Sony Smartwatch 3 review

After selling off my Pebble Time, t didn’t take me long to get another smartwatch. This time it’s the Sony Smartwatch 3. The Smartwatch 3 ticks a few box in my list - it’s got GPS, Wi-Fi, NFC, waterproof and of course Android Wear. The recommended retail price for the watch is RM999 but you can get it for as low as RM688 on Lazada.

Out of the box, you get the Sony Smartwatch 3 SWR50 and a short micro USB cable - that’s it. Needless to say, you’ll be charging the watch with the micro USB cable which in one way pretty convenient because micro USB cables are cheap and easy to find. However compared to magnetic charging offered by Pebble, Moto 360 or Apple Watch, it is quite a chore to charge the Smartwatch 3 simply because the charging port located at the back of the watch is not really that accessible. You have to open the USB port cover and carefully plug in the USB cable to charge.

First impression, I got the one with a black silicone band (there’s an option of white and pricier steel band). Unlike most smartwatches out there, the Smartwatch 3 is detachable from the band. The benefit of this ‘core unit’ design is you can easily take it out and swap bands. The down side is you don’t get much choice in term of bands because apart from the official silicone and steel bands, there’s nothing else to choose from. No cottage industry or third party bands or straps for the Smartwatch 3 unlike other Android Wear watches.

The first thing I noticed about the silicone band is that it’s a dust and lint magnet. I only managed to keep it clean the first minute after unboxing. I guess this is normal for silicone bands and you’ve just got to live with it although I must say I don’t get that much dust/lint from my old Pebble band. And compared to the Pebble Time’s band, this one is pretty rigid and stiff and it uses a clasp system not unlike the early Samsung smartwatches. This inadvertently magnifies the nerdy look of the watch because let’s face it, most consumers would like their smartwatch to look and feel like a normal watch as much as possible.

Did I say the watch face is yuuge? It features a 51mm height compared to 42.5mm for the 42mm Apple Watch or 47.1mm for the Pebble Time. Now I have a relatively medium-sized wrist and it looked pretty big on my arm. If you have smaller wrist or a woman, just forget about wearing the watch because it would look positively oversized on your wrist.

Now for the real world test. The main reason I sold my near-perfect Pebble Time for this one is the GPS capability. You know how I like to run sometimes, on the road, park or even the gym and having a smartwatch take could record my distance, pace and running route is quite desirable. The first thing I did after putting on the Smartwatch 3 is try to find the GPS app. But where is it? Apparently there’s no built-in GPS app for the watch. You have to install third-party running apps like Strava or RunKeeper to use the GPS functionality. Using Strava or RunKeeper is fine, it records my distance and route pretty well but the thing is I have clocked a total of 1674 kilometers since 2012 with my Nike+ app which does not sync with either Strava or RunKeeper. I had to enter my running records manually into my Nike+ app which is not ideal because that beats the point of having a smartwatch on your wrist while you run. I want my runs to sync automatically and seamlessly to the Nike+ app or at least indirectly like my old Garmin watch. That said, there’s no telling when they’re gonna make the Nike+ app for Android Wear. There’s been a Nike+ app for the Apple Watch since the beginning but none for Android Wear and I don’t think we’ll be seeing one anytime soon for as long as Tim Cook is on Nike’s board of directors.

Okay enough of the bad news, let’s explore other features of the Smartwatch 3. As with other Android Wear smartwatches, this one syncs with both iOS and Android phones. But just like other Android Wear and Pebble smartwatches, the Smartwatch 3 works best with an Android phone. You get the full functionality - the ability to reply and send texts, messages and emails straight from the phone, use voice command for search and maps and get updates from Google Now etcetera if you sync it with an Android phone. If you sync it with your iPhone though, the Smartwatch 3 will only display notifications and let you make or answer calls, that’s it.

Although the Smartwatch 3 has NFC capabilities, there’s no Android Pay yet in this country and like many new tech coming from the west, I’ll give it a 1 or 2 more years until it arrives on our shores. You can however use NFC to connect to the watch to NFC-enabled devices like a speaker or Bluetooth headset although I have yet to try that myself yet (I don’t have NFC anything in my possession). The watch also comes with 4GB of storage and if you subtract half of that for the OS, you’ve got about 2GB left for music and other stuff. Now here’s the kicker - you need to have Google Music subscription to be able to play music on the Smartwatch 3. First you download music to your Google Music app on your phone and then you sync the playlist or the songs to your Smartwatch 3. And guess what? Yes we also don’t have Google Music subscription yet in this country so that’s that. There is a workaround for this limitation however which involves a third-party app which allows you to transfer music via Bluetooth to the smartwatch. I’ve tried it and it’s painfully slow. A single mp3 file would take 6-7 minutes to transfer wirelessly and no you can’t do it via the USB cable for some reason. 6 minutes for a song that’s about an hour for 10 mp3 files. Life is too short to be wasting my time for that.

The Smartwatch 3 features a square watchface design and I like the few pre-installed Sony watchfaces fine. Some of them is customizable but most of the third-party watchfaces just doesn’t look good enough for me. Maybe because it’s square or they just need to make better designs. In the end I just stick with the default watchface which is the least ugly of the lot. Battery wise, I get about a day and a half with normal use (no GPS).

Overall the Sony Smartwatch 3 is a pretty decent Android Wear smartwatch. It’s relatively affordable compared to most Android Wear watches in the market today and it comes with some very nice features too like NFC, GPS and Wi-Fi (although I have no idea how the Wi-Fi works, it can’t independently connect to Wi-Fi). The screen is huge, the silicone band is a lint magnet, the GPS needs a third party app and the NFC and 4GB space are pretty much useless (at least for this market). Would I recommend it? You guessed it, probably not. You should invest on a better Android Wear watch out there, perhaps or Moto 360, a Huawei, Asus or even (gasp) Samsung. Just make sure you get the correct size for your arm. As of writing, Pebble has just been acquired by FitBit and they have effectively killed that brand. There’s a rumor of a Google-made Android Wear watch coming soon although I’d expect that one the be less-affordable for the rest of us. If you don’t mind having a Android-optimized little calculator on your wrist, then the Sony Smartwatch 3 is perfect for you.

Unboxing video:

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