Sony SmartWatch 3 review: Poor screen and no heart monitor make Sony's SmartWatch 3 third time unlucky

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CNET Editors' Rating

2.5 stars OK
  • Overall: 5.8
  • Style: 5.0
  • Features: 6.0
  • Ease of use: 6.5

Average User Rating

4 stars 1 user review
Reviewed:

The Good The Sony SmartWatch 3 has built-in GPS to track your workout without needing your phone. It's waterproof, has a built-in USB port for charging without a dock and runs Android Wear smoothly.

The Bad Its screen is pretty awful, with poor colours and viewing angles. Its plain, square design makes it much less stylish than the LG G Watch R and it doesn't have a heart-rate monitor built in.

The Bottom Line Although its ability to use GPS to track your run is handy, its poor screen, uninspiring design and lack of a heart-rate monitor means the SmartWatch 3 doesn't impress over its more luxurious Android Wear competitors.

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Sony's previous efforts at making a smartwatch haven't exactly been successes. In fact, the SmartWatch 2 was pretty awful. Seemingly keen to learn from its mistakes, however, Sony is back with a third generation of its computerised wristwear, unsurprisingly named the SmartWatch 3.

The SmartWatch 3 has an improved design -- including better waterproofing and interchangeable straps -- and crucially, Sony has ditched its clunky and unpleasant custom interface.

It now runs Android Wear, the smartwatch software developed by Google that aims to provide a unified platform for companies like Sony, Samsung, LG and Motorola to load on to their products and allow developers to create apps that can run equally well across all devices.

The SmartWatch 3 is on sale now and costs £190 in the UK, direct from Sony, $250 in the US also from Sony, and AU$315 in Australia from Expansys.

Design and display

Instead of opting for a more traditional circular watch face, like the LG G Watch R, the SmartWatch 3 has a square face. Together with the rubber strap, which meets the glass of the display, this makes it look much more like a fitness device than a regular watch. It certainly doesn't have the same luxury charm as the metal and leather G Watch R.

sony-smartwatch-3-6.jpg
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's not unattractive as such, but the plain square face and black rubber strap are a little dull. It's not the sort of elegant watch you'd want to keep on while all dressed up in your best party outfit -- whereas the G Watch R remained on my wrist in my best suit at a birthday bash and didn't look at all out of place.

The flexible rubber strap is comfortable to wear, although the watch unit itself is quite chunky and a little on the heavy side. I certainly didn't want to keep it on while I slept. Part of the reason the watch is quite chunky is that there's a micro-USB port for charging built directly into it. It allows you to plug the charging cable directly into it, without needing to use a separate charging cradle, something that's required on all other Android Wear watches. This is a real bonus, as I find the cradles a massive hassle -- you need to always remember to take it with you if you're going away overnight.

A neat trick the SmartWatch 3 has up its sleeve is the ability to remove the actual watch unit from the strap. The screen pops out from its rubber surround, allowing you to change the colour and style of the strap. Although only black and bright lime-green straps are available right now, Sony tells me that different colours will become available, which should help make it look a little more uniquely yours than this bog-standard black version.

sony-smartwatch-3-14.jpg
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The SmartWatch 3 is totally waterproof, not just water-resistant, meaning you don't need to worry about ruining your expensive new toy when you're washing the dishes. It also means you don't have to take it off in the shower -- handy when you're cleaning off after a good workout in the gym -- although be aware that the falling water droplets will activate the touchscreen, which will accidentally pause whatever you're listening to. (Listening to podcasts in the gym shower while your phone sits in a locker may admittedly be a fairly niche use that only I will ever worry about.)

Display and watch faces

The watch face itself has a 1.6-inch square display with a 320x320-pixel resolution. That's basically the same as other watches we've seen, so it's no surprise that the screen looks about as sharp as its competitors. It's fairly bright -- although under very bright lights it can be difficult to read -- but its colours are quite weak, particularly when compared to the more vibrant LG G Watch R. Viewing angles aren't great either, meaning you have to angle it in just the right way to get an optimal view.

sony-smartwatch-3-7.jpg
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Colours aren't a huge problem, as you won't be watching videos or browsing images on it -- Android Wear could be in black and white and it wouldn't make much difference to functionality. The viewing angles are more of a problem, however. Given that the watch will move around on your wrist, you won't always have the best view when you bring it up to your eyeline. The display is at the very least legible, but it's generally unimpressive and it's definitely a mark against it, in comparison to the G Watch R or Samsung's Gear Live.

It comes with a selection of faces to choose from, which help customise the look of the watch, but it's not a big selection and few of them really stand out to me. They're mostly digital clocks that, while matching the sporty look of the watch itself, don't really help make it look any more elegant. The LG G Watch R has a much wider selection of faces, many of which look like they've been lifted straight off real luxury watches.

There are at least a whole bunch of third-party watch faces available in the Google Play Store, and they're easy to get on to the watch using the Android Wear app. So you can still customise it to your tastes, it's just a shame Sony hasn't put much effort in to help you on your way.

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