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How the Sony SmartBand Works


A Sony employee holds a Sony Xperia Z3 and a Sony SmartBand Talk during the IFA Electronics show in Berlin  in 2014.
A Sony employee holds a Sony Xperia Z3 and a Sony SmartBand Talk during the IFA Electronics show in Berlin in 2014.
© HANNIBAL HANSCHKE/Reuters/Corbis

Notice a lot more people sporting what appear to be those rubbery, multi-hued "awareness" bracelets, a la the once-omnipresent yellow Livestrong bands? It's not awareness wristbands you're likely seeing, but fitness trackers. These monitors are aimed at measuring your physical efforts (like walking, running and calorie consumption) so you can better keep tabs on your health.

The first such health-tracking device was the heart-rate monitor, which debuted in stores in 1978 [source Polar]. It wasn't until 2013, though, that fitness bands were launched. A 2015 study showed that 10 percent of Americans owned one.

These slim, sometimes chic devices are usually designed to be worn on the wrist, but some can be clipped to your clothing or even tossed in your pocket. Basically, the band or tracker is supposed to be so light that you don't know you've got the thing on. With the tracker on your body day and night, it constantly measures your activities, then syncs the info to your computer or smartphone — often wirelessly — for long-term tracking.

Although research firm IHS Technology predicts the global market revenue for sports, fitness and activity trackers will soar 46 percent from 2013 through 2019, others are already writing the obituary for these monitors. Jason Jacobs, founder and CEO of fitness app RunKeeper, says people only want to carry around one object. So, multifunctional devices such as smartphones and smart watches will include fitness monitoring, thereby negating the need for a separate device. This is similar to how smartphones replaced cameras, video recorders and portable music players by including these functions in the typical smartphone [sources: Jacobs, Walker].

It's certainly possible fitness trackers have hit their zenith in popularity. And that may be what Sony is banking on. Or hedging against. Sony has both the SmartBand SWR10 and the SmartBand Talk SWR30 on the market, the latter of which rises above being simply a fitness tracker by incorporating some smart-watch features. While neither device has gotten total rave reviews from consumers and critics, many people are fans. Let's learn more about Sony's SmartBands.

The Technology Behind the SmartBand

Sony SmartBands in various colors (with the Core in the middle) stand on display at the Sony Corp. pavilion during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain in 2014.
Sony SmartBands in various colors (with the Core in the middle) stand on display at the Sony Corp. pavilion during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain in 2014.
© Manuel Blondeau/Corbis

There are two physical parts to the SmartBand: a silicon band, which comes in an array of colors, and the "Core." The Core is the heart of the device; the band is simply a convenient means of holding it. A small, white piece of plastic, the Core has a micro-USB port on one end for charging, plus a multifunction button on the side with three white LED status lights next to it [source: Colon]. The suggested retail price for the SmartBand is $100 while the SmartBand Talk retails for $170 [source: Sony].

The Sony SmartBand (including the SmartBand Talk) works in conjunction with your smartphone. Powering the band are two smartphone apps: the Sony SWR10 connect app and Lifelog. The apps can be used only with an Android 4.4 (or later) and Bluetooth 4 Low Energy, so if you're an iOS fan, you can forget about the SmartBand right now [source: CNET].

When you're using the SmartBand, the Core is constantly exchanging information with your smartphone via Bluetooth. For example, your phone gives positioning data to the SmartBand; there's no GPS in its hardware. Internal sensors in the Core determine, among other things, whether you're walking, running or traveling by car by your cadence and wrist movements.

What if you forget your phone at home or are out of its range? Never fear. The SmartBand saves all of the data it's collecting about you and will automatically send it to your phone once the two devices are reconnected. The SmartBand also vibrates when your phone is receiving a call, email or text, even if you've got your phone in silent mode, which can come in handy. To protect all of this technology, the SmartBand is dustproof and waterproof to 5 feet (1.5 meters), so you can ever shower and sleep with it [sources: Sony, Spence].

What Are the SmartBand's Main Features?

Both the original Sony SmartBand and SmartBand Talk have two main components, a fitness tracker and a lifestyle bookmark tool, the Lifelog. The band's fitness tracker is fairly standard and simplistic. Intended to be worn 24/7, it keeps tabs on your steps and calculates how far you've walked and ran each day. It doesn't track other physical activities, though, such as cycling. And it doesn't monitor your heart rate. When you hit the sack at night, the SmartBand will record how long you sleep. You'll also learn how many calories you've burned each day.

