Sony SmartWatch 3 full review

Apple Watch vs Sony Smartwatch 3

Apple Watch vs Sony Smartwatch 3 stainless steel version: what they are, why we are comparing them

At its press conference for CES 2015, Sony announced a new stainless steel version of its SmartWatch 3 wearable. It's a full-spec Android Wear smartwatch, offering various smart features on the wrists of smartphone users.

Unlike the Apple Watch, Sony's SmartWatch 3 wearable actually exists. But Apple's Watch will be a customisable smartwatch designed to work only with recent iPhones that is also a comprehensive health- and fitness device. So on the one hand we have a high-spec smartwatch limited to use with Apple smartphones, and the other an Android Wear smartwatch that should pair with all smartphones.

We know a lot about the Sony Smartwatch 3, and next to nothing about the Apple Watch. So bear that in mind as we take a look at these two devices.

Apple Watch vs Sony Smartwatch 3 stainless steel version: UK price, value

Inevitably we are going to have to speculate here, but although the details on pricing may not all be known, we can make some solid assumptions that show where both of these wearables fit into the market.

Sony hasn't confirmed whether the stainless steel version of the Sony Smartwatch 3 will cost more than the regular model, but we assume that it will. The regular model costs £189.

The Apple Watch will start at $349 in the US, and we are awaiting UK price confirmation. We can extrapolate the UK price in much the same way. Indeed, typically US Apple prices transfer to the UK with a simple replacement of the $ sign with a £ sign. So we expect the Apple Watch to cost around £349 inc VAT. There are some complications here, however. Apple says the Apple Watch will be available in multiple SKUs. It may also bundle in the Apple Watch with smartphones to offset the cost. And because the Apple Watch will be an add-on to recent iPhones, it is possible it will be subsidised or given away with iPhone contract sales.

So expect the Apple watch to cost more than Sony's. Same as it ever was. (See also: Microsoft Band vs Apple Watch comparison.)

Apple Watch vs Sony Smartwatch 3 stainless steel version: UK release date

It's now reported that the Apple Watch won't be available anywhere until the spring of 2015. And we can be pretty certain that it will launch in the US first - although it is possible it may be a global launch. The Smartwatch 3 stainless steel version will launch globally in February 2015. So if you are in a hurry to get your smartwatch, that is the one to wait for. (Also see: Apple Watch UK release date rumours, price, specs.)

Apple Watch vs Sony Smartwatch 3 stainless steel version: design

We haven't had any hands-on time with the Apple Watch. No-one has! But we do know what Apple has told us. Expect a range of watch faces and six interchangeable straps. The Apple Watch is expected to be available in only two sizes: 38- and 42mm. Tough look for those with 49mm wrists.

There are also three distinct collections: the Apple Watch collection has a polished silver or black case made from a custom alloy of stainless steel; the Apple Watch Sport collection has an anodised aluminium case in silver or space grey, with strengthened Ion-X glass and colourful, durable straps; and the AppleWatch Edition is made from 18-carat yellow or rose gold, which is twice as hard as standard gold, and has sapphire crystal glass, and equisitely crafted straps and closures.

"Our approach to smart, wearable technology is based on the fundamentals of building depth and variety in user experiences, and providing choice with beautiful, functional products," said Sony's Kaz Tajima, launching the stainless steel Smartwatch 3 at CES. That's nice. But what does it look like? Pretty good. That stainless steel finish is both premium-looking, and contemporary.

Apple Watch vs Sony Smartwatch 3

And that is good, but although the square Sony Smartwatch 3 may not be quite as stylish as some circular smartwatches, it does have a certain charm. And changing out the rubber for steel makes the 1.6in square colour screen look much more stylish. The only button is to the right, but you'll rarely need it as the display lights up when you raise your arm or tap on the screen. It's simple to pop out the display unit and swap straps, too. It's easy to adjust the strap for size without cutting

Instead of wireless charging, Sony has opted for a standard microUSB port. That's great news in some ways as you can charge it practically anywhere; there's a good chance that any given office or home will have a microUSB cable and charger. The USB port is covered by a captive rubber bung - the watch has an IP68 rating, so it's dust and water resistant. We wouldn't advise swimming with it, but you'll be ok in the shower or going for a run in the rain.

Without seeing the Apple Watch it is impossible to judge a winner here. Suffice to say that both of these devices will look and feel premium.

Apple Watch vs Sony Smartwatch 3 stainless steel version: features

Apple's Watch is a customisable smartwatch designed to work with the iPhone 6 that is also a comprehensive health- and fitness device. It's accurate to +/-50ms no matter where in the world you are, and allows you to connect and communicate directly from your wrist. A Digital Crown enables you to interact with the watch without obstructing the screen, and also operates as the home button. Siri is also supported, allowing for smart messages and dictation.

A flexible retina display is a single crystal of sapphire. Force Touch, tiny electrodes around the display, recognise the difference between a tap and a press, allowing for different gestures to be made. A linear actuator provides haptic feedback. This is the Apple Watch's so-called Taptic Engine: more than just helpfully vibrating when you receive a new notification, it can do such things as provide slightly different vibrations for left- and right turns within the Maps app.

On the back a ceramic cover with sapphire lenses protects four sensors that make up the heart-rate monitor, which allows the Apple Watch to build up a comprehensive picture of your daily activities. The Apple Watch also has an accelerometer to measure body movement, and it uses the Wi-Fi and GPS in your iPhone to track distance. There's a speaker, too, which is water-resistant.

