Review: Sony Mobile SmartWatch 3 for Android

Sony mobile has developed the SmartWatch 3, or SW3, to pair with Android devices so that you can have access to your texts, email, fitness information, and a usable web search, all at your fingertips while on the go. Designed for outdoor enthusiasts, this smart watch is also capable of running apps such as Strava and iFit to track and log your rides, even when your phone is not with you–or on–using the on board GPS. Though not as robust as a smart phone, the SmartWatch 3 is packed full of features that compliment a smart phone and utilize many of its features while it’s tucked safely away during exercise.

Looks like I need to walk some more...
Looks like I need to walk some more…

The Details

  • 1.6” Transflective Display
  • 320×320 pixels
  • High performance processor: Quad ARM A7, 1.2 Ghz with 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB eMMC
  • Notifications, Voice Commands, Lifelog, Impressive stand-alone functions.
  • Multiple Sensors: Ambient light sensors, Accelerometer, Compass, Gyro, GPS
  • Available in black and yellow, in classic aluminum, or black or brown leather band
  • Powered By “Android Wear”: future expandable as developers create new apps that will help you personalize and take advantage of the SW3 while riding
  • Waterproof. IP58 Rated
  • 45g weight
  • 1 Year Manufacturer Warranty from Sony Mobile US
  • MSRP $299.99
In case you want to think about cooking dinner while on the trail...you can ask Google somethings and it will pull it up on your phone--either as a websearch or a YouTube video
In case you want to think about cooking dinner while on the trail…you can ask Google something and it will pull it up on your phone–either as a websearch or a YouTube video

 

Other Features

There are already scores of apps–both free and paid–on the Android Marketplace that will help you customize this timepiece. You can download custom watch faces, screen faces, alarms, etc., for everyday wear, as well as programs like Strava to use while running or biking. With the ever-expanding market of open development software in the Android universe, hundreds if not thousands of apps will be available for this platform in the very near future.

Handy apps to see what your ride will be like
Handy apps to see what your ride will be like

Testing

I tested this device on and off the mountain and road bike in the Colorado spring, and while at work. Full disclosure: it always tested it during fair weather (no precipitation), and I removed it from my wrist on rowdier downhill descents to avoid damage if I crashed.

Impressions

First of all, I love the fit and finish of the watch. The band is a comfortable rubbery compound that is very adjustable–without pulling any hairs out of your wrist. The face is flush and sleek, with a touchscreen interface that is reminiscent of every modern day smart phone. Despite being a sport-oriented watch, it looks very professional and is something anyone could wear to the office on a daily basis.

The watch is thin and sleek and easy to wear to the office or while getting your exercise on
The watch is thin and sleek and easy to wear to the office or while getting your exercise on

The device is charged via micro-USB, and I found it fairly difficult to insert and remove the micro-USB from the port built into the back of the watch (which is also protected by a rubber flap). Nevertheless, it is handy, and can be charged from a wall charger or computer.

Unfortunately it just picks whatever...I'm not sure this is what I like to listen to
Use Google voice to tell your linked smartphone to play music. Unfortunately, it just picks whatever… I ‘m not sure this is what I like to listen to

Initial setup via Bluetooth and downloading apps was a breeze, despite the fact that the watch only came with a quick startup guide, and no manual per se. Users familiar with Android devices will figure out how to use the features of the watch within a couple of days, but unfamiliar users would become frustrated, and I’d advise them to look online for tutorials. Note that some apps on the Android marketplace are free, while you have to pay for others. Also note that some apps may ask for personal information, just like they do on any Android device, so caution is advised.

A feature that I became very fond of was that the dormant, subdued watch face will turn on and light up when you look at it, thanks to face recognition technology. This saves battery and keeps the watch in a stealth mode (think movie theaters) when not in use. It turns off again when the face is turned away from you. There is actually a “theater mode” as well.

The watch will wake up and look at you, which is nice to conserve the battery
The watch will wake up and look at you, which is nice to conserve the battery.  Strava!!

Instead of using the promoted software called “iFit,” which requires setting up an account for a trial, I elected to use the tried-and-true Strava, which is utilized by a large swath of the cycling demographic. It was nice to see some Strava information during the ride, especially on long, easy climbs where it was safe to glance at the watch. It was also nice to have emails and texts notify me via a discrete buzz on my wrist, especially if I was expecting something important to come through.

