Wedged between the basic SWR10 SmartBand and the Android Wear SmartWatch 3, the Smartband Talk SWR30 is an affordable halfway-house in Sony’s Smartwear stable.
It’s clever without bothering Mensa, has a battery saving e-ink display and hands-free functionality - all for RM579. But in an increasingly crowded arena – Garmin Vivosmart, Fitbit Charge and the Acer Liquid Leap all vying for attention – has Sony done enough to deserve a spot on your wrist?
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Thicker than your average band
While it won’t set many hearts racing the SmartBand talk’s design is cool and understated. At 2.2cm wide it’s a touch thick for a fitness band but a bit skinny for a watch, but actually feels nice on the wrist with the monochrome e-ink screen giving it a designer digital look without the bling of something like the Samsung Gear Fit.
The band has the same texture and clasp as the original Smartband. The textured finish looks good, and while it is a bit of a dust magnet – especially in black - it’s also easy to wipe clean. There are six interchangeable bands including matt orange, dusty pink, blue and lime green if colour coordination is your thing.
Doing your best Dick Tracy
The headline feature on the Smartband Talk is its ability to work as a hands free mic for your phone. You can answer incoming calls or dial a single stored number by prodding the correct screen. It’s a useful feature, especially if you want to chat while driving without looking like a regional sales rep.
Call quality is acceptable even when holding a steering wheel, but it does suffer with a bit of echo. Whether you’re ready to go the full Dick Tracy and chat into your wrist is up to you. We won’t judge…much.
A pretty successful smartwatch
While Sony talks up the, um…‘Talk’ angle we’re actually more impressed with the smartwatch functionality.
Once synced with your Android 4.4 Kitkat (or above) device it will display all manner of alerts, social media messages and emails. The large screen has plenty of space for scanning message headlines – no waiting for a scrolled message - and the whole process feels genuinely useful.
But the activity tracking is a disappointed. Tracking’s via the altimeter and accelerometer sensors but without GPS or heart rate monitoring it’s little more than a hi-tech pedometer, and not an especially accurate one at that.
It’s consistently measured 2000-3000 steps ahead of the pretty trustworthy Google Fit during testing, for example. That’s great if you want to fool yourself into thinking you’ve done more exercise than you have so you can devour another doughnut, but if you’re at all serious about fitness this is not the band for you.
Speaking of accuracy, the Smartband Talk also tracks sleep, and while this reviewer dreams of the recorded 7.8hrs of quality sleep, waking once; his six-month-old baby and the bags under the eyes would beg to differ.
Screen of plenty
The 1.4” e-ink screen is unique to the Smartband Talk and aside from boosting battery life creates a crisp, easy to read display. OLED lovers look away, but the monochrome makes a refreshing change – just as it does with the Pebble – displaying just the essential nuggets of information. There’s no backlight, which can be annoying at times, but you can at least switch between white on black or black on white depending on the gloom.
Using e-ink makes sense as it only uses power to refresh the screen rather than needing juice all the time. As a result it can survive up to three days between charges – although we’ve needed to top up sooner on a few occasions – which is a huge improvement over most the competition. Charging is via micro-usb, again nice and convenient compared to the likes of the Garmin Vivosmart, which needs a dedicated charging cradle.
Controls are mercifully simple. You navigate through the various app home screens using the physical navigation button on the side and just tap the screen to bring up more detail. The screen isn’t especially responsive and it takes practice to thwack it in just the right way.
Display: Curved E-ink (320 x 320 pixel)
Compatibility: Android 4.4 (Kitkat) and later
Colours: black, white
Waterproofing: 1.5 m (IP68 rated)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0, micro USB, accelerometer, altimeter
Aside from the headline talk and tracking there are several other pre-installed apps on the SmartBand Talk and a limited choice of downloadable extras from the app store.
The Media Player app gives basic remote control to your smartphone’s music while the Life Bookmark widget lets you capture those ‘special moments’ and feed them into Sony’s decidedly barmy Lifelog app (more on this later).
You can also download a few extras via the free SmartBand Talk app. Smart Control gives you basic control of Wi-Fi, phone speaker or radio for instance while Smart Camera is handy if you’re into taking ‘discrete’ photos.
At the heart of Sony’s wearable kit is the aforementioned Lifelog app. This all-encompassing data gatherer collates more than just steps walked and calories consumed. It will also log time wasted on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc., count photos taken, PlayStation sessions, number of e-mails sent, calls made…you get the idea.
The app itself is slickly presented and fun to use but without the benefit of detailed sport/activity tracking the whole thing seems a little bit unnecessary. Like an Ipsos MORI poll for your pocket. We’re sure someone is benefiting from your data collection, we’re just not sure it’s you.
Simple, stylish and suitably smart stuff from Sony, the Smartband Talk packs in the features and boasts a decent battery life compared to the rest. We love the simplicity of the e-ink screen and appreciate the large – in fitness band terms – display, especially when reading incoming messages.
Whether you find the hands-free calling useful is down to personal taste, but it works consistently well - it’s just a shame the same can’t be said for the fitness tracking, which will be disappointing to anyone who takes their fitness seriously.