Sony is no stranger to wearables. In fact, it was one of the companies to kick things off by launching the Sony SmartWatch before smartwatch was even a widely used term.
The SmartBand, which launched back in 2014, is a different take on the usual activity-tracking competition. As a wristband it's not as fully featured as a smartwatch, instead designed to monitor movement, but also keep track of everything else that happens in a day, including the length of time spent reading or listening to music.
Although the SmartBand isn't the latest tracker on the market, and there's now stiff competition from the likes of Fitbit and Withings, its life-logging and affordable price point keep it in the picture. We've been wearing one for a few weeks to see whether it's smart enough to keep the competition at bay.
One of the best attributes of the Sony SmartBand is its design. Although there are other devices in the fitness tracking field that are more exciting to look at - think Jawbone Up3 and Withings Activite - Sony has gone for simple and that works just fine.
The silicone textured rubber band has very little else to it. The grooves within the band are susceptible to picking up dirt but as it's IP58 rated, it can be taken in the bath, shower or pool and will clean up easily. Like the Fitbit Flex, the underside of the band is where the magic happens, which is where the Core slips into.
The Core is the brain of the SmartBand. It features a single button that offers a number of functions including power, switching between day and night modes, logging a location and time, and music control. There are also three LED lights below to indicate which mode the SmartBand is in.
When the Core is within the rubber band, the button is covered by the silicone casing but it is still easy to find as it is slightly raised, while the LEDs remain nice and clear despite this cover. The Core is easily removable but remains secure when on the wrist - at no point did we feel like the SmartBand was about to become a dumbband because the Core slipped out somewhere.
Charging is simple thanks to the Core's Micro-USB port, which isn't always the case with other activity trackers. From a single charge we achieved around four days life from the 35mAh battery that's on board, which is fairly good going.
There are nine different silicone band colours available to choose from, including an understated black through to an overstated bright pink. We would pick a brighter colour as the black looks a little too much like a rubber band.
The SmartBand weights just 21 grams, making it barely noticeable when on the wrist. It's also slim, measuring 40.7 x 15.3 x 7.8 mm, so it doesn't feel anywhere near as bulky as some others do, nor does it protrude far from the wrist. We were wearing several trackers at once to test the accuracy of the SmartBand's activity tracking, which we will get to later, but the SmartBand was the device that we noticed the least thanks to its design.
As with many activity trackers in this affordable end of the market, the SmartBand is secured with a two-pin mechanism. It isn't our favourite as we don't always find it as secure when exercising, but it does the job. The removable circular element that features the two pins is the only place you'll find the Sony branding, except for on the underside of the Core - the latter which isn't visible when worn.
The Sony SmartBand takes a different approach to activity tracking than its competitors, by using Lifelog, an application that, as the name suggests, logs your life. That's something some will appreciate, while others will feel it's unnecessary.
There is no display on the SmartBand like there is on the SmartBand Talk so the Lifelog app needs to be opened each time you want to find out how many steps you have taken, how many calories you have burned, or how long you have walked, run or cycled for. There's no measure for distance or elevation so it will depend on what you are looking for in an activity tracker as to whether it delivers enough data for your needs.
However, when it comes to accuracy we found the SmartBand performed well. In previous reviews we found the Fitbit Charge HR to be one of the most accurate in terms of the number of actual steps counted and the number of steps recorded. The SmartBand measured 10,000 steps only seconds after the Fitbit Charge HR when both were worn at the same time; during a slightly longer walk when climbing Snowdon, the Sony SmartBand measured a total of 19,711 steps in comparison to the Fitbit Charge HR's 19,655 measurement, so both are virtually on par.
The SmartBand also had no issues figuring out when we were running as opposed to walking, measuring the time accurately, although it did count us cycling at one point when we had been walking.
Sony does miss out a couple of key activity tracking functions that its competitors do not: in addition to distance and elevation there's no option to tag an activity. Anyone looking to monitor any activity other than walking, running or cycling is going to be at a loss.
The SmartBand will also log your sleep and it has a smart alarm feature to calculate and measure the best time to wake you up. Theoretically this is a great feature and one that sleep-tracking competitors don't offer. Unfortunately though, our SmartBand didn't recognise when we were sleeping at all so we weren't able to test this feature.
Along with activity and (supposed) sleep tracking, the Sony SmartBand will vibrate when calls, messages or other alerts, such as a new email come through. There doesn't appear to be any way to turn this off per alert, however, so if you get a constant stream of emails like we do then it can be annoying. Without a display on the device it's not possible to see what's happening without looking at your phone, so having a constantly buzzing wrist is off-putting.
The SmartBand will also vibrate when you are 10 metres away from your smartphone, which is useful to avoid leaving your phone behind. Well, in theory - you may think it's just another email.
The SmartBand connects via Bluetooth and NFC, the latter making pairing simple. It's particularly useful if you leave your phone at home when you go for a run, as the SmartBand will automatically pass the data on when you re-connect. We did have a few issues setting the SmartBand up to begin with but connection hasn't been an issue.
We mentioned earlier that the small singular button on the Core allows you to perform a range of functions, including log a special event. The Life Bookmark key, as Sony calls it, will pinpoint where you are and what time you were there, recording it in the Lifelong app.
A tap function on the SmartBand offers music control, which also comes in handy. You can pause, play and skip tracks from your smartphone so overall, for a single-button device, the SmartBand has more features than you might expect.
The Lifelog app is where Sony hopes to set itself apart from the competition. But for those who want a detailed analysis of their activity, Lifelog doesn't quite deliver here.
Lifelog records your life rather than just your activity. It won't just give you daily, weekly, monthly or yearly graph of how many steps you have walked, it will also offer all these graphs for the amount of music you have listened to, or how many photos you have taken. If that's the kind of information you want, then you'll love this, but if you're here for fitness and fitness only then that analysis isn't particularly special.
The Lifelog app has some brilliant features, such as the ability to set goals for everything from the number of steps you walk a day, to how much you want to read within a day. You can also choose the activities you want to display on the Lifelog app so if you don't ever cycle, for example, then you can just untick that activity box by clicking on the tile with the plus sign in it, which brings up the option.
The playback feature is also great, allowing you to see everything you have done that day from transport and activities, through to how long you listened to music for, all in a short animated clip. You can see the different times you did things and, should you want to go back to a certain day, you can do that easily by clicking on the calendar in the top bar.
It's a great app for logging your life and, in some ways, it is more exciting than the average activity tracking platforms. We have a lot of love for Lifelog, but if you are after the same activity analysis detail as the likes of Fitbit and Withings you will be disappointed.
The Sony SmartBand has a lot of potential, but it doesn't quite hit the mark, falling short of its competitors in a couple of areas, such as the inability to measure distance and elevation.
The activity tracking accuracy is fantastic in our experience, though, right up there along with the Fitbits of this world. However, Sony lacks the breadth of activities, with just walking, running and cycling available. That's a solid core, but with a life-focused approach we can't understand why it doesn't offer more within the activity field.
The Lifelog app has some clever features and does make the SmartBand stand apart from the competition in some respects, if that's the kind of feature you're looking for. This focus makes the SmartBand less an activity tracker and more a life-logger.
If you are looking for a device to take to the gym, the SmartBand won't the one for you. But if you want a device that's comfortable to wear and covers the activity-tracking basics, it's worthy of consideration - especially given that you can now pick one up for around £30. As long as you're on Android of course.