Sony's SmartBand is just another wearable until you add the Lifelog app

SmartBand and Lifelog
Image: Susie Ochs

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BARCELONA—Simply tracking steps and estimating calories burned isn’t enough to wow in the wearables space anymore. Sony teased the SmartBand at CES, but fleshed out the fitness tracker at the company’s Monday press conference at Mobile World Congress. It looks and acts like a Fitbit Flex, with a rubber wrist strap that contains a little dongle Sony calls the Core. But the difference is in the app, called Lifelog.

Lifelog is like the activity-tracking app Moves, only turned up to 11. Moves tracks your daily treks, and it knows when you’re in the car, walking, running, or biking, providing a map and a timeline of your movements. Lifelog does that too, while also mixing in fitness data from the SmartBand, as well as an automatically generated record of pretty much everything you do with your phone—the games you play, your social media activity, the books you read, the music you rock out to, and so on.

Sony SmartBand and Lifelog Image: Sony

The SmartBand looks pretty generic, but the Lifelog app for Android has style.

All this data is presented on tiles at the bottom of the app’s beautiful interface, and you can see them update as the day goes on. But the really neat part is the richly illustrated timeline along the top. Scrub through a previous day with your finger, and you can relive everything that happened—where you went, how you got there, what you listened to, every photo you took, and how many hours you spent playing Candy Crush. It’s a neat effect—as long as you aren’t horrified to learn how much time you really spend at your desk or just how much Candy you did or did not Crush.

You don’t actually need Sony’s SmartBand to use the Lifelog app. But the waterproof, wearable SmartBand does provide more accurate fitness data than the phone’s sensors can. It also has a button on the side to quickly add a “bookmark” to your day—any moment you want Lifelog to remember. It could be a first kiss or your dog learning a new trick— whatever happens that your phone doesn’t already know about.

Lifelog camera concept Image: Susie Ochs

Sony also showed a concept image for a wearable camera to send zillions of images to the Lifelog app.

The SmartBand can also act as a remote for the phone’s music player, but since it doesn’t have a screen, you just press the button and tap the band. Like the Fitbit Flex, the SmartBand can vibrate to wake you up at the least-jarring part of your sleep cycle, and it can also vibrate to notify you of new emails, calls, tweets, likes, and texts. We wish you could customize those vibrations to distinguish between texts and emails, for example, but that’s not supported right now.

We do have to give Sony props for not locking SmartBand and Lifelog into its Xperia line of phones. Lifelog simply requires Android 4.4 and support for Bluetooth LE. Sony is also working with design partners to develop other ways of wearing the SmartBand, including more fashionable bracelets and pendants. At launch, the rubber wrist strap will come only in basic black, with more colors coming later, including a green and yellow version to celebrate the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

SmartBand colorsImage: Susie Ochs

Launching in basic black, the SmartBand will get colored wristbands later on, and you can switch the Core unit between them.

Our hands-on time revealed a lot of promise—the Lifelog app is beautifully designed—but the big question we’ll have to test is how hard all this constant logging will affect your phone’s battery life. Moves, for example, can really tax the battery life of both Android and iOS devices. Since Lifelog is designed to track your activities 24/7, it would be a shame to have to toggle it off every time you’re in danger of running out of juice.

Sony plans to launch the SmartBand and Lifelog app worldwide this March, but prices and exact availability won’t be announced until closer to launch.

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