Sony Smartwatch 3 Review **Update – battery, screen & GPS details

One of the latest devices in the wearable device forum is the Sony Smartwatch 3.  Sony is no stranger to smartwatches, but this is their first watch that is compatible with Android Wear.  This is the also the first Android wearable that sports GPS, and a TFT LCD Display.  I’ve had the watch a little over 24 hours and I think I can say with certainty this is the best smartwatch for outdoor loving, active people.  The Sony Smartwatch 3 is a keeper – here’s why.

This is my fourth Android wear smartwatch. I have a gadget problem, but this works out for you because I have spent time with more watches than most people have seen in person.  I have had the Gear Live, G Watch, G Watch R, and now the Sony Smartwatch 3.  I really like the Moto 360, but I can’t get over the flat tire, so I’ll wait for the Moto 360’s successor.

SW3

The picture above is in full bright sunshine in dim mode. I got this watch primarily for working out and mountain biking. The GPS should be a game changer for tracking and logging activities. The large 420 mAh battery and battery saving TFT LCD should make this watch last as long or longer than any other available watch.  It has a ambient light sensor as well as a compass and the array other normal sensors with the exception of a heart rate monitor.  It uses a traditional micro usb for charging and the rubber straps are interchangeable.  Rumor has it, Sony and third parties should have other options for the bands by the end of the year.

Looks: 

Looks are always a touchy situation.  It is something that is completely up to you, especially when we are talking about an accessory that most rational people consider fashion instead of function like us nerds.  That being said the SW 3 is pretty sharp. It has the form factor of the square wearables we have seen, but puts a smooth rubber perimeter around the face that connects to the rest of the band. The band is only about half as thick as the watch around the face of the watch.  It gives the illusion that the watch is thinner than it really is – and it works. On the other side of the watch, the clasp is a little bulky and not as sleek as say, the Gear Live’s snap together clasp.  Even though its not a traditional watch style and looks more like a fitness tracker, the quality is high and I don’t think it will be mistaken for your kids cheap-o rubber toy watch.

**Update: Rubber strap is a complete lint magnet.  It’s fairly easy to clean off, but beware if you wear a fuzzy white or grey long sleeve shirt.

Fit:

This thing is comfortable! Its one of the lightest smartwatches to date.  After wearing my metal banded G Watch for weeks I actually almost forgot it was on and had to check to make sure when I had my long sleeves covering it up.  The band is soft rubber and uses a clasp system similar to metal bands, but with the ability to adjust it by moving the clasp along holes in one side of the band.  The clasp is a little bulky and stacks up a little taller than I like. This is because the straps have to over lap since its adjustable, but still work with the clasp mechanism.  Since there is no heart rate monitor on this watch there isn’t really a need to synch it down tight, but it is fairly comfortable if that’s how you want to wear it.  The band is actually fairly stiff with a rubber coated plastic frame around the watch face.  This keeps the watch from being able to pop out the front of the watch, so no worries of this thing coming apart during a rigorous workout.  As stated before, there will be other holders to make this watch a necklace or key ring attachment.

Screen:

I guess I should have done more reading about this type of screen so I would have known what it really was.  The first thing I noticed about the screen is the whites are very warm and this flows into the other colors.  Blues and greens are a little flatter and it does not have the pop of the Gear Live or GWR’s OLED screens.  Since it is not OLED the blacks emit light in the dark and this is a real bummer to me after having seen the OLEDs. I just don’t like non-OLED screens at night. They look like an old tv where blacks are grey.  The TFT LCD has a weird kind of sharpness to it but it is very crisp.  Its clearly LCD, and it has an e-ink type quality to it that is easy on the eyes and really does a good job for contrast on text.  One important note is that dim mode is actually old school Gameboy LCD mode. Of course its closer to black and white, instead of green and dark purple, but the main similarity is there is no backlight.  This means that at night in the dark you might as well have the “Always on” mode turned off because you will have to touch the screen to see it.  The good news is that the same dim, no backlight, mode is pretty awesome in bright daylight.  You can easily make out the screen contents from almost any angle.  I can only imagine that this mode barely sips on the battery too.  The screen uses an ambient light sensor that for what I have seen so far works well.  It adjust quickly to what ever situation you are in.  I can say that the screen has been very viewable in all situations when the screen was active.  As a matter of fact is that this is the most viewable screen I have seen in bright light when the screen is on.  The exception keeping this from being the most viewable all round screen is with dim mode in poorly lit situations.  I have noticed a weird thing while messing with the watch when off.  The screen is not very responsive to taps to turn it on, but when you hold the back of the watch and tap the screen it always works.  Is this a grounding issue for the capacitive screen?  I can’t find that the screen is capacitive but I think it has to be based on scrolling and responsiveness.  Troubling as it is, this is a non issue when the watch is on.

** Update: The screen is flat out the best outdoor screen made on a smartwatch today.  Outside in bright light you never struggle to see what is showing on the screen.  Colors still don’t always translate very well in bright sunshine, but contrast and detail is all there.

