A gorgeous, functional, cellular-powered gizmo-watch made by erstwhile hardware god Sony could have been huge. Huge! Instead, it's a gadget cold sore, and a major, aggravating letdown. What the hell happened?
Why It Matters
It's a smart watch! It's a tiny OLED computer that runs on your wrist! If the prospect of something like this doesn't make you randy, what are you doing here, buddy? Unlike Google Glass, this is a sip of a sci fi future that could also socially acceptable—a watch won't get you punched in the stomach at a bar or make everyone at a dinner party squirm in their seats. It could be a delightful new way to do smartphone things without a smartphone. It could even look cool. Isn't this the kind of thing we're all supposed to secretly (or not so secretly) lust after? The fancy touchscreen wristwatch status symbol is all our Dick Tracy, Star Trek, James Bond, Metal Gear Solid wonder, commodified. Right?
You'll be startled when you put on the Sony SmartWatch—This isn't nearly as stupid looking or feeling as I imagined it'd be. You expect to hate yourself as soon as you wear it, but somehow, you don't—ten points for you, Sony. This owes largely to how much the "watch"—a roughly inch and a half OLED screen, a third of an inch thick—feels like a watch without scare quotes. Once you charge it, you snap it into a provided band, then press its single button—and there's the time! The time of your life, maybe.
But then you look at it for more than a few seconds or so, maybe try touching it, and a thing you have strapped to your arm suddenly starts to make you unhappy. Unhappy and perplexed. A thing actually on your body confuses your brain, and it's not a tattoo of a Mobius strip or something. The SmartWatch requires a constant Bluetooth connection with an Android phone to do anything smart at all—otherwise it'll just blink errors at you, slackjawed, and show you the time. Similarly, you'll need the Android mothership to load any app you might want onto the thing—simply, it's non-functional without a phone in your bag or pocket, and because of the dinosaur Bluetooth connection, sluggish even when its phone mom is around.
As the SmartWatch has no buttons other than one for power, it leans entirely on its touch face. Sony calls it "multi-touch," but the most complexity you'll be able to finger this thing with is an awkward two-points-at-the-same-time jab. Otherwise you swipe through apps, which can sometimes show extra info if you swipe up. Sometimes you can't. Sometimes swiping goes nowhere. Sometimes you have to tap, sometimes pinching seems to work. It's inconsistent throughout, and there you are, on the sidewalk, probably about to walk into an uncovered manhole, flicking and scraping your wristwatch. How did it come to this?
Against all odds, you might feel cool wearing the Sony SmartWatch. Is $150 too much to spend to feel cool? The facade is pure Sony classicism—a silver bezel, deep black screen, and that emblematic Sony logo. In this context, the logo is the geek couture version of Gucci or Chanel. The watch is unadorned and inconspicuous, but anyone who catches you using it or comes within close gawking distance will demand an explanation. What is that thing? It has a screen? That's so cool.
And at times, fleeting times, it is. The pulse of vibration that alerts you to a new email is useful—buzz, tap, scroll, read, tap, walk. The panoply of less useful pulses that let you know when tweets arrive, without any strict pattern, don't have much utility, but give you a sensory awareness of your internet life that's oddly satisfying. Feel the tweets flow through you. It's gimmicky, sure, but it adds to a hazy illusion that you're wearing the internet under that silver face. It's all cool and flashy for no good reason, an item of pure superfluity in an age where that's OK—this is truly a gadget in both the most pejorative and delightful senses, both at once.
The Sony SmartWatch works horribly. It could be said that it doesn't work well—in fact, let's go further: the Sony SmartWatch often doesn't work at all. The touchscreen is catatonic, the OLED display is dark, muddy, and laughably low-res. Nobody is really sure what a retina display is, but we can all say with absolute certainty that this is the opposite of it.
The SmartWatch is too thick, in part because it accommodates a large, lazy clip instead of a more svelte latching mechanism. Why the giant clip? Nobody is going to clip this to their belt, or collar, or sombrero rim—this is horrible design. It's thick, but who can think about bulk when it's so miserable to use?
Consider this: to do anything smart with your SmartWatch, you have to:
- Pair your Android phone with the watch via Bluetooth. Keep it paired.
- Install a proprietary Sony app that manages settings for the watch.
- Download every single individual feature for the watch—calendar, email, Facebook, Twitter, weather, it goes on and on—as a separate app. Each needs to be downloaded and installed separately.
- Wonder why these crude basics aren't pre-loaded on the SmartWatch.
- Wonder why the SmartWatch has no settings options of its own, but rather has to be managed with a phone—the whole phone you're trying to use less of because you just dropped $150 on a SmartWatch.
What's smart about that? Even if the watch delivered anything worthwhile and life-bettering, the system to get you there is so devoid of thought and convoluted that nothing could be worth that schlep.
But hey, it doesn't offer anything worthwhile. Texts and calendars don't sync, call launching is confusing, Facebook only loads status updates with no option to comment. The list could continue for minutes on end. Minutes! Lame apps that barely work are not worthy of a place on your arm, and the Sony SmartWatch is a sour disappointment from a company that used to make cool things. With even a little imagination, a Sony SmartWatch could have been in actuality as cool as it looks in passing—it could've been tremendously awesome. Imagine a sharp, responsive screen, a headphone jack, Wi-Fi, GPS, an IR blaster, an interface that made sense, a mic/speaker for placing calls, a thinner bezel—God, something. Even a few of these features could've redeemed what's otherwise, when you boil away all the chrome and mediocrity, a $150 gimmick.
Should I Buy It?
No. Absolutely not. No one should own this, no matter their lifestyle preferences or moral views. I promise you—you won't like it. The Sony SmartWatch is pathetic, frustrating, and empty. There's no way to justify spending $150 on this—this ripoff of a thing. It's easily gulped down at first under the guise of luxe gadgetry, but spending any more than a few minutes swiping with despair reveals just how much of a bad practical joke this thing is. Were the SmartWatch some Target clearance rack bauble from a Chinese no-name crap dispensary, this wouldn't be worth typing over. But this is Sony. That means something. Right? For now—but not after many more SmartWatches.
Sony SmartWatch Stats
Screen: 1.3 OLED, 128 x 128
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0
Weight: 15.5 g main unit, 26 g watchband
Battery: Undisclosed, lasts a few days with normal usage
Giz Rank: 1 Star
Video by Michael Hession.