Sony's SmartWatch 2 is revamped, refreshed, yet faces stiff competition (hands-on)

/ Updated: 18 October 2013 12:27 pm BST
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Editors' note: Read CNET UK's full Sony Smartwatch 2 review now

Sony's first SmartWatchdidn't quite live up to our expectations. However, with the introduction of the SmartWatch 2, Sony has made plenty of improvements. These include a refreshed water-resistant design, easy setup with NFC technology, and yes a brighter screen so you can actually view it outdoors.

But with Samsung officially jumping into the smartwatch game by unveiling the Galaxy Gear, and a rumored Apple wrist gadget in the works, the Sony Smartwatch 2 will likely enter a pitched sales battle when it hits the market in September. Sony's updated timepiece will also be challenged by plucky wearable tech upstarts like Pebble and Hot Watch. Read on to find out if the Sony Smart Watch 2 has enough to really impress.

Design
Like the steel Samsung Galaxy Gear, Sony decided to go for the luxurious look of metal. The SmartWatch 2 is made of aluminum, unlike the plastic Pebble. This gives it a nice, premium feel that the Pebble lacks. It features a removable 24mm wristband, so you can swap in other standard bands to customize to your liking. A big, round power button is found on the side, much like the power button that you will find on Sony Mobile's 2013 Xperia lineup.

The very identifiable Xperia power button makes an appearance on the watch. Aloysius Low/CNET

Like the original SmartWatch, the SmartWatch 2 features a 1.6-inch touch-screen display, but unlike its predecessor's OLED screen, the SmartWatch 2 uses a transflective LCD panel instead. This should give it good visibility outdoors, something not possible with the first Smartwatch, a massive design oversight for a timepiece.

In terms of screen resolution, the watch has 220x176 pixels, less than the Galaxy Gear's slightly larger but sharper 1.63-inch 320x320-pixel OLED screen.

Physically, the SmartWatch 2 is slightly larger and heavier compared with the original. However, we don't think the difference is noticeable -- at 23.5g, you'll barely feel the 8g difference over the first SmartWatch. The Gear though tips the scales at a much heftier 73.8 grams. Of course the Qualcomm Toq is a monster that dwarfs all smartwatch comers.

Another key improvement in the SmartWatch 2 is its water-resistant properties, meaning it's protected against accidental spills and splashes. Be advised that you can't take it into the shower with you, though we don't see why you need to read e-mail while shampooing your hair. You also can't go swimming with this watch.

Instead of the custom charging port used by the first SmartWatch, the SmartWatch 2 comes with a standard Micro-USB port. This makes it easier to charge the watch, especially now that Micro-USB cables are readily available.

The SmartWatch 2 can be charged with any Micro-USB cable. Aloysius Low/CNET

Features
When the Sony Smartwatch first launched it was expensive ($129.99), costing almost as much as a powerful smartphone. The problem was, the gizmo demonstrated poor functionality out of the box.

For example, you needed to install multiple apps yourself to enable basic features such as notifications from calls or messages. Devices running early software also suffered from frequent crashes and spontaneous reboots.

Worst of all, rebooting and subsequent loss of Bluetooth connection between watch and phone resulted in the watch resetting its internal clock. That's right, the watch would default back to displaying "12:00" in blinking lights like an old-school VCR.

To be fair, Sony took steps to shore up the first Smartwatch's issues through software updates. Still, it was a long way from what we'd call an elegant user experience.

The company claims that this watch will be way easier to set up than its predecessor. Specifically, the SmartWatch 2 has built-in near-field communication capability, which lets you pair with compatible handsets via Bluetooth simply by tapping them together.

Also, after a proper phone/watch link occurs, your Android handset will prompt you to download Sony's SmartWatch app. From there you'll be able to select the various apps you'd like to use. Previously you had to pair devices manually, then search for and install everything separately -- a real pain.

Keep in mind you'll only be getting an alarm and timer app (in addition to the watch faces that come preinstalled) unless you add more functionality.

Here's a digital clock face that you can switch to. Aloysius Low/CNET

That said, Sony has made the SmartWatch 2 compatible with apps from the first SmartWatch, so it can run apps such as Runtastic, Twitter, and Facebook.

Surprisingly, the new device doesn't use the latest Bluetooth iteration, version 4.0. Instead it runs on Bluetooth 3.0, which does not have the fancy Bluetooth low-energy protocol the 4.0 release offers.

Of course Sony is already claiming a three- to four-day battery life for its high-tech watch, the same it did for its predecessor. As we learned with that device and the Pebble, it's wise to keep a charger handy or plug it in daily or you run the risk of running out of juice. By comparison Samsung claims a 24-hour run time for its Galaxy Gear product.

Lastly, the SmartWatch works with almost any Android handset, but not iOS as well, which the Pebble can tackle. The Galaxy Gear, however, is locked down to operating with the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3, at least for now.

Outlook
Due out sometime this month, the SmartWatch 2 looks set to tap into the growing interest in wearable tech. The trouble is with heavy-hitters like Samsung and maybe even Apple poised to enter this market, this space is about to get very crowded. That's especially true of a product category in which consumers may not even be interested.

Other wild cards like the Pebble with its small but fanatic user base and the uniquely capable Hot Watch, which boasts wild gesture controls could tempt buyers away from Sony as well.

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