Struggling electronics giant Sony, searching for a hit product to propel it back into the top tier of gadget makers, may have found the answer: The SmartWatch. Debuting in the U.S. a month after it wowed Britain, the $150 SmartWatch is a bit like a smartphone for your wrist: You can read email and text messages on its 1.3-inch OLED multi-touch screen, control a music library, and even trigger the camera shutter on your Android smartphone. Here's what you should know:
How does the SmartWatch work?
If you want the watch to do more than tell time, pair it with any smartphone running Android 2.1 or higher using the watch's Bluetooth 3 connection and a free app from the Google Play Store. You can then draw off your smartphone's wireless connection to run mini-apps. "It's best to think of the SmartWatch as a remote control for your Android smartphone," says Eric Zeman at InformationWeek.
What kinds of things can it do?
So far, the SmartWatch runs at least 30 mini-apps, with another 30 coming very soon, and "some of them already seem like must-haves," says Chris Velazco at TechCruch: Facebook, Google Maps, a remote for your music player, email and text messages, and fitness apps. Plus, "I would use the hell out of this Find Phone app when my Galaxy Nexus inevitably goes missing around the house." The timepiece also lets you send short, preset emails and text messages, and it vibrates when you get an incoming call, says InformationWeek's Zeman. But "as neat as the SmartWatch is, it is more or less simply a watch if there's no smartphone around." It has no headphone jack, for instance, and you can't store any music on the watch itself.
Is this the first watch-smartphone hybrid?
No. It's not even Sony's first effort: In 2010, the company rolled out the Sony LiveView with much fanfare and little success. "Thankfully, Sony saw fit to include a full multi-touch display this time around instead of the awkward edge-only navigation scheme seen in the SmartWatch's forebear," says TechCrunch's Velazco. But the market is actually getting a little crowded. In September, red-hot Kickstarter project "Pebble" will start selling smartwatches that connect via Bluetooth with Android handsets and iPhones. Motorola also has the MOTOACTV, which actually runs Android and can be used independent of a smartphone.
What sets Sony's SmartWatch apart?
Price, for one thing. At $100 less than the MOTOACTV, "Sony definitely seems to be gunning for the masses," says TechCrunch's Velazco. And it is "definitely worth a second look" if you can't be bothered with "the hassle of digging your phone out of your pocket." Still, is it worth $150? says Dana Wollman in Engadget. "That's a conversation you best have with your wallet."