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Sony's Latest Activity Tracker Not Quite Fit for Primetime

Sony is on the right track with the SmartBand, but it needs more work.

If you’re in the market for an activity tracker, there’s no shortage of options. It seems like a new model pops up every other week.

But as these devices become more prevalent and gain popularity, there’s a big question of how much value they’re actually adding to your life. Sure, they might motivate you to be more active for a little while. But what happens when the novelty wears off? And of all the data collected, how much of it is actually providing insight into your life?

Sony is trying to address these issues with its newest SmartBand SWR10 and its accompanying Lifelog Android app. It’s available now for $100 (the app is free), but it only works with smartphones running Android 4.4 and Bluetooth 4.0, so if your phone doesn’t meet those requirements, you won’t be able to use it. Sony also says that it doesn’t have any plans to offer support for other platforms, including iOS, at this time.

While the band captures many of the standard stats that activity trackers do — steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, hours slept — and even alerts you to phone notifications, it also allows you to log other moments of your day to provide a more comprehensive look at your life.

It can chronicle photos, music, video, people you’ve talked to, even the weather. Lifelog then takes all of that data and presents it to you in a beautiful visual interface where you can review all of the day’s happenings in a digital journal of sorts.

The idea is a great one, because living a healthy and happy lifestyle is more than just working out and eating well. For that — and for trying to take wearables to the next level — Sony deserves credit. But I wouldn’t recommend getting the SmartBand just yet.

Sony SmartBand

There are numerous features that need refining or fleshing out, and several of them are pretty useless. As a fitness band, this SmartBand is less capable than current models from the likes of Jawbone, Fitbit and Basis. Plus, the set-up is overly complicated, and the design could use some work.

There are two parts to the SmartBand: The silicone wristband, which comes in one color (black) and two sizes (large and small, both included); and the brains of the operation, which Sony calls the Core. It’s a small, white, rectangular piece, with a single button and three notification LEDs on the right side and a microUSB charging port on the bottom.

The Core slips into the center slot on the underside of the wristband, its slight curve allowing it to rest comfortably on your wrist. The SmartBand is a bit clumsy to put on, but the two-prong aluminum fastener did a good job of keeping it in place, unlike the Fitbit Flex, which constantly came undone when I tried it out for a couple of weeks. I wore the SmartBand every day for about a week, and it never really bothered me, even when sleeping. It’s also waterproof in up to 9.8 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.

The SmartBand’s bland design leaves much to be desired, though. Without a display or unique markings, it looks like one of those Livestrong-type bracelets on your wrist. Later this month, Sony will be launching different color options in packs of three for $25 each.

As I mentioned earlier, setting up the SmartBand to work with your smartphone feels more complicated and confusing than it needs to be. The provided support documents would have you believe that you need NFC on your phone to pair it with the SmartBand, but you can also do it via Bluetooth. You just need to have Sony’s SmartConnect app downloaded to your device first, and then you can go about the usual pairing process.

Sony SmartBand

I tested the SmartBand with the LG G3 via NFC, and after tapping the band to the back of the phone, I was connected with no problem, and was prompted to download the SmartConnect app, which provides access to all the different SmartBand settings. But in addition to that, I had to download another SmartBand app, and then the Lifelog app. It would be nice if Sony could consolidate all of the software into one central app, or at least streamline the process to avoid all those extra steps.

Once set up, the SmartBand recorded how much I walked, ran and slept. It also calculated the number of calories I burned, and how much of my slumber was deep sleep versus light sleep. But it doesn’t track activities outside of things like biking, and it doesn’t have a heart-rate monitor like the Samsung Galaxy Fit. So as a fitness device, the SmartBand is pretty limited.

It does, however, log data like whom you chatted with throughout the day, how much time you spent browsing the Web, how much music you listened to and more — that is, as long as you’re doing all those activities on your phone. If you have a Sony Xperia smartphone, the Lifelog app will even break down the specific tracks and videos that you enjoyed.

You can also double-press the button on the SmartBand to create a Life Bookmark. This is meant to document any special moments throughout your day, and Lifelog will automatically record the time, location and weather. You can then go in and add notes and photos. I used it for events like dinners with friends and training runs for an upcoming race.

All of this information is presented in a good-looking interface where the top half of the screen allows you to scroll through a timeline of your day to see the highlights or watch your whole day played back in a slick animation. On the bottom half, you’ll see all your stats in a colorful table, and you can tap on individual items to see your progress over time.

Sony Lifelog

I have a pretty bad memory, so having Lifelog was a good way to remember how I spent my days. To me, it provided a much more detailed and useful picture of my life than the flat stats of other activity trackers.

Unfortunately, that’s about if for the highlights. In addition to tracking, the SmartBand can alert you to new phone notifications via vibration. But without a display or different vibration patterns, it’s impossible to distinguish whether you’ve got a new message, a phone call, or something else. It also doesn’t alert you when you’ve reached a fitness goal, and the notifications stopped working altogether after a couple of days.

You can use the SmartBand to control some apps on your phone, like the music player and camera. For example, pressing the button on the SmartBand, then double-tapping the band, will skip to the next music track. You can also do this to take pictures with your smartphone’s camera, but the awkwardness of holding your phone while tapping the SmartBand is just not worth the trouble.

The SmartBand has an estimated battery life of five days, and I found that to be pretty accurate.

Despite all the buzz around wearable technology, it’s still very much a nascent category in which companies and users are trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I think Sony is on the right track with things like the Lifelog app, but the SmartBand SWR10 is still a work in progress.

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