Sony SmartWatch 2 review

Pairing

For the SW2 to be anything more than a fancy-looking digital watch, you need to pair it with a smartphone running Android 4.0 or later. I tested it with both Sony’s own Sony Xperia Z1, and the HTC One Mini.

Pairing to Sony’s NFC-enabled smartphones is easy – tap watch to phone and you’re away. For non-Sony smartphones, you need to install two free apps from the Google Play store: Sony Smart Connect and the SmartWatch 2 app. You can then connect through the watch and Android settings in the same way you’d pair any Bluetooth device such as a headset or keyboard – or, with an NFC-enabled phone, tap to connect as you would with one of Sony’s models.

The connection is via Bluetooth 3.0, rather than the low-power Bluetooth 4.0. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind that, but it doesn’t seem to have any significant effect on the phone’s battery life while connected.

Whenever the two are paired, a persistent notification appears on the phone, which you can tap to open the SW2 settings, list of installed apps, and app store. Apps are installed to the watch, and removed from the watch, via the phone only – there’s no way to manage apps on the watch itself.

Apps

The built-in apps include alarm, countdown timer (a stopwatch is notably missing), and flashlight – which just turns the backlight on with a plain white screen. Those apps can be enabled or disabled individually from the smartwatch menu, so they can be hidden if you never use them or prefer a third-party alternative.

There are numerous official Sony apps, mostly centered around notifications – I tested the apps for mail, Gmail, calendar, missed calls, SMS messages, Facebook and Twitter. All of those apps both maintain their own notification lists, and feed into the central ‘new events’ list.

Each shows a short message preview – you can’t read entire mail messages on the watch, just the first couple of lines. When a new notification pops up, the watch vibrates subtly to let you know it’s there.

Gmail app, showing a short preview of one message.Gmail app, showing a short preview of one message.

There are also informational apps such as weather, and control apps such as call handling (answer/reject). Note that you can’t actually converse via the watch – you can pick up remotely, but you still need to bring the phone to your ear, or be using a Bluetooth headset, to talk. THere are also remote control apps for media playback and the camera’s shutter, though the latter will only work on Sony Xperia phones.

One official app that should exist, but doesn’t, is a calendar. Yes, you can get calendar notifications, but there’s no way to see a monthly calendar if you’re trying to work out, say, what day of the month next Tuesday is. That may seem like a small omission, but that’s one of the most common things I use my smartphone for, and something I really would have found useful on a watch that’s dedicated to telling the time and date.

In addition to Sony’s official apps, there’s a good range of third-party apps in the store. When searching, you can filter down to apps optimised for the new SW2, or also include apps for the older, low-resolution MN2 that will also work on the new watch.

Third-party apps cover everything from GPS navigation to fitness to games – one developer even offers a mini web browser. A number of calculator apps let you simulate that geekiest of 1970s wrist accoutrements: the calculator watch.

Like any app store, quality and price vary (and don’t necessarily correspond). Like the rest of the Google Play store, there are ratings and reviews which I recommend you read before downloading or buying.