The roster of Android Wear devices continues to grow.
Hot on the heels (well, gently nipping at them anyway) of the Motorola Moto 360 and LG G Watch R, comes Sony’s third attempt at smartwatch mastery – the aptly named Sony Smartwatch 3.
It’s the first Android wear device to pack in GPS powers, alongside Google’s standard smattering of wearable OS smarts.
Could it be the perfect combination of smartwatch and fitness watch?
Solid build, inoffensive design
While Motorola and LG have opted for circular designs in the Moto 360 and G Watch R, Sony has kept things simple.
The Smartwatch 3 is square, plain, and inoffensive. It doesn’t have the striking modern minimalistic design of the 360, nor does it have the traditional watch DNA of the G Watch R.
Instead, its plain black body blends into the background, not drawing much attention to itself. We’ve noticed fewer curious glances from passers-by when wearing the Smartwatch 3, compared to when our wrists were rocking its circular rivals.
That’s not to say that the Smartwatch 3 is ugly though, because it isn’t. Sony’s gone for sporty styling, with a flat side power button that, given the inclusion of GPS (more on that later), makes complete sense.
If you’re after something snazzy that’ll stand out a bit more however, you’ll likely prefer the design of Motorola and LG’s offerings.
The watch module itself can be popped out of the pleasantly smooth soft rubber strap, although this means that standard watch straps (which work with the Moto 360 and G Watch R) are not an option.
While we’re on the subject; nothing in the known universe loves anything as much as dust loves the rubber strap of the Sony Smartwatch 3.
Thankfully it’s IP68 water and dustproof, so a quick rinse from time to time will keep it looking pristine, in addition to fending off rain and sweat. Its metal clasp and adjustable length means it’s comfortable and secure too, making it ideal for pavement-pounding runs.
Charging: Inelegant but practical
Flip the Smartwatch 3 around, and you'll find a small rubber flap. Pulling it open reveals a microUSB port, which is the charging solution that Sony has chosen over cleaner, more elegant solutions such as the wireless charging of the Moto 360 and LG's magnetic dock.
It's a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s fiddly to open, and even more annoying to plug the cable in.
On the flip side, it's a lot more practical than carrying around a dedicated charging dock, as microUSB cables tend to be everywhere these days, even if you've forgotten yours at home.
Overall, we think its convenience outweighs fiddling around with cables, so no real loss there.
We’re going to just come right out and say it: the Smartwatch 3 has the worst display we’ve seen on an Android Wear device to date.
Compared primarily to the displays of the Moto 360 and LG G Watch R, it pales in comparison in almost every category.
The G Watch R’s screen is superb. It’s a plastic OLED affair, which means true, deep blacks. It’s no surprise to see the Smartwatch 3’s blacks lose out there then. What is surprising however, are the horrible whites, which in comparison to its rivals, look practically yellow.
The completely washed out dull colours do nothing to help matters either. Combined with the off-whites, the Smartwatch 3 delivers a rather unpleasant viewing experience.
Its 320 x 320 resolution isn’t lower than the competition at least, and text is sharp and easy to read. The square nature of the display also means that the end of notifications aren’t cut off either, which is another plus.
Another bonus is the ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the screen to ensure it can be read comfortably. The screen itself is bright too, offering decent outdoor visibility.
Screen: 1.6in 320x320 TFT LCD touchscreenProcessor: 1.2GHz quad-core ARM A7RAM: 512MB OS: Android Wear Battery: 420mAhStorage: 4GB Water & Dust Resistance: IP68 Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC Dimensions: 36 x 10 x 51mmWeight: 38g (Classic), 35.7g (Sport) Colours: Classic (Black) and Sport (Lime), straps avaialble in white and pink
It would be a disaster if the Smartwatch 3’s performance was as lackluster as its screen. Thankfully, however, its quad-core 1.2GHz processor and 512MB of RAM are more than up to the task of running Google’s Android Wear OS.
We haven’t experienced any lag or stutter during our time with the Smartwatch 3 and it runs apps and flitters through menus without a hitch.
Run for your money
The main feature that sets the Smartwatch 3 apart from the competition is its built-in GPS powers.
Whereas previously you'd need your smartphone with you if you wanted to track your runs, you can now leave it at home without the hassle of holding it or strapping it to your arm.
Not all running apps are supported, but luckily one of the most popular ones, Run Keeper, was updated mid-review, and we can confirm that it tracks your route completely independently of your smartphone.
Google's own Tracks app is also supported, as is Sony's own Xperia Lifelog app. We also expect more apps to add their support in the near future. Coupled with the 4GB of storage you can go for a run with Bluetooth headphones, listening to locally stored music and tracking your location while your cumbersome smartphone is left dozing at home.
It's a shame then, that the Smartwatch 3, given its sporty design and GPS skills, lacks a heart rate sensor, which is present on both the G Watch R and Moto 360. We're not entirely sure why Sony would leave it out, although the space required for the GPS sensor and a potential extra drain on battery life might have something to do with it.
Either way, it means we're still yet to see an Android Wear fitness watch that combines the perfect suite of features. We'd argue that tracking your run is probably more important than measuring heart rate for most people overall, but if you want both, then you might be better off with a dedicated fitness device such as the TomTom Multi Sport or Garmin Forerunner 920XT.
The Smartwatch 3 should last you around a day and a half, with the screen always on, making it a stamina match for the LG G Watch R.
Having said that, you will want to top up before or after tracking a run, as using the GPS function hits the battery a little harder.
We lost just under 10% after a 30 minute jog which isn't too bad, but if you're planning a long running session it's something to bear in mind.
Android wear: bigger and better
Within a few days of wrapping the Smartwatch 3 around our wrists, we were greeted with a pleasant surprise - an update to Android Wear 5.0.1 Lollipop.
After a rather lengthy download and install session, we were met with some very welcome improvements to Google's wearable OS. One major change is the ability for third part watch faces, thanks to Google’s decision to give developers access to tailored APIs.
This negates the need for third party apps like Facer to handle customisations for you, which will also result in improved battery life. The initial selection of watch faces offers something for everyone, from minimalist low-poly art to Pac-Man-themed faces.
A less visually stimulating but very useful new feature is the ability to undo notifications after accidentally dismissing them, by swiping up from the bottom and tapping Undo.
You can also now (finally) check your battery usage levels and storage via the Android Wear app on your smartphone, for more detailed information about your use.
Dragging down from the top also reveals a Mute button, while flicking right brings up the option for Theatre Mode, which turns off your screen completely until you press the power button.
You can also now disable the tilt-to-wake feature, which can get annoying if you tend to gesture vigorously with your hands.
Check out our full Android Wear review (which will shortly be updated to reflected the new features) for more depth on Google’s watch-based OS.
The Sony Smartwatch 3 has the brains of a Google watch, coupled with GPS skills for fitness fans, with plenty of power and decent battery life.
But its screen does let it down and it’s not as attractive as its Motorola and LG rivals, which for a wearable device should be considered a bit of a flaw.
Overall, if you’re after the smarts of Android Wear and are a regular runner then it’s definitely worth a look.