ZAGG Pocket Wireless Keyboard Hardware Review

ZAGG Pocket Wireless Keyboard Hardware Review

Apr 21, 2015

I have a thing for Bluetooth keyboards. I admit it; I love the ability to have a tool to pound out an article on the go. Getting a look at the ZAGG Pocket Wireless Keyboard was definitely down my alley.

Out of the box, the unit presents a serious front; it looks stately, and has some heft to it, which helps with balance. It mimics a full keyboard closely, if on a smaller scale, with a row of number keys with standard shift options; it also manages to work in arrow buttons. The keyboard is mostly black with grey and blue lettering. Above the keyboard is an extra grey plate.

The review package also contained a USB charging cable and documentation.

It would be a shame to avoid mentioning the defining concept here; it incorporates an interesting quad-fold setup, such that when not in use, it can be stored or toted as a small accessory, occupying a relatively svelte 9 X 2.5 X 0.5 area, reminiscent of a tennis bracelet case. When opened up completely, it creates a keyboard with a built in devise stand.

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Pairing it to Android devices involves putting it into the appropriate mode, and then using the platform-specific button keys to complete the task. In action, it works especially well; quick responsiveness, dual independent space bars and crisp keys. After some test taps, I was able to do quite equitably with it. Folding the keyboard up turns it off, and

The mechanical construction allows only one seam to go along the the keyboard, and it folds up and not down, which makes sense from a functionality standpoint.

The portability does collect a usabilty tax, even if it is a relatively small one. I definitely wouldn’t describe the rows as cramped, but if one is used to full-sized keyboard, it might take some getting used to. The keys are bit smaller, so are a bit less forgiving of errant strokes. At $69.99 on Amazon, it is a bit of an investment.

Still, it is something I’d definitely rather have than not. It’s a slick accessory that begs to be on the go, and works to make it happen.

Lemur BlueDriver OBDII Scan Tool Hardware Review

Lemur BlueDriver OBDII Scan Tool Hardware Review

Apr 16, 2015

Another day, another opportunity to allow connected mobility make life easier. We are all for that.

Enter the BlueDriver OBDII Scan Tool, a piece from Lemur that allows folks to really drill down into auto management.

It is irregularly shaped, with a cuboid base at the core, but retains a relatively small profile. On the one end, one finds the plug-in portion with the telltale pins; on the opposite side is an LED light. The review piece is black with white lettering, and looks and feels like a a well-fused item.

The title says is all: this puck looks to give its user the power of OBDII in a handy little tool; to be very accurate, it does so with the help of a companion app that resides on one’s Android device. The app is a comprehensive sidekick; the UI is bathed in an almost purplish hue that backs the clear-cut icons that hint at the the true functionality of app-puck combo.

This two-part solution is fairly intuitive to use; the puck gets plugged into the ODB port in the car, paired to the device/app, and the accumulated data is accessed via the app. When the app is opened, it requests to turn on Bluetooth if that radio is off, and then looks to pair with the plugged in puck. When it gets going, there is quite a lot of stuff that can be accessed: accident reports, code reader, smog check and plenty more, including flashlight functionality. Additionally, one can get to the user manual from the app, order extra pieces, update sensor firmware and connect with the manufacturer via email, phone or social networks.

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In any case, in action, this piece just works. It pulls in the information seamlessly and presents it equally so, with “pro tip” pop-ups that help with deciphering data. I tried several of the tools, and was pleased with each; I didn’t have a control to confirm readings, or a chance to use the “clear codes” functionality at all, though.

As a permanent tool (it can be left installed), it is a nice accessory to have. It is transferable, easy to use and the mobile component is a big plus. At $99.95 on Amazon, it probably isn’t for the overly casual, but even taht can be argued. If anything, nothing beats having a clue what is going on with one’s car — before going to the mechanic.

Satechi Spectrum Connected Bulb Hardware Review

Satechi Spectrum Connected Bulb Hardware Review

Apr 15, 2015

So yeah, I’m all about spoiling myself nowadays. To be fair, I’ve always enjoyed spoiling myself; it’s just that with mobile technology, it becomes so much easier. As we continue to see more and more connected peripherals, life has the potential to be a bit more whimsical and whole lot more tech-ified.

