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Sony SmartBand Talk review

Sony's latest wearable packs in calling functionality and an E Ink display
Sony SmartBand Talk
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Sony's been in the wearable tech game for longer than most and the Sony SmartBand Talk is already the second fitness tracker from the company we've reviewed this year.

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As Sony Ericsson, the company was knocking out smartwatches as early as 2006, and Sony even had two Android-powered smartwatches on sale before Android Wear was even a twinkle in Google's eye.

But, rather than a SmartBand 2, Sony's come to the party with the £130/ $210 SmartBand Talk….and no prizes for guessing the unique feature than gives this band its moniker.

Read on to find out if calling features and a new E Ink display are enough to impress in our comprehensive Sony SmartBand Talk (SWR30) review.

Sony SmartBand Talk: Design and build

Sony SmartBand Talk review

Unlike the original Sony SmartBand that featured a Fitbit Flex-style module that popped into the colour strap of your choice, the SmartBand Talk is a single complete band with interchangeable straps that you can swap out depending on your taste.

It's nicely built, with an attractive texturised rubber strap and the same two-button clasp system in place from the original – with Sony's logo on, of course. We didn't have any issues with the strap coming loose and there are two sizes available, and a number of fastener holes, so there's no bother getting a good fit, no matter what your wrist size.

At just under 10mm at its thickest point, it's a fair bit chunkier than the likes of the Garmin Vivosmart and even the less-than-svelte Microsoft Band, but the strap tapers nicely on the underside and at no point did it feel hefty while wearing. It weighs just 24g.

Wareable verdict: Microsoft Band review

Unlike its predecessor, the SmartBand Talk comes packing a display, but not in the form you'd perhaps expect. It's a monochrome 1.4-inch 288 x 128 E Ink one, with a 192 dpi count. The result is surprisingly crisp and easy to read, delivering all the information you need and should be kinder on the battery life – but more on that later.

It is, in fact, the first wearable tech device to feature an E Ink display - the Pebble, which is often stated to be an E Ink device, actually has a e-paper LCD display manufactured by Sharp.

However, as is a common complaint with the E Ink powered Amazon Kindle, the SmartBand Talk does suffer from ghosting issues where the previous screen is still slightly visible in the background.

You navigate though the homescreens on offer using the physical navigation button on the side (the small one, the bigger one is simply a volume rocker) and you can tap the display (firmly, we must state) to get more info for the section you're on.

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The accompanying app allows you to switch between a black on white or white on black display, as well as altering the text orientation to suit either a right-hander or a south paw.

Sony SmartBand Talk: Activity tracking

Sony SmartBand Talk review

The SmartBand Talk takes on activity trackers such as the Jawbone UP3 and the Fitbit Charge although you won't find nearly as much data recording, or detailed analysis compared to those specialist rivals.

The SmartBand Talk has a wealth of sensors built in, including an accelerometer and altimeter, to track your steps. However, without GPS this will be more of a general guide than an advanced tracker for workouts and, compared to the Garmin Vivosmart, we didn't find the recording to be all that reliable. It generally overestimated the amount of steps we had taken in a day and, as a result, the algorithm used to determine calorie burn was inaccurate as well.

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Sleep tracking and a smart alarm function will be added to the SmartBand Talk setup soon, we're assured, but for now it's simply step and calorie counting and a basic run tracker that even casual joggers won't want to rely on.

You can see your progress against your step goal on the main homescreen by way of a circular graphic surrounding a man (who looks like he's doing some sort of mime performance) that fills up as you go on. If you hit your goal, you'll earn an E Ink rosette.

Sony SmartBand Talk: Apps

Sony SmartBand Talk review

The SmartBand Talk comes with a number of apps pre-installed: Activity, which shows you how active you've been; Media Player, which lets you control your Android smartphones music playback (we couldn't get it to work with Spotify, just the default player) and Life Bookmark, which lets you keep a note of your location and things like weather data.

You can add more from within the companion Android app – we found the Weather widget pretty useful and also the Call Favourite, which lets you easily call your chosen contact, right from your wrist.

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As we mentioned, the SmartBand Talk gets its moniker thanks to the build-in voice control option, which means you can make calls by talking into the band, should you be away from your smartphone.

It's surprisingly clear and works really well. It's also unsurprisingly totally awkward and socially unacceptable to do this in public. The world isn't ready for your Dick Tracy impression just yet.

Sony SmartBand Talk: Lifelog

You'll need to download a couple of Android smartphone apps to get the SmartBand Talk up and running – the SmartBand Talk app itself, which lets you control the settings and Sony's existing Lifelog app.

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As with the original SmartBand you'll need to embrace the concept of life-logging, with the app showing you a breakdown of everything in your mobile life. Yes, everything.

So not only stats (with basic graphs) on your steps and calories, but also details (and again, basic graphs) on how long you were on Facebook, how many emails you sent, your time spent listening to music for, how many WhatsApp messages you replied to and much, much more. It's all rather pointless, but charming thanks to the weird moving presentations of your day, with animated weather info thrown in for good measure.

Budget picks: Best fitness wearables under £50

The SmartBand talk connects to your phone using Bluetooth, of course – although the pairing process is temperamental – expect to see a notification that your connection has been lost more than once during the day. It's easy to repair using NFC but we really shouldn't be dealing with Bluetooth drop outs at all.

Sony SmartBand Talk: Smartwatch features

Sony SmartBand Talk review

While this review hasn't been overly positive so far, we're about to ramp up the plus points because it's the notification and update features that the SmartBand Talk really excels in.

Like the Garmin Vivosmart and the Microsoft Band, you'll get real-time updates presented on your wrist (you can choose exactly which ones using the companion app) and we have to say it's about the best wearable device so far in terms of delivery.

Wareable verdict: Fitbit Surge review

You'll see the icon of your update's platform (Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter etc) and a quick tap will present you the whole message. You can't reply, of course – that would be ridiculous – but a nice touch is that if you don't decide to look at it, it disappears pretty quickly. You won't get a backlog of notifications that need addressing, as is the case with many rival devices.

Sony SmartBand Talk: Battery life

The battery is a 70mAh one, which Sony states is good for three days – we'd of hoped for more from a device not rocking a colour display – and we actually never got our review sample to extend beyond a couple of days…not great.

What is great though is that you can charge it using a regular Micro USB cable, there's no need to carry around a separate charging cradle as is usually the way with wearables.

And that standard charging setup doesn't mean you sacrifice any waterproofing features either - it's IP68 water resistant and should survive a swim or two as that certification equates to being able to sustain submerging to 1.5m.


Sony SmartBand Talk
By Sony
While the SmartBand Talk definitely looks to be an improvement on Sony’s original lifestyle tracker, it’s not really accurate enough to compete with the established players in this genre. Unlike Fitbit, Garmin and Jawbone, the level of recording or analysis is basic at best and useless at worst. The E Ink display is a nice addition, even with the ghosting problems and the notifications are brilliant. But the calling features aren’t really needed, and perhaps the battery life could have been improved by leaving them out entirely. With a price tag of £130, it’s hard to fully recommend the SmartBand Talk as it only really succeeds in one of the three areas it aspires to deliver. At under £100, and a clear focus on smartphone updates and a longer battery life, Sony could have been onto a winner. Instead, it feels rushed and half-baked.

Hit
  • E Ink display is super crisp
  • Notification setup is great
  • Comfortable on the wrist
  • You can phone your mum
Miss
  • Activity tracking is way off
  • Battery life isn’t brilliant
  • Ghosting issues with display
  • Bluetooth connection often drops


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