Hardware:

The watch seems as snappy as any of the other Android wearables out there.  I don’t put a lot of junk on mine because I really like to extend the battery life as much as possible.  Scrolling, opening apps, google now all work well and Android Wear has a long way to go before it really needs to use all the processing power they are putting in these devices right now.  There is a hardware button built into the band and I really like it.  I missed the button when I went from the Gear Live to the G Watch.  It is missing a heartrate monitor and that might be a deal breaker for some, but not me.  If you have spent anytime with a smartwatch the HRM is a novelty.  It doesn’t work well, especially when you are working out and would want to know your heartrate the most.  The thing that makes the SW3 unique when compared to the other smartwatches is it’s micro usb charger.  There is no cradle in the box or other proprietary connector  so if you travel or forget to charge it at home, you can charge it anywhere you have a regular phone charger.  This is huge.  The connection point is a little cumbersome to get to.  It’s located on the bottom of the watch, near a corner, covered by a small snap in plastic cover.  The cover fits snug, but I can see it being broke and lost if care is not taken when removing it.  Micro usb cords plug in perpendicular to the face, and since the band clasps together,  you have to go in at a bit of an angle.  Not a big deal but it would be easier if the watch unfolded like traditional buckle bands.

** Update:  I went on a trip for thanksgiving and I would like to say the usb charger on this is great.  Being able to charge up without having to get my bag out with the cradle is very handy.  I just plug into my phone charger or one that is laying around and that’s it.  GPS is ok.  I have used it on several occasions and while the accuracy seems to be ok, it does not seem as accurate as a phone.  On more than a few occasions I would start a track and without moving it would record me moving 100 ft.  Also, with the golf app, I would track a shot and as soon as I hit the button to track, it would say I had already hit it 10 yards. Both of these could be software issues.  Usually after you sit a second it would settle on a number, but its GPS is not as quick to update, and I don’t feel 100 percent confident in its accuracy.

Battery Life:

So far so good.  I unplugged it this morning with 100 percent, and it has 50 percent after all day.  That seems poor, but I did upload about 3 gigs of music to it and one system update today.  I will update this section after more testing.  I am going to try to use the GPS on a ride and see how much battery it eats.  I bet its going to be a lot.

*Update – The last 24 hours the watch has used about 25 percent of the 50 from yesterday with lots of notifications and screen always on.  That would calculate out to almost 4 whole days!  I consistently got 48 hours with screen off on the original G Watch..  I will update again soon.

**Update: I have played two rounds of golf using Golfshot GPS.  The app and watch work really well, and it is very nice to be able to check distances from jst your watch.  The battery takes a beating, which I expected, but it holds up well enough to finish the job.  I started one round with 100% battery and 3 and 1/2 hours later I had  45% battery left.  I didn’t use the watch for everyshot, but the app was running the whole time.   I also played a 5 hour round, but the battery was not fully charged and died before I got done.  With GPS on, and heavy use, plan on using about 20% an hour. When I am just using the tracker and not interacting much, it seems to use closer to 12 or 15 percent.  Battery life just as a regular user is the best out of all the smartwatches available as I am easily getting around 3 days with screen on.  I do mute at night and wear the watch for the alarm to wake me up silently.

Closing Notes:

Overall I am very satisfied with my purchase.  It was $249 before tax at the Verizon store, and if the battery holds up, and GPS works well I think that this is an acceptable value.  The guys over at FitBit just came out with a new fitness tracker that will be a competitor for the same price.  It is supposed to have a 7 day battery life, and that would be awesome, but you lose out on the benefits of Android Wear.  That’s a deal breaker at this point.

Pros

  • Screen is really good for outdoor and bright situations
  • Band is very comfortable – great for workouts!
  • Best battery life of the available smartwatches
  • Has GPS for tracking

Cons –

  • Screen colors are warm an flat, dim mode doesn’t have a backlight
  • Band clasp is somewhat bulky
  • GPS kills battery fast – Expect to use up to 20% an hour with heavy screen interaction, 12-15% with just GPS tracking

Comments

  1. Justin Kremer says:

    I’d love to hear more about the battery life once you have had time for more observation, specifically with significant GPS use. Thanks for taking the time to write this review after actually using the product! Strangely, the “hands on review” now means that someone touched a display model at a trade show.

    • I went out over the weekend and did some GPS activities. Update coming very soon. Also, should have my LG G Watch R review out in a day or so.

  2. Thanks for the update. I have a MotoActv that I love for running due to GPS, bluetooth, WIFI uploads and even the occasional FM Tuner usage. https://motoactv.com/home/page/activities.html I’ve been able to run about 4h/15 minutes on GPS, wired headphones and a heart strap and have about 30% left, . MotoActiv’s run app allows you to set the measurement frequency to save the battery. For instance, you can measure every 1, 2 or 3 secs. I set mine to 3 secs to achieve the results mentioned. It is still very accurate ( less than 30 sec difference from my net time) since the marathon didn’t have many turns. Please confirm if the running app (e.g., Endomondo) allows you to set the measurement frequency. Thanks for your feedback.

    • My tracks by google will let you update by time or distance interval. I don’t think endomondo or runtastic have been updated to work solely off the watch. At least in my testing you still have to start with the phone.

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