the firmware to address some early concerns about the SW2. Before jumping in I read a number of reviews about this one and it level set my expectations.

From a competition point of view I like the looks of the new Samsung Galaxy Neo, a huge step forward from the first gen but Samsung totally redesigned the Gear 2 such that any app written for the Gear 1 needs to be rewritten for the Gear 2. So the number of apps is low. It’s also more expensive. And the heart rate monitor built into it is useless (you need to be standing still for it to work). It’s also less customizable. Charging requires a docking cable. So all in all I decided against this one.

I like the Pebble but it looks like crap unless you buy the Pebble steel which is a ton of cash. It’s also more focussed on notifications, which for me a is a secondary purpose (for my use).

I found this one website with a list of a number of smart watches and it allows you to compare them for features!

And so I bought the Sony. I have to say, I had a hard time not dismissing this one after the horrible taste the MN2 left in my mouth. Brand recognition and loyalty is difficult to earn and so easily to loose. I remember when Sony was considered something I personally sought after. After a number of bad Sony products the brand for me is in the toilet. But in the end I decided to try it.

Physically the device is a bit on the large side. I have a small wrist and while it fits it is large enough to cause issues with dress shirt sleeves. It looks pretty good IMHO. It comes with a rubber wrist band that is not all that bad looking either. And Sony made a great decision to use a standard 24mm watch band so you can switch it up with anything you want. There is only one button on the side of the watch and that is used to brighten the screen, and power it on and off. On the front of the watch are three soft buttons, home, back and options kinda like Android. These are not backlit for some bizarre reason so hard to find in the dark. Dumb. And there’s no vibrate when pushed either. The options key is inconsistently used even within Sony apps, so is largely irrelevant although from time to time it does something. On the last side of the watch is a micro USB port for charging the watch. A positively brilliant choice and I applaud Sony for this choice. They include a pigtail USB cable that you can plug into your computer or buy a USB charger. So all in all fantastic. No need to carry around some custom cable or docking station to charge it!

From the first Sony watch I was familiar with the setup process and how the apps make their way to the watch. You load two apps on your phone Smart Connect and SmartWatch 2 from the PlayStore onto any android device that meets the specs (check to be sure yours is new enough). They use bluetooth to connect (not Bluetooth 4 or Smart) so it’s pretty compatible with most devices. You can use NFC to link them up or simply pair it like you would any other Bluetooth device. Once that’s done your Watch is initially setup. I am shocked how good connect/disconnect works. I have come to expect hokey results out of bluetooth connections. Not this one, they got it almost perfect. I had a few times where the watch would not connect to the phone. I had to power off the watch. I had once where I had to totally unpair and repair the watch.

First and foremost I want this thing to be a watch. Sony got the clock right. From the device even without the Bluetooth connected (once setup) you can set an alarm, change the date and time, use it as a count down or count up timer, change the watch face all with out the phone.

Also on the device out of the box is a calculator as well as an understanding of Endomondo and Runtastic fitness apps. These apps like all apps run primarily on the phone and use the phone’s sensors and relay data back to the app on the watch. When the app on the watch first starts or when it is brought back up or after the clock has timed out the watch app connects to the phone app and displays whatever data onto the watch (from the phone). If an app on the watch is dependent on the phone and the phone is disconnected, the app icon on the watch is greyed out, showing it’s unavailable.

Starting up Endomondo or Runtastic on the watch starts it on the phone and can easily be started and stopped on the watch as well as display some of the stats. Endomondo only worked if I manually started it on the phone then the watch. A shame because I prefer it over Runtastic. Runtastic displays duration/distance/calories, Pac/avg pace/duration and Current speed/distance/avg speed on screens you swipe through. The screen dims and goes back to the watch after a timeout. I could not find a way to keep the screen on to allow you to use it for constant tracking. I did find a great app called GPS Watch that will display Speed, distance, and direction. It can even stay on, but beware this can really drain the battery on the watch quickly. You could use it like a bike computer etc. But if you interrupt it you will loose the distance travelled.

Endomondo displayed distance/time, speed, and heart rate again on screens you swipe through. Again I saw no way to keep the app on the screen. Runtastic seemed to be more solid and smoother than Endomondo. I can only hope this improves.

Once initial setup is done you can then choose what else you want to install from the Smart Connect app. Each app, each notification type are separate installs all of which go to the phone, download it from the PlayStore and then load it onto the watch. A little clumsy and time consuming, and clutter up your phone but I like the flexibility of being able to decide what I do and don’t want. And changing phones has become a little more time consuming. Something I do often.

Clock faces out of the box are very basic and there is no weather app by default. There are lots of additional clock faces that can be purchased from the Android PlayStore from the phone. These work a little oddly. Sony have allowed you to create your own custom watch faces to supplement what you get from them. These can be self designed from clocks/widgets available. When you install apps that have custom clock faces they show up as new clocks/widgets that you can use to design your own. I love the flexibility and customization this allows but I have to say it took me a bit of time to figure out what it was doing. And settings for a particular watch face or widget are done in the app on the phone so you have to figure out which app is adding which watch face/widget. A little confusing.

