Wearable Tech World Feature Article
June 26, 2013

Sony Announces New Android-Powered SmartWatch 2


The other day, we took note of Sony's efforts to build more awareness of and interesting new capabilities for its Sony SmartWatch, with Sony focusing on looking to build out its developer ecosystem. Yesterday, at the Mobile Asia Expo in Shanghai, Sony Mobile took another step forward on the smartwatch front by introducing the next generation of the Sony SmartWatch. Just for the record, we will note that the company also announced a new Xperia Z Ultra 6.4 inch "phone" to compete in the large-screen market.

On the surface, it looks exactly like the original -- a rather square-looking affair with a traditional watch-like winding wheel, but with an additional effort to offer a more Apple-like high-end build. In our opinion, Sony is making an effort to make its smartwatch look much more like a traditional watch than any sort of next generation wearable tech device. On the surface the design -- crafted out of aluminum and stainless steel -- certainly suggests this. Sony has looked to deliver "high end" craftsmanship as part of its overall Xperia smartphone line, and the new watch falls within the "Xperia experience" Sony is trying to communicate.

The image below is of the new watch. And, in truth, it certainly does convey a traditional watch style, complete with a date window. Sony even makes a big deal about being able to use the new SmartWatch as a…plain old watch! The three standard Android buttons give it away, but it offers a reasonably traditional look and feel. Of course, the watch face itself is completely changeable to whatever design a user might prefer and there are a number of different faces available.

The Sony SmartWatch is an Android-powered device and the watch communicates with and serves as a second screen and a remote control for other Android-powered devices. If you have an iPhone or a Windows Phone 8 phone you are out of luck; it won't communicate with them. Obviously, the main connection for Sony is to its own smartphones and perhaps Sony envisions a direct pairing between its Xperia phones and the new smartwatch.

From a marketing perspective, it may very well make sense for Sony to offer a "pen and pencil set" that combines the phone and smartwatch into a single integrated package. Is there any reason the wireless carriers wouldn't give such a thing a try? It may even make for a compelling holiday gift.

Part of Sony's marketing message is that the company is now launching its third generation of smartwatch (its first effort was a simple Bluetooth connected watch dating back to 2007). The company claims to have sold about half a million of the devices and believes itself to be the industry leader, further claiming that it is now releasing its third generation in the face of most of its competitors only now working on their first generation devices. And, of course, Samsung, Apple and Google compete with nothing more than analyst speculations about non-existent products. If only this mattered.

The above marketing message has plenty of truth in it. The question is, does any of that truth even remotely matter? Even with half a million devices sold, Sony has no tangible hold as a leader in the space, something that is no doubt abetted by the larger Sony's own recent fall from grace as an electronics powerhouse, which is an issue we also touched on in our earlier article noted above.

Of course, lurking underneath the traditional watch is the "smartwatch." The image below shows the core suite of functionality.

The Sony SmartWatch 2 now also boasts NFC capability, which enables one-touch pairing and additional dust and water resistance build quality; it's ready to go rain or shine or at the beach. The watch is charged through a standard micro USB cable, and Sony claims that battery life -- a major complaint about the original SmartWatch -- has greatly improved. In fact, Sony claims it offers the best battery life, but there is no way to know how true this might be until real users really begin using it.

Whether or not the improved screen Sony also claims for the new watch -- a brighter, larger 1.6 inch, 220 x 176 pixel display (the original SmartWatch doesn't offer much in the way of a quality display at 128 x 128 pixels) -- will really make a difference is a matter of user preference. Sony claims it has also improved outdoor visibility, but that remains to be seen.

Overall, the new device delivers the following core suite of functions out of the box:

  • Handles smartphone calls by a simple touch of the watch;
  • Takes a photo remotely from the SmartWatch using a smart camera app;
  • Offers easy and convenient access to notifications from your wrist such as messages, calls, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, calendar, or use it as a remote for your Walkman (yes, your Walkman);
  • Controls presentations remotely using Presentation Pal;
  • Allows users to check routes with a quick glance at mapping apps on the watch;
  • Allows users to read previously downloaded e-mails when not connected to a smartphone;
  • Allows the use of lifestyle apps such as Runtastic to map and instantly track fitness activities on the go; and
  • Controls music -- users can easily adjust the tracks and volume on a music player, without needing to touch the paired smartphone.

Sony also claims there are at least 200 compatible Android apps available to download to the SmartWatch2. Of course, whether or not these apps are actually useful or not depends on the user. As we noted in our earlier article, Sony is also working on ways to allow developers to take much greater control of the SmartWatch, possibly even changing its entire essence while retaining the hardware platform. It will be interesting to see where that goes; we have our own concerns about it, as we noted in the earlier article.

From an aesthetic perspective, as well crafted as the watch might prove to be, beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Shown below is what the new SmartWatch looks like on the wrist. You decide. 

The Sony SmartWatch 2 will become available for purchase in September 2013. It will be available with a variety of Sony-supplied watch straps (as is the case with the current SmartWatch), but any standard 24 mm watch band can be used. No price has been established for the new device yet, and it may very well be delivered at different price points depending on global regions. We'll hazard a guess of $149, one dollar less than you can buy a Pebble Watch for.




Edited by Rich Steeves




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