Sony SmartWatch review

The idea of a Bluetooth watch that keeps you updated about phonecalls, text message and tweets and allows you to get yourself into Eighties teen comedy style scrapes with a spy camera, is almost too cool to be true.

So we've spent some time with the Sony SmartWatch, to see how it lives up to our expectations. Can this little device offer enough features to make it worth the £110 asking price, or is that just a little bit too much money for a watch that makes telling the time harder than a normal timepiece?

Not all that smart

The first thing that struck us was that the SmartWatch really isn't all that smart on its own. In fact, it's thicker than your average wristwatch, because without a paired phone, it doesn't even know the time. And there's no way to set it until you sync up your phone.

So to call it a smart watch is a bit of a misnomer. Happily, Sony uses a trademark-friendly SmartWatch moniker, so we'll ignore the this being just an OLED screen on a strap.

Even more confounding, a set of Sony apps is also needed to make the watch work. There's one "master app" that sort of presides over a bunch of applets that control what functions the watch has. For example, if you want to see weather updates then you get a little weather applet. It's simple, but it means that to give the watch even basic functionality you have to spend quite a while adding little apps into another app.

Happily, the phone makes it nice and simple to use these, and they sync their information to the phone seamlessly and without any further user intervention.

We like VFinder, which allows you to use the phone's camera as a live video feed to the watch. If this isn't the most James Bond thing you've ever seen in consumer tech, we'll eat our SmartWatch. Of course, an app like this is open to some abuse, but it's also incredibly useful for looking around corners and foiling the plots of megalomaniac super-criminals.

We like the weather widget too, it's nice to have a watch that can tell you what to expect to fall from the skies on a given day. And both the phone and text message apps are very handy. You can see who's calling you, and answer or reject the call as well as read messages. It all works well, and the vibrate function is very helpful when you have the phone on silent. We find that we miss calls quite often when walking, because the phone doesn't have direct contact with us and the vibrate is too weak. With the watch, this problem goes away.

It all starts to go a little bit wrong with the Twitter app though. The problem here is that every single Twitter incident will trigger an alert. So once every 15 minutes - you can change this interval - the watch will tell you there's a Twitter update. It will do this if anyone you follow says anything, or if you get an @message or direct message. We found this quite useless, because it just means you get constant update messages.

Worse still is the way the touch controls work. In the Twitter app, especially, it's far too easy to retweet or send a "standard" reply to a tweet. In fact, we managed to do both of these things by accident. Twice. We'd advise caution here, because you can end up saying "nice" - it's a stock reply, pre-programed in - to any tweet without realising it. It's scarily fast too, and there's no way to stop it, once you've pressed the button.

Gestures are a mess

By far the biggest problem though, is navigating around the phone. Sony has clearly provided a good eco-system here, that should allow people to write interesting apps for the device. But there doesn't seem to be any consistency about how people use the touch gestures.

To navigate, you can swipe to the left or right, up and down, or double tap with two fingers. All of the apps we've used interpret these gestures differently. For example, in some apps, double tap quits, and in others it doesn't. This makes navigating around a complete disaster. In any device like this, consistency in the user interface is very important, but there doesn't seem to be much here. It's the biggest disappointment in our view.

Design

Aesthetically, the SmartWatch is neat enough and fairly stylish for what it is. If, however, you're used to a proper watch then you'll probably find it a little bit naff looking.

The rubber strap provided will make your wrist hot too, as it's not a breathable material. It's quite well designed though, and the watch itself clips on easily and doesn't come loose when attached. You can catch the watch on clothing, and when you do this you'll hear the clip open and close. Even so, we never managed to dislodge the watch portion.

Unlike a normal watch, the time is displayed only when you press the button on the side to activate it. This is fine, but it takes the spontaneity out of looking at the time.

Battery

It's worth noting that the watch is charged via an included cable, but it's proprietary so if you lose it, you'll need to buy another one. We can sort of understand why Sony didn't use micro-USB, but it would be a lot better if it had.

Battery life is claimed to be about a week. We've pretty much found this to be the case, although we haven't used it every day, or that intensely. Obviously, the life you get out of it will depend on how much you use it, and the apps that you install.

Verdict

The Smartwatch is pretty good as a gadget-lover's phone companion. The big problem with it is that it needs a phone to function, along with all those apps that you need to install before it will work.

As a watch though, it's quite cool. We prefer the idea of e-ink, because watches shouldn't need to be switched on before you can find out the time. We also found that the watch wasn't that visible outdoors. Hardly a surprise, given that many phone screens don't do that well in bright light.

The Sony Smartwatch is a nice idea, and it does make it easy to see what's going on with your phone. There's a lot of potential for more apps too, which we really like, and there's some cool functionality already.

This is very much a 1.0 product. It's the first and it shows, to be honest. The screen isn't brilliant quality, and we think it could be without too much more additional expense. The interface is confusing, and we promise you'll reply to tweets by accident at least once because of the confusing gesture system.

If you really need something that does what this watch does, then go for it. If you can wait, then our suggestion is to hang on until the Pebble E-Paper Watch launches.