Sony SmartBand Talk review

A simple combo minus the fancy smartwatch features

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Our Verdict

An intriguing product, but one that's hard to work out if anyone will actually want it.

For

  • Light and comfortable
  • Simple to use
  • E-ink screen great in daylight

Against

  • Short three day battery life
  • Limited smart capabilities
  • No heartrate sensor or altimeter
  • A bit expensive
Ratings in depth

Sony Smartband Talk review

Sony Smartband Talk review

Sony Smartband Talk review

Sony Smartband Talk review

Sony Smartband Talk review

The Sony SmartBand Talk SWR30 is an experiment, a way to make wearable tech that goes against the grain a little. While Samsung, Motorola and LG are all battling to make the ultimate Android Wear watch, this little wrist tracker takes a few more cues from the Pebble smartwatch.

It doesn't have an interface shared with loads of other smart devices that'll get richer and richer as the months pass. You will never play games on the thing, unless someone hacks the feature in.

It's simple. And maybe that's OK. For some people, maybe that's more than OK: great, even. What Sony's out to do with the Sony SmartBand Talk makes sense in a market where we're still seeing what we actually want wearable tech to do in our lives.

Only the price is a bit of a sticking point. At £130 (US$169.99, AU$199) it's more than the latest price for the original Pebble or LG G Watch. Sure, it can take calls too, but for most people that's a side attraction at best. This band is pretty expensive for what you get.

Sony Smartband Talk review

The SmartBand Talk looks more like a fitness tracker than a watch until you notice the great big time read-out on its screen. It looks like a gadget, that's certain, but it's otherwise a pretty innocuous presence.

At 24g it's so light I actually forgot it was on my wrist at times, this coming from someone who doesn't wear an ordinary watch day-in, day-out.

There's no real high-end feel here as the strap is rubber rather than leather or metal, but it's very comfortable. It's not just because of the light weight, but also the way the back of the SmartBand Talk is lightly curved to match most people's wrists. It certainly matched mine.

Sony Smartband Talk review

The Sony SmartBand Talk comes with two straps as well. That you can remove the strap isn't too obvious from the start, as it fits in near-seamlessly with the core plastic part that holds the screen, hooked in place with plastic anchors on the back.

This sort of a design is a good thing, even if it did have me wondering whether I had the slender arms of a young girl when having to use the tightest setting bar. Instead, there are small and larger straps and, sure enough, I had the larger one attached.

Sony Smartband Talk review

It uses a clasp-style mechanism to keep the band attached to your wrist, with little metal mushrooms you push through the strap's holes to secure it. It's nothing fancy, but is also very low-fuss, even compared with a standard watch strap.

How little you have to think about the SmartBand Talk is one of its great strengths. It's water resistant, and I wore it in the shower on a daily basis without any issue.

It's certified to the IP68 standard, meaning it's totally dust-proof and can be submerged in water. As ever, you're only meant to dunk the Sony SmartBand Talk in fresh water: so no swimming in the sea, or swimming pools. The salt and chemicals in those bodies of water are enough to rule them out: do so at your own risk.

Sony Smartband Talk review

The little part that's crucial to this waterproofing is a little rubber cap that plugs up the microUSB port used to charge the Sony SmartBand Talk. The rest is already primed for the wet stuff.

Fairly small, light and comfortable, the design isn't flashy but it works. You can also get more colourful straps, if the choice of a black or white watch just isn't jazzy enough for your tastes. It's the screen that you should really take note of though.

Unlike big-name smartwatches like the LG G Watch and Motorola Moto 360, the Sony SmartBand Talk uses an e-ink display. It's just 1.4 inches across and offers resolution of 296 x 128, which is pretty low.

Sony Smartband Talk review

Low resolution matters much less in an e-ink screen than an LCD one, though. E-ink uses tiny little white and black microcapsules that are raised and lowered to form a monochrome image, and as such you don't get the 'bitty' look that low-res LCD screens can have, as their displays are actually made of dots of red, green and blue with black bits in-between.

What results is a screen that, while a bit jaggedy, is very easy on the eye. E-ink doesn't use a screen backlight or any form of lighting, meaning you're at the mercy of ambient light to see the screen.

The Talk only needs a little bit of light to be clear, but in pure darkness you're out of luck. You can also invert the display, although I found the standard view clearer.

Sony Smartband Talk review

Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite uses a clever light cast over the front of the screen to make its e-ink display visible at night, but I guess we'll have to wait until the next incarnation of the SmartBand Talk.

Why e-ink when it's monochrome and not lit? It's all about battery life. E-ink only uses significant power when changing what it displays. Keep the image the same and it drains virtually no energy.

In this case, that change occurs every minute, once a minute, when the time changes. It seems the screen is still one of the main power draws as battery stamina didn't change too much depending on my level of activity. Over two of weeks of use I got three days or slightly over, each time.

Sony Smartband Talk review

That's a lot more than the day and a half you might get out of an LG G Watch R, but is ultimately quite disappointing still. The Sony SmartBand Talk has just a 70mAh battery: absolutely tiny. The Pebble watch lasts for five to seven days, which is what I'd have like to have seen here.

It's not just watches the SWR30 has to compete with either. Fitness trackers generally last for longer, such as the five day Fitbit Flex and the Garmin Vivofit, which lasts a whole year.

The screen is not touch sensitive in the manner of a smartphone either, but you can alert the phone by giving the Sony SmartBand Talk two strong taps, which sets off the accelerometer.

Sony Smartband Talk review

For the most part, though, I ended up using the metal buttons on the side of the band. There are three, a 'power' button and a volume rocker. When you're out and about pressing the power button takes you to the info screen, where you can see your day's activity, which is in my book the main point of the SmartBand Talk.