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Sony unveils higher res, NFC enabled SmartWatch 2

Jun 25, 2013  |  Eric Brown

Sony revised its Android-based SmartWatch with a higher-resolution, water resistant SmartWatch 2 model featuring NFC sync and a longer-lasting battery. The 1.6-inch SmartWatch 2 was announced two weeks after the company open-sourced the Android firmware for the original SmartWatch.

While the world waits for expected smartwatches from Samsung and Apple, and perhaps even Google and Microsoft, and while startups like Geak try out the market, Sony has updated one of the world’s first Android wristwatches. Today at a Mobile Asia Expo event in Shanghai, China, the company announced the SmartWatch 2 along with a 6.4-inch, Snapdragon 800-based Xperia Z Ultra Android phablet.



Sony SmartWatch 2 showing three of its apps
(click image to enlarge)

 

The SmartWatch 2 appears to offer mostly incremental improvements intended to address the widely noted shortcomings of the SmartWatch, which shipped only last year. (Sony’s original wristwatch computer debuted in 2007.) Incremental may be the wise approach, considering that the new model can run the 200 apps that have already been customized for the original. In addition, smartwatches have certain built in limitations due to the size of the screen, the size of our wrists and fingers, and our fashion and pricing sensibilities. Bigger isn’t always better.

Several Android-based wristwatch computers like the Motorola MotoACTV or the new Geak Watch (shown at the right) are full-fledged Android smartphones, and the I’m Watch goes even further, adding standalone cellular telephony. On the opposite end of the spectrum are simpler, mostly non-Android devices like the MetaWatch and new Pebble watch, which are essentially remote Bluetooth sync’d displays for one’s smartphone.



Sony SmartWatch 2 moves up to a 1.6-inch touchscreen

 

Sony once again finds a space in between. The new model moves from a 1.3-inch touchscreen to a more smartwatch-typical 1.6 inches. It also increases resolution from 128 x 128 pixels to 220 x 176, and offers improved sunlight readability. The IP57-rated water- and dust resistance should become the new standard for the category. There was no mention of whether the device’s ARM Cortex-M3 CPU has been upgraded.

Battery life has been extended to a claimed three to seven days, and the device can now be charged via micro-USB, says Sony. The 42 x 41 x 9mm watch weighs 122.5 grams with the included metal strap, and now supports standard 24mm wristbands. Styling has not changed much, which is a good thing. Reviewers may have given the original SmartWatch a cold reception, but most seemed to agree that given the geeky competition, it looked better than most.

The addition of an NFC (near field communication) chip for one-touch sync, as well as version 3.0 of Bluetooth, are said to dispense with the previous setup hassles. NFC sync requires that one’s phone offers at least Android 4.0, and to sync the phone at all the phone must run Android. NFC may have run out of steam on the automated payment front — we’re talking about you, Google Wallet — but it’s now available in just about all high-end smartphones, and starting to find new applications in areas like direct data swapping.

Some of the original device’s setup hassles were due to the widely-criticized interface, which appears to have been improved in the new version. In addition, Sony says more of the 200 apps available for its SmartWatch 2 on Google Play are now preinstalled. These include apps that let you answer a phone call with the touch of your wrist, snap a smartphone photo remotely, control the music player, control presentations, and read emails or view maps on the watch screen. Lifestyle apps like Runtastic promise to track fitness activities.

As with just about any smartwatch, you can view selected updates from email, calendar, call log, or social networking services. You can also use the phone as a remote mic and speaker for extending voice calls from a Bluetooth-connected phone. When the watch is out of Bluetooth range of your phone, offline features include the ability to review earlier updates, as well as wristwatch functions like compass, timer, stopwatch, alarms, and changing watch faces.
 

Sony open-sources SmartWatch firmware

Earlier this month, Sony announced an Open SmartWatch project to encourage developers to use newly open sourced firmware for the SmartWatch. It’s unclear whether this extends to the SmartWatch 2, but it should, since the devices appear to run the same apps.

Developers can now create and flash their own alternative firmware for the watch, and a Hacker Guide has been published with extensive information about the display, Bluetooth, I2C peripherals, and touch sensor protocols. Sony even helped sponsor a SmartWatch Arduino Hackathon held on June 15 to get Arduino hackers going on new devices and peripherals.

In the past, Sony has had a spotty reputation among the open source community, especially in its legal attacks against Linux hackers trying to upload new firmware to the Sony PlayStation. In recent years, however, it has gone further than most Android device vendors in offering timely updates and supporting the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) by contributing its Android UI enhancements upstream, to be incorporated in mainstream Android. Sony also released an Android-based sensor framework called DASH (Dynamic Android Sensor HAL) as an open source project; the framework enables custom ROM developers to control sensors on Xperia devices.

The Sony SmartWatch 2 will be available worldwide in September, says Sony, which did not list pricing. More information may be found at the Sony SmartWatch 2 product page.
 

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