Sony is going practical, not pretty, in wearable tech with two new wristputers launched at IFA 2014.
Both Motorola and LG are working hard on circular smartwatches with the Moto 360 and LG G Watch R both set for full reveals this week. But Sony's SmartWatch 3, its first device to run Google's new Android Wear OS, and the simpler, cheaper SmartBand Talk are taking a punt on useful features over analogue styling.
Its so-called "Smart Wear" comes with swappable bands, reasonable prices and Sony extras such as its new cross-platform tracking app Lifelog. But is it enough to gain a permanent spot on our wrists?
Wear Gets Practical - GPS & Walkman app
Square of screen and sporty looking, the SmartWatch 3 doesn't exactly tear up the wearables design rule book.
But that's OK. Available in Classic Black or Sport Lime, the watch core actually pops out of the silicon strap, also in pink and white. It's not designed to do this everyday (two of the prototypes we saw had broken home buttons) more that if you fancy a change after a few months, it can be done. The strap itself has a clasp to keep it in place and though we prefer a standard watch strap as on the G Watch, that's down to personal preference and it does at least feel secure.
This is a big watch with a 1.6in screen and a fair amount of bezel. Essentially if you're moving from a chunky, colourful Swatch it'll be an easier transition than from your fancy Breitling.
There's plenty to love, though. Elsewhere, the SmartWatch 3 is the first Android Wear device with GPS. Completing the killer combo is 4GB of on-board storage and a standalone Walkman app so that the SmartWatch 3 can be paired with Bluetooth headphones to track runs and provide tunes without a smartphone.
Neither was ready for our early play and compatibility with third party fitness apps hasn't been confirmed yet but Sony will hopefully give us more details during IFA. With a price of €229 (no UK price yet), that looks like a very good deal - a TomTom Runner Cardio, for instance, costs £220 and won't even tell you the weather.
READ MORE: Samsung Gear Live smartwatch review
No Cradle Needed
It says a lot about the competition when we get all flustered over a microUSB port. After months of losing and finding the G Watch and Gear Live's charging cradles, no wonder we got a bit giddy when we saw that the SmartWatch 3 had kept at least one feature of its predecessor, the otherwise frustrating SmartWatch 2.
It's the first Android Wear watch that you can just stick your smartphone's microUSB cable in. So it's much more likely to be useful on long days out of the office or weekends away.
And all it needed was a neat little flap on the inside of the SmartWatch 3's (admittedly chunky) steel core.
The battery itself is a 420mAh unit which Sony reckons will last two days. With Android Wear's always-on notifications and a bright, sharp 1.6in 320x320 screen, we wouldn't be surprised if it's more comparable to the Gear Live's day and a half battery life. But every half day counts when it comes to smartwatch batteries.
READ MORE: Pebble Steel smartwatch review
More after the break...
Android Wear + Sony extras
So what does it actually do? As with other Android Wear devices, there's two big functions. The watchface, to show the time, which can be swapped for other designs. And notifications which come through from your smartphone via Bluetooth - phone calls, texts, emails, social media alerts. Anything that appears in your notifications pulldown or as a banner on your Android (4.3+) shows up on the SmartWatch 3's screen. Plus Google Now's genius calendar, search and location based updates when it thinks you need them.
We got to see Facebook and weather alerts in action during our hands on but this is familiar stuff to anyone who has used an LG G Watch or Samsung Gear Live. For more details on what Android Wear watches can do, head to our in-depth review of the OS.
Sony has tweaked Android Wear more than most. As well as the Walkman app, it also adds its Lifelog app, TV Sideview and a remote camera app. Lifelog is designed to let you track the usual fitness metrics - steps, distance, calories - alongside entertainment and media info. What movies you've watched, music you've listened to, games you've played or places you've been. These appear on a timeline which will sync across to your Xperia Z3.
Is Sony gunning to beat Facebook at its own lifelogging game? Its ambitions are probably smaller than that but we'll be keeping an eye on Lifelog to see what Sony does with all that data.
TV Sideview is an app borrowed from Xperia phones that lets you see what's on the box on the SmartWatch 3 with wrist-based remote controls too. And the remote camera app will work with Xperia phones and accessories like Sony's QX10 lens.
So Android Wear is up for grabs, after all, but Sony's done well to keep its tinkering to a minimum. The growing number of third party apps can take care of the rest.
READ MORE: Android Wear OS review
The SmartBand Talk, Sony's €159 wearable e-paper screen on a silicon strap, is a curious beast.
It's not as stylish as a Jawbone UP or as shiny and futuristic as a Samsung Gear Fit. But then again it's not as cheap as some of the other basic smartbands it resembles - like the incoming £80 Acer Liquid Leap.
With a 288x128 e-paper screen that's non touch and an odd mix of features it's stuck somewhere in the middle. The altimeter is great as that means the SmartBand can track when you're going up stairs as well as the usual steps and distance to add to your Lifelog. Auto sleep detect is a nice addition too as on Sony's first SmartBand this mode had to be activated by a button press. IP68 dust and waterproofing is another plus.
And it can talk. Well, you can talk to it. The SmartBand can handle calls, with a mic, speaker, HD Voice tech and a dash of Dick Tracey.
But there's no standalone GPS like the SmartWatch 3. The 70mAh battery will last three days of normal usage, according to Sony, which isn't really good enough considering the screen. And in our hands on time with the admittedly unfinished software, it looked slow and very, very basic indeed.
We're willing to have our minds changed when we test the final device. For now, we're more excited about the affordable, practical, Google Now-powered SmartWatch 3.