Image source: Sony

Review: Sony SmartBand 2 – new tracker includes heart-rate sensor

Sony Smartband SWR12

6.8

Design

6.0/10

Ease of use

8.0/10

Use of information

7.0/10

Motivation

6.0/10

Pros

  • Price
  • Life logging app
  • Heart rate monitoring

Cons

  • No screen
  • Not all life logging metrics useful

 

Sony has released the second-generation of its original SmartBand fitness device. The original device launched more than a year and a half ago and represented Sony’s entrance into the health and fitness wearables market.

The Sony SmartBand 2 or SWR12 as its called, is an innovative life logging wrist band that enables you to keep track your activity. This is not restricted to fitness – rather it also tracks the quality of your sleep, your communications and your entertainment. The main upgrade in the new device is the inclusion of a heart rate monitor which in addition to monitoring your pulse also keeps track of Heart Rate Variability.

Sony’s tracker is trying to cater to quite a wide audience. What sets this device apart from other fitness bands currently on the market, is its innovative Life Logging app.

The Lifelog app collects all your camera and music activities and presents them in conjunction with your daily fitness activity. This means that it tracks a range of your daily habits, such as the pictures and videos you took; the games you played; the music you listened to and web browsing time. You an also see where you’ve been – from a restaurant you visited to the location of a photo – and an edit function lets you write your own personal comment into each Life Bookmark.

Design
Ease of use
Use of information
Motivation
OverviewView technical specs

Design 

The device is ergonomically crafted from smooth silicone. While it looks rather sleek – the size is the same as the original device which means that it is slightly wider than many fitness bands currently on the market.

All in all, the design is minimal and practical. It could easily pass as a fashion accessory. Sony has dropped the e-ink screen which could display the time and your daily stats on its SmartBand Talk device. In fact the new band does not feature any display at all – instead it relies on vibrations and LEDs to convey its messages. Or you can always refer to your phone to see how you are progressing.

What has also changed is that both the removable ‘core’ of the device containing the sensor technology as well as the strap and buckle have been updated. And as mentioned, the ‘core’ now includes a heart-rate monitor.

The band features a single button on the side for powering on the device and skipping through a number of the modes. There are also three LED lights which tell you which mode the Smartband is currently in.

As with the original device, the core of the SmartBand 2 can easily be popped out of the silicone strap. This allows you to then choose a strap from the range of colours on offer – white or black at the moment – with pink and indigo to be launched later in the year. The device weighs less than 30g, so you will hardly notice that you are wearing it.

With an IP (Ingress Protection) rating of IP68 the SmartBand is protected against both water and fine dust particles. This means that you can keep it on while taking a shower, running in the rain or diving into the pool. Sony however stresses that you should not take the band deeper than 3 metres of water and for longer than 30 minutes; and the water should be fresh water. Casual use in chlorinated pools is permitted provided the SmartBand 2 is rinsed in fresh water afterwards. So no seawater and no salt water pools.

The band can vibrate to alert you to calls and messages, or if you strayed away from your mobile phone. It also alerts you when you achieve a fitness goal and can be used as an alarm clock. In addition, the band can pause and play music from your phone and has a night mode to disable notifications.

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Image source: Sony

SmartBand 2 charges up in about an hour. This is done via micro USB – the module pops out and you just plug it in. Once fully charged, it will keep going for up to 5 days in STAMINA mode (when heart rate tracking is turned off), or up to 2 days with heart rate monitoring turned on (based on heart rate tracking 5-6 times per hour). This reduces further when continuous heart rate tracking is switched on.


Ease of use 

After charging the Smartband 2 core unit with the included USB cable (which takes approx 30 mins and lasts around 2 days), you simply slot the unit into the wrist strap and connect around your wrist, as if it were a watch.

Double tapping the power button on the device puts the band into continuous HRM mode, the battery life for which will be reduced to around ten hours. When SmartBand 2 is in independent mode you can track your activities even if you don’t have your phone with you, so it’s great for running. You can use the device to control media playback or the camera on your mobile device through the tap sensitive surface of the band.