A Glances feature lets you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see whatever information you choose to have there. This is quick, at-a-glance summaries of such things as the weather forecast, your location or your calendar.

The Apple Watch lets you control music on your iPhone or computer, or music stored on the Watch itself. Any photos you favourite on your iPhone or Mac will also show up on your Apple Watch.

You can choose what types of notifications you receive on the Apple Watch, then simply raise your wrist to see the notification.

Let's flip over to the SmartWatch 3. Storage remains the same as the Sony SmartWatch 2 and rival Android Wear devices at 4GB eMMC flash memory. This can be used to store music which can be played without a companion smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth.

The SmartWatch 3 does have one ace, though: built-in GPS. With an on-board receiver, there's no need to take your smartphone with you on a run, hike or bike ride. The GPS can record your route and feed the data back to the Sony Lifelog app.

There's also NFC, a gyro, compass, accelerometer and Bluetooth. The latter isn't merely useful for connection to a smartphone for Android notifications: you can pair the SmartWatch 3 with some headphones and listen to music stored on the watch (there's 2.6GB of usable storage) when you're exercising.

What it doesn't have is a heart-rate monitor, although that doesn't mean the G Watch R is the best choice for fitness enthusiasts. The LG has a heart-rate sensor, which takes on-demand readings rather than monitoring heart rate over time. If you need that, consider one of the new Fitbit trackers: the Charge HR or Surge.

Also, unlike those activity trackers and Sony's own SmartBand Talk, the SmartWatch 3 has no barometer to detect floors climbed and neither does it track your sleep.

You can install apps on Android Wear, though, which add functions and features which could be even more useful. Right now the selection is rather thin on the ground, but it's sure to improve over time.

A recent update to Android Wear 5.0 has fixed some of the issues with this fledgling operating system, but it's still a work in progress. First-time users are likely to be surprised and frustrated by how much still needs to be done on the paired smartphone: you can preview messages but not reply, and ask for directions but be forced to use the phone to see a map, for example.

You can use Ok Google for many things, such as web searches, sending texts and emails, setting timers and alarms and more. It's all a bit fiddly to set up and learn the specific commands, but once done it does work quite well.

These are both full featured smart, mobile devices. (See also: Apple Watch vs Motorola Moto 360 comparison.)

Apple Watch vs Sony Smartwatch 3 stainless steel version: specs and battery life

We know less about the Apple Watch. There are four sensors on the back, these include a heart rate and a gyroscope that can be used to track activity. A custom-designed S1 chip powers the Apple Watch. And that's about all we know. We'll keep you posted!  

Apple made no mention of battery life during the Apple Watch announcement. But speaking to Re/code, Apple spokeswoman Nat Kerris confirm that users should get used to a nightly charge.

"We anticipate that people will charge nightly which is why we designed an innovative charging solution that combines our MagSafe technology and inductive charging," Kerris said. This is a pretty liberal use of the word 'innovative', as multiple Android Wear smartwatches engage this system. But we commend the nightstand charger approach as it should disrupt the average watch-wearer's experience.

Apple Watch vs Sony Smartwatch 3

The Sony SmartWatch 3 has a 1.6in LCD Transflective screen, IP68 rating, GPS and a microUSB port. We found the 420mAh battery lasted exactly two days, which is slightly disappointing given then unusual screen technology. Instead of AMOLED or IPS, Sony has gone for transflective which means the display is still readable - given sufficient ambient light - without the backlight. It's the same technology used in many outdoor GPS devices.

You can choose whether or not to keep the screen on all the time. If you turn it off, you'll have to wake it up just to check the time, but if you leave it on permanently, you can merely glance at your wrist without having to tap or lift your arm.

Sony has also included an ambient light sensor so brightness can be adjusted automatically, but it doesn't appear to yield any extra battery life.

The 320x320 display has a few more pixels than the circular watches we've seen but there's no real difference in the amount of information shown. The disadvantage of using a transflective display is that while colours look ok square-on, viewing angles are terrible by today's standards.

If battery life were more like 4-5 days we'd forgive this, but LG's G Watch R also lasts two days between charges. Recharge time is roughly an hour.

Apple Watch vs Sony Smartwatch 3 stainless steel version: verdict

Of course it is too early to draw any serious conclusion about the relative strengths of Apple's and  Sony's high-end smartwatches. Suffice to say that right now Sony wins by dint of existing. In a few weeks you will be able to buy the Smartwatch 3, and use it with your existing smartphone. The Apple Watch will likely cost more, and we know little else about it. But Apple has a good history of heading late to a market and coming up with the goods. So if you can afford to wait, it may be worthwhile - even if it is just to see what Apple does and then shop elsewhere. Remember, however, that the Apple Watch will work only with recent Apple iPhones.


Sony SmartWatch 3: Specs

  • Android Wear OS
  • 1.6in Transflective LCD touchscreen display 320x320 pixels
  • 4GB internal storage (approx 2.6GB available)
  • 512 MB RAM
  • Quad-core ARM V7 1.2GHz processor
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • microphone
  • gyro, accelerometer, compass, ambient light sensor
  • GPS receiver
  • NFC
  • 420mAh battery
  • microUSB charging
  • IP68 dust and water resistant
  • Core unit 45g

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