With so many fitness wearables on the market, Sony is looking to stand out with its newly launched SmartWatch 3, and it's banking on two distinct features to help: built-in GPS (so users can leave smartphones at home when they go for a jog, bike ride or play golf) and a music player that works with Bluetooth headphones. There's even voice control, so you can tell it to send texts or ask for weather updates.
These bells and whistles are impressive — not only in concept but also in use. In fact, for serious runners, feeling untethered from both your ears and your phone provides an amazing sense of freedom, and it's the first Android Wear-powered smartwatch that enables this.
But the device has a major flaw.
Sure, the software of the Sony SmartWatch 3 shows pretty colors and customized wallpapers, but the display itself distorts what's on the screen. For example, white appears yellow. And considering most of the smartwatch screens have at least some white, it's not a good look for Sony.
The watch is missing some key fitness tracker features, too, like sleep-cycle and heart-rate monitoring.
All is not lost, of course. The SmartWatch 3 ($250) is true to the name: It really is smart and is a good solution for runners who want to leave their smartphones at home. So let's take a closer look:
Unlike the circular and rectangular-shaped displays prevalent on most smartwatches, the SmartWatch 3's LCD display is a 1.6-inch square (320 x 320 pixels). The square shape gives it more of a sporty look — much more so than the circular LG G Watch R and the Moto 360 — but this is okay considering, for the most part, the SmartWatch 3 is a fitness wearable more than anything else.
Colors are relatively vibrant on the SmartWatch 3 and it's a noticeable plus over competitors like the Basis Peak, the Fitbit Charge and other fitness-focused devices that show everything in black and white. But as I mentioned, white backgrounds (and there are many) look off and often yellowish.
It's a detail that may seem small, but considering how often you look at the display — usually a visual reminder of why you bought the device in the first place — it's something Sony should have mastered.
Meanwhile, the fit is a bit clunky and isn't something you'd want to keep on for a night out. Still, the core demographic attracted to this will mostly want to leave it on during workouts, so I can't complain too loudly.
The band is made of silicon (common for fitness trackers), and although it's relatively sleek-looking, it gets dirty easily. After just one day of testing the device, the band was filthy — a typical drawback of silicon bands. On the positive side, however, it's waterproof, so you'll be able to take it in the shower and for a swim, making it more durable than the Fitbit Charge tracker.
The clasp, which is partially outfitted in metal, fits to your wrist size and secures it in place. But it takes a little getting used to at first. The core of the watch can pop out of the band, but considering there aren't other SmartWatch 3 band options on the market right now, there's no real reason why you'd want to remove it.
Under the hood, the specs are on the high end of smartwatches: a 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 512 MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. Yes, there really is a computer attached to your wrist.
GPS, audio and voice, oh my!
One of the biggest perks of the SmartWatch 3 is that it comes with built-in GPS, so you can track where you go for runs (or walks), without needing to bring your smartphone along. It can use a whole collection of apps too, like iFit Outside and Golfshot GPS, but Google's My Tracks is the only app that lets you track your steps along with GPS location for right now (more are certainly in the works).
To start tracking your routes, you'll need to download the My Tracks app in the Google Play store and elect to start "recording" a run. The app follows your whereabouts and lets you revisit the data later to check in on distance traveled, the route you took and more details. It doesn't display this information on the smartwatch's screen though; it's stored via the app.
While the process worked seamlessly during our testing, one thing was clearly missed: There's no heart-rate monitor. For a device that is so specifically targeted toward fitness, the omission is strange. Early next year, the Jawbone UP3, the Fitbit Charge HR and the Fitbit Surge will join other fitness wearables like the Basis Peak with the ability to track your heart rate during workouts and all day long.
The SmartWatch 3 also comes with a built-in standalone music player that pairs with a Bluetooth headset. Any regular runner will be grateful to cut down on the amount of gear — and wires — they need to take when leaving the house.
To get things going, users will have to transfer the songs they want to the SmartWatch 3 itself via Google Play Music. You'll then need to download to Android Wear via the app's music settings and pair the Bluetooth headphones to the smartwatch — an easy workaround is to hold down the device's power button for a few seconds and sync when an option for Bluetooth devices pops up on the display.
Because the SmartWatch 3 runs on Android Wear, users can take advantage of the Google Now voice command service (think Siri for Android). After selecting the Google Now feature on the screen, it responds to "OK Google," allowing you to ask for details about the weather, directions or take notes. Notes are sent directly to email, in written form and also as an audio file.
The look of the software is similar to other Android Wear smartwatches on the market. It's typically easy to swipe through cards that let you check the weather or make voice command requests, but during other parts of our testing, the display lagged and it was easy to get lost within the platform. Learning the ropes of what an up-swipe vs. a side-swipe does should be a quick learning process, but it's not as intuitive as you'd think.
To wake the screen, hold down on the power button or tap the screen. Scrolling up and down will navigate through notifications (calls, texts and social media alerts), while a swipe to the left will reveal more information about that notification when applicable. Swiping right will remove a notification card from the stream. Sounds easy enough, but for smartwatch newcomers, expect a learning curve.
While many wearables come with a cradle to charge the device, the SmartWatch 3 has a tiny USB charging port behind the watch face, so you don't have to lug around an additional accessory if it needs refueling. The battery life will get you about a day's worth of power, which is pretty much in line with its Android Wear brethren, unfortunately.
While there's a lot to get excited about with the SmartWatch 3, it misses on some of the basics. Let's hope the SmartWatch 4 has a better display, easier navigation and finally, and importantly, a heart-rate tracker for true fitness fans.
Sony SmartWatch 3
Built-in GPS • Bluetooth headset connectivity • Secure clasp
Unreliable display • No heart-rate tracking • Not intuitive • Gets dirty easily
The Bottom Line
The Sony SmartWatch 3 has all of the makings of a stellar fitness wearable, but it falls short of perfection in many ways, especially when it comes to the display.
Tags: APPS, APPS AND SOFTWARE, HEALTH & FITNESS, MOBILE, REVIEWS, SMARTWATCH 3, SONY, Tech