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The fitness craze — it’s a thing that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Just like the selfie movement and the LOLcats phenomenon before it, it has gripped the world by the scruff of the neck, or well, the arm with authoritative clamour. It’s here to stay, and while that might be a fortunate thing for those wishing to get their resting heart rate down to zero, for us tech reviewers, it means a lot of things clasping to our arms begging for affection.
The latest device is this category, and in our offices, is the Sony SmartBand SWR10. Now I generally like Sony phones, tablets and smartwatches, but this is a device I won’t be adding to that list, for a number of reasons beyond its actual form or function.
Just like its Sony SmartWatch 3 cousin, there’s no much of a box with the Sony SmartBand SWR10. It’s cocooned in a plastic case, but the band is well protected by virtue of its design (it’s practically a silicone band and a tiny “core” module) and the plastic shrouding.
Nevertheless, once opened, there are a few interesting things to note. Firstly, the charger is hilariously the largest thing in the box, with the microUSB cable following suit. The Sony SmartBand SWR10’s core is the major piece of the puzzle though, and is essentially what you’re dropping over R1000 for.
There’s not much to talk about in the way of internals really, but let’s gloss over some of the basics.
The Sony SmartBand SWR10 houses a number of wireless communication technologies, including NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 LE. These technologies are used to tether the band to the phone (which has to be running Android 4.4 or higher) and perform some nifty tricks, like changing tracks on the host phone using a simple tap of the finger.
The band uses microUSB for charging and boasts IP58 water and dust resistance. This works an absolute treat, but Sony doesn’t advise this for use in saltwater for some unbeknown reason.
Aesthetics and Design
Sony has always struck the balance between fashion and function perfectly in the past, but I feel the Sony SmartBand SWR10’s design teeters on the utilitarian rather than the fashionable. Of course, you could argue that it’s a fitness tracker, but Sony would reply, “It’s definitely more than just a fitness tracker, dearest consumer.” We’ll get into this a bit later.
For now, if you were to choose a colour band, the choice ranges between boring black and some seriously retro-inspired lumos. The choice is expansive, and Sony gets a gold star for options.
The core of the SmartBand SWR10 — the piece that essentially turns the silicon wrap into wearable technology — remains while between guises, but a user could essentially stock up on a number of coloured bands, mixing and matching throughout the week. Granted, these bands are fairly pricy, but to counter that, so is jewelry in general.
The band occupies less than a watch on one’s arm, and is seriously light. So light, that you often forget that the band is actually on your arm. It’s one of its most enduring but detrimental features. It’s attached to your arm using a push-pin system, which is the most fatally flawed thing I’ve ever seen on a piece of technology. It’s idiotic, and detaches itself by walking with hands in pockets, or prying something out from a bag or shaking your arm a little too vigorously.
Annoyingly, this system also gets worse the longer you use the band and the older the push-pin’s holes get.
The Sony SmartBand SWR10, as opposed to the other three smartbands available from the Japanese giant, is the runt of the litter, and the most point-and-shoot simple of the three. It features no screen, one button and three LED indicator lights that pretty much only indicate two settings — day and night mode. It does feature interchangeable bands ranging in luminescent colours though as optional extras.
The SWR10 is usually sold as two pieces — the white “core” which essentially houses all the sensors and controls, and the band itself, in which the core wedges and sits lovingly alongside your inner forearm. It’s not the most sophisticated design, but it gets the job done in the end.
There’s one other integral piece to the Sony SmartBand SWR10 puzzle, and that’s the software one should install on the host Android phone. LifeLog, as Sony is calling it, is more than simply a fitness tracker. It intends to log all events undertaken in a day, including online social interactions, calls, time spent watching videos and above and beyond all of this, fitness information like calories burned, steps taken and sleep tracked.
The latter isn’t quite as accurate as one would expect though. Unlike Fitbit’s sleep tracking, the Sony SmartBand SWR10 doesn’t monitor sleep in real time during the day. So naps conducted while the sun is out isn’t monitored, which is a massive flaw.
Taking the band off also results in false readings, assuming that it’s wearer is asleep. It’s not accurate at all, and those looking for more granular sleep tracking should look elsewhere.
For those consumers wondering about the level of mobile phone interaction is conducted during the day, the SmartBand SWR10 is the ticket. There’s also a lack of heart rate monitoring though, which is another strike against it.
LifeLog, for the most part, is an interesting experiment, but it feels a bit too unpolished, even on the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact.
With that said, the Sony SmartBand SWR10 is pointless without this app. This app is the venerable lifeblood of the band. If you don’t install it, you can’t see any biometric information. The Band does report information to the phone at a reasonable rate though, so it’s updated around every 15 minutes or so. I know, because I’ve obsessively compulsively checked.
In terms of practicality, the Sony SmartBand SWR10 is probably too practical and too seamlessly integrated into your lifestyle. This might sound like a good thing, but it’s not for a piece of technology hanging from your arm.
I absolutely adored the water-loving nature of the SmartBand SWR10 though, which meant I never had to remove it when in the shower or enjoying a swim. It’s something Sony does extremely well, and hopefully all of its future devices will feature an IP rating.
The notches that secures the band to the arm however, are fatally flawed and as a result, smashes my opinion of the band. Without the band itself, the core is useless, so it’s not a question of purchasing a better band. I came very close to loosing the device about four times in my two month affair, thanks to the ridiculous notch system the band employs.
Unlike a clasp which clings to your arm regardless of the situation, the Sony SmartBand SWR10 uses a metal peg that’s held by a few rubber holes in the band. As you can imagine, too much force applied laterally means that the band just flies off. It’s annoying, it’s idiotic and you’ll definitely end up losing this device once you’re used to wearing it.
Ironically, the device can be used to find your lost cell phone too, but somehow, I don’t think it’s the phone you’ll be losing first.
Price and value
Overall, for around R1200, I do think there are better products out there that are more intelligently made, more securely fastened and more intuitive to use. I wouldn’t purchase the Sony SmartBand SWR10 if I was an avid athlete or someone who wants to monitor fitness figures over time. I do enjoy its simple appearance though but beneath all that, you’ll be lucky if you don’t accidentally lose it while struggling up a mountain.
Verdict: While Sony has crafted a solid product in the SmartBand SWR10, there are some major, major flaws that can’t be ignored. I was glad to return it, because I was afraid that I’d lose it, and there’s a sentence I don’t use often with gadgets. It does what it does well, but it’s not for the fitness conscious. Give the runt of the Sony wearables litter a chance to mature before purchasing.