The SmartBand's Lifelog app is where the fun comes in. As its name implies, the Lifelog's goal is to log your life. Every day, the app will monitor and record your every moment spent in communication (email, Facebook, Twitter), photo-taking, music-listening, movie- and-TV-watching, game-playing, reading and browsing. You can set goal figures for any of those activities — say, 10,000 steps per day — and the app will then also measure your daily figures against your goals [source: Pilcher].

It's easy to review your stats. The top of the Lifelog's home page features an animated calendar with your daily activities highlighted. Below that is a grid of colorful boxes with symbols depicting these activities (e.g., a camera for your photo-tracking or footsteps for your walking habits). The up-to-date time you've spent on these activities that day appears beneath the symbol. Want more specific info? Tap on, say, the footsteps and you'll see the number of steps you've taken, whether it's above or below your daily goal and, in a bar graph, how many steps you took per hour. You can also tap additional tabs to see similar information for the week, month and year. Tapping the bed icon will bring up a screen showing the number of hours you slept the previous night, including the hours and percentage of time you spent in deep sleep, in light sleep and being awake [sources: Colon, Sony].

For even more fun, you can press a button and the Lifelog will play a visual clip of your day: An animated figure will walk through the past 24 hours, while activities pop up on the screen as you did them. If you had your phone's GPS on, a Google map will show your route that day, too [source: CNET].

Getting engaged or promoted? You can add Life Bookmarks, which will log your GPS data, type of activity and the weather at the time of this special moment. You'll have to go in later, though, and add notes about what, exactly, you were doing and how you felt [source: CNET].

As its name implies, the SmartBand Talk has some additional audio components, mainly the ability to receive calls to the device on your wrist. Just like Dick Tracy.

The Sony SmartBand vs. the Competition

Most gadget reviewers say the Sony SmartBand is a solid choice for an activity tracker, although it could definitely use some improvements. Its main competitors are the Fitbit and Jawbone. Here's how it stacks up against them.

Fitness Tracking. Monitoring your activity is the heart of what a fitness tracker is all about. The SmartBand tracks walking, running and sleeping, but not cycling or other activities — a detriment if your main purpose for purchasing such a device is to track your activities. In addition, while it's normal for any such device to be a little off in its numbers, the SmartBand reportedly often provides results that are wayoff, especially compared to other brands. One reviewer, for example, noted the SmartBand was pretty accurate tracking the length of his runs. However, on a day he spent mostly seated, with his one activity lifting weights for 30 minutes, the SmartBand told him he'd walked about 30,000 steps that day, plus run for an hour. Another reviewer said he spent 30 minutes on an elliptical machine, which the SmartBand recorded as one minute of running.

Band Style and Function. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the SmartBand's sleek, minimalist design is reasonably classy and unobtrusive, especially compared to the boxy Basis Carbon Steel and Samsung Gear Fit. And if you don't like its look, you can pop the Core out of the band and toss it in your pocket, leaving the band at home. It'll still work. This feature makes the SmartBand more versatile than a lot of the other activity trackers on the market [source: Colon].

Lifelog. This is where the SmartBand shines. Reviewers loved the Lifelog's graphics, calling them "appealing" and "beautiful." Ditto for the wealth of data provided on everything from your percentage of deep sleep to the number of minutes you spent texting last week. The key question, though, is whether you're interested in receiving this type of data. Some people are fascinated to learn these things about themselves, while others have no use for the information. In addition, while you can set goals in the Lifelog (e.g., walking 10,000 steps per day or only using Facebook for 30 minutes), the app doesn't tell you when you've reached these goals so you can stop the activity, or give yourself a pat on the back [source: CNET].

Phone calls. If you've got the SmartBand Talk, you can receive phone calls on the device. You can also place calls, but only if you're calling a number you've already selected in the band's phone application. Most of the competing brands, at least, are strictly fitness-tracking devices, not smart watches. However, with the launch of the Apple Watch in 2015, it remains to be seen whether the SmartBand Talk can compete against it.

Author's Note: How the Sony SmartBand Works

I'm not what you'd call a gadgety person. I don't own or plan to purchase a Fitbit, Jawbone or SmartBand. Yet I have to admit, I'd like to try the SmartBand feature — at least once, anyway — that lets you see an animation of yourself walking through your past 24 hours' activities as they occurred.

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Sources

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