The SmartWatch 2 is also 33% cheaper, at about $200, and works with a variety of Android phones, not just Sony’s. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear sells for $300 and is compatible only with a handful of high-end Samsung phones.
That said, neither company has made a compelling case of why people need a smartwatch this holiday season.
The SmartWatch 2 is worth considering primarily if you want to be among the first with the latest technology.
What Sony’s watch does
Think of the watch as a companion to your phone. The phone needs to be within Bluetooth wireless range, or about 30 feet.
You install a free Smart Connect app on the phone to manage what gets sent to the watch, be it messages or call notifications. You give the watch functionality by adding watch apps to Smart Connect one by one. Smart Connect fetches the watch apps from Google’s online Play store.
For example, I installed Sony’s Messaging app to get texts on the watch. I get full texts and can reply with emoticons or pre-written responses such as “I’ll get back to you.” There’s no keyboard on the watch to type individual replies, given that its screen measures just 1.6 inches diagonally.
The Facebook watch app lets me check the latest posts and endorse some with “likes” right from the watch. With Twitter, I can read the latest updates, retweet them or mark some as favorites. But I’m limited to text on the watch. I can’t access photos and other links that are often embedded into tweets.
Getting too much? Through the phone, I can choose specific friends and accounts to get notifications for, though I can’t simply add “family” and other groups I had already created on Facebook.
The watch can act as a remote control for your phone, but calls themselves are made through the phone. For the watch to be useful, you need a Bluetooth wireless headset linked to the phone.
When calls come in, you can reject the call, with or without a canned text reply. If you have a Sony phone, you can answer calls from the watch as well. With any phone running at least Android 4.0, you can initiate calls from the watch using its dialpad or your Android contacts list. But again, the calls go through your phone. You can control volume
A free app called GPS Maps sends a map to your watch with surrounding blocks. The map moves as you move, though I don’t get directions.
How it compares with Samsung’s device:
Samsung’s Galaxy Gear wins on style: The watch has a metal frame and straps in six colors. It can work as a fashion accessory, at least for men. It’s on the larger side, with a 1.6-inch screen matching Sony’s. The SmartWatch 2 from Sony feels cheap, by comparison, though the straps are replaceable with other 24-millimeter watch straps if you’re really buying this for fashion.
The Gear also wins on features: Sony’s watch doesn’t have a speaker or a microphone. It doesn’t have a camera. The Gear has all that, which means you can make phone calls through the watch itself, without a Bluetooth headset. The camera produces low-resolution images, but it beats missing the shot because your phone is in the pocket.
Where the SmartWatch 2 outperforms the Gear is in delivering messages.
The Gear gives you full texts, but that’s about it. Get a Facebook or Gmail notification? You have to return to the phone to read the message. The watch is supposed to reduce the need to pull out your phone, but not if you keep getting notifications urging you to check.
You can charge Sony’s watch with a standard micro-USB charger, while the Gear needs its own. The Gear’s watch face also goes dark so it could last just a day. With Sony’s watch, you can see the time even in a low-power mode.
Sony’s SmartWatch 2 also has many more apps to choose from – more than three times as many.
Do you need it?
Maybe one day, smartwatches will truly be smart. They need to be better at filtering the important notifications from the noise, and they need to do more than tell you to go back to the phone to complete a task.
For now, we’re in an era of experimentation. Sony’s SmartWatch 2 advances the field with a just-the-basics smartwatch