Sony FES Watch U first-look review: The e-paper watch breaks out of Japan

IFA 2018: Sony's not so smart fashion watch is a big price to pay for limited features
Sony FES Watch U first look
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Have we actually gone back to 2006? That's when we first clasped eyes on the FES Watch U. Like the first FES, the Watch U isn't a smartwatch in the same way that the an Apple Watch or a Wear OS watch is. It doesn't show you notifications or let you download apps. Instead it focuses on customisation and the ability to personalise its e-paper watch face and watch strap.

Essential reading: Best smartwatches to buy right now

The FES Watch U launched in Japan in 2017 after being successfully funded through Sony's own First Flight crowdfunding platform. Now it's coming to Europe and is set to cost a wallet-busting £529 with the black version knocking things up to £699.

Not a great deal has changed, but a partnership with New Balance puts the Watch U tech into a special sporty edition, as well as a pair of trainers with customizable e-paper panels in the sides and sole of the shoes (yes, really). We got another look at the FES Watch U at IFA 2018. If you're ready to spend big, here's what you need to know.

Sony FES Watch U: Design and build

Sony FES Watch U first look review: E-paper watch breaks out of Japan

Sony's next generation e-paper watch comes in two models: Premium black and silver. And as we mentioned above, the black version will cost you a little more due to some differences in the design. The pricier Watch U uses sapphire glass as opposed to the mineral kind used on the silver model. That should in theory result in a more durable, robust design in return for £700.

Both are waterproof, featuring 43mm watch cases, measure 12mm thick and include 23.5mm-wide straps. Of course, those flexible straps are not interchangeable because they include the same e-paper tech as the watch case. It's light to wear, doesn't look too bulky, but it's also by no means a watch that sits discreetly on your wrist either. People will notice it, but then that's kind of the appeal of this playful smartwatch.

The solitary physical button on the side of the watch is your means of switching between design looks and that's really all it does. There's no data screens to flick through or settings to tinker with. There are no sensors here and the built-in battery gives you two week's of watch time, taking 2.5 hours to charge up. It's all pretty simple.

Sony FES Watch U: Features

The FES Watch U is being called a 'fashion watch' and by that it means having the ability to transform the entire look of the watch, making it easier to mix and match with your look. Well, that's the idea at least.

How does it do that? Its chameleon powers lie in the FES Closet U companion app, which is now available for both iOS and Android smartphones. From the app you can swipe through to see the 12 preinstalled designs, choose the one want and beam it to the watch. This seems to vary in time based on the designs, with some taking seconds and other taking a little while longer to show up.

You can also create custom watch designs, letting you scroll through your camera roll on your phone and picking face and filters to send to the watch. The custom designs appear to take longer to transfer over the watch too. 24 designs in total can be stored on the watch to save you constantly heading back into the app to add new ones.

The preinstalled designs are fun, and the technology doesn't look as tacky as I thought it might. It's really neat to be able to take the customizations beyond the watch face.

Initial verdict

There's no denying that an e-paper watch is going to have serious hipster appeal and it's nice to see that Sony is not abandoning smartwatches, even if this one is not all that smart.

And that bring us to our biggest concern with the FES Watch U. It's damn expensive for a watch that doesn't do a lot. Maybe even throwing in some basic notification support would make that price tag a little easier to stomach. Maybe future FES Watches (if there are any) will do more.




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