Sony SmartBand Talk review

A simple combo minus the fancy smartwatch features

Sony SmartBand Talk review
For those who enjoy the simple things in life

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What can the Sony SmartBand Talk do apart from tell you how many times you've put one foot in front of the other? Fresh out of the box, not too much.

By default, you'll get notifications to the band, much the same as you'd see in the notifications bar of your phone or tablet. You just get that, though: notifications. Don't expect to read through your emails, even the ones the notification refers to. Only the first bits of information are available.

Of course, a lot of the time that's exactly what you'd want on a device like this. You get to know who your emails and texts are from, a pretty good indication of whether you'll want to check them out on your phone or not.

Sony Smartband Talk review

If you want a smartwatch that can do virtually everything your phone can, though, the SmartBand Talk is not what you want.

The other basic bit of extra functionality is, as the name suggests, phone calls. You can have calls patched through to the Talk. It has a little speaker built-in, and a microphone. You can see the outlets for these on the band's underside.

The Sony SmartBand Talk's speaker is way too quiet to cut through much ambient noise, and because of the less directed way you'd take calls with the band, a multi-mic active noise cancellation layout wouldn't really work too well here. That'll be one of the reasons why there's just a single mic.

Sony Smartband Talk review

There remains the most important problem: why on earth would you want to take calls on the Sony SmartBand Talk? Not only is the clarity worse for both parties, you'll look pretty silly too.

The alarm function feels a bit more suited to the band. A vibrate motor and the little speaker let the SmartBand Talk piggy-back off the alarm settings of your phone to wake you up. Being woken-up from your wrist takes some getting used to, but it'll make the Talk the full 24/7 package once sleep tracking has been implemented.

There are other features available, but you need to add them in the SmartBand Talk app. It's available for just about all Android 4.4 phones, not just Sony ones.

Calling these little extras apps might be overstating it though, although I imagine Sony may add more extras to the Sony SmartBand Talk in the coming months.

Sony Smartband Talk review

The most useful of the lot is the music remote. Working much like a single-button remote on the in-line controls of your earphones, a solid tap on the band works like a play/pause button, and you can switch back and forth with multiple taps.

I did find this much less responsive than actually using an in-line remote, but this comes with the territory most of the time when using a Bluetooth controller rather than a wired one. Latency may not be drastically awful with Bluetooth, but it does result in a noticeable delay most of the time.

You can also add a bunch of others, again fairly basic things but all-important to the SmartBand Talk's being able to offer more than just a fitness tracker with a clock. You download these as apps from Google Play, but you can see the listing of what's available from within the SmartBank Talk app:

Smart Camera: tap to take a photo, with your phone/tablet, not the band (which has no camera).

Weather: Display temperature and weather stats for your chosen city.

Smart Control: Toggle a selected feature on your phone (Wi-Fi, phone speaker, radio) or show the phone's battery level.

Voice Control: Lets you talk to the SmartBand in order to issue basics commands to the phone, such as 'Call X', 'What is the weather' and 'Read last SMS message'. You need to be quite specific in the wording of your questions, but otherwise it works reasonably well. As with any voice assistant, though: will you use it?

Voice Recorder: Lets you talk to the SmartBand Talk like Captain Kirk emoting away to his tricorder. The files are then saved on your phone/tablet.

If the SmartBand Talk is capable of all these extra bits, why are they not packed in from the start? Well, the more you pack in, the more sluggish the band feels. It's not that the actual device slows down, but that you need to cycle through these mini-apps in turn in order to use them, by pressing the button on the side repeatedly. Thanks to the slow refresh rates of the e-ink screen, this is not a terribly slick process.

It's best to keep as few of these mini apps on-board as possible. For my uses, for example, I chucked out everything bar the fitness tracker, the media control and the weather 'widget'. This sort of app load-out gives you a good balance of features and speed. Actually using the Talk with even just eight applets feels depressingly leaden.

Sony has done its best to work with the limitation here, though, giving you control over the order of these apps.

A fair number of smart-style features are on offer here, but each is very basic by design, and the SmartBand Talk simply doesn't work too well if you embrace too many of them.

Andrew Williams

Andrew is a freelance journalist and has been writing and editing for some of the UK's top tech and lifestyle publications including TrustedReviews, Stuff, T3, TechRadar, Lifehacker and others.