Sony SmartWatch: Cool, But Limited Value
Think of Sony's $150 SmartWatch as a sort of remote control for your Android smartphone. Here's what it can and can't do.
The hardware is compact. It measures 1.42 x 1.42 inches and weighs half an ounce. The OLED display measures 1.3 inches and packs 128 x 128 pixels. It runs Bluetooth 3.0 and works with Android 2.1 and up smartphones, but not Android tablets (yet). It has a proprietary port for charging the battery, which lasts up to four days. It's lightweight and attractive. The SmartWatch ships with a black armband, but of course Sony sells additional, colored armbands for $19.99. It's sweat proof, but not go-for-a-swim proof.
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Here's how it works. Users must download the SmartWatch app from the Google Play Store to their Android smartphones. The device, thankfully, works with any smartphone running Android 2.1 and up, and is not limited to just Sony's phones. This Android controller app is used to configure all the SmartWatch's settings and manage its behavior.
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At launch, the SmartWatch interacts with about 30 different applications and services on Android smartphones, including basics such as text messaging, email, media player, Facebook, weather, Twitter, phone calls, and of course fitness apps. Sony is offering an SDK to developers so they may write SmartWatch-compatible apps. Sony rep Stephen Sneeden said that the number of apps will jump to about 60 in the coming weeks.
It's best to think of the SmartWatch as a remote control for your Android smartphone. By itself, the SmartWatch doesn't do much. It requires a Bluetooth connection to a phone in order to read text messages or emails, answer phone calls, and check the weather. This means the SmartWatch has to always be about 30 feet from the smartphone.
You can use it to read text messages and send pre-defined replies. Same goes for emails. You can answer calls, or ignore them with a pre-defined text message response. You can control the media player on the Android smartphone, as well as sort through your call list, calendar events, and so on. The user interface takes a bit of time to get used to, and makes use of multi-touch gestures such as pinching and swiping. It works with other accessories such as heart-rate monitors, and runs fitness applications such as Endomondo. Perhaps my favorite feature is that the SmartWatch can be used to trigger the nearby smartphone's camera.
As neat as the SmartWatch is, it is more or less simply a watch if there's no smartphone around. You can't use it as a standalone music player, for example, it doesn't support media, and doesn't have a headset jack.
Sony's Sneeden explained that it made a conscious decision to limit the functionality in order to keep the price point as low as possible. At $150, it isn't cheap, but it is $100 cheaper than Motorola's MOTOACTV. The MOTOACTV, however, runs Android all on its own and can be used without a smartphone at all.
The SmartWatch is only available at Sony retail stores and Sony's website. It will gradually become available via other retail channels over time.
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