We had an opportunity to check out some gear from Satechi, and got to take a look at its Spectrum Smart LED Bulb.

Out of the box, the unit looks much like a “regular” incandescent bulb, but a bit weightier at a bit under 6 oz, and with might casually look like a white cover on most of the 2.45 x 4.29 inch bulb surface. It has the standard E26 end, feels well constructed, definitely not as fragile as one might expect, and has an interesting range of stated specs: tops out at 8 watts, a voltage range of 100-240V (50/60 Hz); it boasts a lifetime of 25,000 hours, Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE) and requires at least Android 4.4.

Which brings us to a big part of the system: the companion Spectrum app on Google Play. Downloading and opening the app helps one glean a bit more of what the system purports to do. The bulb screws in much like a regular bulb, but when it is paired to the app via Bluetooth, one is able to control a bunch of extra functionality, like adjusting the color and brightness on the fly. Using the built-in color mixer, it’s possible to select from a plethora of hues in the color spectrum, using red, green, blue and white as the core bases. The app also incorporates a timer, a “scene” selector, dimming functionality, proximity sensor and even a missed call notifier (via the bulb).

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The use scenarios are fairly vast. Mood lighting? There’s disco flasher which is interesting. I shamelessly admit to using it as a visual intercom to summon the kids. Using the timer, it’s possible to set the bulb to dim to sleep at night and to go on in the morning if one’s morning starts before the sun rises. Admittedly, the bulb does come in handy in a number of real life ways. The fact that the app is able to manage multiple Satechi Smartbulbs — individually and collectively — is another benefit. It remembers the last color setting when turned off manually.

At $34.99 (on Amazon), each bulb is a bit of investment; the LED nature and added usability might help allay cost concerns. The timer function was wonky at first, but has ended up being quite reliable.

In the end, in a gimmicky accessory world, it was surprising at how well I cottoned to this item. Just as well too, as I think it fits in well with the concept of pampering myself.

The Quicklock Padlock Hardware Review

The Quicklock Padlock Hardware Review

Apr 13, 2015

We all love the connected home? What about a connected lock to start it all off?

How about the Quicklock Padlock?

The review package contained USB-cable, documentation, and NFC card and the lock itself; there’s no missing the lock, in that it looks like, well, a lock. The review unit is mostly blue and grey, with the metal shackle being the latter. The body is in the shape of a small cylinder, with a recessed charging port on the backside, and a bluetooth button/LED on the front.

The manufacturer also provided us companion Android software — in beta — that serves as the control bridge for the hardware. The app is simple, presented a business-like grey, and when it is initiated, it turns on the host device’s Bluetooth radio and searches for a lock. On the hardware side, one has to press the aforementioned button on the front of the device to initiate pairing. When the lock is found, the app requests a password (in our case, provided by the manufacturer). As soon as the connection and password is verified, a simple control screen appears, allowing the user to unlock, or set the unit to auto unlock. The app allows one to manage multiple locks, as well as edit the name and auto lock time.

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The unit also allows for NFC control; I was able to pair to the provided NFC card. It works as advertised, if a bit laggier than the app. The manufacturer offers a bunch of NFC accessories (like a ring) on its website.

It’s all pretty seamless, and fairly intuitive.

But then, the wireless connectivity that makes the solution attractive brings to mind some interesting questions. The first one has to do with complete power drain; if the unit drains out, it can be operated, but must be charged with, say, a portable charger (and the cable has to be just right too to fit); as such, I felt more comfortable topping it off frequently, which isn’t optimal. Another quirk is that button at the front. Prior to operating, it has to be pressed each time, meaning one would have to physically make contact with the lock every single time. Not life-ending by any means, but this did curb my dreams of sending my kids to the shed out back white I sip on a Pepsi watching Dancing with the Stars. The NFC functionality helps in this regard, as one can match a few to it, but that does put a damper on true access control.

I wasn’t able to view access control, but for an item still being designed, it’a pretty interesting piece. With some polishing, the whole thing can be a killer combo. It it something I’d use?

Absolutely.

