Living with the Sony SmartBand
I've been wearing the SmartBand since the end of May, using my Jawbone Up24 as a comparison device. In terms of pure 'anecdata', I've always found the Up24 to be a very accurate device, especially in terms of my sleep. As someone with poor sleep patterns and a cat with a bad attitude, I'm almost obsessive about tracking my nocturnal hours.
Similarly, the Up24 has always been quite good at recording my daily steps. When I was comparing it to the Fitbit Force (before the recall that meant it was never launched in Australia) the two gave quite similar results.
That hasn't really been the case with the SmartBand, which often differs quite significantly from the Up24. On the 27 May, just to pick a random day, the Jawbone recorded 14,276 steps, versus a mammoth 21,854 on the SmartBand.
As another example one particular evening's sleep was recorded as 7 hours and 29 minutes on the Up24 and 4 hours 28 minutes by the Sony.
I also use the Jawbone to record gym workouts and outside exercise, such as running. For the most part, the SmartBand was pretty accurate when it came to automatically recording any running when I actually was running. On the other hand, it would also occasionally record me as having gone for a jog on days when I didn't manage more than a slow shuffle around the office. On the day I spent mostly seated and writing this review, Lifelog told me I'd walked just under 30,000 steps and run for an hour. I'd actually done nothing more strenuous then a half hour of weights at lunchtime.
Speaking of weights, there's no way to add in other exercises, such as weightlifting, or even a team sport unless you're using a Bookmark. It makes tracking these extra activities quite difficult. I also found that the silicon band was a bit of a sweat trap during workouts and often needed a rinse after the fact.
Of course, these are just the fitness elements of the SmartBand -- as we've been talking about, it's intended to be much more than that. So how does everything else stack up?
In terms of photos, communication and browsing, it's hard to fault. They all seemed as accurate as could be imagined. Photos are actually particularly good, showing you the individual snaps you took -- including any screen grabs.
Music was less accurate. I use the Spotify app, and while Lifelog would show the time that listening sessions began -- and the fact I was using Spotify -- it would always record these sessions as being under a minute, even if they were actually for the duration of my 25 minute commute to and from the office.
Games also throw a bit of a spanner in the works, telling me I'd had a four minutes gaming session on 11 June, but recording the game I played as "IMDB Movies and TV"...
For the tap-controls, I was using the find-my-phone feature which was a single tap to start the phone ringing and two to turn it off again. For the most part it didn't acknowledge me doing a single tap. Other times accidentally knocking the SmartBand would start the phone ringing, but I'd have to stop it manually on the phone because the double tap to turn it off wouldn't register.
Finally, when I first started using the SmartBand it would disconnect quite regularly from the Galaxy S5 I was using. There were a few firmware updates during the testing period and this problem mostly disappeared. When it did disconnect though, reconnecting via NFC was a bit random -- it was often quicker to turn off Bluetooth on my phone and turn it back on again.
The hard thing about reviewing a device like the SmartBand is that you're really reviewing two products -- the hardware that you're wearing and the software that's giving it its functionality.
Hardware wise, the SmartBand seemed a little oversensitive at recording some things and undersensitive for others. As with all tracking devices, your mileage may vary, but it shouldn't vary this much.
While it's comfortable enough to wear, as I said before the band gets a little sweaty and if you're wearing it in the shower water has a tendency to get trapped between the Core and band. Overall as a fitness device there are quite a few better options on the market.
In terms of 'life logging' apart from the slight issues I noted before, that all seems to work, I'm just still not sure what you'd do with the data. While I can imagine you might, for example, want to limit how much time you spend on social media, Lifelog isn't really set up to help with that. You can, rather bizarrely, set goals on any of the activities being tracked, but Lifelog doesn't notify you when you hit those goals. And surely, in the scenario we're going with here, you'd want to set a limit on how much time you spend 'communicating' -- not a goal to reach?
It's also not a truly accurate representation of your day -- it's just what you're doing on your phone or tablet. If Lifelog wants to be a genuine daily log of your on- and offline life, then where's the desktop app as well?
Of course, it's also early days for this product. Sony Australia said there was a major update to the Lifelog app 'coming soon' and this could conceivably significantly change the experience of using the SmartBand -- if it does we'll come back to this review and adjust accordingly.
Sony also seems to have some big plans in place for its smartwear range. While the SmartBand is the first iteration of this, Sony has said that the Core can be worn and used in many ways. What the company is working on isn't clear, but we've seen a wearable camera that works with Lifelog at MWC.
So perhaps, down the road, Sony will show off some other usage scenarios for the Core that play to its strengths a little more. Until then, unless you're after a device specifically to help you manage the way you communicate and consume content on a mobile device, the SmartBand seems a little short on usefulness.