There are many ways to keep track of your SmartBand 2 activity data. The app allows you to pair with your device (via Bluetooth or NFC) and track your main stats, recorded via the Smartband’s heart rate monitor and accelerometer. The smartband 2 is very easy to connect to the host app, you simply turn on the bluetooth on your phone and select the smartband 2 from the list. A couple of lights flash on the smartband and you’re ready to go. With the app, You can see your heart-rate, steps taken, time walked and time spent running, all in real time.

For Android users there’s a dedicated host app to view recent data, or the Sony Lifelog app for a full timeline of heart rate data and statistics straight from your activity tracker. iOS users can download a host app that logs, analyses and stores all activity and heart data. iPhone users can also sync with Apple Health on iOS and Google Fit on Android which provide a more detailed analysis of your stats and gather all your vitals data in one place.

Once paired with a compatible Android or iOS device, SmartBand 2 uses the three LEDs and vibrations to notify you of any calls, messages, Facebook updates or other notifications. The notifications can be customised in the app. The vibrations are subtle enough to indicate a new Facebook message or incoming call without distracting you, but also intense enough to wake you during the light sleep stages of your sleep cycle via the Smart “wake up” alarm. Accompanying coloured LEDs also indicate the different states, e.g. upon entering Activity Mode all three start flashing, or when a notification comes in you have just one soft intermittent light that fades on and off. The “out of range” set of vibrations are also very helpful, as they trigger upon leaving a certain proximity from your smartphone – so less chance of leaving it behind in the taxi again.


Use of information 

This activity tracker is equipped with sensors to monitor your movements and activity. This includes the rather standard metrics such as steps, calories, distance tracking and workout tracking. The sensors on the device also help your guage physical exertion when you exercise by monitoring your pulse and the changes in your heart rate.

Sony is one of only a handful of trackers on the market today that measure heart rate variability (HRV) – the milliseconds between each heartbeat. The device monitors your recovery time and stress levels by combining your pulse, sleep and HRV. It does this by looking at your resting heart rate and seeing how elevated it is based on what you’re doing. If your heart rate remains close to that baseline when you’re awake, it will say you’re in a low stress state. As your heart rate rises, you will advance through the stress levels.

As mentioned, the SmartBand 2 pairs up with Sony’s Lifelog app, which keeps track of your stress levels, heart rate and a number of other non-fitness related activities. This means that in addition to functioning as a timeline of your life events, you can see how your lifestyle choices affect your health and fitness.

Sleep tracking records the number of hours you were asleep and features automatic sleep detection. It tracks broad periods of deep and light sleep. It also has a smart wakeup feature that wakes you up at the best time in the morning based on your sleep cycle. The means that the device waits until you are in light sleep to wake you with the on-board vibration alert. This lets you set a timeframe that you need to get up, and it will wake you at the right time.

All in all, the smartband does exactly what it is supposed to. It tracks your heart-rate, tracks your sleep and your steps taken. There is a lot of information collected which is very interesting and helpful, especially if you are trying to work towards a goal, such as getting fit and losing weight.

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Motivation 

By tracking your recent activity data including exercise, stress and sleep quality, SmartBand 2 gives you insights to know yourself better.

You can view SmartBand 2 data from the past week, month, year and beyond on the Lifelog app. This can help you see how different activities, like a holiday or listening to your favourite tune, can alter your pulse and stress levels so you can learn how to balance your life. The Life Logging app will also help you set daily goals, monitor your progress and challenge your all-time bests.


Overview

The verdict 

Sony’s Smartband 2 doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary and 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 does set it 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. Also, while perhaps not the best in the business, the fitness metrics that it churns out are quite decent.

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Sony SmartBand 2
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Is it a finished product? Probably not. Are all the life logging metrics that the app dishes out truly useful? Probably not. But Sony has the right idea about helping you enter the quantified self movement with an ultimate aim of providing you with a greater insight into how your daily habits and lifestyle choices affect your health. They seem to be moving in the right direction – but it is still work in progress.

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