Review: Sony SmartBand 2 (SWR12)

Sony isn’t new to the wearable world, but its latest attempt is a tad puzzling, bringing sensors to a very small gadget with no sense of why you should buy it over everything else.

What is it?

It’s not hard to work out where the next massive market will be for gadget makers, and now that we’re all a little obsessed with our fitness levels, some more than others, it’s clear that fitness trackers are going to be big business.

You can see them from the typical fitness specific players, with Jawbone, Fitbit, Misfit, and Runtastic, while the smartphone makers are also using their skills to get the technology they’re familiar with down to sizes wrists and arms and waists like, as Samsung, LG, Acer, Huawei, and Xiaomi all make in-roads into this burgeoning area.

Sony is one that sits in the latter category, and has for some time, as this isn’t a new thing or a passing interest.

We first saw a fitness gadget in the first Sony SmartBand back in 2014, and since then, we’ve seen smartwatches and a generation of the SmartBand with an electronic ink screen. Sony has even integrated fitness monitoring technology into a pair of earphones made for people keen to go running.

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The SmartBand 2 isn’t that product, though, and is an update to the original SmartBand, which was a small white gadget with motion sensors and a battery that you would store in a piece of rubber. Like its predecessor, it has only one button, three LEDs, and a microUSB port.

Unlike its predecessor, there is a heart-rate sensor at the bottom of the unit, one of those green light gadgets that can look through your skin and give you a clue of your pulse, but that’s about all the differences that you can see.

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For the differences you can’t see, Sony has applied IP68 waterproofing to the design, which means you could shower with it, though since IP ratings are made for clear-water, we wouldn’t swim with it.

Near-Field Communication and Bluetooth are both along for the right, same as they were in the original version, and this little gadget charges through microUSB and connects to phones and tablets using Bluetooth and the Sony SmartBand 2 app or the Sony Lifelog app depending on how much data you want.

 

Design

SmartBand 2 on the left, SmartBand on the right.

SmartBand 2 on the left, SmartBand on the right.

We’re not sure if Sony’s wearable design team is asleep or whether it just thinks it had it nailed last time so it would be easier not to change what works, but this year’s SmartBand is identical to the original SmartBand.

In fact, if you don’t flip them over and didn’t know the difference between the new model number (SWR12) and the old model number (SWR10), you’d be excused for thinking they’re identical, because they’re the same size, the same shape, and feature the same white plastic chassis.

SmartBand 2 on the left, SmartBand on the right.

SmartBand 2 on the left, SmartBand on the right.

Turn them over, though, and you will see a difference, with a slight extrusion on the bottom and a heart rate tracker, and this is the one thing that separates the models by the naked eye.

Despite our jab to the Sony wearable design team, it has spent some time changing the band that the SmartBand gadget goes into, and now it’s thicker and supports a strap style that looks like it would fit on more wrists, complete with a small metal buckle.

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Fit

Unfortunately for that small metal buckle, the SmartBand 2 strap isn’t as comfortable or easy to get on your wrist compared to the original, which merely relied on a button and the right whole for making the band tighter.

On the SmartBand 2, you find a strap that doesn’t feel as simple or comfortable, and even bangs up against the metal computers many of us use, clashing with a rather annoying metal ding that just makes you grit your teeth.

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In fact, we even found the band would feel like it was coming off our wrists more than it stayed on, while one person remarked that the thick white strap made the SmartBand 2 look like we had escaped from a hospital.

It’s a good thing this wearable is compatible with the original band, because we switched to that very, very, very quickly.

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Performance

Playing with the Sony SmartBand 2, you’ll need one of two apps: either Sony’s basic SmartBand 2 app which gives you the bare basics of stats or the more playfully animated Lifelog app.

Technically the gadget is doing all of the heavy lifting tracking your activities, but the app is where it all comes together, and they’re both slightly different, so we’ll tackle them individually.

Over in the basic one — SmartBand 2 — it’s pretty much made for the simple things, and in some ways feels like an advertisement for the Lifelog app.

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You’ll find settings for notifications and some cards you can swipe between that take Google’s Material Design and provide steps, walk time, sleep time, and so on and so on.

The SmartBand 2 app never really says much, though, and instead tells you to “View history in Lifelog”, so go download that.

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