Sony SmartBand 2 review: A finger on the pulse
Choosing a fitness tracker in 2015 has to be one of the toughest tasks known to mankind. There are hundreds of products jostling for your attention, from smartphone apps to simple step trackers, right up to specialist devices for serious athletes. The Sony SmartBand 2 is hoping to attract your attention by including a heart-rate monitor.
Worn on the wrist like a watch, the SmartBand 2 treads a similar design path to the original Sony SmartBand. All the tracking hardware, including the optical heart-rate sensor, is contained within a tiny, curved module, which snaps into the rear of its soft, silicon-rubber wristband.
Design-wise, the Sony SmartBand 2 is attractively minimalist, and available in either white or black, with pink and indigo editions to follow later. Notably, Sony has improved upon the design of the latch with the SmartBand 2, introducing a latching metal buckle that secures the tracker very firmly to your wrist – essential if you plan on using it to track your runs as well as mundane daily physical activit. It’s very comfortable to wear.
There’s a single button on one side of the SmartBand 2, used to switch the device on and off, snooze alarms and perform various other tasks. This is accompanied by three multicoloured status LEDs, which indicate charge, connection and the mode the tracker is in.
That’s it for physical features, though. There’s no display for the time or for monitoring your steps and heart rate. The device is IP68-compliant, however, which means it’s properly waterproof and won’t need to be taken off while swimming or showering.
Using the Sony SmartBand 2
Sony doesn’t want you fiddling too much with your SmartBand 2 when you have it strapped to your wrist, that much is clear. Instead, this is very much a fit-and-forget tracker.
As you carry out your daily activities, the SmartBand 2 uses an accelerometer to track your steps, sleep and calorie burn, while the heart-rate monitor takes stock of your pulse at regular intervals – around six times per hour by default – and delivers its verdict on your stress levels. It does this by tracking your heart-rate variability (HRV): the steadier your heart rate is, the more stressed you are; the more variation in the time between beats, the more relaxed your state of being.
While you’re working out, you can put the SmartBand 2 into continuous measurement mode for increased accuracy with a double-press on the device’s button (Sony calls this its heart activity mode). Most of the time, though, it can be left to its own devices. You don’t need to tell it you’re running or walking or sleeping; it should be able to tell the difference and log it automatically.
I say should, because this is one of the SmartBand 2’s weaknesses: it regularly made rudimentary mistakes about the type of activity I was doing. It thought I was asleep when I was sitting on the sofa watching TV, and on more than one occasion logged me “running” when I was doing nothing of the sort.
Perhaps this is why the SmartBand 2 tracks only a very limited selection of activities. There’s no cycling, swimming or gym workout mode; all you get is walking, running, stress and sleep analysis.
On the plus side, the tracking of all those parameters seemed accurate enough while I was testing the band, and there’s a handful of bonus features here, too. The first is a smart alarm that monitors your sleep patterns, only waking you when you’re sleeping lightly so that you don’t wake up groggy and disorientated.
There’s also rudimentary music control. Press the button and you can tap to pause, play, and skip tracks on your phone. And the SmartBand 2 can be set to buzz when you receive phone calls, texts and other notifications.
Battery life is reasonable, charging via micro-USB in around an hour, and lasting roughly two days per charge with the heart-rate monitor enabled. Usefully, the SmartBand 2 also has a Stamina mode, which switches off the heart-rate monitor to help you eke out a little more life from the battery.
As with most fitness trackers, all the data, analysis and settings are accessed through the Sony SmartBand 2’s accompanying smartphone app, and it’s good to see that there’s support for both iPhone (with iOS 8.2 or later) and Android handsets (with 4.4 or later).
On both platforms, the SmartBand 2 app is required for connection and to view current stats, such as live heart rate, today’s steps, sleep and running time, with another app taking over for historic data. On Android, the Sony Lifelog app fulfils that duty; on an iPhone you use Apple Health. Android users who prefer to use Google Fit can flip a switch to have tracking data automatically transferred there, too.
Setup is as straightforward as it gets, with connection taking place almost instantaneously. There’s onboard near-field communication (NFC) to help Android users get connected quicker by touching phone and wristband together. And the apps are fairly easy to use, too, although I prefer the Android software over the iOS app. There’s more information available to help you interpret your results, and the Sony Lifelog app presents your fitness data in a much more detailed and helpful way than Apple Health.
One example of this is the way sleep data is presented. Typically, a good night’s sleep will involve several periods of deep sleep followed by periods of light sleep. Without plugging in a third-party app into Apple Health and pulling out the data, there’s no way to get a view of this quickly on an iPhone. I’m also not a fan of the way Apple Health displays historical data: it’s over-simplistic for my liking.
Whichever model of phone you’re using, however, there appears to be little point to the heart activity mode. This monitors your pulse more frequently than when the SmartBand 2 is in background tracking mode, but there’s no way you can view these activities in detail in the software, which is disappointing.
Despite its shortcomings, the Sony SmartBand 2 is decent fitness tracker. It’s good value for a fitness tracker with a heart-rate monitor included, and it delivers more useful heart-rate data than the Jawbone UP3, which tracks your pulse only while you’re sleeping.
Even so, I’d expect more accurate activity tracking in a £100 fitness band, and a greater variety of activities to track as well. As such, it’s probably worth investigating the alternatives before opting for the Sony SmartBand 2. The Fitbit Charge HR is one option, including a heart-rate sensor and OLED display, plus a richer set of activity-tracking options, for around the same price.