You can have a total of 12 different watch faces defined. All of which can be selectable from the watch or the phone. Out of the box they seem to all be black and white. There are some third party ones that add color but I find it odd that they do not allow more flexibility in designing your own watch faces with color. Every now and then I would find a custom watch face I designed resulted in a blank screen on the watch. I had a couple of times where the only way to resolve it was a reboot of the watch. Odd. Fortunately reboots are pretty quick. Other times I would have a custom watchface completely drop an element in it and I had to go back in and edit it and add the widget or watch face back in.

The screen has a number of power modes. First off when the watch detects absolutely no movement such as sleep it turns the screen completely off. To save power the refresh rate on the screen in dimmed mode is low and the screen is black and white, the watch does not display a second hand. If the watch detects movement of the watch it raises the backlighting on the screen to halfway. And finally if you turn the screen on by pressing the button it’s then on max brightness and max color. Once the screen wakes up there were a few watch faces that included a second hand.

Bluetooth can be turned on and off on the watch itself allowing you to save power, oddly there is no way to set sleep times that would allow you to save power by turning the bluetooth on the watch off while you sleep. I also had difficulty finding a setting on the phone that kept the watch silent while I slept. In the end I opted to turn bluetooth on the phone off using llama at night to insure I never get woken up by the watch. After that happened a couple of times I was not thrilled.

Watch battery status is displayed on the top of some screens, but not the most easily readable or clear just how much of a charge it left. A bizarre oversight. There is a way to add a battery status icon to a custom watch face if you want to. There isn’t even a way from the phone to tell the status of watch. In electric cars they have a phrase called range anxiety. It’s about the paranoia of running out of juice while your driving. With this watch, without knowing the status of the battery you will be tempted to charge this up constantly which would become a nuisance.

The screen in direct sunlight is readable but you can see some of the wires under the touch screen in certain circumstances. With back lighting on you can easily see and read the screen, but this is by no means as bright or vivid as the Samsung Gear 2. A trade off for battery life.

The watch defaults back to the time as it should, a nice design touch.

Additional apps can be loaded from the phone for calendar reminder and numerous notifications, as well as Weather, music control, Walkmate, etc

The Music playback app allowed starting of the music as well as a visual display of the song/album and artist being played. You can also visually swipe to the next song as well as control the volume. It all worked perfectly with my stock Samsung music player. The music app stays on the screen so you can always see what’s playing, also a nice touch.

All of this was loaded from the Smart connect app individually allowing you to pick and choose what you want but taking a bit to get setup.

Walkmate is a pedometer app that runs on the phone and displays on the watch. A nice app that seems reasonably accurate. This app is a typical example where the functionality is being provided by the phone, the sensor is on the phone and the watch simply displays the data.

Speaking of a Pedometer, this is one of the main functions of these fitness tracking bands like FitBit etc. I found three ways on the watch to do a pedometer (all three the watch is nothing but a second display, the functionality is coming from the phone).
1) Walkmate (mentioned above) from Sony mentioned above. There is an app on the phone that shows your progress, allows you to stop and start. It’s ok. It even allows a heart rate monitor but does not display the heart rate anywhere. It only support Ant+ heart rate monitors. It ignored my Bluetooth one.
2) Samsung S.Health which using Remote Widget you can display your current stats
3) Acupedo which has a nice widget that again Remote Widget you can display your current stats
With both Acupedo and Samsung S.Health you can keep the display on making it easy to see how far you’ve gone.

Another popular watch function is heart rate monitor. I found 3 different ways I could display my heart rate on the watch. Again all functionality being provided by the phone:
1/2) Start and Endomondo activity with Bluetooth Smart, Bluetooth Classic or Ant+ heart rate monitor and then either start the Endomondo app on the watch, or use Remote Widget to display your current heart rate. If you use remote widget you can keep it always on the watch
3) Lastly use Google my tracks on the phone and Watch my tracks on your watch connected to an Ant+ heart rate monitor. For some reason bluetooth heart rate monitors do not show properly on the Smartwatch.

Sony has a call handler app as well as a missed call notification app (as well as a contact app) but the reality is given the phone does not have a mic or speaker your pulling your phone out (unless your using a handsfree setup) to take or make a call anyway but none the less these are handy as secondary notifications to help you not miss calls.

I was surprised I couldn’t find a compass app. Apparently at one time it was on the device and seems to have been removed? I would love to have a heart rate monitor app. And maybe even an alarm so if I walked away from my phone it would remind me. And I would love to see the ability to have screen of data you could scroll through rather than limit it to one watchface. One can hope.

There’s even a find my phone app that rings the phone assuming it’s in bluetooth range of the watch. A third party app can be used from the phone to find the watch too.

One of the things that doesn’t seem to work right is you are suppose to be able to double tap to wake the screen. There is a detection of your wrist rotating that it wakes the screen to some in between state, backlight half on if I was to guess. But this seemed a little hard to get reliably to work.

