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Sony literally owns the word “smartwatch” since producing one of the first wearables in 2012; the good news is that it may have finally gotten the recipe right on its third try. The SmartWatch 3 comes with Google’s Android Wear, but unlike other versions of Android Wear, offers a near-perfect hardware profile – including daylight readability, a large battery, premium build quality and a competitive price-point ranging from $200-250.

Its competitors include the Samsung Gear Live Samsung Gear Live Review and Giveaway Samsung Gear Live Review and Giveaway Read More , the LG G Watch R LG G Watch R Review and Giveaway: One of the Best Android Wear Smartwatches LG G Watch R Review and Giveaway: One of the Best Android Wear Smartwatches Read More , the G Watch LG G Watch Review and Giveaway LG G Watch Review and Giveaway Does the LG G Watch suck or does it manage to justify its $229 price tag? Read More , the Moto 360 Motorola Moto 360 Android Wear Smartwatch Review and Giveaway Motorola Moto 360 Android Wear Smartwatch Review and Giveaway The $250 Motorola Moto 360 Android Wear smartwatch fuses beautiful and sleek design with functionality. Read More , and the Asus ZenWatch. Out of these, the SmartWatch 3 is the only device that nails both the hardware and software. So what makes the SmartWatch 3 a winner?

At the end of this review, we’ll be giving away our Sony SmartWatch 3 to one lucky reader; be sure to read all the review for some bonus entries!

What’s In the Box?

The Sony SmartWatch 3 includes very little in the box: a microUSB cable and the smartwatch itself, along with a manual.

sony smartwatch 3 contents

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Design, Aesthetics, and Specifications

The specifications of Sony’s device beat the competition. It offers the same system-on-a-chip, RAM, and internal storage as its competitors, but in all other aspects the SmartWatch 3 offers better components, with the omission of a heart-rate sensor (which is near-useless on all Android Wear products).

  • System-on-a-chip: Broadcom BCM23550, single-core @ 1.2GHz
  • Display: 1.6″ 320×320 transflective LCD
  • Storage: 4GB internal flash memory
  • RAM: 512MB RAM
  • Battery: 420 mAh Li-ion
  • Ports: microUSB charging port
  • Wireless: GPS, NFC, and Bluetooth 4.0LE
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, compass, and gyroscope
  • Water and dust resistance: IP68 (good to 1.5 meters in fresh water for 30 minutes)
  • Operating System: Android Wear 5.0.2 (likely to get an upgrade to 5.1)

UPDATE: Thanks to MakeUseOf user Ali for pointing out that the Smartwatch 3 uses a Broadcom SoC and not the Snapdragon 400 platform.

Judging from the specs, Sony’s design fulfils all the needs of an exercising technophile. It includes GPS for tracking runs, direct pairing with Bluetooth earpieces, and offline functionality, for use when you aren’t near a smartphone. Together these features make a brilliant device for those wanting to exercise without being tethered to an Internet connection or when they just don’t want a smartphone bouncing around in their pockets. However, contrary to early reports, the SmartWatch 3 does not include an IR emitter.

The only real weakness of the SmartWatch 3 is its less-than-optimal system-on-a-chip. The Broadcom chip includes a lot of extraneous hardware inside of it. For example, it includes four processing cores – but three of these are disabled for battery life reasons. To my knowledge, the SmartWatch 3 is the only smartwatch which uses Broadcom’s SoC. And it’s also the only Android Wear smartwatch which offers GPS, despite most watches including a non-functional GPS module.

There is one hardware feature that wasn’t fully developed: NFC. Despite including an NFC chip, users can only use NFC for pairing with a smartphone or tablet. It’s definitely convenient to pair your wearable just by tapping it against your phone, but Sony missed out on an opportunity to make mobile payments even more convenient. Also, I can confirm that NFC-enabled Bluetooth headphones cannot pair with the smartwatch through NFC. However, these issues can likely be resolved in a future update of the Android Wear operating system. I suspect at present Android Wear does not support mobile payments, so this may not be the SmartWatch’s fault.

