A week ago today, I picked up a Sony Smartwatch from the post office. It took me about 30 minutes to run my first bit of custom software on it, and the day after I got it, I published a guide to using it with Tasker. I’ve been using it every day, all day since then, and it has started to become fully integrated into my digital lifestyle.
The first thing I want to comment on is the battery life. Being an LCD-equipped device, the Sony Smartwatch’s biggest disadvantage compared to the Pebble or MetaWatch is the 1-2 day battery life. I thought this would become a problem, but honestly, it isn’t. Because of the way the device itself clips onto the watch strap, it’s very easy to take off in a second without taking off the entire strap, and it literally clips onto the charging cable as well. That means that the only real downside of charging it is that you have to be without it on your wrist for that period (at least that’s recommended), and the actual task of clipping it onto and of of the charger is literally something that will add 10 seconds to your day- combined. It also charges rather fast, so that you will be able to fit the charge cycle into times you don’t need it. Over night is an obvious solution, but just letting it charge from I get up to I leave out the door as proven to work well too.
Obviously it would be nice to have it last for a week, but the smartwatches that actually have that sort of battery life are useless for what I do with the Sony Smartwatch, as they lack a touchscreen. From what I’ve been able to gather about the Pebble and MetaWatch’s Tasker compatibility, they basically only have information display capabilities. That’s neat, but the true power of a Smartwatch- in my opinion- comes from two-way communication.
Don’t get me wrong, I very quickly got accustomed to having my wrist vibrate when an email comes in, and I’ve tied it in with both standard services like IM, as well as my own systems. My watch now displays notifications for things like todo list alerts, profile switching, and other acknowledgements of something happening. Furthermore, having your wrist vibrate for a bit if in my opinion much less attention demanding than a permanent notification on your phone, so I have added notifications for things I wouldn’t normally have notifications for, because a quick “FYI” on the watch is much more useful than finding 23874 new notifications when I check the phone.
However, I still think that proper watch >phone communication is at least as important. Using AppWidgetDisplay and UCCW, I’ve created a few different smartwatch widgets for remote controlling Tasker profiles, and through that, everything from my home automation system, to my PC, and of course my phone. It’s very useful to be able to be able to just tap an icon on your watch to turn on the ceiling lights in the middle of the night, even if I could already do that from my phone. I’ve also set it up so I can override automatic profiles from my watch, activate kitchen timers, see dynamic information pushed from Tasker, activate WiFi sharing on my phone, and so on.
Of course this thing isn’t without its flaws, otherwise it would have been much more popular than it is. The touch screen isn’t all that responsive, meaning that it often thinks you’re tapping somewhere you’re not. Furthermore, because of the LCD screen, you need to activate the screen each time you want to check the time, and that’s not always so easy. In theory, there are three ways of activating it: shaking it, double tapping it, and clicking the button on the side. Unfortunately, the former two of those options work more or less randomly. Sometimes, just looking at it is enough to trigger the shake-to-activate feature, while other times you can glue it to the end of a jackhammer and get no results. Similarly, double tapping sometimes works great, while other times you can use the thing as a drum kit with nothing happening.
The Sony Smartwatch also lacks the outdoor visibility of the Pebble and MetaWatch, which is sometimes a bit annoying. I think outdoor visibility would be the only thing that could make me switch away from a color screen, as battery life is frankly not that important when it’s so easy to clip off, charge, and clip back on again. I’ve always been more for using a device however I like and charge it when needed, rather than saving power any way I can.
Speaking of battery life, some people have asked me how having a always-connected Bluetooth device affects phone battery life. I haven’t used this for long enough to truly give an answer to that, but just judging from my impressions so far: if it does affect battery life, I rather think it makes the phone lasts longer. Now you’re probably wondering how on Earth that is possible, but hear me out: A smartwatch is all about being able to do what you normally do on your phone, from your wrist. With a watch capable of two-way communication, that doesn’t just mean that you’re not checking notifications on your phone all the time, but also that you’re not constantly running around apps, pressing buttons.
The power you save from that goes a long way to compensate for the power spent keeping the watch connected, or at least it has for me; I just came home from a full day of teaching, and my phone is at 70%, compared to 50% normally. From checking my school-specific todo list, to checking incoming email during the day, to jusy checking time (since I used to use my phone for that), I just have less I actually need to activate the phone for with the watch.
In general though, I don’t see myself ever being without a smartwatch again. Then again, I only say that because I now have a watch with two-way communication, and I maintain my skepticism about the value of a watch that costs twice as much and barely does half of what this does. It that makes me wonder what the rest of 2013 will look like, smartwatch-wise. Even if Apple, Samsung, and a million other companies release smartwatches, there’s an above average chance that come 2014, the watch I’m wearing right now will still have more features than anything newer and “better” on the market. More than any other category of gadgets, I think that smartwatches will end up being victims of “average consumer mentality”, where things like Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail notifications are going to be the only focus, and customization like I have on my watch just won’t be a priority. After all, the only reason why I can do what I do with the Sony Smartwatch is an abandoned Japenese app on Google Play, and that really shows you just how small the difference between useful tool and wrist mounted toy can be.