Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wearables–The Sony Smartband–Part 1

sony smartbandI don’t normally get round to doing reviews, but I’m going to make an exception today as I think it will give some insight into product and service development and how important it is to be thinking about your consumer.

I spoke recently at an event at LBi in London. As a thank you, I was given a Sony Smartband, one of these. I’m not one for gadgets. This is my first so-called wearable. A wearable fitness band wasn’t even on my wish list, but since I’d been given it as a gift, I thought I’d give it a go. I was also given this just before heading off to Glastonbury Festival so I thought it might be interesting to know about how much walking I actually do there (it’s a lot!) and compare that with my normal life.

It’s one of the less expensive wearables. It uses a normal micro usb port to charge it up so I can use one of the myriad chargers I have and it’s light and relatively comfortable to wear. It does look odd though as it’s just a black band. I’d like it better if it also had a watch face on it – digital or analogue, I don’t mind. But something that would give it a more regular purpose than simply being on my wrist would be helpful.
Allegedly, this band uses NFC as one of the mechanisms to update the proprietary software – Lifelog. Despite having a lovely Google Nexus 7 tablet, I couldn’t get it to work consistently so I use the low-powered Bluetooth instead. It’s not perfect, it takes a little while to update and a few refreshes, but it gets there eventually. It also means I don’t have to actually have the two devices touching in order to get them to sync up. The touching thing is not terribly convenient when one is in a wristband and the other is in a hard case.

Because the device doesn’t have a screen, I’m sure I don’t use all the functionality correctly. I sync it, I charge it up and that’s about it. I don’t have the patience to be fiddling with the button presses – press once for this, press twice for that – and remembering what that actually means. So I have it on the same mode all the time and I have it on automatic nightmode. I really wanted it to just, you know, work. Is that too much to ask?

I’m still wearing the device, although I’m not entirely sure why as I don’t love it. Here’s why I don’t love it…
The alarm is really annoying. The idea is that the band will wake you up between a certain time interval at the point where you are sleeping the most lightly so it doesn’t come as a shock to the system. Except that the buzzing alert feels like a small electric shock to me and it’s so horrid, that I switch it off as quickly as possible and go straight back to sleep! Something that started more gently and rose in intensity would be much better. The vibration thing is just a bit too harsh. That was disappointing. I had high hopes of being woken up gently and feeling refreshed! Tis not to be.

I don’t know when the battery is running down. I think it’s supposed to emit a light, but if/when it does, I haven’t noticed it. So the device has run down its battery on a few occasions which means I’ve skipped some meaningful days of data when I actually was doing a lot of walking or exercise or whatever. Maybe a visual alert on my tablet would be more useful. Or, you know, if it was also a watch (even a really simple one), it could show me something there.

The nightmode is weird. I’ve managed to switch it on at times when it’s not night (I don’t know what I did) and other times, it hasn’t kicked in. Your sleep is only measured when it’s in nightmode so if you’ve had a very late night, and you’re still dancing in your nightmode hours, those steps aren’t being counted. And then when you sleep your day away, your sleep pattern isn’t measured. I’m sure there is a way to switch it on and off but I haven’t worked out or remembered how to do that.

The Lifelog app is a bit rubbish. Yes, I can see some nice graphs of how many steps I’ve taken by day, week or month, but there’s no context to it. I can’t annotate the data, e.g. adding a location – Glastonbury Festival, or my Mum’s house. And I can’t extract the data either. And it doesn’t link in with any other apps such as myfitnesspal, which  I might use more if they synched with each other. And I can’t keep the lifelog app on for any length of time as it’s a massive battery drain so I only monitor activity on the smartband (you can also monitor your online activity).

There’s also no real meaning… what does it mean if I’ve done 5000 steps or not. Should I be doing more? If I do less, what’s the consequence? How does this compare with other women of my same build, height, weight and age?

The good thing is that I now know what 5000 steps looks like (it’s basically a walk to my local supermarket and back). I also know that I spend a large proportion of my time sat at my desk. And my sleep isn’t as good quality as I thought it was.

So maybe it has its uses. And I am still wearing it, so at some level, I must be getting something out of it otherwise I wouldn’t bother at all. But would I pay £70 or so for it, nope. And why would you when the new Xiaomi Mi Band is just £8 for more or less the same functionality and a 30-day battery life? Oh, and it’s prettier than the Sony Smartband too.

Read Wearables Part 2 - What about the data?