Sony SmartBand 2 review

Can Sony finally make some headway in the fitness tracker space?

There's nothing game changing about Sony's SmartBand 2, its new Fitbit Charge HR rival with a heart rate monitor that aims to track the whole quantified self, not just fitness.

That said, it's an affordable £100 tracker that tries to integrate health and fitness tracking with the rest of your life, most successfully by attempting to track stress levels. But does it do basic tracking well enough to compete with Fitbit and Jawbone?

Sony SmartBand 2: Design and build

It's about the same size as the Charge HR, so on the chunky side for a fitness band. It feels light, robust and comfortable on the wrist and with a clever, not too fiddly clasp to keep everything flush and tidy. Ladies, take note, it's a wider band than the likes of a Jawbone UP3/4.

It's also very minimalist and there's no texture or design flair as on the Jawbone or even Fitbit's latest tracker. This is very much old school fitness band design and it's a shame Sony hasn't moved on. With the heart rate tracking module, it can't be slim and small like a Mi Band so Sony should at least have made it look more attractive. After all, with all the Lifelog integration, this is designed to be worn all day, everyday.

We got a look at the (two tone) white and black models but Sony will also be launching pink and indigo hues later this year plus the module can be swapped out and used with other bands.

Read this: The best fitness tracker you can buy right now

The whole thing is waterproof to IP68 which one ups some rivals as the SmartBand 2 can be used in fresh water up to 3m for 30 minutes, Sony also states that 'casual use' in chlorinated pools is OK as long as you rinse it in fresh water afterwards. In other words, it's fine for leaving on in the shower and we got rained on numerous times while wearing the SmartBand 2 and - incidentally - using a Z3 Compact without any problems.

Sony SmartBand 2: Features

The main difference between this tracker and its predecessor is the heart rate monitor. Returning are the vibration alerts for calls, texts and notifications - which are not very subtle - a smart alarm wake-up feature and an out of Bluetooth range alert so you don't use your phone. So far, so standard, so 2014.

The apps you are alerted to can be customised in the SmartBand 2 app but there's no contact or keyword control. Somewhat obviously, there being no display, the tracker also won't tell you the time or weather or anything like that either. Plus your steps, distance, time spent active and estimated calories burned are all access via apps, not on the band. It's worth mentioning that it is compatible with Google Fit on Android and Apple Health on iPhone.

Pairing can be done via good old-fashioned Bluetooth of NFC if your smartphone has the tech. Apart from some basic media controls - you can set the button to play/pause and skip music if you wish - that's it for non-tracking features. Still, chances are you're not considering buying this as an alt-smartwatch.

Sony SmartBand 2: Tracking

What's nice about the SmartBand 2's optical heart rate tracking is that there's lots of choice over how you want to use it. Double tapping the tiny power button on the right hand side of the tracking module puts the band into continuous HRM mode, the battery life for which you'll get ten hours. It's quick and not at all fiddly to press this at the start of a run or workout and the strong vibrations indicate immediately that it's kicked in.

Otherwise, the SmartBand's stated two day battery life is based on heart rate tracking 5 - 6 times per hour, including when you are asleep. Stamina mode which gets you five days turns the heart rate sensor off entirely.

It's a nice solution to cater to different levels of user and the readings we got at rest and during exercise are within 5 - 10 bpm of a chest strap. So that's not perfectly accurate but it's similar to the results you'd get from a Charge HR: accurate enough for beginners looking to see, for instance, their resting heart rate go down as they get fitter.

The stress and recovery metrics, measured by your heart rate variability, are more difficult to test but low stress periods did correlate to an hour of sitting down working and medium/high stress periods logged to exercise. The graphs and timelines could be incredibly useful here if you're looking to reduce your stress levels and it's fascinating stuff.

Read this: Will tracking our stress levels really make us more calm?

Strangely enough, what's slightly more worrying is the standard steps and distance tracking which both averaged out on the slightly more generous side when compared to other trackers and watches, such as Misfit on Pebble Time, worn simultaneously. That's something to bear in mind. In fact, on a day where I left the SmartBand 2 at home on the desk, it managed to track 177 steps.

It's limited too - Sony tracks walking, running and cycling as separate activities but not gym sessions or sports, unless you manually enter the data.

Sleep tracking records the number of hours you were asleep with automatic sleep detection which was accurate enough slightly more than it got things wrong. What's nice here is that by tracking broad periods of deep and light sleep, the smart alarm can wake you during light sleep once you've set certain parameters. Sleep monitoring is a tricky one to get right, and if you move around a fair bit at night, the SmartBand 2 will think you're up and about.

Sony SmartBand 2: The apps

The SmartBand 2, which is both iOS and Android compatible, syncs with both a dedicated self-titled app and Sony's Lifelog app on Android or Apple Health on iPhone. This might sound confusing but the two actually work together - for changing settings and on the spot heart rate readings, it's the SmartBand 2 app. For everything else - graphs, milestones, sharing data with others, seeing which activities affected your stress levels, on Android it's the Lifelog app - this is what we tested the SmartBand 2 with.

