Hands-on with the Sony SmartWatch 3

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Sony's new wearable is a more sports watch than luxury wearable (Photo: Chris Wood/Gizmag.com)

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Sony’s latest wearable takes a notably different approach than some of its biggest rivals. Where devices like the LG G Watch R, Moto 360 and Asus ZenWatch seek inspiration from traditional time pieces, the SmartWatch 3 opts for a more modern look. Read on as Gizmag goes hands-on with the Sony SmartWatch 3 at IFA 2014.

The first thing we noticed about the wearable was its strap, which extends around the edges of the display. The band continues along the lines of what we saw from last year's SmartWatch 2 – and that really isn't a good thing, with the rubber texture feeling a little cheap. The flowing lines of the design, combined with the strap, make the device feel more like an advanced fitness tracker than a premium smartwatch.

Luckily, things improve significantly when it comes to the main body of the watch itself. The back panel is made from stainless steel with a premium brushed finish. It doesn’t quite manage the same level of quality we’ve seen on the Asus ZenWatch, but it helps add a more premium feel to the wearable. The watch's clip-in clasp is also solid and stylish.

That said, it's clear that Sony isn’t courting the same traditional time piece-loving market that Motorola and LG are swinging for with the Moto 360 and G Watch R. Sony’s new wearable isn’t trying to hide in the guise of a traditional watch – it’s more of a life-logging fitness product than a jewelry piece. The inclusion of an accelerometer, compass, gyro and GPS speaks to this, as does the device’s IP68 dust and waterproofing (nearly every other recent smartwatch has been rated IP67).

It’s difficult to judge the brightness of a display under the bright lights of the IFA show floor, but the 1.6-inch 320 x 320 panel looked sharp and bright enough, and about on par with LG’s G Watch.

Unlike previous Sony smartwatches, the new model runs on Google's Android Wear platform. Flipping through the card-based, notification-centric UI was just as smooth and responsive as on other devices running the software. The wearable’s footprint is lightweight and smaller than circular smartwatches, making it easy to forget it’s on your wrist.

One of the most interesting things about the new smartwatch is the way in which you change the straps. Unlike many other manufacturers, Sony hasn’t opted for a standard 22 mm strap, but has the rubber extend around the display, encompassing it. To change the strap you simply pop the body of the watch out of the band and into a different one.

The downside of this is that you can’t use any old 22 mm strap. On the plus side, Sony has announced plans to release white and pink straps in addition to the black and lime green options adopters will get at launch.

Our overall first impressions of the SmartWatch 3 were a little mixed. The device felt roughly on par with the (original) LG G Watch, exhibiting a simple, functional design, but with sportier, smoother looks. Sony’s decision to make its new wearable more of a fitness product and less of a jewelry watch may well appeal to consumers who aren’t enamored with the undercover looks (or perhaps prices) of the Moto 360 and G Watch R.

And at the very least, its Android Wear software is going to make the SW3 a big improvement over last year's forgettable SmartWatch 2 (which ran some generic-feeling Sony-made software).

As of yet, there's no official word on pricing or availability for the SmartWatch 3, but it's expected to arrive this (Northern) autumn.

For more on the week's big smartwatch previews, you can check out Gizmag's hands-ons with the Moto 360, LG G Watch R, Asus ZenWatch and Samsung Gear S.

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