Kenu Airframe+ Hardware Review

Kenu Airframe+ Hardware Review

Apr 9, 2015

My mobile mantra is “simplicity is best.” Essentially, to be as productive as possible, I look to find solutions that are simple and effective. There are plenty of tools that are overly involved, or simply too much solution for a gentle problem. There are also complex solutions that go way beyond a simple use scenario. Technologically speaking, there can be too much of good thing.

As I have gotten older, I have started looking for the easy accessories… stuff that enhances the use of my mobile devices, is just as portable and — this one is a biggie — handily affordable.

Here’s to hoping that the Kenu Airframe+ Portable Car Mount hits on all three points.

The unit Kenu sent us highlights the Airframe+ in all its retail glory: simple packaging with an emphasis on the product itself. As noted, this is a car mount, and it is rated for larger phones and phablets of up to 6″ and is basically a more extensible version of the original Airframe, which worked with slightly smaller devices. The retail packaging also contains diagrammed documentation. We got the black one, but there is also a white version.

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In hand, the Airframe+ is strikingly light, and also pretty compact at 2.7 x 1.9 x 0.98 inches and under an ounce in weight. The exterior fels like a combination of synthetic materials, and there is also some metal: specifically zinc alloy and stainless steel. It looks a bit like a simple c-clamp without the screw part; instead, it hs a pyramidal part that sits on the back.

The small frame is a bit deceiving, because at first glance one might not catch the expandable grip. The one end can be pulled to create more area, and it naturally retracts to provide a tight fit. It all comes together quite intuitively, and works well. I tried it with both a Samsung Galaxy S5 and a note, and it come together nicely.

It promises o attach to all car vents, and certainly did on the ones I tried it on. It simply snaps into place, at which point one can insert and remove devices quite easily. As an added benefit, one can use a card to prop the Airframe+ as a standalone device stand.

Pretty nifty.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of vent holders for obvious reasons, but I do like the construction of the unit, and the extra usage. At $20.29 (via Amazon), it is quite affordable.

So, it seems the Airframe+ is able to hold it own in the functionality challenge.

WorldCard Mobile Phone Kit Hardware Review

WorldCard Mobile Phone Kit Hardware Review

Apr 8, 2015

Another day, another business card. A hassle? I can be, but a college professor told me that getting business cards is a good thing. As such, PenPower’s WorldCard Mobile Phone Kit, which purports to give users the opportunity to digitize business cards, has to be great.

Right?

I’d seen pictures of the piece prior to receiving the review package that PenPower sent us, but I still admit to being surprised upon physically handling it. It comes in a nice, polished metal finish; it looks like a device dock with an extended piece behind it. Said piece folds out into a smaller dock of sorts for business cards. It feels nicely machined, with deliberate stylings and gentle curves, such that there are no real sharp edges. it is mostly grey with black and light gold accents, and the moving pars are smooth in action. The whole unit manages to be stately without being overly pretentious.

Officially, it comes in at 2.6 x 3.2 x 5.2 inches and weighs 7.76 ounces.

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The hardware — which, as hinted at, holds a phone upright such that it can take a picture of a card propped behind it — is just a portion of the solution. In many ways, the hardware complements the companion WorldCard Mobile Lite software, which controls the capture process. Once installed on a device, the app can be invoked and used to pull in data, which it then interprets using built-in OCR technology. The app has more functionality; it can sync with the phonebook, allowing all contacts to become a part of the app. In this, the app acts like a second contact repository, with the ability to act on the data right from within the app.

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Frankly, I was surprised at how effective the solution is in real life. The issue of dealing with business cards has been around since PDA days, and this is the first one I’ve cottoned to; the potential for one-touch processing of data is quite attractive.

My biggest gripe has to do with documentation. The manufacturer/distributor doesn’t include much, and the companion software feels just as bereft. The hardware and software work decently well together, and it would be nice to see it all explained formally. The app is also a bit clunky; again, this probably boils down to the need for better how-tos. I still feel as if here is some functionality that I am not using to the fullest. Also, if I were to nitpick, I would have liked some design attention paid to charging while in soft use.

In the end, though, the added use, design and concept are almost too good to ignore. I like the look of the piece, and at $59.99 (on Amazon), it doesn’t have an unbearable entry point. At the end of the day, the question becomes whether one would rather have it or not.

My answer is fairly clear.

