There has been a definite drive toward tech wearables of late. Sony has had dealings in this market for some time now, all the way back to April 2012 (long before Samsung’s first Galaxy Gear) when the company first released the SmartWatch, version 1.0. While wearables has existed even before this, many of these were developed by relatively unknown manufacturers at the time. Wearables in the form of fitness bands have since piqued the interest of the tech world, even more so than smartwatches. As with many companies, Sony aren’t shy to ride the wave of trending market activities, and have released a fitness band of their own, the SmartBand. Unlike the Samsung Gear Fit, the SmartBand is principally a fitness band, tracking user activity by means of statistics from the unit itself, as well as from that obtained from the paired smartphone. So how does the Sony SmartBand fare as a lifetracker, and against the growing amount of fitness trackers available today, most specifically the Gear Fit?
Build and Design
Sony’s SmartBand is partitioned into two sections, the tracking unit (or ‘Core’), which is fitted into a rubberised strap. Starting with the strap, it’s more than just a method of strapping the Core to the user’s wrist. Although it doesn’t quite scream “premium”, its bright, multi-colour offerings serve to provide some style in wearing the unit on a daily basis. For the more resigned user, a plain, matte black strap won’t draw any attention to your new accessory, which I observed while wearing it for more than two weeks. If you’re searching for something a lot more stylish, there are quite few alternatives in the Nike Fuelband SE, or Jawbone. The rubberised strap has a grooved finish, which picks up quite a lot of dust and dirt. Thankfully, just as easily as the dirt collects, it can be cleaned by rinsing under water. With its IP58 rating, the SmartBand can be submersed in water without needing to remove the ‘Core’. Thus, the strap can be cleaned with a simple wipe while showering. The straps simplistic look is broken by the silver clip bearing the Sony logo.
The ‘Core’ fits into the strap from below, hiding it from view upon your wrist. The only noticeable aspect of the ‘Core’ are the three small, LED lights next to the single button, which can be seen flashing when making selections or receiving notifications. The unit, if taken out of the strap, is essentially a small, white, curved pod. Curved to fit snug on your wrist. The only two remaining facets on the unit is the microUSB port for charging, as well as the Sony logo, engraved across the bottom. The combined weight of the ‘Core’ and strap totals 21g, which is lightweight enough to occasionally forget it’s attached to your wrist. This is a useful characteristic, as there is no irritation when worn during sports and lying in bed at night.
Performance and Software
Connecting your smartphone to the SmartBand is as simple as a “bump,” using NFC to pair the devices. Another feature built-in to the unit is the accelerometer, the main data collection method for tracking movement. Additional, and more accurate collection methods is its combination of GPS location via the smartphone. The ‘Core’ acts like a simple transponder, providing notifications to the user in the form of a slight vibration on the wrist, prompting them to seek out their smartphone to check. The single button has one main function, switching between Day and Night modes, each of which have a pre-set list of settings assigned to it. The smartphone plays an important role in using the SmartBand, as it has no screen of its own, and every detail and information can only be viewed via the Sony’s Smart Connect and Lifelog applications.
Apart from being NFC-enabled, the top of the ‘Core’ also provides other touch event, dependent of the app of your choosing: music or camera. Using the music app as the linked feature, means that users are able to tap the SmartBand to Play/Pause your music. A double tap will skip tracks, and three taps will go back to the previous track. Switching to the camera app, a single tap will take a photo, which is especially useful for self or family portraits. A double tap here will activate and stop the video recording feature of the camera.
The SmartBand cannot run on its own, or with only one of the abovementioned apps. The Smart Connect app does what it says, connects the SmartBand to your smartphone, by means of NFC, as previously stated. The Smart Connect app is capable of linking more than one device to your smartphone at any point, be it the SmartBand, charger, or headset.
The single most important function in both the hardware and software is the Lifelog app. While the Smart Connect app is able make changes to the SmartBand such as setting the Night Mode, receiving notifications, Smart Wake Up, and other alerts, it’s the Lifelog app that provides statistics on everything recorded by the unit. The app tracks 12 “separate” activities, which include steps, walking time, running time, hours slept, calories burned, photos taken, and time spent on social media, browsing the internet, playing games, reading books, listening to music, and watching movies. In addition to tracking these occurrences, the app has an option to create bookmarks (or “Life Bookmarks”), which, when triggered, record a snapshot what it is the user is doing at that time, when and where. The bookmarks become important after many weeks of continuous tracking.
The Lifelog app provides a view of your daily activities in the form of balloons/bubbles along a timeline. The timeline’s background changes colour depending on the time of day, as well as indicates the weather at that time by means of integration with AccuWeather. Scrolling through the timeline changes the icon (of your gender) of the current activity at that time. Below this timeline view, users can view each of the 12 categories individually, also displayed by means of a timeline. In essence, what the app provides is a summation of your entire life, or at least that able to be tracked.
The first, and most important, limitation is the OS requirement. Although there is no device restriction, the Smart Connect app requires Android OS v4.4 or higher to connect to the SmartBand, already reducing the market impact by more than 50%.
Another limitation is the accuracy of the data recording, which seems more guess work than actual data. For example, when tracking steps, the data is collected by means of an accelerometer, which, at times, also pick up simple hand gestures while sitting as walking. And while walking, there are often moments recorded as jogging. This happens daily, and is easily observed by means of the Lifelog apps, which records when these activities took place. Inaccuracy also trickles down to other applications on your smartphone, recording some actions as playing games simply because the app isn’t listed among any of the other categories.
While tracking your sleep is one of the more accurate features on the SmartBand, it also tends to record incorrect times, one of which occurs while lying on the sofa watching movies after the pre-set Night Mode has triggered.
Tracking deep and light sleeping patterns means that there is some form of heart-rate monitoring taking place. This leads us to believe that reading your heart-rate should be possible on the SmartBand, a feature that isn’t offered at all.
As with many of the other affordable, wearable tech available on the market today, the Sony SmartBand seems incomplete, or a work in progress. There are many aspects about the SmartBand and its associated applications that are useful, and will be even more useful if it performed accurately enough. It’s difficult to judge the SmartBand as a device on its own, as it is tightly integrated to the Lifelog application. On the one hand, the SmartBand does what it’s supposed to do, and it may be that the software isn’t up to scratch. On the other hand, it’s the SmartBand that’s recording incorrectly. Whichever it is, the software definitely needs improvement, as it forms the focal point of the SmartBand and its ‘life tracking’ capabilities.
At an RRP of R1,599 the Sony Smartband isn’t something every user will choose to purchase, but rather those more serious about tracking their daily activities, mainly sports. It’s these users, however, that also require a level of accuracy not quite available here. On a positive note, the SmartBand integrates much easier to your everyday life and smartphone, opposed to other units in the same category. But if you’re serious about tracking and the use of a fitness band, spending a little extra will yield much better results.