Among the Millennial generation, I'm a bit of a rare exception. I still love watches. They're one of the best accessories a guy can have, the perfect accent to set off any number of manly ensembles. Thus, as I watched Sony unveil its SmartWatch 3 (MSRP €230) at IFA Berlin this week, I couldn't wait to take it for a spin.
While the ascension of the smartwatch has been a dream come true in many ways, there's still plenty of room for improvement. A watch with the basic functionality of a smartphone and the style of a true analog ticker would offer the best of both worlds—but only a few brands have gunned for that approach.
On that note, Sony's SmartWatch 3 will appeal to tons of techie consumers, but it doesn't distinguish itself with style. Luckily, though, closer inspection reveals all sorts of desirables on the inside, like water proofing, helpful apps, and an Android UI.
The SmartWatch 3 sports a rubbery silicon strap with a few unimpressive metal accents. The strap is quite comfortable, though, and the watch is light and relatively thin compared to many analog watches—especially ones for men.
The actual watch body has a brushed metal back with a small cover for the micro-USB port. Unfortunately, the face feels very plasticky to the touch. As for its physical controls, there isn't much to discuss. The watch only has one button, which functions dually as a wakeup key and on/off switch—everything else is touchscreen. I played around and discovered a very responsive surface that picked up every tap and swipe.
As to its guts, the watch is surprisingly powerful for its size. It has a square 1.6-inch LCD display with a 1.2GHz quad-core processor. The Sony 3 also wields a microphone, light sensor, compass, GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, and NFC (near field communication) for easy pairing.
The SmartWatch 3 is no delicate flower, either: This timepiece is dust proof and waterproof (up to three feet of water). Sony had the product submerged in a tank of water to prove it.
I know, I know: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But style is crucial when it comes to wearables, so a design rundown is inevitable. As the saying goes, a watch can tell a lot about you.
Many prefer metal and leather-bound watches over Swatch-style products like the SmartWatch 3. If you're in the Swatch party, then you may like this Sony very much. A representative on the show floor told us the watch will first ship in black- and white-colored versions, but that pink and lime green are just down the road. It's a sporty look, to be sure.
Each additional band will cost €25—and users can switch them out at will. But since you can change the bands, it makes me wonder why Sony didn't showcase leather or metal options. The silicon rubber straps look a bit cheap, and higher-grade options for a more premium feel would have been nice.
Style preferences aside, compared to other smartwatches, Sony's 3 is a bit unimpressive. It lacks the singularity of the Moto 360 or the quality of the LG G Watch R, for instance. And Samsung's new SIM-card packing Gear S casts an awfully big shadow, too.
Speaking of the Gear smartwatch line, the Sony SmartWatch 3 almost looks like a dead-ringer for one. Overall, it's disappointing that Sony didn't do more to differentiate the SmartWatch 3's design from the rest of herd.
Unfortunately, all of the SmartWatches at Sony's IFA booth were stuck in demo modes, meaning no one could fully trial Android Wear. Nevertheless, the demo managed to provide some interesting insights.
The watch only had eight apps to scroll through, and the interface wasn't quite as intuitive as I had hoped. Here's how it works: In order to switch between apps, just swipe up and down. Some apps, such as the message and music ones, have multiple screens that you swipe through horizontally. Here's the annoying part: If you swipe to the right on the first screen of any app, you're automatically kicked back to the lock/time screen. Nor are the apps in carousel form; meaning that when you reach the last one, you have to swipe all the way back up to return to the first, or else use the "back" swipe to return to the lock screen.
As far as apps go, the Sony's were useful and modest in number. The watch included a weather app, calendar app, music app, pedometer app, messaging app, "Okay, Google" app, transit app, and boarding pass app. The weather app provides current conditions and a four-day forecast while the messaging app gives you the ability to reply via voice—very useful. Unfortunately, we couldn't test out Google Now in the demo mode, perhaps due to the multi-lingual show floor environment.
Overall, the OS is pretty slick and makes sense after tinkering with it for a bit. We look forward to testing out a fully functional version of Android Wear that supports third-party apps and Google Now.
The Bottom Line
Sony's SmartWatch 3 is certainly seems clever enough and tough enough for most wrists, even if it isn't the most impressive entry in terms of style. It offers the full functionality of Android Wear—a big step up from Sony's old smartwatch OS—and it's quite comfortable, too.
The SmartWatch 3 will be available for around €230—not bad for a full-fledged, waterproof smartwatch. It's also a big step up from its predecessor. As spacious as the market is, and as promising as the SmartWatch 3 appears, we'll reserve full judgement until we get one to take for a spin on our own turf.