Sony SmartWatch

UPDATED: See final thoughts below

The Sony SmartWatch is finally available in South Africa. This watch has a touch screen and bluetooth, and connects to your Android phone to notify you (via vibration and screen) of SMS, calls, e-mail, twitter, etc (see http://www.sonymobile.com/us/products/accessories/smartwatch/). I bought mine at the Sony store in Vodacom World (in Midrand) for R1500. Here's a quick review, including a developer's point-of-view.

First off, let's get the bad out of the way. There is only one downside:

The display is not visible in direct sunlight

They've really thought this product through. Here are some of the awesome things about it:
- It looks great and the build quality is good.
- Scratch-proof glass (I didn't test this)
- Splash-proof (also didn't test this)
- Multi-touch, with pinch-to-close apps and swipes to switch apps/widgets
- Three clock faces, some of which stay on until you put the watch on a table (no movement). I would've liked more choice here, but apps fill the gap.
- OLED screen means less power used when fewer pixels are lit
- One week battery time (claimed but doubtful, more like 2 days depending on the apps installed). Comes with USB charge cable.
- Came with a nice rubbery watch strap, and an adapter plate for attaching to any normal 20mm watch strap (which I used for my favourite faux-leather cuff band)
- The watch clips on and off the strap very easily, but fits very snuggly. Can be clipped onto sun visor in a car, or to a shirt/tie, etc.
- Has a ton of cool apps, just have a look here: https://play.google.com/store/search?q=sony+smartwatch&c=apps
Most of the apps are tiny (~150kb) and I even bought one that provides many custom clock faces (altho this app seems to shorten battery life quite a bit).
- You configure everything using the LiveWare Manager app, and the settings are quite comprehensive. Each app can also have it's own settings.
- Firmware updates are seamless - the LiveWare app downloads the latest firmware to your watch without any intervention required.
- I saved the best for last: it comes with a simple, but well-designed and well documented SDK (see http://developer.sonymobile.com/knowledge-base/tool-guides/download-the-new-smart-extension-sdk-and-create-smart-extras-apps/). It even comes with an emulator app (which emulates the SmartWatch) that you run on the phone. I wrote my first SmartWatch app in under 2 hours, using one of their samples! The app allows me to open the gate or door at +House4hack via the openSHAC app (see https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=za.co.house4hack.shac).

To wrap up, this is a great gadget concept that is well executed, and not too badly priced. The perfect gift for an Android phone user (esp. if the phone can be confused with a shield or table :D).

Final thoughts
I've now had this watch for over a month. The novelty factor has worn off, so does it still live up to my initial impressions? Read on:

- Firstly, the battery life is much better than I thought. The secret is to switch the watch off when you get home. Simple and very effective - I've gone about 2 weeks of not charging it, while using it almost every single day. One week is easily managed.
- The charger connection is flaky though - you have to press it into the slot firmly to make good contact, otherwise you'll see the watch turn on and off constantly due to the poor connection. This is the only complaint I have about the form factor.
- Touch sensitivity and accelerometer could both be much better. Double-tapping to see the time is always hit-or-miss, but pressing the button always works. Also, while driving, the display switches on randomly based on hand movement, yet if I shake my hand hard, sometimes it works, sometimes not. So I always press the button to see the time. For most people, this apparent unresponsiveness of the screen will be a deal-breaker. The trick is to give it a firm, fleshy touch. Pinch-to-close seems much more reliable though.
- This is definitely not a mass-market product (explains the lack of marketing behind it). Why? Because of the above 2 points, and because the apps are really tricky to set up for someone not technical. There are several layers of apps to install (Liveware Manager, Smart Connect, the apps themselves), then several layers of menus to navigate. As an example, you can install the Twitter app, but then you must sign into it from one menu, and then either enable it's widget, or tell it to send events to the generic 'New events' app from another. Took me a while to understand this. 'New events' is like a unified inbox that most apps publish to.
- I was expecting the watch to automatically show me any Android notifications, without having to install and separately sign into a 'checker' app, like Twitter. Turns out Android does allow an app to read the notifications, so I might still write an app to do this (UPDATE: there are already SmartWatch extensions for this, e.g. CustomNotifier - just install, add as Accessibility service, then tick off the apps you want notifications for). There is a paid app called 'SmartWatch Universal IM' that does something like this with IMs like WhatsApp, Skype, etc. I didn't try it as I'm not interested in IM notifications.
- I had to uninstall the Twitter SmartWatch app because every time you follow someone, the app automatically adds all their tweets to your notification list! The process for removing the user from the notification is painful and buried in layers of menus. That gets annoying fast.
- In terms of practical use - without fail, I always put this watch on when leaving home! I haven't used any of my other watches since getting this. Because of my big phone (Galaxy Note), this watch saves me a lot of "take the phone out, unlock the screen, dismiss the notification". This is especially true when swiping my credit card - the SMS notification comes up on my watch almost immediately, and I can verify the amount with one touch (sometimes two!) of the screen. For email, the subject and first few lines display, and I can click to have the email open on my phone immediately for replying, etc. The convenience, for me, is well worth the money.
- Let's not ignore the Pebble, which is probably shipping now, or soon. I think it's worth looking into. It's obvious big advantages over this watch are that you can always see the time (no need to press buttons), and it's sunlight readable. However, seeing as battery life is not an issue with this watch, plus the fact that you have a color screen (which looks gorgeous in a movie theatre with the right clock face!), my personal preference is for this watch. I don't spend a lot of time outdoors, so the lack of visibility in direct sunlight has not been an issue for me. At the right price though, I'd probably buy a Pebble too.

To sum up - this watch is not without it's flaws, and is definitely not for everybody. I have a feeling the Pebble or MetaWatch might be better mass-market products. Having said that though, I am really happy with this watch (and I think most geeks would be too), and I'd love to see Sony release an update with a much simplified software layer, and better touch response.
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