Sony SWR50 Smartwatch review – 3rd times the charm?

My old watch broke. The ever stylish Casio F-91W. I’ve been wearing that model of watch for almost 10 years and basically every year I end up buying a new one because the strap breaks or it ends up getting broken at fencing. They’re cheap, they’re great and the most complicated bit about them is the little light, and they were the only thing stopping me from buying a SmartWatch.

I’ve had a Fitbit and loved it. Wore it every day for months until I lost the charger. Once that happened I just stopped. It always irritated me that it didn’t show me the time and I wanted so badly for it to notify me when my phone was going off but alas, it did not.

So yesterday I bit the bullet and bought the Sony Smartwatch 3.

Sony-Smartwatch-3-Black-White

Smartwatch 3 in black and white bands

 

What made this the SmartWatch for me was the larger battery and the fact that it charges via micro-USB. The minute I read “charging cradle” or similar I stopped reading. Special chargers are just another thing for me to lose (eventually found the Fitbit charger in my car… no idea how it got there). The SW3 has a 420mAh battery which is the largest available currently for an Android Wear device, giving a reported 2-day battery life.

The SW3 also comes with GPS, which pushes it slightly above its current competitors.

For hours, I debated getting the Sony SmartBand Talk SWR30. It connects to your phone, gives you notifications, lets you call people, reply to texts and tracks your activity levels. Its e-ink display means that it gives you a good few days of life before needing to be recharged, which was everything I was looking for. It’s also curved to fit your wrist and orientated towards you, which others of a similar design aren’t (*cough* *cough* Microsoft Band…). Ultimately it came down to the price. The SmartBand was £100, and I got the SmartWatch for £136. So an extra £36 for a colour screen and the features of Android Wear

Smartband Talk SWR30

Smartband Talk SWR30

Ultimately it came down to the price. The SmartBand was £100 and I got the SmartWatch for £136. The extra £36 for a colour screen and the features of Android Wear seemed a no-brainer.

*Note* – The LG G Watch R got some serious consideration, but it was a bit bulky for me.

I picked up the SW3 from the Amazon Warehouse and it’s currently sitting on my desk charging up (very quickly I might add) and downloading software updates (not so quickly…).

The Review

Despite being their 3rd incarnation of a SmartWatch, this is the first offering from Sony running Android Wear. Its predecessor,  SW2, ran their own special version complete with Android style buttons.

Specs

Sony have managed to pack a lot into this little package, sporting a 1.2 GHz, Quad-core ARM® Cortex™ A7 processor with 512MB RAM, the SW3 is anything but sluggish. Onboard storage stands at a nice 4Gb. However, the OS does take up almost 2Gb of this leaving (me with) 2.6Gb available.

While the SW3 doesn’t have things like a heart rate monitor, which lots of its competitors do, it does come with GPS (great for recording your runs which we all go on… right?) and it’s WiFi ready. I say WiFi ready because while it has a WiFi chip inside, Android Wear does not (as of yet) support this but it is coming.

Battery

The battery is something to be impressed with. At 420mAh, its the one of the largest batteries in the SmartWatch market at time of writing. Sony estimate that this will last you around 2 days and so far I’d say they’ve been accurate. Yes when I was syncing music to it, it drained the battery a lot and yes when streaming directly from the watch to my headphones, it caused a fair amount of drain but while functioning as a SmartWatch, it did last me around 2 days. Not that a short battery should be much of an issue. Unlike most of its competitors, the SW3 uses a Micro USB to charge which means you don’t have to worry about being near your specific watches charging cradle to give it a mid-day power boost. Yes the port is quite fiddly due to its cover but that little irritant gives the SW3 another cool feature. It’s waterproof.

Waterproof

The watch is rated as being IP68 which means it’s “dust tight” and is suitable for “Immersion beyond 1 m”. For more info about the IP ratings, check out its wiki page. While a waterproof watch might not  seem like anything fancy, this does mean that you can jump in the shower after a workout, get pushed into a swimming pool, get caught drinking pina coladas in the rain, and wash the dishes without having to worry about your fancy-dancy watch.

