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Hands on: Sony SmartWatch software update

updated 07:31 am EDT, Sun March 24, 2013

Sony SmartWatch points the way to the future

Sony released a major update for its year old Smartwatch over the past week and Electronista has spent some quality time with it over the past few days. With the hype starting to grow around possible smartwatch releases by Apple, Samsung, LG and Google this year, the Sony SmartWatch is a good yardstick for what we might expect. However, unlike rumors circulating regarding the smartphone-independent capabilities of the next-generation of smartwatches, Sony's SmartWatch relies entirely on a companion smartphone to function.

We've been using the Sony SmartWatch since when it was first released and it has developed in its capabilities considerably over that time. However, for a device that only costs $130, it has been built to a price. It runs a version of Android, but it is somewhat underpowered in the processor and RAM department with performance having always been slow. When swiping between screens and quitting a widget/app, there is always some lag apparent. The new firmware speeds things up a little bit, but if you accept that it is built to a price, it something that we can live with for now.

Early in its life cycle, the Sony SmartWatch was also relatively limited in its capabilities, with widgets and apps limited to, naturally, a clock, weather app, music controller, SMS and email notifications as well as few others. Since then a number of independent and professional developers have released a range of really useful widgets and apps that have helped to expand the capabilities of the device. Our favorites include the RSS app, a new GPS maps app, calculators, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Poweramp controller and other little gems including a light widget and a rain alert.

The new Sony SmartWatch update further extends its functionality, adding six new clock faces with new battery saving options that automatically turn off after being activated and now the option to keep the watch function activated whenever it senses movement. There is another option that sits somewhere between the two that comes on automatically when it senses an arm is being raised to the horizontal position. We found that this last function was a little hit and miss, but that the others worked as well as advertised. They also add a little color and variety to the user experience, which is certainly welcome.

In everyday use, the Sony SmartWatch is definitely a usable and worthwhile device. In addition to telling the time, we find it most useful when it vibrates when the phone rings (particular when the phone is switched to mute) and for receiving messages, which can be read on the SmartWatch. We also love being able to read RSS feeds directly from the device that can come in really handy when waiting for a train or a bus. The other functions come in quite handy too, including being able to use it as a calculator and getting weather forecasts, all without the need to pull a smartphone out of one's backpack when the go. The Sony SmartWatch battery is usually good for a day, but the new clock faces can use up more battery life depending on mode.

The Sony SmartWatch is a very good example of where smartwatches can go in the future. It arrived well before the looming smartphone rush and demonstrates that there is a place for a smartwatch in the lives of consumers. We would like to see the next Sony SmartWatch able to function independently of a smartphone and build in Wi-Fi connectivity so it can pull data directly from the web. We would also like to see Sony enhance the device's internals for a faster, but also longer lasting experience and add a better quality display. The future of wearable devices, however, is looking good and Sony is currently among those leading the way.

By Sanjiv Sathiah

by MacNN Staff



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