It's worth noting that Sony claims to be able to track your stress levels through a combination of three sets of data - first, your pulse, second, your sleep and third, your heart rate variability. As Lifelog isn't just for fitness, in theory you will be able to see what is affecting your stress and energy levels - a scary film, a workout, whatever. You can even hook the app up to Spotify. It's a clever approach and Sony's graphics are slick but in use, Lifelog is a bit crowded.

It's not always clear - at a glance - how we were doing in terms of our daily or weekly progress. There's plenty of detail and charts to dig down into but with no swipeable metrics on the band itself, we're not sure how motivating the in-app grid of out of context stats will actually be for beginners plus Sony doesn't offer pro stats, like Garmin Connect does, for real enthusiasts.

Sony SmartBand 2: Battery life and charging

With heart rate monitoring on, we found we got two to three days out of the SmartBand 2, depending on how much continuous tracking we needed. Considering there is no display and the battery life is a maximum of five days with no HRM whatsoever, the battery performance is OK but nothing to write home about. Rival, cheaper trackers, from Misfit and Jawbone, that count steps, distance and track sleep can last for months on one charge, for instance.

Charging is via micro USB which is easy enough - the module pops right out and you just plug it in for one to two hours. Battery life can be viewed in the Sony SmartBand 2 app or via the three LEDs next to the band's single physical button. This makes the SmartBand 2 feel more like a gadget than it would if it had a smartwatch-style charging dock. But most fitness trackers come with fiddly proprietary cables and cradles so Sony's gets bonus points for this addition.

Sony SmartBand 2
By Sony
The Sony SmartBand 2 isn't the prettiest or most accurate or even the longest lasting fitness tracker at around this price point. Still, for £100 you get heart rate monitoring which fits into a wider picture of your lifestyle habits and stress levels. It's also water resistant and works with iOS and Android. Most people should fork out a little extra for the Fitbit Charge HR if you are considering this tracker but Sony is moving in the right direction with its tech and software. We just need a more stylish design and a clearer focus on motivating users in its crowded app.

  • iOS and Android compatible
  • Affordable for a HRM tracker
  • Tracks whole lifestyle including stress
  • Not a looker
  • Some tracker wobbles
  • Battery life could be better considering

What do you think?

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  • JCFord·

    Been interested in the original Sony Smartband and the Sony Smartband Talk for sometime, but neither were compatible with my iPhone. So the new Sony SmartBand 2 working on iOS is a step in the right direction for Sony, very tempted to purchase.

  • hugoleosp·

    I own the first version of the Sony SmartBand, the design is awesome, after the last upgrade, the notification system is also impressive, and lots of other resources that makes this watch very interesting. But nothing is all glamour on this device, the Lifelog App is a disaster when it comes to register your daily activity. If interprets wrong activities, if you just check the complaints on Google Play you'll notice lots of people still complains they get bus while running, steps while typing, sleeping while reading, cycling if they even don't own a bike, and stuffs like that =/ as they still use the same algorithm and App, I doubt they fixed this on the second version of the SmartBand. Well, this is just my opinion based on my first version and daily use.

  • JCFord·

    Just noticed the new iOS app is now available on the App Store "Smartband 2 SWR12" can anyone confirm is this works with the original smartband?

  • JCFord·

    also seen a few places online now taking pre-orders ranging from £89-£99 UK.

  • Openassist·

    great if you could do a full review :) quite keen to see how this stacks up vs fitbit and others on the market :) :)

    • j.stables·

      We're working on it!

      • Openassist·

        Awesomeeee :)

  • Ianny·

    Does it measure distance like the Fitbit Charge HR?

  • meyeonaise·

    I checked the band with the IOS app... The IOS app is very simple and you cannot compare it with the Android version! I tracks the steps, your walks and runnings. The detection is very good, the burned calories seemed ok for me too, but the distance is wrong. 6,1 km GPS run and the app displays 7,3 km...the MI Band does this more accurate displaying 6,2 km.

    The heartrate during workout is not very precise... I sent it back. 

  • MareLondon·

    Sony’s Smartband 2 doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary and it is not the best looking or most accurate device on the market. It can do a number of things that some of the competition already does quite well, with an addition now of a heart rate monitor. Its activity, fitness and sleep tracking data do not set it apart from other devices on the market - some of which outshine the Sony device in a number of these metrics. What sets is apart is its Life Logging app which aims to provide you with a diary of your life events. The Sony also compares favourably against the competition in terms of its price. Here is another good review of the device:

  • Rory·

    Heart Rate monitoring is very faulty, I love the simplicity & styling but when I'm going full speed on the treadmill & the HR Monitor reads 67 bpm that's a problem!

  • teme24·

    I upgraded my Smartband v1 to Fitbit Charge HR to get HR and more open activity history. I'm happy except I miss the notification vibration of my Smartband: Fitbit only vibrates very briefly, and only on calls and on sms. Not on emails, not on skype, not on Whatsapp. I wonder whether this v2 has the notification implemented like the v1? Any other brand to consider?

  • ShopiHy·

    this is the deepest review, I've read for this smartband. thanks for the info.