The Screen

The 320×320 screen is nothing to get excited about, it’s relatively the same as all the others. Colours look decent and I’ve had no issues reading the screen in the sun. One issue I have had though is phantom touches. Now I don’t mean the screen is doing stuff by itself but my right boob did manage to start Google Maps giving me directions home, all while my arms were crossed.

Style

My watchface. Using Facer and the Now screen customised with watch battery on screen

My watchface. Using Facer and the Now screen customised with watch battery on screen

 

Some people are reporting that they’re finding the SW3 quite weighty, but I haven’t noticed really. It’s got a combined weight of 74g and its 36mm x 10mm x 51mm screen fits nicely on my wrist. It might not be as stylish as its circular counterparts but it’s not offensive looking. Sony are reporting a “holder kit” allowing SW3 owners to attach any watchstrap they like. There’s also a stainless steel version out, which is damn right attractive (while not being my style). I wouldn’t wear it while sleeping but I couldn’t stand sleeping with a FitBit on so that’s not a reflection on the SW3.

 

Voice Control

The voice control works nicely and the only problems I’ve had have been in loud environments where the watch couldn’t quite figure out who was talking to it. I’ve used it while baking to set timers and search for conversions (note to the USA, cups are not measurements!).

Music

As mentioned previously, the SW3 allows you to store your own music on it for playing when you’re out of range of your phone. This is done using Google Play Music and works quite well, although I’m not 100% sure how it decides what gets synced to the watch, but it did give me a nice selection to choose from. The watch also allows you to control Play Music while you’re listening from your phone so you can skip tracks and change volume without having to dig your phone out. Very handy if you’ve got your phone connected to speakers and you don’t want to get off the sofa.

App Integration

Facebook Messenger fullscreen notification

Facebook Messenger fullscreen notification

 

While Android Wear isn’t quite fully supported by a number of apps, most of the main apps are. Facebook Messenger, Twitter, and Hangouts all allow you reply using your watch (although its worth noting that while Hangouts lets you message contacts via SMS from the watch, you can’t start a Hamgouts IM but you can reply to one). Google Keep also works well. I used mine to check items off a shopping list, and it was nice not having to keep digging out the list and then a pen or keep my phone in my hand for the whole Tesco trip.

It also works with lots of fitness tracking apps including Google Fit, Sony’s Lifelog, RunKeeper, Ghostracer, and Google Tracks.

Use As A Fitness Wearable

VimoFit starting up on the watch

VimoFit starting up on the watch

 

All in all, the SW3 feels like a mix between a SmartWatch and a fitness wearable. Its missing some of the big items to be a true fitness wearable such as a heart rate monitor but the GPS (while being a battery drain) does mean you can record your runs, bike rides, dog walks, and hikes without having to bring your phone with you. Being waterproof means you can take it swimming or canoing without worrying. I’ve been using VimoFit to record workouts and its been working well for me. My main gripe with FitBit was that it didn’t show me the time and was slightly hopeless at recording non-standard workouts (fencing really confuses it).

I’ve been using VimoFit to track workouts which I’ve been getting from 30 Day Fitness and its been very accurate in tracking my reps of exercises (can’t figure out how to record a plank but I’m sure I’ll work it out).

Overall Verdict

Overall I would give this a 7/10 in the hybrid category of SmartWatch/fitness wearable. There are more attractive SmartWatches and Sony are keeping quiet about the launch date of their “holder kit”. Its got a good battery and a snappy processor, which means it doesn’t feel as laggy as the likes of the Moto 360 can do, and will easily last you more than a day of “SmartWatching” (read: not recording GPS trips or direct music streaming).

Ultimately, what really lets it down is Android Wear. While being great at some things, it’s really lacking in other areas. Where is WiFi support? Why can’t I always see my Google Now cards like I can on my phone? As with a lot of Android and Google projects, Wear is very much still a work in progress, but for early adopters, it’s there. I’ve not had any issues that amount to more than mild irritancy and Wear does have an active community behind it who should keep things moving along.

If you’re looking for a decent SmartWatch which can also come with you to the gym, the pool, and the great outdoors, then this is the one for you.