Digging into the home screen itself, each app icon includes a badge that displays how many unread updates are waiting for you, and as you drill down into actual content, you get a short snippet of text rendered in a minuscule, blurry font. Embedded links are unclickable, of course, as the watch includes no Web browser. But that too is par for the smartwatch course.
Now, you'd think the entire scheme would be annoying, but I actually found some value in swiping through new email messages, tweets, and Facebook updates from a gadget on my wrist. You'd be hard-pressed to find more rudimentary expressions of these key services anywhere else in the mobile universe, but none of the app interfaces feel outrageously convoluted or forced. It would be nice, however, if Sony provided screen-timeout options, as the display will return to its watch face if you leave it untouched for longer than 15 seconds. Even worse, when you reactivate the display, the watch always kicks you back to the home screen instead of the app you were just accessing. That's just plain madness.
Slowly, we inch closer to a tenable smartwatch
Practically sneaking in during the dead of night, the SmartWatch 2 was never introduced to the world during a glitzy press event, and it's not being supported by an expensive ad campaign. It's almost as if Sony were trying to hide something from a public that is already voting no on smartwatches.
Ironically, though, the SmartWatch 2 feels just a bit more polished, finished, and all-around sensible than the Galaxy Gear. Sure, it's riddled with problems, and the display doesn't match the visual clarity of Samsung's. But its UI is comfy and familiar, and its feature set, however limited, essentially accomplishes what it sets out to do. Voice-enabled text entry and "wrist phone" functionality would be nice in any smartwatch. But when those features fail to deliver—as they often do in the Galaxy Gear—they're not just annoyances that can be shrugged away. They make you hate your watch.
In that regard, the SmartWatch 2 is a less offensive product. I would never swap it for the TAG Heuer on my wrist, but I can see how people completely reliant on text messaging and voice calls might find it useful. The world's smartwatch engineers might find it useful too. They should study the SmartWatch 2, tear apart its UI, and poke and prod at its every success and failure. Slowly but surely the smartwatch concept is inching closer to a winning combination of design, simplicity, and utility. The smart people in R&D just need more conflicted, imperfect products like the Galaxy Gear and the SmartWatch 2 to show them a better way forward.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.