When Sony first unveiled its SWR-10 SmartBand at CES 2014, I confess I had a bit of a "whiskey tango foxtrot" moment.
While what Sony was showing off looked like a pretty standard fitness tracker, according to CEO Kunimasa Suzuki this was "smartwear", and it would combine with the Lifelog app to help people with "entertainment, communications, ideas and recommendations."
To be honest, it all came across a little confusing. After using the SmartBand and the Lifelog app for a couple of weeks, I'm a little less confused -- but not by much.
While the wrist-mounted device certainly includes some fitness tracking capabilities, Sony's overall goal with the SmartBand is a little more ambitious than just competing with the Fitbits and Jawbones of the world. Combined with the Lifelog app, Sony's aiming for a device that, well, logs your entire life.
The SmartBand is out now in Australia and the UK for AU$159 and £79.99 respectively. In the US you'll pay $99.99.
At the heart of Sony's SmartBand is the Core, a tiny tracker roughly the size of a USB drive and weighing just 6g. It fits neatly into the silicon wristband, a bit like the Fitbit Flex. The design of the Core is quite simplistic. It's a slightly curved bit of white plastic with a Micro USB port on one end for charging, a single button on the side, and three tiny white LED lights beside the button.
The silicon wristband has a little bulge for the Core's button, plus three pinholes that let the lights shine through the band. The stretchy silicon means that it's quite easy to put the Core in the wrong way, so it's worth watching out for that.
The button is how the SmartBand switches between day and night modes, with the lights flashing in a specific way to let you know which is which. Double-tapping the button lets you add a Life Bookmark, which we'll get to a bit later.
The band fastens using a pair of metal pegs attached to a round buckle bearing the Sony logo. Sadly, the buckle the classiest thing about the band, which is otherwise a fairly boring rubber strap. It looks like you can only get the SmartBand in black in Australia, although we've seen examples of other colours -- purple, yellow, red, pink, white, and 'Brazil' green and yellow -- overseas. A pack of three will set you back $24.00.
In a nice touch, the SmartBand ships with two sizes of bands. Unlike the Jawbone Up and Up24, where you'll need to buy the correct size, Sony's including small and large options right out of the box.
The SmartBand is waterproof -- by that we mean the Core itself, not just when it's in the band, which is surprising, given the open Mirco USB port. It's IP58 rated, meaning its "dust protected" and can handle being submerged in over one metre of water for long periods of time.
Finally, the top of the SmartBand is tap-sensitive. You can assign different apps to the tap function, such as a 'find my phone' to make your smartphone ring on command, or changing songs on your media player.
First and foremost, the SmartBand requires two apps to be installed on a paired device. These apps only work with Android 4.4 or later, and require Bluetooth 4 Low Energy. If you don't meet those requirements, then the SmartBand will just be a fairly bland bracelet for you.
The two apps are Sony's SWR-10 connect app and Lifelog. The latter provides all of the functionality of the SmartBand, but it's the SWR-10 app where you'll find all the settings for the SmartBand, so both are definitely required. (Of course, Lifelog is where you put your personal settings, such as height and weight, just to be a little confusing.)
The devices uses Bluetooth for connectivity and has NFC. Turning it on and tapping it against a NFC enabled phone should take you directly to the Google Play store to download the Smart Connect app and get you started.
In addition to the tap-based controls, the SmartBand also has a few other cute features: a vibrating silent alarm (similar to Jawbone and Fitbit) and an optional out-of-range alert that has the band vibrating when it loses Bluetooth connectivity with your phone -- the idea being that it stops you from leaving your phone behind. Finally you can get call and app alerts sent to your SmartBand. Without a display, this means the band vibrates whenever something needs your attention, so I'd recommend just setting this up for one or two important alerts and not the full monty.
Once Lifelog is installed you can make a profile up and start logging your entire life. This is a quite simple process, requiring just a few key details such as age, height, weight and gender. You can manually set walking and running stride lengths, but the app is happy to automatically generate those for you.
So what does Lifelog do? Well, quite a bit. There's the now bog-standard sleep and step tracking, of course -- these are the bread and butter of the fitness tracking. Lifelog also tracks running and burnt calories. But that's where the app stops relying on just the SmartBand device and starts tracking other things as well.
The Lifelog app will, once installed, monitor and record the following categories: Communication, Camera, Music, Movie/TV, Games, Books and Browsing.
You not only end up with summary of how long you spent on each of these activities but you also get a far more detailed breakdown. Photos will tell you how many photos you took and show them to you as well. Communication will tell you how much time you wasted on email, Facebook, Twitter or any other communication app -- thankfully it doesn't break it down by the individual contact, which might be pushing it a little. The others monitor activities in similar ways.
You can get these summaries organised by day, week, month or -- gulp -- year. Or, you can hit play on a particular day and see an animation of a figure walking through the 24 hours with your activities popping up as they occurred during the day. You can even get a full Google map rundown of everywhere you've been, assuming you've turned your phone's GPS on.
Finally, you can add Life Bookmarks by double-pressing the button on the band. These log your GPS data, your type of activity and, strangely, the weather at any given time. You can then add notes about what you were doing at the time.