Sony SmartBand Talk review

Price when reviewed

The Sony SmartBand Talk SWR30 and I have just been for a run. Not for the first time: like a couple in the first flush of love, we’ve barely been parted these past six weeks. We jog together, walk together, swim together, heck, we even sleep together (in the sense that it tracks how long I sleep for, naturally). See also: The best smartwatches of 2015

Sony SmartBand Talk review

But there’s far more to the Sony SmartBand Talk than mere fitness accessory: it’s really a smartwatch in disguise. Pair it with your Android phone of choice and the Sony SmartBand Talk can accept calls, display text messages and give notifications about meetings. You can even make a call to your favourite number with a tap on the display, which will either impress those around you or make them roll their eyes in despair.

Sony SmartBand Talk - three-quarter view from the front

Sony SmartBand Talk review: call quality and notifications

Sound quality is surprisingly respectable considering the size of the band, but there’s a certain amount of lag between you talking and the person on the other end hearing your words. While I wouldn’t want to dismiss the Talk within this SmartBand’s name as a gimmick, you definitely won’t be making long calls on it.

You can also add apps to the device, with a decent number already available. Weather forecasts, media-playback control, a world clock, find your phone (tap the icon and your paired phone will start ringing), the ability to make quick voice notes – the list goes on.

If you so wish, the SmartBand will also vibrate when you get a new email, a text or if an appointment is coming up. The default settings will quickly drive you insane, but it’s easy to switch off apps that you don’t want to flash up. You can also set a “do not disturb” time, which is an excellent idea.

That way, when the vibrating “silent alarm” wakes you up in the morning, you’ll know that it is actually time to unleash yourself from bed instead of some distant friend mentioning you on Facebook.

If you meet your target sleep time – say, seven hours – you’ll also be rewarded with a virtual rosette on the front of the display. Thankfully, you don’t need to tell it you’re about to nod off: it detects when your movement patterns match sleep, and it’s pretty accurate so far as it’s possible to judge, without forcing my partner to stay awake during the night monitoring my movements.

Sony SmartBand Talk - on its side from front

Sony SmartBand Talk review: pedometer and fitness functions

I’m less impressed by the reliability of the running tracker. It’s supposed to be able to tell when you set off at a run, rather than your normal, sedate amble, but the SWR30 fails abysmally on its own. On average, it only tracked around two-thirds of the time – so on a 45-minute run it would indicate I’d been running for only 30 minutes. To be fair, it did usually correct this when it next synchronised with my phone, but it’s odd that it needs to.

The SmartBand Talk also tracks how long you walk for, a handy feature if you want to set yourself a goal of being on your feet for a certain amount of time per day. At this it’s far more accurate.

When it comes to the pedometer, however, be warned that a sensor hanging from your wrist can be easily misled. For instance, during a half-hour conversation where I may have got a little carried away with arm movements to demonstrate my point, the SWR30 added more than 200 steps to my daily total. I’d been sitting down the whole time.

This is why you should treat any information presented by the SWR30 as a rough guide, not a definitive report. And to an extent there’s nothing wrong with that. Does it really matter that you’ve done 7,600 steps and not 7,800? Hopefully accuracy will improve as updates continue to arrive – Sony has added the sleep monitoring since its initial release, for instance – and I’m also intrigued to see how Sony will take advantage of the built-in altimeter, which at the moment appears to have no use.

Sony SmartBand Talk review: it tells the time, too

Naturally, the SmartBand Talk also serves as a watch, and the big advantage it holds over Android Wear devices, such as Sony’s SmartWatch 3, is that it’s so slim and light. I’m one of the many people who stopped wearing a watch years ago in favour of a smartphone, and I’ve found it surprisingly pleasant to be able to glance at my wrist when I want to find out the time.

Sony SmartBand Talk - weather app

I particularly appreciate the fact the E Ink display is on all the time, unlike all those smartwatches that rely on backlit displays, and it’s curved, too, so it wraps around your wrist. Other than that, it has all the E Ink properties you’d expect: low power draw because it only changes pixels when it really must (such as ticking over from one minute to another) and it’s easy to read even in bright sunlight.

The drawback is that you can’t read it at all in the dark; there’s no screen illumination at all. And it’s true that there’s some ghosting as it switches from one screen to another, but I never found that annoying.

Much to my surprise, I didn’t find the need to recharge the band every three days annoying either. This is partially because Sony avoids proprietary chargers in favour of a micro-USB port, and partially because it reaches 100% capacity so quickly. Expect to wait around 40 minutes per top-up.

Sony SmartBand Talk review: software

In fact, the only real annoyance with this device is its reliance on Sony’s often-clumsy software. The initial pairing is fine: tap the front of the screen against the back of an NFC-equipped Android phone and their radios will do the rest. Pairing doesn’t always work first time, but it’s better than going through the hassle of Bluetooth pairing.

From here, you need to download the SWR30 app from Google Play and, if you aren’t using an Xperia phone, Sony’s Lifelog software. Which, let’s politely say, has its quirks. Unlike the neatly laid out Health app on iOS, Lifelog is a sprawling mess of information that leaves you wondering where to look first.

Sony SmartBand Talk - on its side

This is partially because Sony is being much more ambitious than Apple, truly trying to log your life right down to how long you spend on your bike, listening to music, playing games, travelling by car or train, but you end up wondering why it matters.

In the end, I cut down the number of tracked items (do I really need to know how long I was on the phone for each day?) so they fitted onto one page. It still lacks the elegance of Apple’s software, but it’s less confusing.

Oh, and one last thing: if you have problems getting your SmartBand to transfer data to your phone (note that it only works with Android devices) then make sure you have GPS switched on, and a decent connection to the internet.

Sony SmartBand Talk review: verdict

This isn’t a perfect product. It really should be more accurate, while its reliance on Sony’s idiosyncratic software is a definite weak spot – as is the fact it only works with Android phones. But the fact it’s barely left my wrist for the past six weeks is testament to how much I’ve enjoyed using it.

It isn’t cheap, but it’s so much better than the dumb fitness bands that have come before that it comes with a clear recommendation.

Sony Smartband Talk specifications

Heart-rate monitorNo
WaterproofYes (IP68 rated)
Other featuresNone
Display size1.4in
Resolution296 x 128
Display technologyE Ink
OS supportRequires Android 4.4 and Sony SmartBand Talk app
WirelessBluetooth 3
Battery size70mAh
Battery life3 days
Buying information
Price including VAT£118
Warranty1yr RTB

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