Sony SmartWatch 3 Stainless Steel Australian Review: An Apple Watch For Android Users

Smartwatches have been a bit dorky in the past, let's be honest, but in the last year especially they've enjoyed a renaissance. The Apple Watch has changed a lot of minds who never thought they'd ever buy one; one upswing of that is that Google's smartwatch platform is enjoying some time in the sun. So, may I present to you, one of the best Android Wear smartwatches you can buy right now — the metal-clad, super-bright, super-sporty Sony SmartWatch 3 Stainless Steel Edition.

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What Is It?

Specifications
  • Display: 1.6in, 320x320 pixel
  • CPU: Quad-core ARM A7, 1.2GHz
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Storage: 4GB
  • Battery: 420mA
  • Weight: 45g

I'll be honest. There's a reason I put that strikethrough in the intro paragraph. Every time I think of the $399 SmartWatch 3's full name I accidentally call it the Sony SmartWatch 3 Stainless Steel Edition in my head. That's because it's the stainless steel version of the regular SmartWatch 3, which has a rubberised strap and is $100 cheaper.

The SmartWatch 3 and its Stainless Steel variant are Android Wear smartwatches, using the operating system designed by Google, debuted in Australia on the LG G Watch, now at version 5.0.2 to suit any Android 4.3+ smartphone you want to pair it to. I tested the SmartWatch 3 on both a Sony Xperia Z3 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, both of which were running Android 5.0 Lollipop.

The SmartWatch 3 Stainless Steel is a beautiful piece of hardware. It's incredibly sturdy, with a slightly curved glass face over its 1.6-inch 320x320 pixel square transflective LCD screen, a moderately-sized black bezel around that and satin-finish steel surround around that. That same steel finish extends around the integrated multi-link watchband and its hidden butterfly clasp, although the lowermost link is polished to a reflective finish with the Sony logo emblazoned in its centre.

There's a single port on the SmartWatch 3, and that's the microUSB charging connector hidden away underneath the watch's body and protected from dust and sweat with a rubberised integrated plug. Charging the SmartWatch 3 is a bit fiddly, to be fair, but it means you don't have to carry a bespoke charger when you travel — just use your smartphone's. Beyond that, there's a single button on the watch's right side that can wake or snooze its always-on screen or provide a shortcut straight to settings.

What's It Good At?

The SmartWatch 3 Stainless Steel from Sony is interesting because it's one of the only Android Wear smartwatches out there with an integrated GPS module. That GPS works with a few apps like Google's MyTracks and (my personal fitness favourite) RunKeeper to track your activity and location even while you're away from your smartphone — so you don't need to bring it running. Considering that RunKeeper will send its collated fitness data straight into Google Fit, and therefore show you a more complete measure of your daily exercise, the SmartWatch 3 is literally the perfect tool for both jobs. It's just as accurate as a smartphone is, too.

That integrated GPS module and running/walking/cycling measure sitting right there on your wrist works an absolute treat when you're also using the SmartWatch 3's internal 2.6-odd usable GB of memory to store offline music. When you do so, you can pair your Bluetooth headphones directly to the SmartWatch 3, and listen to music while you work out, with all that motion tracked while your phone is sitting safely at home. This is exactly what Android Wear should have included straight out of the box, and it's great to see it available on Sony's top of the line SmartWatch.

The SmartWatch 3 Stainless Steel also has NFC and Wi-Fi. Android Wear's latest update — literally 12 hours ago — includes support for Wi-Fi, and allows your SmartWatch 3 to receive notifications whenever it is connected to Wi-Fi and your phone is connected to a data network (whether that be the same Wi-Fi, different Wi-Fi, or 3G or 4G). This works exactly like Apple's iMessage Hand-Off, and it's a great idea. I'm unsure whether any Android Wear watch apart from the SmartWatch 3 supports Wi-Fi, but it's unlikely.

It's also just a particularly gorgeous device to wear on your wrist, and comfortable at the same time. The Stainless Steel's satin finish is lovely, and alongside the Moto 360 it definitely sits up there as one of the most attractive Android Wear watches you can buy. The SmartWatch 3 feels super-sturdy and I feel like it'll last a very long time. The screen is incredibly bright for a small panel when it needs to be, and Sony's ambient sensor means it can react to changing light conditions to conserve power.

What's It Not Good At?

