Nowadays, when people talk about smartwatches, they talk about Samsung Galaxy Gear, or The Pebble, kickstarter poster boy .. or well, toy. I am a somewhat satisfied owner of Sony’s first Smartwatch (the MN2, not the liveview), and from what I’ve read so far, the Smartwatch 2 (SW2) is better by leaps and bounds. Well, is it? Lets take a look.
For the uninformed, Sony’s range of smartwatches are android phone companion devices. Unlike the iOS and android compatible Pebbles, Sony smartwacthes are android-only. As a companion devices, it primarily functions as second screen for your android phones. It shows notifications from certain apps such SMS, Gmail, Facebook, twitter, calendar and reminder. If you need more than that, you can use the absolutely fantastic Watchit! the Address book app can show either your phonebook, or your favorite contacts list, and give you the option to make a call. There is also a missed call app that simply displays a list of missed calls. These smartwatches also has limited call handing capabilities. When I say limited, well.. the only things you can do if someone call you are to see who’s calling, and shut off the ringer, or dismiss the call from your watch, that’s it. Answering a call is not an option, since the MN2 and the SW2 are not equipped with speaker and microphone, which is fine for me, since I do most of my call with my Jabra Clipper anyway. But, if talking to your wristwatch power ranger style is your thing, then grab a Samsung Galaxy Gear. That is, if you can live with the Galaxy Gear pathetic 6 hours of battery life. Oh speaking of battery life, a single charge on MN2 or SW2 will last for 2 to 3 days on normal usage. Pretty neat huh?
The SW2 is an iterative improvement of Sony’s previous attempt at smartwatch, the MN2. It took everything that they did right with the MN2, and improves it. And most of the time, it worked. The SW2 is physically and visually better than its’ predecessor. The The screen sports larger size and higher pixel counts than the MN2. Instead of going blank when not in use, the screen is dimmed and shifts to low power mode, so it will still display the time at any given time. It has IP57 water resistant aluminum body, so unlike the MN2, wearing the SW2 under a torrent of rain should not pose a problem. Bonus point for replacing the proprietary charging connector with a more mainstream micro USB port, although that would means we need to deal a protective flap. The brittle wristband clip-on thingie on MN2 has been done away in favor of a more traditional wristwatch connectors. And, last but not least, the SW2’s Xperia Z-ish design actually looks decent as a fashion accessory for 30-something guy.
Hardware improvements aside, I do have a mixed feelings about the SW2’s software performance and design. Good things first. The bluetooth connection is definitely more stable than the MN2. I oftentimes leave my phone on my desk, and the SW2 reconnects swiftly without problem. The touch screen works great and it register taps and swipes accurately most of the times. Most of the apps developed for the MN2 also works on the SW2, so any purchased apps for the MN2 will work on the SW2. The SW2 allows you to secure your watch with a 4 digit pin, in case it somehow leaves your hand. Why, you asked? As you may know, the MN2 does not store anything on the watch itself, so as long as it’s not connected to a phone, your data should be safe, right? Well, Sony has added a small buffer storage on the SW2, so it will be able to store limited numbers of emails, text messages, twitter mentions, and anything your phone throws at it. This is great news, the RSS feed app is finally usable when I’m on the loo sans my phone. Ha!
The not so good part? The SW2 has a very limited choice of watchface, and at the moment, there’s no third party watchfaces. The email app still only compatible with Xperia mail client. There are very limited choices of apps on the play store, and most often than not, you need to pay for them. Even worse, those MN2 apss looks horribly pixelated on SW2 larger screen. The music control app lags and displays wrong cover art most of the time. Oh, and Sony, an option to silence the phone on the call handling screen will be much appreciated.
My two biggest disappointments are, first, Sony (for now) removed the widget mode, meaning no quick access to music or phone control app. The first screen that will greet you after you dismiss the watchface is the app drawer, and to see your notifications, you need to drag the notification bar down to see the last 3 (three!) notifications, or waddle through the app drawer to find the “new events” app to access the rest of them. Second, double tapping your screen no longer wake your watch up. The power button is (currently) the only way to turn on the screen. Pressing once lit up the screen, and pressing it twice bring you the app drawer (or the pin screen if you have one on). Or, You can also press it once, and tap on the “home” button to get to the app drawer. Yes, you read it right. Instead of one or two fingers taps and swipes on the MN2, the SW2 uses a more traditional android navigations, with back, home, and menu buttons at the bottom of the screen, strangely reminding me of Samsung android interface.
So, is it worthy of its’ USD200 price tag? In my opinion, sort of. To put things into perspective, with that kind of money, you can get a decent Tough Solar Casio G-Shock that will not require recharging every 2 days. Or you can get a Pebble for less than that, except that is not the case if live in Indonesia like me. While the cheapest pebble I could find would cost me around USD160, it does not come with local warranty.
For Me? I kinda like the SW2. It looks decent and does not scream “NERD”. It’s a whole lot more stable compared to the MN2. It’s water resistant, so I can actually use it as a proper wristwatch. But the exclusion of widget mode and swipe control ruined the experience. If I want a smartwatch with cumbersome control, I’d go for the Pebble.
My ideal scenario for the SW2 is to pair it with a decent bluetooth headset, and a cellular capable tablet, such as the international version of Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0. You can read emails, IMs, answer and make calls with the smartwatch and the buletooth headset while keeping the tablet in your bag, and take it out only when you need to reply to an email or IM.
Is it a worthy upgrade if you already have the MN2? I don’t think so, especially if you are okay with tucking your watch away when the rain comes.