Fitness gadgets may well be the new thing, but Sony’s take on the category isn’t just about fitness, instead focusing on what you do with your phone, not just what you do when you’re out and about, offering up a more complete picture of your life, and not just your health.
You’re going to be seeing a lot of fitness wearables this year, so get used to them.
This week, we’re taking a look at Sony’s option in this category, a wrist band that can track your health and fitness, among other things, and report the information to an app for your smartphone.
Sony’s Smartband isn’t technically a band, though, with all of the sensors inside the tiny white gadget that sits inside the band. All the technology is inside this part, and there’s even a button for controlling the gadget, with an extended push of this button sending the Smartband gadget into either awake or sleep mode.
Some of the technology inside that little white section — called the “core” — includes Bluetooth 4.0 running over the Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) specification, Near-Field Communication technology, motion sensors, and a haptic motor for vibration feedback.
The Smartband’s core requires a Sony app to run, called “Lifelog,” with compatibility for Android phones running version 4.4, also known as “KitKat.” Support for Bluetooth 4.0 LE is required on the handset’s part, and as such, Sony suggests using either a Sony Xperia phone, or one of the following: LG’s Nexus 4 or Nexus 5, HTC’s One from either 2013 or 2014, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy S5 smartphones.
Sony’s core can be used in any one of Sony’s Smartband wrist straps, with up to nine colours available.
One port can be found on the Sony Smartband core, and that’s the microUSB port, used for charging the Smartband battery.
Fitness gadgets are everywhere now. Just check out our wrists: we’re doing new ones weekly, and it’s beginning to feel like our arms are becoming light dumbbells for the purpose of reviewing technology.
The reason, though, that fitness gadgets are becoming hot property has to do with how much they can tell us, with connections from these gadgets to devices we rely on day to day.
Now that we’re all carrying around smartphones everywhere we go, our gadgets — which are now small enough to be worn without thinking about — can send information to these smartphones, helping us to track how we’re doing, not just on the computers at home.
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a few tries at this area from Jawbone and Fitbit, among others, and now in 2014, it seems like smartphone makers are giving the area a good solid thwack.
Sony’s take on this area is a little different to the others, though, because while other fitness bands are about staying healthy and monitoring your sleeping patterns, Sony’s Smartband does a little more, and it’s something you’ll pick up on quickly when you start to use the wristband.
Link up your compatible device with the Smartband by way of NFC and get starting, downloading Sony’s required Lifelog application, which will show more than just information on the amount of steps you’ve walked, calories lost, and hours slept, with other boxes suggesting you’re doing more things. And that’s true, because as an owner of a phone, you are, in fact, doing more activities.
They might include talk to friends, taking photos, listening to music, playing games, and surfing the web, because these are activities people do with their phones.
Interestingly, these are all included with the Smartband, because the app is monitoring what you’re doing, not just the steps you’re walking and the minutes you’re sleeping, taking all of this information and compiling it into a more comprehensive representation of your life.
For instance, whenever you spend time in Chrome, this time is being tracked and charted, added to a graph showing your online usage across the day, week, month, and year.
When you decide to play games, this information is logged, tracked, and charted to the same set of measurements, and if you decide to listen to music with Google Play or Pandora, this too is tracked.
Essentially, Sony’s Smartband is more than just a picture of your health, it’s a picture of your life, and a reasonably complete one, at that.
You might struggle to work out why anyone would want that, but the reason we come to is this: if a wearable can tell you how much of your day is procrastination compared to things that are relevant and useful, you can change your patterns and improve your life, finding time used for something like gaming or web surfing and choosing to use it for something else.
There is also a neat little animation showing what you’re doing through the course of a day in a way that is actually fun to look at.
Basically, it will show you walking, running, or sleeping throughout the day, as the weather changes — sun, clouds, and rain — with circles above your head at different times to highlight what you’ve been doing. If you played a lot of music, you’ll see a big music icon, and if you did a little social networking, a small icon for that.
