We review the Sony SmartBand Talk, a smart little life tracker that can also take calls and throw notifications straight to your wrist – providing you have an Android phone.
Design: Spindly wrists are a bad thing
If you’re after a wearable that’s reasonably subtle and suitable to wear constantly, even when enjoying a spot of exercise, the Sony SmartBand Talk is a strong choice. It’s a lot slimmer and lighter (just 24g) than most smartwatches and also fully water-resistant, with an IP68 rating (which means it can be fully submerged in around a metre of water for half an hour or so). Basically, that means you don’t have to worry about whipping it off when you’re doing the dishes or taking a shower, if you’re ultra-lazy.
I quite like the simple design, with both black and white models looking quite smart, although the strap is a total fluff magnet. Be sure to get the right size too – at first I had the M/L, which was definitely not built for spindly wrists like mine. It’s not a massive issue if you get the wrong one for you, thankfully, as you can simply pull out the little clips and replace the entire strap.
The SmartBand Talk is a simple device at heart. On the sides you’ll find just one small button and a volume rocker. That smaller button is used to cycle between apps or answer/end a call, and when you want to interact with an app, you just tap the screen nice and hard (nancy-boy prods don’t register). I found it a satisfyingly intuitive smart device and after just a minute of playing with the SmartBand Talk app, which takes you quickly through the basics, I was up and running.
Setup: Tap and go
The SmartBand Talk app (available on Android) allows you to quickly connect your phone to your band via NFC or Bluetooth and set it up, choosing exactly which notifications you receive (if any). That app is also used to adjust the SmartBand’s settings, such as the do not disturb times and the alarm times, as well as add new apps.
There’s also a handy Locate SmartBand feature, which is good for those irritating moments when the band strays from your wrist. Tap the button and your SmartBand Talk will begin to vibrate, bleep and light up, so you can track it down.
Apps and features: Lifelogger
One of the SmartBand’s best features is its 1.4-inch curved e-ink display, which is easy to read even in bright sunlight and drains less power than your standard LED screen. Unlike many other smartbands, this gives you a constant read-out of the time and also displays any notifications that come in, such as emails and instant messages. Of course, you can’t reply to any notifications through the band itself, which would be insanely fiddly on such a tiny display.
The SmartBand Talk isn’t a dedicated fitness tracker, but you can still see exactly how many steps you’ve taken that day, including how much time you’ve spent walking and running. Or in my case, how much time I spent doing neither. I found the running counter was usually a little light, occasionally not registering my 30-second sprints for a bus, but aside from that the SmartBand was reasonably accurate.
Not sure about the little man inside the progress counter, though. Maybe he’s supposed to be checking his phone, but he actually looks like he’s flipping the bird.
This wearable isn’t just fitness-oriented, however. The Smartband Talk is a natural partner to Sony’s Lifelog app, if you buy into recording your entire day rather than simple stuff like how far you trek to the station. Not only does it relay your motions to Lifelog, but you can also capture a specific moment by tapping on the band’s app. This then records your location as well as a ten-second sound clip, so you can remember exactly where you ended up last night after eight pints, and which power ballad you were warbling at the time.
One feature that I thought would be rather shonky is the ability to take calls through the SmartBand. That’s right, there’s a built-in mic and speaker so you can do your best Dick Tracy impression whenever your mum calls.
Incoming calls make the wristband vibrate, just like standard notifications, with the caller ID showing on the screen. You can choose to answer with a tap of the SmartBand’s small side-button, which then activates the band’s speaker and mic, allowing you to chat and listen through the device. You’d think that quality would be a little wobbly, but we found that our callers came through loud and clear and they could hear us perfectly, even when we weren’t holding the band close to our mouth.
That’s great news if you receive a call at an awkward moment and want to answer while keeping your hands free, e.g. while messing around in the kitchen. However, you’ll have to be in a relatively quiet location, as the band’s speakers aren’t massively powerful and the mic picks up all kinds of background noise.
You can also control your music with the SmartBand Talk, handy when you need to quickly pause or play your tunes without yanking out and fumbling with your phone. We tried it with our HTC phone’s default music player and it worked a treat, even when the handset was hibernating in our pocket – just tap the screen to pause and tap again to resume.
Soon the SmartBand Talk will also support automatic sleep tracking, but this feature wasn’t available at the time of review. We’re also expecting a few new apps to emerge soon, adding to the band’s functionality.
Battery life: Dockless wonder
We’re thrilled that Sony has eschewed those irritating dock things that most smart watches and wearable devices seem to need to charge up. Instead, you just plug your USB cable straight into the band to charge, giving you one less thing to cart about and inevitably lose.
You also won’t need to plug the SmartBand Talk in every bloody day, thanks to that e-ink display. Most wearable devices die in under 24 hours, giving you one more sodding thing to charge every night (my own bedside table is basically a haven of extender cables and multi-plugs, it’s a wonder I haven’t burned to death in my sleep), but Sony has solved that with that low-powered screen.
Don’t expect wonders, however – that screen does still leech battery life constantly, as it’s always updating with the time and your fitness deets. We managed around three days of use per charge, although that was with notifications regularly popping up and some media app use.
If you’re an Android user after a simple-to-use wearable device, I’d definitely recommend checking out the Sony SmartBand Talk. Set-up is easy and it’s blissfully intuitive to use, yet packs in some essential features such as media control and notifications, as well as bonus abilities like call pickup.
However, if you’re after a fitness-oriented device, you’ll be better off with something dedicated such as the Nike+ Fuelband SE, which offers more in-depth tracking at a cheaper price. So far the SmartBand Talk has no Apple support either, something we’re hoping that Sony will rectify soon.