Nova Blox External Battery Hardware Review

Nova Blox External Battery Hardware Review

Mar 31, 2015

The Juno Power Nova Blox External Battery is a mobile option that looks to give extended life to our mobile devices.

It’s a relatively small piece, mostly silver with deliberate black accents. It has a button on the side, with a micro-USB charging port and what looks to be a prominent LED light on one end, and on the opposite end, there is a USB outlet port. Officially, it comes in at 2.87 x 2.01 x 0.83 inches, and weighs 4.65 ounces. Overall, it is barely bigger than a box of tic tacs, which makes it quite portable and even fairly pocketable. The retail package also provides a micro-USB cable (which can be used to charge the unit and also as an output cable) as well as documentation. We got the silver, and there are other trim options.

Using the unit is intuitive; it came with a good charge (as signified by the hitherto hidden row of charge indicators that line one side), so it was able to be used immediately. Charging pace is good, though, unscientifically, it does feel a tad slower than “regular” AC charging. It’s rated at 4000 mAh capacity (and 5 Volt -2.1A output), so it packs quite a punch.

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The power button toggles charging duties, but also has a secondary function: pressing and holding it causes that previously described prominent LED light to show its true purpose as a flashlight. It won’t cut through the darkness Vin Diesel encountered in Pitch Black, in a pinch it isn’t a bad tool to have, especially since a portable charger is key in a power outage situation.

The hold time, raw power output and portability are great features, but almost just as attractive is the pricing. $24.99 on Amazon is competitive. It works with a multitude of devices across platforms… just about most devices that require USB charging functionality.

All in all, as a portable option from a well known entity in the business, it resonates as a great option.

INSTEON Home Remote Control System Hardware Review

INSTEON Home Remote Control System Hardware Review

Mar 31, 2015

We’ve said it so much that it has to be true: The Connected Home isn’t the future. It is definitely the present, and the smartphone is the new control panel. INSTEON is front and center in this area, and we were eager to check out its customizable solutions.

The Starter Kit INSTEON sent us to review contains some of the elements that connect one’s home; the retail packaging contains the INSTEON Hub and two on/off modules. The former serves as the brain of the system, while the latter serve as elements that help effect control.

The pieces come in white, with the hub being noticeably bigger than each on/off module, coming in at 3.75 x 3.75 x 1.5 inches (versus 3.24 x 2.08 x 1.15 inches of each module). The hub is — as the dimensions indicate — a solid, hard plastic-covered box with LED light on the one side, and charging and ethernet ports on the opposite one. The modules resemble 3-pin plugin extensions, with LED light and buttons on the side. In addition to the three main pieces, the retail package also contains white cables for power and ethernet, as well as documentation.

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The setup is pretty easy; first, the hub gets connected to power and internet source via the supplied cables. After this, the next step is to download the INSTEON for Hub app from Google Play or the Amazon Appstore. After connecting to the Hub via wi-fi, it’s a matter ofconnecting the extra peripherals — in our case, the two on/off modules. After pairing those pieces, it was game time.

using the app, it is possible to control the on/off modules. The uses are endless: fans, electronics, lamps, heaters and more. Anything that is connected to the modules can be controlled via the wireless signal relayed by the hub. It’s pretty effective, and, in our testing, instantaneous.

The great aspect of the solution is the inherent mobility vested on one’s smartphone by the INSTEON Android app. The ability to manage on the go is priceless. The ability to tailor the system to one’s precise needs is equally admirable; there are several pieces that bring home automation to bear, from security to the control of pieces from other systems.

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The Android app is a bit clunky though, what with the endless update loop. Setup could use more complete instructions, and overall, the companion software could use some sprucing up. The presence of a web version is welcome, even if it’s in beta, and managing several pieces after setup is quite easy. At an investment of just under $111 for the starter kit (via Amazon) makes it fairly reasonable.

It’s hard to dislike the ability to make the system one’s own. As noted, INSTEON touches on jut about every aspect of home automation and security, so one can mix and match pieces to create the perfect solution. In the end, that specific pro seemingly drowns out any cons.

Kenu Stance Micro-USB Tripod Hardware Review

Kenu Stance Micro-USB Tripod Hardware Review

Mar 27, 2015

When it comes to a cool accessory, give me one that is small, portable, and effective. You know, just like what the Kenu Stance Micro-USB Tripod claims to be.