You can even play this back as an animation, and see where you were on a map, adding to the fun of it all.
All of this helps to make the Sony Smartband an intriguing concept, and one we haven’t seen any fitness band maker get behind quite in the same way, but it does come with some interesting issues.
For starters, not every application is tracked.
You’ll notice this especially with new games or when things are running in the background. As an example, the new Android game “Hitman Go” was ignored by Sony’s Lifelog system, and playing music back through Google Play over Bluetooth earphones with the screen off didn’t register as music playback at all, beyond the initial loading of the playlist, that is.
Information can’t be easily shared, either, with no real connection to a social network.
You might feel you want to share your sleep with the world, or how many steps you completed yesterday, but for the moment, Sony appears to be forcing you to keep this to yourself, with no connections to either Twitter or Facebook.
That’s an interesting omission, too, as a membership to Sony’s Entertainment Network — the one used for the PlayStation systems and the Music Unlimited services — seems to be required for the Smartband, so it can obviously connect to a service, just that it doesn’t have the capability to work on anything more than Sony’s network just yet.
The Smartband’s reliance on a piece of software isn’t unusual either, but it’s release on only one platform is, with Google’s Android being the requirement at the present time.
At least it’s a better approach than Samsung’s “you must own a Samsung phone in order to use our fitness band” logic, as the required Lifelog application only requires Android and not a Sony Xperia phone, but it’s still surprising that Sony hasn’t developed a version for iOS, one of the most populat mobile operating systems around, next to Android, of course.
Past these issues, though, the Smartband is a pretty impressive little device, and it has a few other things going for it against other wearables.
One is that it does more than just track, and can even be used for smartphone notifications. There’s no screen on the device, so don’t expect caller ID to pop-up when you’re getting a call, but there is a haptic motor, so you will get vibrations.
As such, you can set the Smartband to buzz when you get phone calls, buzz when the phone is out of range of the Smartband (say you’ve left it somewhere), and buzz when an alarm is going off or when it should wake you up, with the latter able to be run based on your light sleeping patterns for different times on weekdays and weekends.
An automatic night mode is a possibility too, something we’ve been hoping for with other wearable fitness bands for when you accidentally forget to switch the band into its sleep mode. This last one doesn’t always get it right, mind you, and there’s a day missing in our test from when the auto mode didn’t seem to log anything.
The sleep charting also has a minor glitch in that if you switch into this mode and then still walk around or are awake, it logs this as light sleep, even while you’re awake.
Battery life for the Smartband isn’t bad, with around five days of life for the little gadget that is stored in the rubber band. Charging is simple too, with a microUSB port on the gadget and a battery metre on the app to tell you how much life is left.
The aesthetics of the band are also a little different from other bands, and seemed to attract the least amount of attention when we wore it. There’s no LCD screen at all, with only a couple of dots that light up on the side to tell you what mode you’re in.
Comfort is also great, and we found we could fit the Smartband to any wrist thanks to the band’s ability to tighten, though if you have smaller wrists, a smaller band is also included in the box.
You’ll even find a touch of water resistance here, with IP58 rating telling us that the Smartband is reasonably dust resistant, with a metre of water resistance in this device, too. That should be enough for washing your hands and splashing the Smartband, but we wouldn’t take it in the shower or on a swim.
Sony’s take on the wearable fitness tracker is a little different from everything else we’ve seen thus far, and actually a nice diversion, which some interesting possibilities.
We quite like the idea of finding out how much time we’re wasting away over the months, and look forward to seeing more ways of reinvesting that time into something else, perhaps even our fitness. And Sony’s charming animations help with this, showing most of what you do, and relating it in a way you can understand if you bother to look.
It’s not quite as interactive and suggestive a system as say Jawbone’s, and it won’t offer tips or extended goals to help you get better, but if you’re at all curious how you’re doing in general, not just when you’re moving or sleeping, the Smartband is totally worth checking out.
It’s a great first effort, it really is.