The wrist-locking mechanism is similar to other smartwatches, like the Samsung Gear 2 Neo Samsung Gear 2 Neo Review and Giveaway Samsung Gear 2 Neo Review and Giveaway Want a smartwatch with longer battery life? Check out the $199 Samsung Gear 2 Neo – little brother of the Samsung Gear 2, which omits the camera and smartphone independent data capabilities. Read More and the Asus ZenWatch. You first adjust the wrist strap to fit your arm. Then you pull the lever-like strap into a locked position, closing it around your wrist. The advantage of this system allows you to size the watch once and never need adjust the fit again.

sony smartwatch 3 locking mechanism

Design

The design of the SmartWatch 3 won’t turn any heads. The silicone-rubber wrist strap looks unimaginative and spartan – neither a deal-breaker. You have to purchase a proprietary replaceable band, if you don’t like the basic color of the SmartWatch 3. It also comes in white and pink. Neither replacement band looks particularly jaw-dropping. Although a metal band-variant was supposed to have launched in February, its status remains unknown.

sony smartwatch 3 band

While its design appears utilitarian and sober, the conservative design hides a secret: It includes transflective screen technology. Transflective (TF) screens first gained popularity when Mary Lou Jepsen announced Pixel Qi, which became the first LCD which married full daylight readability to low-power consumption. Unfortunately, because of minor issues with color accuracy, manufacturers were reluctant to adopt the technology. Only a handful of devices were ever produced which took advantage of its capabilities. Pixel Qi eventually went under, but the underlying concept soldiered on. To my knowledge, the SmartWatch 3 is the first consumer device to employ TF technology.

Transflective screens can jump between two kinds of operation: “Black-and-white” reflective and full color emissive. In black-and-white mode, the screen uses ambient light to illuminate its screen. Because of the way the screen positions its color filters, only the black and whites are clearly visible. The SmartWatch 3’s black-and-white coloration is actually golden in hue. When the backlight fires up, there’s a minor shift toward yellow, which is normal for a transflective display. The only real issue is its lack of a matte screen coating, but very few devices can include both matte screens for glare-resistance and a capacitive touchscreen.

sony smartwatch 3 lcd backlight on

In full-color mode, a backlight fires up, which results in full-color display. On the SmartWatch 3, the ambient screen uses black-and-white mode, whereas swinging your arm up switches on the backlight. I say this without hyperbole: Android Wear is a platform in which tranflective screens should be the only screen technology. Both LCD, OLED, and P-OLED screens are poor choices for a device that needs low-drain properties while remaining fully daylight readable. To date, only transflective screens offer both.

sony smartwatch 3 watchface

On the downside, there’s no way to switch the backlight off in bright light. In fact, in direct, bright sunlight, the backlight is barely even perceptible. The auto-brightness sensor should be able to detect direct sunlight – in which case it could switch the backlight off, saving battery life. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Android Wear

I won’t bother readers with a detailed breakdown of Android Wear’s capabilities. There’s just way too many things it can do. The biggest selling point of an Android Wear device: It offers constant on-wrist access to Google Now, which is Google’s personal assistance software. It can receive a variety of commands 6 Google Now Features That Will Change How You Search 6 Google Now Features That Will Change How You Search You may already be using Google Now on your Android device, but are you getting all that you can out of it? Knowing about these small features can make a big difference. Read More , which includes setting timers, reminders, and more. The very first Android Wear smartwatches offered little more than a platform for Google Now. The most recent versions have become further integrated with Google’s core apps, including Google Hangouts, Google Fit, and others.

While Hangouts is indispensable to Android Wear, Google Fit is practically worthless at present. It more or less requires users to manually set any exercise that’s not walking or jogging related. And the depth of information that it provides falls short of scant:

google fit sony smartwatch 3

While many of the features of Google Now won’t work unless you have a persistent Internet connection, the Sony SmartWatch 3’s design allows several key features to work, even without a smartphone or Internet connection.

