[Updated Jan 9, 2014] — Sony shipped its Linux-based SmartWatch 2 in the U.S. market, featuring higher-resolution, NFC sync, and water resistance, while also launching its Xperia Z Ultra phablet and Xperia Z1 phone. Meanwhile, Google’s long awaited smartwatch — rumored to be a Nexus model codenamed Gem and featuring Google Now technology — is expected to be unveiled with Android 4.4 (aka KitKat) on Oct. 31.
Samsung has been the only major presence visible in the smartwatch market during the past month, supporting the Samsung Galaxy Gear device with a massive, and fairly clever, advertising campaign. Now Sony, the early leader in smartwatches, is going head-to-head against Samsung with today’s U.S. release of the previously announced Sony SmartWatch 2. Already overseas in some markets, including the U.K., the watch is available for $200, compared to $300 for the Galaxy Gear.
Sony’s SmartWatch 2 sports a 1.6-inch 220 x 176 screen
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The SmartWatch 2 moves from the 1.3-inch touchscreen on the original Sony SmartWatch to 1.6 inches, and boosts resolution from 128 x 128 pixels to 220 x 176. Sony also added sunlight readability and IP57-rated water and dust resistance. Battery life has been extended to a claimed three to seven days, and the device can now be charged via micro-USB, says Sony. The 42 x 41 x 9mm watch weighs 122.5 grams with the included metal strap.
The addition of an NFC (near field communication) chip for one-touch sync requires an Android 4.0 dance partner, and general Bluetooth syncing requires any Android device. However, unlike the Samsung Galaxy Gear, which requires a Samsung phone or tablet for sync, there’s no requirement for a Sony device companion. On the other hand, Samsung has the higher resolution on its 1.6-inch screen (320 x 320), and features a 1.9-megapixel camera, among other extras.
In related news, Sony also launched its Xperia Z Ultra phablet and Xperia Z1 camera phone in the U.S. today. The company has largely avoided the competitive U.S. market, releasing a fairly limited number of phones and tablets here while instead focusing on Europe and Asia.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra phablet
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The 6.4-inch Xperia Z Ultra runs Android 4.2 on a 2.2GHz, quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, and features Triluminos display technology with 1920 x 1080 progressive scan resolution. Available unlocked for $680 with LTE or $650 with HSPA+, the Xperia Z Ultra is further equipped with 2GB RAM, an 8-megapixel camera, IP55/IP58 water and dust resistance, and a slim 6.5mm profile.
The Xperia Z1, meanwhile, is available for $670 with HSPA+ only. It runs Android 4.2 on a Snapdragon 800, and offers a 5-inch, HD display with similar water and dust resistance. Its main claim to fame is its 20.7-megapixel camera, which features Exmor RS for mobile sensing, and HDR for videos and photos. The camera is said to offer high shutter speeds and 3x clear image zoom, and is accompanied by a full suite of camera applications.
Will Google’s smartwatch be a Gem?
For the most part, the reviews of the Samsung and Sony smartwatches have not been kind. In particular, reviewers have dinged the Samsung Galaxy Gear for its high $300 price. The lack of a clear leader keeps the door open for other smartwatches from rumored players such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Google’s watch may be next out of the gate, according to a tip story on 9to5Google.
Seth Weintraub’s source told him the device will be heavily based on Android’s Google Now technology, and will offer Bluetooth 4.0 and long battery life. The report closely followed a tip from Android Police co-founder Artem Russakovskii that the smartwatch will be Nexus branded, and is codenamed “Gem.” Russakovskii said it was likely the Nexus/Gem would be released on Oct.31 along with Google’s Android 4.4 (“KitKat”) announcement.
The “WIMM Platform” was aimed at more than smartwatch apps
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The new Google smartwatch is widely expected to be based on the Wimm Platform from Wimm Labs, which Google acquired in 2012. The Wimm website has gone quiet since then, although the company still maintains the WIMM app store.
It appears that Google may keep its Nexus smartwatch separate from smartwatches offered by its subsidiary, Motorola Mobility. According to Android Police, the Motorola MotoACTV will soon be replaced by a Motorola xWatch companion device to the Moto X smartphone.