Use Google voice to find "critical" information...
Use Google voice to find “critical” information…

My phone died a couple of times while on a ride and I used the watch alone to record my ride, but I also found that syncing it was cumbersome. One time I was not able to connect the data at all. Getting Strava to sync using just the watch did not always work.

Need AA batteries? More gel shots? A rubber chicken? Now you can order from your wrist.
Need AA batteries? More gel shots? A rubber chicken? Now you can order from your wrist.

At work, it was very nice to glance down and get info while “multi-tasking.” News alerts, weather, and other information can be piped in through the watch. And of course, as a fitness watch, it tracks your daily steps.

This watch also incorporates voice commands via the trade-marked phrase “Ok Google” (followed by a request), which allows you to play music, search for topics, take a note, write a text or reminder, and more.

I didn't set this up, it just "happened"--I get breaking news on my wrist throughout the day.
I didn’t set this up, it just “happened”–I get breaking news on my wrist throughout the day.

To be clear, this is not a replacement for a smartphone. You can’t surf the web, interact on social media very easily (you can but it’s cumbersome), or open up Strava and see details about segments. It is an extension of your phone, with voice command features that enhance your “smartphone experience.”

I asked this by asking Google to post "mountain biking is awesome" to Facebook. It didn't, but it was neat that it tried. :)
I asked this by asking Google to post “mountain biking is awesome” to Facebook. It didn’t, but it was neat that it tried. 🙂

Concerns

I’ve already mentioned the issue with plugging in the charger, but I also want to point out that you need to charge this watch every 2-3 days depending on your use, or you will find yourself with a useless wrist-weight in the middle of a ride. With cool tech comes responsibility, and it’s your responsibility to make sure it has enough juice for your adventures. This may also limit this watch on multi-day backcountry adventures, unless you have a way to recharge it via solar or a recharge stick.

The charging port is a little difficult to plug into
The charging port is a little difficult to plug into

Though it is also waterproof rated, I would be very cautious about taking this where there is a lot of moisture. Even with the rubber flap that protects the charging interface, this watch seems like it was designed to withstand a sprinkle, and not a deluge or immersion. This isn’t necessarily a negative aspect of the watch, but again it may limit where you want to take it.

My principal concern is the durability of the touchscreen. As I mentioned, I did not want to tempt fate and fall while wearing the SW3. I don’t think the watch would survive a direct impact on a rock, and would also scratch very easily if you fell. The SW3 is fun to look at on long climbs, but I personally would not take this on technical trails. I’d hate to return this piece to Sony like I ran over it with a tiller. Of course you can buy screen protectors, but their protection is limited.

Sometimes the watch will buzz your wrist and give you notifications, whether you want them or not. I'm sure there is a way to filter this, but without a manual it is hard to figure everything out
Sometimes the watch will buzz your wrist and give you notifications, whether you want them or not. I’m sure there is a way to filter this, but without a manual it is hard to figure everything out

The only other thing I’ll list as a “gripe” is the voice recognition. A lot of features of this watch depend on it, and it is fairly inaccurate and frustrating at times. Standing on the trail yelling at my wrist, “Ok Google: text my wife I’ll be late,” 4-5 times in a row before the watch “gets it” (if it does), is an exercise in patience I don’t have.

Conclusion

I think this watch has a broad appeal for anyone who is in the market for a smartwatch that they can wear to work and while exercising. Like most electronics, it is not built for a rough tumble in the outdoors, but it has its advantages while riding. I think this watch is an excellent investment if you want to use it for running, hiking, road cycling, and mountain biking–provided you aren’t prone to falling during any of these sports. Many riders may criticize this tech on the trail because it prevents riders from “disconnecting.”  I see that as a fair argument, but some riders may want this bit of tech to augment their training, be connected to the office if they sneak away for a lunch ride, or are expecting a baby and are waiting for “the call.” As with all gadgets, you have to decide if this is something that works for you personally.

Your turn: Have you used a smart watch while mountain biking? What are your thoughts on this technology?

Thanks to Sony for sending the SW3 over for review! 

Steps in a graph format, by day of the week. Pretty cool feature
Steps in a graph format, by day of the week. Pretty cool feature

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