The SmartWatch craze has proven to be short lived for many people, who after just a couple of weeks have been dropping their wearables into drawers and forgetting all about them. For this reason, I decided not to commit to purchase until I had tested the waters by borrowing a Samsung Galaxy Gear Watch for a while from a generous friend.
There are lots of features splashed across the marketing materials for Smart Watches, and a great deal of fitness-related noise – but allow me to let you into a secret. There is only one compelling feature, and if this feature doesn’t appeal to you then you shouldn’t buy a Smart Watch.
The one compelling feature is that you can use a Smart Watch to avoid looking at your phone we you get calls or notifications.
If you are attempting to live a more mindful existence, you can use a Smart Watch as an opportunity to ignore your phone a great deal more, without shirking your responsibilities (whether they involve responding to PagerDuty alerts or answering a phone call from your mother). Beware, though, of the ex-smoker effect; once you find yourself able to sit in a coffee shop, restaurant, or other public place without grasping your phone from your pocket – you will realise the true extent of the problem. You’ll see the children being ignored by their parents, the couple who never make eye contact, and the endless stream of people attempting to look like they are responding to important email, while playing Candy Crush.
That’s enough about Smart Watch Philosophy, let’s talk about the Sony SmartWatch 3, which I picked up from Amazon for under £100.
First of all, it runs Android Wear – so there are no surprises here. It does what all Android Wear devices do and works alongside the standard Android Wear companion app. You can choose and customise from a selection of watch faces, or download something a bit more special for a few pence. The Skymaster watch face is a particularly good example of a premium watch face and is shown in all of the the images.
When you first power on the watch and pair it with your phone, you’ll be given a quick tour that shows you how to navigate the screen, use the actions, and view notifications. You can respond to notifications using voice input, which works well if you pretend to be Benton Fraser issuing a command to his deaf wolf (you have to enunciate).
It does lots of stuff™ – but as I mentioned, these aren’t the reasons for your purchase so concern yourself with those things later.
I chose the Sony SmartWatch 3 for a very short list of reasons. The battery lasts two days at a time (longer if you fiddle with some of the settings, for example if you switch off the “Wake on Tilt” feature), it looks a lot like any sports watch (so you don’t need to suffer being a “Smart Watch Pioneer”), and it has an always-on feature – partnered with a transflective display. You can also upgrade to a steel strap or a leather strap, although availability of these accessories is sketchy at best as the Sony shop keep running out of stock.
The always-on feature is actually rather important, because it means the SmartWatch can be used… as a watch. You can glance down at your wrist and see the time without turning the screen on. To make this work, when the watch goes to sleep and turns the back-light off, the display simplifies – as per this screen shot:
All of the gradients, colours, the second-hand, and other details are removed to reduce power consumption and make the face readable even with no lights on. The face still updates periodically, including subtle display of your current activity, be it the now-playing information for the music you are listening to, recent notification information, or the time remaining on your Pomodoro Timer. As long as there is some ambient light, you can read the watch face easily enough – and the watch face includes some widgets that can be pretty handy too. I use a date display, weather display, and battery status – all of which are disguised as dials on the Skymaster watch face.
The following picture was taken in a typical coffee shop, and demonstrates the low-power always-on watch face.
So if the one compelling feature of Smart Watches appeals to you, you’d be hard pressed to find a better offering for this money. People are easily finding much worse for three or four times this money.