To give one an idea of how compact this tripod is, it just about fits in the palm of one’s hand. Out of the box, it is fairly nondescript, with brushed sinc-alloy making up most of the legs. It possesses a neon green topper (the MicroMount, made of “grilamid” composite material) that fits into a micro-USB port; similarly colored thermoplastic rubber covers the end of the legs. At first glance, it is clear that the the legs are somewhat irregular, but are engineered to lay plush together when the unit is not being used. Altogether, it comes in at 0.94 x 0.47 x 3.1 inches and only 1.2 ounces.

When the legs are spread, it takes on a slightly different persona; the legs open up at at an angle to each other in way that is atypical but effective. The top part is further revealed to be a basic ball and socket joint that more or less allows the hosted device to be adjusted along the grilamid axis.

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In the end, any accessory is only as good as the value it adds to a device, and in this, the Stance serves a great purpose. As someone who was spoiled by the original HTC EVO 4G and its kickstand, and one who does consume media via smartphone on the go, this gadget makes sense in a variety of ways. Upright, it works great with Google Hangouts and other videochat options. I was also able to record voice via third-party mics, use it for recording video, and otherwise have access to the phone in regular position. I especially liked using the ball and socket functionality to access the phone in landscape, which is great for watching video.

My one issue is that the MicroMount fits very tightly — good, yes, but tight enough to give me pause while inserting it. On the plus side, it works even with smaller tablets (even though it isn’t rated for such), and with Windows phone devices.

All in all, it fits the bill: small and useful. It’s inherent portability is definitely an advantage, and this piece practically begs to be a part of one’s go-bag.

Jabra Sport Wireless+ Headphones Hardware Review

Jabra Sport Wireless+ Headphones Hardware Review

Mar 26, 2015

As we like to say, being connected is a privilege, more and more aspects of our lives are becoming portions of IoT, and our smartphones are becoming the de facto hubs. This is so very obvious in the area of fitness and health, where accessories are quite the rage.

With Jabra’s Sports Wireless+ Bluetooth Headphones, we get to see a formidable option from an industry vet.

The review package Jabra sent was nicely boxed. The set is pretty light in hand, almost surprising so. The physical presentation basically consists of two three-quarter moon ear loops and a rubber-coated cable that connects the two in the behind the neck earphone style. The ear loops come in the main black-with-yellow accents that is synonymous with Jabra, The right piece houses the soft controls: a power button, volume buttons, FM button (hint, hint), microphone pinhole and covered micro-USB port. There’s even LED lights which help signify power and bluetooth status. Each ear loop measures in at 2.5 x 1.7 x 0.5 inches, and the whole set weighs 0.88 ounces. The retail box also contains a pack of ear gels, USB cable and a nifty carrying case.

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After charging and powering on, pairing the 3.0 Bluetooth to an audio source is fairly easy; long-pressing the power button for several seconds puts the headphones in pairing mode, and they can then be discovered and connected to. That easily, I was able to start listening to music and podcasts from the trusty M8. Of special interest to me, obviously, is the fit. For a pair of sports phones, they work well, and the behind the neck styling is not too bothersome. yes, the loops did feel ever-present but not so much so that they were lingering distractions. They work well for running, and I wasn’t able to dislodge it by head-banging. the advertised military-grade specs (dust, durability and dust protection) definitely come into play, and the unit does feel durable.

This accessory boasts some decent extras beyond the core functionality. There is the built-in FM tuner, teased via soft buttons. Honestly, I was shocked at how well it worked. It didn’t catch every FM channel when compared head-to-head with a dedicated radio, but the ones it did catch sounded pretty good. It handles phone calls well, though I did get some feedback from talking in the microphone.

I also like the little things, like the fit adjust clip and the several ear gels that help in getting the most comfortable insertion.

One point that might irk some folks is that there isn’t any Android app; the app works well without it, bu if one wants the added on benefit available with some other Jabra products, they’ll have to forego it for now. Also, the range is fairly limited.

When it’s all said and done, it does well in it’s main job, and reasonably well in a few extra aspects at well. At just under $90 (on Amazon), it isn’t a prohibitive proposition.

