Sony SmartWatch 4: what we want to see

Sony's next Android Wear watch could be a better fitness tracker and much more

Update: Time is running out in 2016 for Sony to release its follow-up to the Smartwatch 3. But that doesn't mean it won't happen. IFA 2016 is coming up in early September and would make for a near-perfect setting to introduce its new wearable.

After all, Samsung is rumored to announce its Samsung Gear S3 at the event, so it'd be in Sony's interest to capitalize on the buzz.

Original article follows below.

Even over a year after launch, the Sony SmartWatch 3 remains one of the more competent Android Wear smartwatches available.

That's because it's stuffed with useful, future-proof features that, even today, can be tough to find bundled into any one device, like built-in GPS, waterproofing, NFC and Wi-Fi capabilities.

But, as the world of wearables keeps advancing and, in doing so, producing some truly innovative and gorgeous timepieces, there's never been a better time for the Sony SmartWatch 4 to share the same stage.

We set our sights on the future and here's what we hope it brings to Sony's next Android Wear smartwatch.

Cut to the chase

What is it?

The next Android Wear smartwatch from Sony

When is it out?

Mid-to-late 2016

What will it cost?

Likely about $299 (around £210, AU$420)

Sony SmartWatch 4

A gym and office-friendly design

The Sony SmartWatch 3 is a slick looking wearable, but most would agree that it was crafted more with the sporty type in mind. The rubbery strap that comes included is minimalistic and offers an understated fashion statement, if that's what you're going for. But, it can't compete with much today's classier competitors, like the Huawei Watch, the new Moto 360, and Apple Watch.

Sure, owners with a little more cash can splurge on the stainless steel strap and frame to elevate it to Pebble Time-levels of style. But then, you've just spent upwards of about $320 (£229, about AU$463).

For the Sony SmartWatch 4, we'd like to see a more attractive blend of both sporty and regal looks. And if that means that we need to shell out an extra US$50 (£34, AU$70) on a more refined, universally-appealing design, that's fine by us.

More accurate and efficient GPS

During our testing of the SmartWatch 3, we loved leaving our phones behind and taking advantage of its built-in GPS. But, on the flipside of this cool feature are a few serious downsides: the sensor's accuracy and its impact on the wearable's battery.

We found that the distance tracked via GPS tended to differ quite a bit with what our phones would report, sometimes to the point that we didn't know which one to believe. Hopefully, the SmartWatch 4 receives the hardware improvements necessary to ensure a more accurate tracking experience. Additionally, here's to hoping that Android Wear continues to improve along with it.

The other downside of built-in GPS, in this case, is the big hit it makes on battery life. Our tests showed that the battery dropped as much as 10% in 24 minutes of GPS use. If exercise is a big part of your life, we're alongside you in hoping that the minds behind Sony's next iteration have improved the battery efficiency of the built-in GPS feature to bring us more like a 20% drop in three hours' use - like 'proper' running watches.

Android Pay

Android Pay support

Having NFC built into a smartwatch is, even to this day, a feature that can really help it stick out against its competitors. Sony was forward-thinking to implement this feature into last year's wearable, but unfortunately, it's been sorely under-utilized.

The introduction of Android Pay alongside Android Marshmallow saw many SmartWatch 3 owners excited to finally be able to make wireless "tap" payments. But, alas, we're yet to see Android Pay arrive on this wearable.

We fully expect the SmartWatch 4 to have NFC support when it launches, and we're cautiously optimistic that, as global adoption of Android Pay has increased, we'll begin to see the feature being implemented in most, if not all, 2016 Android Wear devices. We'll have to wait and see if it makes it to the Sony SmartWatch 4.

Built-in speaker

Google added support for audio feedback in Android Wear v1.4, which means that wearables with speakers can make noise. Imagine how convenient it would be to listen to music or take a call straight from your wrist (fellow passengers on the commute's feelings aside)?

So far, the Huawei Watch is the lone wolf in the Android Wear game with a speaker built into the timepiece, but we'd love to see one in the next Sony SmartWatch.

Sony SmartWatch 4

An awesome-r battery

The 420mAh battery packed inside the SmartWatch 3 is more juice than you'll find in the Moto 360, Huawei Watch, or the LG Watch Urbane. In addition to having a higher battery capacity than its competitors, it can also last longer: up to two days, depending on how you use it.

Ideally, a smartwatch is something that you should make a habit out of wearing, not charging. This is, by far, the weakest link of many of the best smartwatches, but wasn't as much of an issue here (except when using GPS). We're hoping that Sony continues to push the bar high with what it has coming next.

More sensors

The SmartWatch 3 is a smartwatch, through and through. But, we were impressed with how awfully close it came in rank to the best fitness trackers out there, too, a balance that many smart wearables struggle with.

The built-in GPS, gyroscope, and accelerometer allow for fairly in-depth tracking, but we'd love to see Sony push even more sensors inside the SmartWatch 4. Noticeably lacking is the optical heart rate sensor and the altimeter, which can track your heart rate, and your altitude, respectively.

This would give it the complete set of abilities we're looking for from today's smartwatches - let's hope Sony takes note.

Sony SmartWatch 4

Go cellular

An Android Wear device with Wi-Fi capabilities is like a bird with unclipped wings that's still locked in a cage. Adding cellular access to the SmartWatch 4 will allow it to operate over a cellular signal while untethered from your smartphone.

The hope for cellular access in Sony's next smartwatch might be a little far-flung, as the first cellular Android Wear watch was actually canned before its release. Plus, it might not be practical, or even necessary for some users, but we'll always take more features over fewer if it improves the smartwatch experience.

Better charging method

Smartwatches are built to be as appealing as possible, but making an intuitive charging port continues to be an area that only a few hardware engineers can get right.

If wireless charging is the way of the future, then Sony's SmartWatch 3 stuck in the past. The microUSB port requires too much effort to hook up and it just feels cumbersome, as it lacks any magnetic guides to make the process easier.

Sony SmartWatch 4

Fixing this could be an easy win for the SmartWatch 4 and make it look much cooler than the rest.

iOS-compatible fitness app

Without a doubt, one of Android Wear's coolest announcements in 2015 was iPhone compatibility. Many Android Wear devices are compatible with the iPhone in a limited manner, but only a few of them offer support that's rich enough to recommend pairing up the odd couple.

Determining which Android Wear smartwatches offer compatibility with the iPhone out-of-the-box is totally up to Google, not Sony. So, with that, there is no guarantee that it will actually happen.

With that in mind, we'd love it if Sony would at least create an iOS app that can automagically transfer fitness data from the SmartWatch 4 onto an iPhone 6S, or iPad Air 2. It's hard to say exactly how Sony would go about recording then converting its fitness data into something that Apple Health can digest, but we're hopeful that it'll figure it out.

Sony SmartWatch 4

It's hip to be a square

Some might feel differently, but we think the SmartWatch 4 should hang onto the square design. Come on. It's rather charming, don't you think?

OK, it's a little tough to defend the form factor, especially when the gorgeous Huawei Watch has a seamless, circular display without the maligned flat tire found on the Moto 360. But, if anything, keeping the square design will help it stand out against the others.

Since it has been some time since the release of the Sony's latest smartwatch, we're hopeful for an announcement during the upcoming IFA 2016 in Berlin, the same venue where it did before in 2014.

Regardless of when or where the announcement takes place, we'll be providing extended coverage of the Sony SmartWatch 4 as it happens.

  • These are the best phones to link your next wearable to

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron is the US mobile editor at TechRadar, covering the tech that's in your pocket, wrapped around your wrist, and strapped to your face. He's based in New York City. Say hi!