Making Use of the Sony SmartWatch 3

Getting started with the SmartWatch 3 is almost exactly the same experience as with any other Android Wear device. Simply install the Android Wear app on your smartphone or tablet then initiate a Bluetooth pairing. After the pair completes, the device will begin a firmware update – make sure you’ve charged the battery first. After the firmware update completes, the smartwatch is ready for use.

However, if you have a Near-Field Communication (NFC) enabled device, you only need tap the phone against smartwatch to pair it. It’s really quite brilliant.

The key selling point of the SmartWatch 3 is how it can replace portable MP3 players and smartphones when exercising. Think of it like this: when out jogging, you don’t want to take a phone along – even with it squeezed into an armband or sport-friendly case. Unlike other smartwatches, Sony’s watch can carry your music with you and it can pair directly with a Bluetooth enabled headset. That means no more lugging unwieldy electronics along when jogging, bicycling, or hiking. The downside is that very few audio apps sync with the SmartWatch 3. Only two come to mind: Google Music and Sony’s official Walkman app.

sony smartwatch 3 on a bike

I also recommend installing a number of other Android Wear apps before getting started. We’ve got six Android Wear apps 6 Android Wear Apps To Install Right Away On Your Smartwatch 6 Android Wear Apps To Install Right Away On Your Smartwatch If you've got a brand-new smartwatch, here are the must-have apps to install right away. Read More worth installing. The most important of these is a functional app launcher. Otherwise you’ll have to dig through multiple menus in order to get to the apps that you actually want.

Should You Buy The Sony SmartWatch 3?

Considering how ignored the SmartWatch 3 has been, I wanted to do it justice. It addresses many of the hardware failings common to Android Wear devices; it’s almost a blueprint for future Android Wear products.

Advantages

  • Most technologically sophisticated out of all Android Wear devices
  • Good price-point ($200-250)
  • Large number of features (GPS, offline music, NFC)
  • Great locking mechanism
  • IP68
  • microUSB compatible
  • Offline capabilities
  • High quality construction
  • Daylight readable
  • Good (for Android Wear) battery life

Disadvantages

  • Proprietary replaceable band
  • Minor yellow-shift of colors

The Sony SmartWatch 3 offers the best technology out of all smartwatches on today’s market. It also seamlessly integrates software with hardware, making it by far the best Android Wear device yet released. All of its problems are minor – at worst – and it’s both better value and more functional than its competitors. The only complaint that prospective buyers might have is that it’s not round and its design is spartan. I don’t share those same concerns. This is, simply put, the best smartwatch you can buy right now.

sony smartwatch 3 box

Unfortunately, Android Wear’s semi-polished nature and reliance on a persistent Internet connection make all Android Wear devices feel more like beta prototypes than final products. The SmartWatch 3 is no different in that respect.

The future looks bright, though. The SmartWatch 3 may even receive gesture and WiFi support in the next software update. Gesture controls would allow the activation of commands with the flick of a wrist. This could prove useful for activating remote controls or skipping songs. WiFi support would allow the device to operate independently of a smartphone, either for playing music or for using Hangouts. These features would finally make Android Wear ready for mainstream consumption.

Don’t buy it. Sony did everything right but Android Wear in general isn’t yet ready for the mainstream. If you’re dying to try out Android Wear, this is the watch for you; otherwise, wait until the Sony SmartWatch 4 comes out before throwing your money at retailers.
Sony SWR50 1.6-Inch Transflective Display SmartWatch 3 for Android wear Android 4.3 and onwards - Black Sony SWR50 1.6-Inch Transflective Display SmartWatch 3 for Android wear Android 4.3 and onwards - Black Black Classic Band, Water Protected, IP68 rated. 2 days battery life. Buy Now At Amazon $158.99

Sony SmartWatch 3 Competition

The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.

Send your products to be reviewed. Contact James Bruce for further details.

