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Hands-on review: CES 2014: Sony Smartband

         

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Sony Smartband

Sony is introducing but any other entrant to the wearable tech house, however with a little bit one thing unique. Known as the Smartband, the water-resistant strap is basically an process tracker that additionally lets customers keep an eye on media, calls and message indicators on their Android tablet or sensiblephone.

It tracks the same old sleep patterns, motion metrics and energy burned, and discretely vibrates to alert wearers of incoming calls or texts.

There are unquestionably some parts of devices just like the Galaxy Gear and Sony’s own SmartWatch 2 found in the Smartband, and a Sony rep here at CES 2014 told us that it’s "much more than a fitness tracker."

The display-less gadget follows a long line of wrist-worn tech with a twist. The likes of Pebble, the aforementioned Gear and Neptune Pine are just a few, and design-wise the Smartband finds itself in the same camp as straps like Jump and Fitbit.

Wrist

But where does the Smartband fit in? We went hands on with the new gadget on the show floor to find out.

Powered at the Core

Most spec details for the Smartband are still under wraps. Sony informed us that more specifics are due at MWC 2014, but for now there’s one key bit of tech that makes the band tick and sets Sony’s venture into wearables apart.

The heart of the Smartband is Sony’s new Core, a tiny chip designed to fit in any number of wearables. Its first vessel is the Smartband – when users buy a Core, they’ll receive two differently sized Smartbands, but the plan is to have it expand well beyond the strap.

Core charger

But back to the present – the Core, housed in a white casing, slips in and out of the Smartband. Users charge the whole thing via a USB in the Core capsule’s rear with a separate charging unit. The capsule is curved, so it shapes to the wrist. Once it’s in, users only feel the rubber edges that encase it inside the strap.

Core helps the Smartband do more than just count calories. Using an accompanying Lifelog app, users can see keep tabs on various elements of their life beyond movement, like how what songs they listened to.

The app is downloadable on Android devices, and the entire system works with Android 4.3 and up. It’s a colorful, graphic-filled interface, and one that should make users feel good about moving.

App

None of the tech is stuck just using Sony products. Users of any Android device with 4.3+ will be able to use Smartband.

The Smartband strap

The strap is made of a rubbery liquid silicon. It’s soft to the touch and feels light on the skin. It’s gentle in a way, and as the Smartband has no sharp edges, the only thing to really call attention to its presence on your wrist is its weight.

Because of where the Core sits, the whole thing feels unbalanced. There’s a large lump where the Core lives, but the rest of the band is the same width and weight (the Smartband will ship in two sizes – we tested the larger of the two). After a while a wearer would probably get used to it, but initially it was distracting.

The other negative about the strap is how you clasp it on. There are two pegs that fit into two holes. Wearers can make it shorter or longer based on where they put the pegs.

The problem is getting the darn thing on. It’s similar to putting on your own wristband for concert admission – you have to twist the wrist you’re trying to put the band on and push down at an awkward angle. The pegs, which pop up like mushrooms, don’t go in easy.

Pegs

We were successful a few times getting it on and off (off is the easy part), but at one point had to take a break from trying because it was so frustrating.

Design wise, we like the matte black look of the band we tried. Customers will be able to get it in different, more vibrant colors and patterns when it’s released.

The lights along the progress bar are discrete, as is the band’s only button. The button is situated on the inside of the strap, and the three dull lights run along its right side. The button is actually housed on the Core, and is used to mute an in coming call, for example.

Tapping on the top of the band’s bulb controls media functions, such as play, pause and choosing the next song. This we liked – one only has to tap and push the strap to get it to do anything, and there’s no flicking through interfaces on screens.

The only flare on the black band we tried is the shiny clasp with "Sony" carved in, and since it’s on the bottom when you’re wearing it, there’s little chance it will glint annoyingly in the sunlight.

Flash

Early verdict

If priced right, the Sony Smartband could carve itself a nice niche in the activity tracker/wearable market. While there are some design flaws, it’s comfortable to the touch and lightweight, save for the bulk of the Core. It’s functions are basic – really the most complicated thing about it is the Lifelog app.

It’d be nice if it slipped on like some of its competitors, but Sony seems to want to keep with the watch theme of its other wearables.

While those why buy it will get a fine device, what they’re really buying is the Core. Once more wearables with different come out that support it, the Core could lead a revolution of sorts in how consumers and the industry thinks of what makes a wearable.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this device, especially at MWC in February.