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

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Android Wear software and other features

The SmartWatch 3 runs Google's Android Wear operating system for watches, which, unlike Android on smartphones, isn't skinned or tampered with by manufacturers. That means the interface is identical to other Android Wear smartwatches such as the G Watch R or Gear Live. Android Wear connects to your Android phone (and only to Android phones, it won't work with an iPhone or Windows Phone), showing information such as the weather, upcoming calendar appointments and incoming notifications, displayed as cards.

You can swipe the card left to see more information or to open the related app on your phone. Swiping right dismisses the card. Using voice commands, you can ask the watch to set a timer, ask for the weather or bring up your schedule. You're also able to dictate emails to send to contacts and make Web searches. Certain queries such as, "What is the time in New York?" will immediately give you an answer on screen, while others, such as, "How do you cook a chicken?" will bring up a list of Google search results.

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The SmartWatch 3 recognised my voice easily for the most part, although certain names were sometimes misheard and you do need to speak at just the right time for it to start listening. It processes the information faster than the G Watch R, giving a smoother, quicker experience overall, with fewer technical difficulties.

Thanks to a recent update to Android Wear, you're now able to store music directly on the watch -- it has 4GB of space -- and listen to it on the go, using a pair of Bluetooth headphones. As the music is stored on the watch itself, you won't need your phone with you, which is great if you want music for jogging, but don't want a giant phablet clunking around in your pocket. It's fairly easy to set up, although it only works with tracks bought through Google Play Music for now, so if, like me, you use Spotify or other services for your music, its use will be rather limited.

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The SmartWatch 3 has GPS built-in, meaning you can go running with the watch and have it track your distance much more accurately. Watches like the G Watch R, Gear Live and Moto 360 don't have their own GPS, relying instead on being tethered to your phone. As is the case with the music syncing, you're able to enjoy your run without carrying a phone in your pocket, but still benefit from distance tracking to see how well you're doing.

Not all apps can make use of the GPS tracking of the watch, however -- Sony's own LifeLog app didn't even want to play ball. The best app I found was Google's My Tracks app, which lets you easily start and stop GPS tracking using the watch alone, with the data syncing with the phone when you return. I imagine it won't be long before the major fitness apps all build GPS tracking from smartwatches into their services.

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Although the GPS and music-storing functions make it great for keen joggers, it lacks a critical fitness function: a heart-rate monitor. The Moto 360 and LG G Watch R both have optical pulse monitors built in, yet both are designed with style, rather than sports as the main goal. The tech for these optical monitors isn't yet completely reliable, but they do give you another point of data for your fitness progress, so it seems an oversight on Sony's part not to include this function to make the SmartWatch 3 a fully featured health device.

Battery life

Sony reckons you can squeeze at least two days of use out of the SmartWatch 3, which I think is rather on the optimistic side. If you use it very lightly, don't use any of the music syncing, don't use the GPS and don't use the always-on display mode -- which keeps a dim view of the watch face permanently on, so you can always tell the time -- you may be able to get close.

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It's no use having a smartwatch if you don't use the smart functions though, and when you do, you'll really see that battery life take a hit. Using the GPS tracking, connecting to a set of Bluetooth headphones and regularly using the voice control, I could easily drain the battery in a day. With less intense use, I'd say you could average a day and a half. You'll almost certainly want to give it a charge every night -- which, sadly, is the case with most Android Wear devices. On the plus side, the built-in charging makes plugging it in less of a hassle than its competitors.

Conclusion

With its built-in GPS and square, rubberised design, the Sony SmartWatch 3 is clearly aimed towards fitness fanatics, rather than tech-obsessed fashionistas. It scores points for its smooth operation and built-in USB port, which means you don't need to carry a dedicated charging cradle.

It's let down by its lack of heart-rate monitor and poor quality display though, which is less vibrant and has worse viewing angles than the G Watch R and Gear Live. The plain, square design and uninspiring choice of watch faces make it much less stylish than the G Watch R, meaning it won't suit those of you looking for a smartwatch that can slip unnoticed into your office outfit or party-going glad rags.

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