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Tech Savvy: Dr. Phil

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Hey there Tech Savvy Fans! This week I wanted to share a little info on a nifty gadget on loan from my friends at Verizon Wireless. A couple weeks ago I was able to meet up with them and they gave me a couple really cool things to check out — the Samsung Note II and the Sony Smartwatch. I’m still putting the Note II through some tests but I’ve got enough info to introduce you to the Sony Smartwatch. Right now it’s only compatible with Android devices due to Apple’s restrictions on apps running in the background. Sorry Apple fans, time to get a Droid.

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I like watches. I used to have a nice Fossil and in the past few years I’ve bounced around between a couple other ones. I like the heft of the watch and being able to just glance down at my wrist is so convenient for checking the time. Unfortunately, in the past year I’ve become watchless and things just weren’t the same. I wasn’t completely out of the loop, I still had my cellphone but it was a complete departure from what I was used to. Eventually I know I will get a new watch, but as I started looking at some of the options out there, I ran into an idea that made me pause my shopping. Smartwatches.

You may have heard me mention some other watches recently — namely the Pebble Smartwatch — and the truth is there are a lot of options out there if you look. The big question is, how do you find a quality one? Just like regular watches, there are varying degrees of quality and like any other smart shopper you want to get the most bang for your buck.

So what is a Smartwatch supposed to do for you? Each watch I’ve seen on the market has uniqueness to it — some use the e-ink tech like the Kindles, some have cameras built into them and others have different features that others don’t. In a nutshell though, a Smartwatch is designed to an extension of your Smartphone, allowing you to interact with your phone and its apps.

Some of the choices out there are all start-ups, some aren’t even in production yet and this is where Sony stands out. Being a heavy hitter already producing top-notch hardware, Sony has the capability to create great solutions and immediately get them into production. This is one of the things that makes the Sony Smartwatch so nice.

At a Glance

When I picked up the Sony Smartwatch, the first thing I noticed was the gloss of the face, it really stood out. It was not a matte finish, so the watch itself looks really sleek. The watch is comprised of a plastic housing that holds the screen and innards. Its entire back is essentially a large clip and you use that both for charging and to hold the Smartwatch onto the wristband. The screen is capacitive (the same touch abilities as most Smartphones now) and that makes it easy to use and pretty responsive to touch. The wristband was a rubber type material with a metal clasp, and the version I got was a black color.

Neat, It’s Glossy... What Else?

Let’s break it down. In the Smartwatch there is ... a watch! There’s also some other really great features. The watch connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Pairing was a snap and Sony made the process pretty foolproof for users who are automatically directed to the correct partner app once they have the Smartwatch connected. It also comes with easy to follow instructions that take you step by step on how to download the partner app, get started and also use the Smartwatch and all of its features.

It is surprisingly light — weighing in at less than most standard watches — and if you’re used to wearing something the size of a Fossil or Citizen you’re in good company here. Because it uses the clip to attach to the watchband, you can even take the Smartwatch off the band while you are still wearing the band. My only beef with the band is because it is a rubber type finish, it doesn’t breathe very well and when exercising it is easy to get a sweatband effect going on.

The Features

Here’s where the Smartwatch really starts to stand out. Many of the other watches out there promote their ability sync information with your smartphone but truly until you get your hands on one it is hard to fully understand what that means. At this point it’s really become second nature for me to just pull my phone out of my pocket when I hear an alert; it was a bit of a shift to get used to looking at my wrist. What makes this system great, though, is how much less intrusive it is to look at my watch rather than scrolling through my phone. I’ll also be the first to admit that I have a tough time just doing one thing with my phone once I’ve got it out. By having alerts come to the Smartwatch I get the alert and then I can just go back to what I was doing.

The Smartwatch has a number of different add on apps that you can use with it and download from the Android Market. These include music player control, GPS tracking and social media integration. There are others, and since Android works on the open market, there are more than one developer working on add-ons for the Smartwatch.

Most surprising to me after having this watch was that the primary reason I used it was still to check the time. I assumed that since I could integrate my social media that I would be checking that constantly, but apparently my Twitter traffic leaves something to be desired — so follow me, please! (@pseibel). Once I had my social feeds worked in though it was great. I was able to dictate a little of what came in — direct messages versus full feed — so I wasn’t being bombarded with alerts.

One thing I really enjoyed about the watch was the display — it was crisp, clear and very vibrant. Some of the smartwatches out there use an e-ink format similar to the Kindle but the Sony Smartwatch uses a capacitive screen that more resembles your smartphone.

The phone will also vibrate when you have an alert — new direct message, mention, text, etc., which is nice since it is much less intrusive than a sound tone. You also don’t have to worry about changing your volume settings from church to work, which is also nice for absent-minded folks like myself.

The battery was surprisingly robust, getting a few days of charge with full use. When you do need a recharge you use a special charger that clamps into the Smartwatch and once you’re plugged in the device charges pretty rapidly.

The Conclusion

Without having a ton of experience with other devices, mainly because there aren’t a lot on the market, it’s hard to do a direct comparison. That being said, the Sony Smartwatch would definitely be a smart purchase. At $149 the pricing is right in line with the other smart devices and certainly in line with the price of a mid range watch. The features on it proved useful, consistently performing and was not a gaudy piece of apparel that I would have been afraid to use.

I think it’s safe to say that this is probably the most feature-laden watch on the market right now and it’s readily available which is a big bonus. I’ll be reluctant to see it go back but for the short while I’ve had it, I’ve been really grateful to have something this tech savvy for my timepiece.

IMHO

I love music. I played cello in high school, trombone a bit, violin when I had to and now I’ve been dabbling in guitar. It constantly amazes me what tech options there are out there for musical instruments. I can learn to play new instruments using my iPad, I can mimic existing instruments using my phone and the Garage Band app has replaced a lot of equipment I used to cart around. Which brings me to my point. In all these great tech advances and wonderful innovations that our devices give us, I have yet to find a true replacement for seeing a choral group live, there is no app that can replace the feel of a master musician playing Mozart, there is no recording app that can give me as much individualism as hot wiring effects chains together.

My bottom line here — don’t let tech replace some of the finer things in life. Don’t just use the (fabulous) Paper app by 53 to teach your kids painting, let them get a little dirty. Don’t rely on a virtual keyboard to teach your kids piano lessons, get involved and help them learn how ivory keys feel when they’re pressed. Let your kids (and you) live a little outside of the digital world, because there are some things you can’t replace.

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