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Sony SmartWatch 3 reviewAndroid Wear gains standalone GPS in a watch that mostly favors function over form, but in a good way

by Phil Nickinson

November 25, 2014

When it comes to smartwatches, you can sort of break things down into three camps. There's the rubber strap crowd — functional, but not all that stylish. There's leather, which classes things up a good bit but doesn't necessarily work on every watch. And then there's those who prefer a steel bracelet.

I've very much found myself in that latter group. Living in a humid climate, leather just tends to stick to my arm more than I prefer. And rubber is fine, but I wanted something looks a little better.

Sony SmartWatch 3

So I was a little surprised by how much I've enjoyed wearing the Sony SmartWatch 3.

As the name implies, it's the third smartwatch from Sony, and its first to run Android Wear. And it actually marks the start of what we'd consider to be Version 1.5 of the Android wear era.

And this, now, is our Sony SmartWatch 3 review.

About this review

We're reviewing the Sony SmartWatch 3 as purchased directly from Verizon and after a good 10 days of exclusive use, followed more days of occasional use for further testing. It's also become my go-to watch for jogging.

The watch is running Android 4.4W.2 (Build KNX01V), and we've used it connected to a Nexus 6, 2014 Moto X and LG G3.

Sony SmartWatch 3 video walkthrough

Sony SmartWatch 3 hardware

Breaking free (but not completely) from the smartphone tether

Charging the SmartWatch 3

Be careful what you wish for

Charging a smartwatch has not proven to be an easy feat. It's truly come down to which implementation is the least clunky. And while the SmartWatch 3 has managed to forgo a charging dock — or even a proprietary connector, for that matter — it turns out that plugging in a standard microUSB plug is still a pain.

Sony SmartWatch 3 charging

You'll charge the SmartWatch 3 directly from behind. The port is covered by a rubber flap that seats in exactly how you'd expect an IP68-rated water-resistant device to do it. You'll need a fingernail to open things up, which is easy enough. But as anyone who's ever used a microUSB plug knows, you've got a 50 percent chance at trying to plug in the wrong way the first time — and that number increases since the port tends to be obscured by the watch's rubber strap.

It's certainly doable, but it's not as easy as laying the watch onto LG's or Motorola's charging docks.

The good news is that the SmartWatch 3 should be able to get you through at least a day's use. I generally change my watches at night but purposefully haven't done so a few times now. I managed to go a full day, and then right up until lunch the next day before being yelled at for power. So while we'd still recommend charging every night, you shouldn't be left for dead should you forget to do so.

One other note, or two, or three …

Absent from the SmartWatch 3 is a companion app that adds options for the watch, such as customizing the watch faces. Motorola has that with Moto Connect, and ASUS does as well with its ZenWatch Manager app. (Both of which you're prompted to install once you've got your watch paired up with the Android Wear app.)

GPS tracking on the Sony SmartWatch 3

And Sony's watch faces could use a little love. They're functional, but they lack the "wow" factor that Motorola, LG and to a lesser extent ASUS have managed to bring.

We haven’t mentioned the on-board Wifi or NFC capability until now because Android Wear doesn’t yet support either. So at this point they’re nothing but words on a spec sheet.

The bottom line

It's a good first (or third?) effort, and a decent active Android Wear device

As with any Android Wear device at this point — and this point is a mere 5 months into Android wearables — you have to take stock of whether you need this watch, or whether you just really want it. That the SmartWatch 3 has built-in GPS is a nice addition. But if you don't plan on wearing it while running or walking or golfing — or have some other application that needs phoneless location tracking — your $250 is better spent on another watch at this point. If you are a regular runner or gym rat, however, it's definitely worth a look.

You have to take stock of whether you need this watch, or whether you just really want it.

Will that change as more applications update to take advantage of GPS on Android Wear? Maybe. But chances are we'll have new watches with GPS sooner rather than later.

For now, you've got to really want the Sony SmartWatch 3 to get away with spending the money on it.

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