The screen is readable in most situations. Add in the back light and I never found a case where it couldn’t be read. There were lots of complaints about the grainyness of the display. I didn’t find that. It’s certainly not the brightest or crispest but it is a watch after all. I would say for me the screen is good enough. It’s also waterproof so you don’t need to worry about getting caught in the rain. There’s lots of blogs out there that dunked their watch in water, I won’t be rushing to do that as it’s money out of my pocket.

There is no owner info you can add to the watch in the case you should you loose the device.

Overall the watch itself is fairly comfortable. I did notice it got a bit sweaty under the watch and rubber band but nothing too aweful.

On day 1 of heavy use the battery was sitting at 63% meaning just less than 3 days. So I recharged it and did what would be more normal use. It was at to 75% on the start of day two, 54% on day 3 and 26% on day 4 so 3-4 days would seem possible but 4 would really be pushing it. And it first starts to warn of low battery at 15%, then again at 10% and at 5% it powers off. Sony claim 3-4 days so it seems about right. Turn off bluetooth and the battery life according to Sony goes up to 7 days using it as a stand alone watch. It charged from 21% to 100% in just under an hour with both a high current charger and even a lower current BlackBerry charger which I think is terrific.

All in all I have to say I am impressed. Now my expectation level was set quite low to start. I was listening to one reviewer from TWIT and one of the things he said was notifications on a watch are virtually useless. Your unlikely to read an email/text on the watch and even if you did you need the phone to reply so in the end having notifications on the watch do nothing more than add to the amount of time it takes to handle a message and I agree. The one thing I can say though is notifications on the watch are a good secondary notification. But that said, the gmail notification app does not include support for the priority inbox so you are being notified for lots of stuff you likely don’t care about.

Sony have made some terrific progress from the first gen. Couple that with my realistic expectations and I find myself happy with the watch. It does what I wanted it to. Albeit a little expensively, but still. I look forward to seeing more and more apps and watch faces being released for the watch! And I enjoy having customizable watch faces.

In summary here are the list of apps I use on the watch:
Built in apps: stop watch, count down timer, alarm, flashlight, calculator (very occasionally)
Apps I added:
calender Month display, as well as calender smart extension to see your next events
Music control app
Call handling app to see and vibrate on incoming calls
Missed call notification
SMS (text message) notification
Gmail notification
Weather app
Find your phone from your watch, and Find your watch from your phone
Google Maps turn by turn directions on your watch

I found this VERY cool app called Remote widget that can take any widget you can normally display on the phone and display it on the watch. And it supports both always on as well as low power modes. It also supports multiple pages of widgets. Tap the widget on the watch and it starts on the phone. Slide the widget and move to the next widget. Wow. Impressive. Shows what can be done!

I also found Watchit which can take any notification from any app and display it on the watch! It also acts as a message aggregator. With this app you can get around the fact the Sony Google mail app does not support the priority inbox! Be patient it takes a bit of settings on the phone to get this working.

I found this website that reviews apps for wearables. XDA developers also has a forum for the Sony Smartwatch that I found useful.

I found the way to move the watch between two devices. Load all the required apps on both devices. Then to move from one phone to the next simply reset the smartwacth. This will put it in pairing mode. You can now pair it with the other phone and everything will move off to the new phone. While not exactly zippy it is smooth enough,

By the way when you do your search for apps that support the Sony Smartwatch in the Google Play Store, be sure and search for SW2 as well as Sony Smart Watch, otherwise you will miss some. And remember some apps are written only for the original Sony Smart Watch MN2.

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June 13, 2014 - Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews

4 Comments »

  1. Probably the best review of Sony’s Smartwatch 2 I’ve read (and the only in-depth review I could find). It certainly helped me with my decision of purchasing one yesterday. I liked how you focused your review on the actual user experience and the watch itself, and not on how cumbersome and old fashioned it looks compared to newer smartwatches (though, by the time you wrote your review, there were probably not that many around to compare it with).
    Thanks a bunch, I hope others sitting on the fence regarding the purchase of the SW2 will bump into this review and make up their minds about it.

    Comment by thekillingspree | March 21, 2015 | Reply

    • Thanks for your kind words. Glad it helped you. The Smartwatch sector is moving superfast! Enjoy your new purchase!

      Comment by johngalea | March 21, 2015 | Reply

      • Thanks! Still waiting for Amazon to send it my way, though.
        I don’t like Android Wear (not the way it currently is, at least) and I’ve read comments of people who tried Sony’s Smartwatch 3 and still prefer SW2 over it, as far as a notifications device goes. Also, current Android Wear smartwatches are rather expensive and, with the arrival of SW3, SW2 became one of the cheapest smartwatches around from a renowned brand.
        2015 will see an explosion in the smartwatch sector, for sure. Companies (including Google) are still trying to figure out what people want from such a device or what can be done with it. I expect that by next year or 2017, smartwatches will be a thing almost as common as a regular watch.
        I don’t expect you to be wearing your SW2 by now but, if you still are, could you please share with me (us) your opinion on it after all this time?

        Comment by thekillingspree | March 21, 2015

      • No I don’t still have the Sony SW2, I sold it a long time ago.

        Comment by johngalea | March 23, 2015


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