It's official. The legendary Sony Walkman now sits inside a watch on your wrist, not in your pocket or around the waist. Walkman integration is a notable feature of Sony’s latest smartwatch, SWR50.
I found it liberating last week to listen to music when striding around the streets of Sydney’s Newtown on a late night exercise walk without a phone or player. The bulkiest item was the Bluetooth headset.
You can’t make calls in this mode as the SmartWatch 3, like nearly all of the current crop, requires you tether it with a phone using Bluetooth for smartphone functionality and for notifications.
The SmartWatch 3 lets you use much of its 4 GB of watch storage to house your favourite tracks. It’s not the only smartwatch with on-board storage to do this, but Sony’s is the first that lets you upload all your music directly, not just music from Google Play.
It’s a two-step process as I discovered. First, you download music to a compatible phone. I used a current model Sony Xperia Z3 smartphone running Android 4.4.4 for this review, but you could pair the watch with most smartphones running Android 4.3 or later.
The second step is to open the Walkman app on the phone, add the music you want to a playlist, and then sync the playlist with the watch. Syncing works, provided the watch has lots of juice, otherwise it pauses, as I discovered initially. I synched about 70 tracks which took up less than 1GB. So you can store pretty sizeable playlists on the watch but obviously not your entire collection.
Smartwatches unfortunately have small batteries. The SWR50 battery size is just 420 milliampere, which is less than a quarter the capacity of most smartphones.
So you might wonder how much juice gets sucked up listening to music. Well, it’s considerable. On a 90- minute walk, the battery level dropped from 50 per cent to just 22 per cent. So you can’t listen to music on the watch for too long.
Sony says you would normally recharge the SWR50 every two days. That’s only partly true. When just wearing the watch and receiving a few notifications, I lost just under half battery capacity in a day. But if you listen to music, make use of the watch’s GPS and Sony’s Lifelog activity app, or run other apps extensively you’d be charging more often.
The SWR50 is Sony’s first smartwatch to use Google’s Android Wear operating system. It displays the same menu layout and harnesses the same gestures used by smartwatches we reviewed last year, such as the LG G Watch R and Motorola’s Moto 360.
The G Watch R and Moto 360 are more beautiful looking watches, with stylish round faces resembling traditional watch wear. The squarish SWR50, however, is still an attractive fitness watch.
It has a detachable silicon watchband so you can replace it, but it’s a proprietary design — you can’t slip on a regular watchband from a jeweller or department store. Watch bands come in black and white with pink, lime, blue and orange and a stainless steel variant available later.
SmartWatch 3 exhibits the same benefits and problems associated with Google’s Android Wear.
The ability to run an increasing array of Android-developed watch apps is a plus, as is the system of card notifications, and there’s Google voice recognition.
But why waste one of the few homescreen gestures (the long press) on changing watch faces? Why not assign it to applications? Currently you have to flip through all the main menu choices on the watch to access the start button and applications.
The watch has a quadcore 1.2 gigahertz processor and a 1.6-inch 320x320 pixel display. It weighs 45 grams and has a range of sensors — an accelerometer, compass, gyro, ambient light sensors and GPS.
The watch GPS isn’t for getting directions. Working independently of the phone, the watch can record where you have been on walks and runs.
You download it to the phone later. The watch also creates a map of where you’ve been — although the map wasn’t downloading to the phone when we tested it.
Sony says it’s a work in progress. Mapping, however, works when you use the phone and watch together.
Once downloaded, you can see your travels on a map in Sony’s Lifelog app. Lifelog is intriguing. It creates an animation of your daily activity and presents it as a movie. So at the designated times you walked or travelled by car, it shows you doing those things.
The list of sensors does not include a heart-rate monitor which is commonly available on competing watches.
The SWR50 is rated IP68, so it’s dustproof and waterproof — you can shower with it and immerse it in water more than a metre deep.
Sony is offering to buyers three months’ subscription to fitness app iFit and one month’s membership to Golfshot Pro. Google’s standard Fit app is free, is installed on the watch and displays your steps, if little else.
With Walkman integration not just present but working, Sony’s SmartWatch 3 is a worthy fitness-oriented watch with on-board entertainment.
Being waterproof is a plus but it’s a pity there’s no heart-rate monitor.
Sony needs to include a decent manual with this watch so that users aren’t perplexed by features.
Price: $299 or on contract from Telstra
This story was published in The Australian