For the most part, the Sony SmartWatch 3's battery life is pretty darn good. It's more than good enough to last a full and busy day full of notifications and time-checking and regular Android Wear use; it's enough to last two days if you mute it when you don't need it. It's enough to last five days if you're especially careful. But if you start using that GPS and Bluetooth and music playback, it'll last maybe three hours at most. That's enough for my longest weekend bike ride, but your mileage may literally vary.

One thing that the SmartWatch 3 does not have is an integrated heart rate sensor. You can't measure your heart rate either actively or passively on Sony's top of the line smartwatch. That feels like an omission, but to be absolutely honest with you it's not one that bothers me in the slightest. It's not a feature that I've used more than once or twice in any other Android Wear smartwatch or even serious fitness trackers. If you really want it, though, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Should You Buy It?

Sony Smartwatch 3 Stainless Steel
83

Price: from $399

Like
  • Beautiful, bright display.
  • Superbly constructed.
  • Amazing battery life.
Don't Like
  • Premium price.
  • Chunky design.
  • Annoying port access.

Android Wear has evolved a lot since the original LG G Watch and the first release of the Moto 360. And it has evolved in a good way, too; the amount of apps that support cards, the variety of phone-syncing features, and the onboard features like GPS tracking and Google Play Music temporary storage, have all been widened and implemented in recent months. Android Wear was a little hesistant to start with, but it's genuinely useful now.

And it's hard to argue that the $399 SmartWatch 3 Stainless Steel isn't the best Android Wear watch out there, at least for the time being. That addition of a GPS chipset inside the SmartWatch 3 massively improves its utility when you're away from the phone, and means it's every bit as capable a fitness device as the Garmins and Adidas miCoaches of this world. The size and heft isn't an issue as long as you have the watchband fitted correctly.

It's also very good looking, for a square watch. It's Sony's rough equivalent to the Apple Watch, and that's not only because it has that stainless steel band — y'know, the kind you'll have to spend a few hundred dollars more to get at the Apple Store. It's well made, and it has a beautiful display that works very well indoors and outdoors thanks to a smart ambient light sensor and a very high maximum brightness. As smartwatches go, it's a highly specced one.

If you don't like the Apple Watch, and you have an Android phone — at least until Apple approves Google's Android Wear for iOS, which continues to be rumoured as imminent, although that depends on Apple not delaying the approvals process for whatever reason — then the Sony SmartWatch 3 is a great choice and is possibly the best choice for a computer that lives on your wrist and accompanies the computer in your pocket.

Update: By popular demand, here's a entirely unscientific comparison of the screens of the Apple Watch and the SmartWatch 3. Both set to full brightness, although the Apple Watch is a little bit fingerprinty.


Comments

    Don't like premium price? After the Apple Watch price and all the fawning over that thing? Really?

      i love apple products usually. but even I cant get behind the apple watch. not for that price and loading times

        I'm personally waiting for MS Band v2 which will hopefully have a battery life akin to this Sony and also is OS independent so if I ever make a change I won't be punished. The only "smartwatch" I'd pick right now is a Fitbit :P

      It's still a premium price -- just for an Android Wear watch.

        @Chivo downvotes, really?

          It was the only way to express my sentiment. I don't have the time or energy to write a full fledged argument as to why I think that statement was... distasteful.

            But you had the time and effort to respond here :)

            The SWR50 is $70 more expensive than the Moto 360, $40 more expensive than the G Watch R... It's a premium price, dude! It's way cheaper than an equivalent Apple Watch, absolutely, but it's expensive amongst its Android Wear bredren.

              "Sony’s top of the line SmartWatch"
              "one of the only Android Wear smartwatches out there with an integrated GPS module"
              " it’s every bit as capable a fitness device as the Garmins and Adidas miCoaches" and they are $499 + from what I could find immediately.

              Price seems on point, $70 or $40 more for impressive benefits and improvements. Well at least thats how it reads from the first half of the review.

                Mate, it's a great watch, and the price is on point, but it's an expensive price nonetheless.

            Chico you are to sensitive, one of the main things Android fans crow about is that the devices are reasonably priced. Go ahead down vote me

              Oh, nowadays people request for down vote! Sure buddy.

              I use a Windows Phone... I just call out BS when I see it.

                Uses Windows Phone? Please, somebody give him an upvote to help make his otherwise miserable life that little bit brighter.

