Review: Sony SmartBand Talk

Not everyone needs a smartwatch, and if you want the time, maybe some phone calls, but don’t like the look or feel of a watch, there’s always a smart band. Sony is updating its take on that category with the SmartBand Talk, a model that brings a touchscreen e-ink display and a battery life that’ll keep you going.

Features and performance

People who want to shed a few kilograms or go the full hog and lose a ton of weight have a good assortment of gadgets to help them accomplish this, and the past few years have been instrumental in bringing more of these out. So many of these come from smaller players, the Jawbone and Fitbit and Misfit of the world, but the big guys are here too, and Sony is one of them.

The brand you probably know for Bravia, the Walkman, and even the PlayStation started combining fitness and wireless tech last year with its first SmartBand, and it’s now ready again with a slightly different take from that first model the company showcased.

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It’s worth noting, however, that this new one — the SWR30 — is a little different from the model Sony first showed us, the SWR10, which was basically a small plastic brick that could jump from silicone band to silicone band and would track steps, vibrate wildly when you had a notification, and show your life on an animated daily walk from dawn to dusk.

This time, Sony has taken the same concept but brought a screen to the package, flattening the entire thing and reviving the electronic ink division of its consumer electronics division that used to make eBook readers.

You get two buttons on the side — a volume rocker up top and a menu button to let you jump between the few menus that exist, technically features, with a degree of touch applied to the screen for all other aspects.

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A degree of water resistance has also been applied, with IP68 protection present, meaning it should survive an encounter with freshwater up to 1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes, with the rest of it being dust proof provided you keep that the one port it has for charging sealed.

And the strap is even removable, thanks to two plastic clips that can be pulled up, detaching each side of the band from the black curved plastic brick that is the SmartBand Talk’s main section, with the screen, the sensors (accelerometer, altimeter), a microphone, and the Bluetooth connection to talk to your phone.

But that’s pretty much all there is to the unit, with the 1.4 inch electronic ink display and the two buttons essentially being the SmartBand Talk.

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And Sony has nailed a few things with this particular product, an activity bracelet that again shows us what our daily activities look like by, again, animating our progress through the course of a day to night. It’s not iron clad or perfect, and just like before, it’s an experience only Android users get to partake in, with no application support extended to either iOS (Apple) or Windows Phone.

Sorry people interested on it on those platforms, but this is an Android only affair.

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The screen is also reasonably viewable in direct sunlight, something we’ve experienced in the past with other e-ink devices, but it holds true on this product, too. Even with a glossy piece of plastic on top, the SmartBand Talk is clear under the sun, and readable in other places too, making it usable without a phone.

You’ll still need one to get the most use, however, since it doesn’t just take down your activities, and can bookmark life events and call a few specific contacts. But it does need a phone, and an Android one at that.

If that’s you, however, you’ll find the Sony SmartBand Talk is very lightweight, comfortable to wear, and easy put in, simply needing to do up a two button clasp. We’ve worn wrist bands that required more effort, even in the past year, and this is essentially effortless.

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So too is charging, with Sony keeping the standard microUSB charge port in this gadget, hidden by a small silicone flap that can be pried away with a fingernail. Charging doesn’t take long — barely an hour or two — with a battery life better than other bands out there with a screen that we’ve seen.

Overall, we found battery life stretched from three to four days, and that was with notifications coming through the band, not just the tracking of activities. That’s only a day or so under what the screen-less option can do, so it’s nice to see that the battery has remained a strong part of the design in this next iteration of the Sony SmartBand.

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Notifications are reasonably clear, and you’ll find this band will read back your notifications in small amounts, which is handy for short text messages, and acceptable for small emails, though it’s more or less a preview situation, showing off what’s in your inbox and waiting for you on the phone.

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