  1. Ali
    May 7, 2015 at 2:16 am

    Dear Kannon,

    I think there is an error in the spec you mentioned. You said it is using Snapdragon processor while as far as I know Sony's SmartWatch 3 uses Broadcom BCM23550. Snapdragon processors are a series of processors owned by Qualcomm. It is true that Snapdragon is based on ARM architecture but BCM23550 uses original ARM A7. BTW it is also mentioned in the wiki page of smart watch that BCM23550 is used there. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_SmartWatch#Sony_SmartWatch_3

    This is just a minor error that I thought its good to mention.

    • Kannon Y
      May 20, 2015 at 1:52 am

      Thanks for the correction Ali! It's a fairly large mistake and one that I should have corrected sooner. This was entirely my fault for using bad sources.

      At the time I wrote the article, I couldn't confirm whether or not the Snapdragon 400 was actually being used, but the NFC functionality should have been a dead giveaway that the Smartwatch 3 wasn't using Snapdragon 400. Thanks again, I really appreciate your help.

  2. Danny
    April 13, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    I have the Moto 360 and now the Sony Smartwatch 3, it is by far the best. I sideloaded some key apps that really does make use of the screen. GPS is a killer, I use Runkeeper. I use the watch as a second screen reference when reading.
    StandAlone Apps I sideloaded:
    Colornote: sticky notes that you can schedule reminder.
    ESfileexplorer
    BSPlayer: play videos
    Audio recorder: record voice notes, right on the watch. no phone needed

  3. shreenidhirao
    April 10, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    i DON'T HAVE A WATCH, AND A PHONE.. trying my LUCK..

  4. Sunny Narvekar
    April 8, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    I would love to win as I’d like to do the project I’ve planned but I think any one of us deserves to win as we’ve all got great ideas to use the gadgets

  5. Doug W.
    April 7, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    water resistance to 1.5 meters isn't much to brag about

    • Kannon Y
      April 7, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      IP68 is the best available in Android Wear at the moment (and it's the highest on this IP scale: http://www.dsmt.com/resources/ip-rating-chart). But you're totally right. Compared to the Basis Peak's rating (which is like 30 feet or something like that), it's not very good.

      I should clarify: Sony reported the water resistance at 1.5m for 30 minutes. IP68 is listed as 1m.

  6. Scott Koehler
    April 7, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Nice review. Seems like a nice watch

  7. baldo
    April 7, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    liked and shared

  8. P
    April 7, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    I got my SmartWatch3 as a late christmas gift and I love it.

    I have Sony Xperia Z Ultra phone, it is probably the biggest phone on the market and I really like it, but it totally isn't a phone that you can hide in a back pocket, so I like that I have all notifications on my watch - messages, calls, e-mails and even game notifications. I think it is totally worth the money. I always thought that I am quite active, but sometimes I am very lazy and step counting shows me when I have to leave computer and move my behind. I don't use Google Fit, LifeLog is a much better option that also counts how much time I spend with my phone.

    • Kannon Y
      April 9, 2015 at 4:05 am

      Great comment, thank you for mentioning LifeLog -- it's not a bad app. I really wish that smartwatch designers iron out the problems with heart-rate sensors and other biometric sensors. Once they get those properly implemented, LifeLog is going to be a killer app.

  9. Raj
    April 7, 2015 at 12:57 am

    I have smart watch 2, no regrets so far. But the sm3 looks more stylish packed with many features. I am tossing between buying this one or Vector's Luna smartwatch which has all those common features (excluding microphone, internal storage, colour screen) plus the IF THIS THAN THAT (IFTTT) technology as well. Not sure how well we would be able to use that but surely 30 days battery life with all common features will definitely beat many smart watches in the market. Bonus is its minimalistic round design.

  10. Mary farrar
    April 6, 2015 at 6:38 am

    I'd use it to help me with my job of getting others more active to reduce mental health problems, diabetes and other chronic disorders from inactivity.

  11. Mary Paddington
    April 5, 2015 at 10:43 pm

    Love to win this watch

  12. Bonnie Humphrey
    April 5, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    This watch would help me keep track of my activity

    • blyskalp
      April 5, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      Great keep up the good work.

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