                  Uses something other than a Windows Phone? Please, somebody give him an upvote to help make his otherwise miserable life that little bit brighter.

    they’ve enjoyed a renaissance

    No, they haven't. A renaissance means a revival or a rebirth. Smartwatches are a new category that haven't enjoyed widespread popularity at any point, so there's nothing to be revived or reborn.

      They're not new! They've been around for ages. And they haven't been great.

        Fair point, but they've never taken off so there's precious little to revive.

        And they haven't bee great.

        Exactly. That's his point. A renaissance is a return to greatness.

    This thing actually looks like a watch you might want to wear, not some ugly thing strapped to your wrist like an Apple Watch or Moto360. Still, it is less functional than a Microsoft Band and tied to one OS so I don't know why you'd bother.

      Android Wear support for iOS should be imminent, fingers crossed.

        So is HoloLens. Care to wager on which arrives first?

    I have this watch with the black rubber band. The watch and functions are great and it works wonderfully with my z2.
    My only issue is the adjustable band doesn't quite match my wrist. I'm in between notches so it's either too tight or too loose. I wish I could buy the steel band on its own too.

    The point about the only Android Wear watch with wifi - only the LG G Watch, G Watch R and Zenwatch don't have wifi. The others do (even the Gear Live), just need to update to activate it.

    These smart watches all seem too clunky for me (at least the two shown here), if they used a curved screen they might be more appealing.

    Here's a dumb question: are all these Android watches dependent on each company for software/firmware updates, or does Android Wear work like iOS in that the moment there's an update from Google, it will be carried over to the watch, also?

    Because Sony seems to be exiting the smartphone business according to http://www.technobuffalo.com/2015/02/20/why-sony-is-considering-exiting-the-smartphone-business/ and that will affect their watches as well.

      Anybody who has ever owned a Sony android device will know they are notoriously slow with Android updates. In fact my first android device was an experia with a promise of an update to the later version that was already released in a few months. 3 years later I'm still waiting. Lucky it's been in a drawer for 2 years after I replaced it with an iPhone. If you believe Sony will keep this thing up to date I have a nice bridge over Sydney harbour I could sell you very cheap.

        From my understanding all updates come directly from Google as there are no customisation of Android wear by any OEM.

    Will it work with a Blackberry with the appropriate Android app loaded? I'm guessing it won't work with a sony eReader running Android?

    (I still haven't quite worked what Android is - it is it a kernel, the Dalvik VM/JIT, Google Play Services, an API or a set of specific applications?) I have a Sony eReader than runs Android, but you can't run Android apps on it. I have a phone that runs Android apps, but it doesn't run Android. #confused).

    Last edited 24/04/15 5:20 pm

      Android is an open source operating system.. think linux for phones. You can have the vanilla build that google create and are released on nexus phones or you can modify it to your own liking and with the use of 'skins' somewhat have your own twist on it like samsung and htc etc do with htc sense and touchwiz.

      Blackberry tried to stay with it by emulating android apps, which is what i'm guessing you are talking about.. and from what i've heard didn't live up to expectations.

      Your ereader, i think you'll find has an android hack out which people have loaded and run full android OS on but obviously sony only kept the basics when they released it so it only does what its intended for and nothing else, requiring minimal specs to run.

      TV companies are also making their own custom versions of android for smart tv's now too.

      TLDR; its an open source customisable operating system. It can be as feature packed or as minimalist as you want/need it for depending on its application.

        Thank you for the detailed and considered reply.

        So when a product says it is Android compatible, what do they mean? For example, quite a few apps are developed using the Android API, but rely on Google Play services. These Android apps won't run on the Kindle Fire, for example.

        When people say Android is superior to iOS, or vice versa, what aspects or incarnation are the referring to?

        In my mind, it's a bit like comparing Mac to PC: there are so many permutations of pc hardware, operating system and applications that any comparison is really meaningless.

    Also, serious question: Since it has Wifi, can you run it standalone without tethering to a phone, even for initial setup?

    One thing that the SmartWatch 3 does not have is an integrated heart rate sensor.
    This is the reason why I won't get one. This watch is 90% of the type of smart watch I'm looking for. Is this one waterproof and dust proof? It's quite expensive. And calling it chunky is a bit unfair unless you also call the Apple watch chunky as well.

    I've read some other forums online complaining the actual casing is just silver painted plastic, with a metal band.
    I'd still like one, but would need to be careful not to scratch the paint off.

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