Not bad at all.

Sony Xperia Z3v Review

Sony Xperia Z3v Review

Mar 23, 2015

For Android smartphone aficionados, every OEM has something about it. We do associate things to different OEMs — some good, some bad. Personally, I love being able to see unbranded hardware and more or less guess who makes it based on some design cues. Since Android is blessed wit device makers that have backgrounds in varied consumer electronics ventures, it’s interesting to see how their Android smartphones extend the brand.

Sony definitely has a rep in consumer electronics, and its Xperia line is the embodiment of that reputation in te personal computing space. Specifically with the Sony Xperia Z3v, one of its latest devices, Sony shows us how even the sleek can get, well, even sleeker.

The review unit Sony sent to us helps one conceptualize the design. Physically, it is clearly a Z3 variant, and it unashamedly hearkens to the Z2. We style is deliberate, with regal cuts, glass front and back with plastic exo-core coming in at 5.85 x 2.89 x 0.35 inches; it packs a 5.2″ Full HD 1920 x1080 pixel screen that is actually fun to look at. At first glance, one might be forgiven if they wonder where the ports are; te device is seemingly devoid of them except for the 3.55 mm audio port — the rest covered by plastic tabs, such that one needs to pull said tabs up and out to do stuff like charge the device or use the sd card port.

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The wake/on button and volume rocker are placed on the side, which does help with single-handed use. We also get 20.7 MP camera in the back and a 2.2 MP snapper in the front.

Under the hood, Sony does pack a lot of goodness… 3 GB RAM 32 GB memory (tested version), Snapdragon chip, and just about every connectivity option one can think of, including MHL and Miracast support. When it’s all said and done the Z3v is a connectivity powerhouse.

The included software suit isn’t bad, with mainstays like PS Remote Play tucked in for Playstation folks. Sony’s cover skin is thin, but I did find the Amazon integration interesting: the included suite of Amazon apps can’t be completely uninstalled. If this is truly the last time we see the music app labeled as Walkman, it could be said it went out repping the brand quite well.

Of note is the SmartWear compatibility; we had an opportunity to try it out with the Smartwatch 3, and they worked quite well together. Of course, all Google apps are included, with the backing of the Google Play Store.

The whole package is smooth, even at a non-contract price of $599 (on Amazon). The software and hardware come together quite nicely, and it is definitely a testament to Sony being able to make (and improve upon) nice hardware.

Sony SmartWatch 3 Hardware Review

Sony SmartWatch 3 Hardware Review

Mar 16, 2015

Sony is back, yes. With the Smartwatch 3.

The screen itself is rectangular, with a rubber-ish black band that doesn’t separate. The main design allows for the rectangular core to be separated from the band, such that other style of bands can be used on the fly. It sports a 320×320, 16 bit color screen on a 1.6 inch (diagonal) screen. The whole watch is billed at about 2.53 ounces.

When it comes to the hardware itself, its probably easier to note which sensors are not packed into this unit. One gets GPS, gyroscope, ambient light and even a magnetometer. It rocks bluetooth, NFC and wi-fi, along with a mic, as well as being waterproof. Processor? Quad ARM A7, 1.2 GHz, with memory stats of 512 MB RAM and 4 GB eMMC. It looks safe, but does have some power under the hood.

Pairing the unit involves getting the SmartWatch 3 paired to an Android device via Android Wear, which was pretty painless. The watch does expected watch functions, as well as a host of health-related tasks, prominent of which is measuring movement. Also prominent is the Google Now functionality, which is where the built-in mic comes in handy.

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The big differentiator here is the combination of hardware and the aforementioned Android Wear. The implementation of the latter is especially interesting, as it really allows the SmartWatch 3 to be both a dual screen and a fairly independent device. There are some nice applications available for it as well, like a music player

I did like the overall utility of the device, even if I was not the biggest fan of the form factor; while the band switching functionality is pretty nice, I do think Sony could have taken a few more chances with the design. I also was not a fan of the positioning of the charging port. Additionally, Android Wear was truculent at times, and I didn’t get advertised two days of use from a charge.

As a connected health tool, I did like the product overall; if anything, it proves why we’d prefer Sony in he smartdevice sector.

Sony is back… and should stay.