Hands On With A Smart “Watch,” the SE Live View

I’ve previously pointed out a number of wearable displays and smart watches hitting the market and I suspect many more will follow. The Meta Watch recently became available as a pre-order developer kit, connects to Android(s goog) devices, and could support HP’s upcoming webOS tablet(s hpq), for example. The idea is that instead of pulling the phone out of your pocket, incoming emails, notifications or texts are wirelessly beamed to a small screen on your wrist. I love that idea, which is why I bought a Sony (s sne) Ericsson(s eric) Live View unit a few weeks ago. It may be a good idea, but it’s the implementation that counts.

Looks Aren’t Everything

Visually, the Live View is appealing. I thought it would be too big on my wrist — I’m only 5’5″ — but the 1.3-inch OLED display fit well and wasn’t too bulky. You can attach the display to either the included watchband or a small clip-on holder. The color screen is a bit hard to read in direct sunlight. Only two buttons appear on the device, one in each corner. However, the small bezel around the screen is touch-sensitive and is used for navigation. To use the Live View, you have to install a small bit of management software on your Android device which enables the Bluetooth connection and allows configuration for the types of info you want to see.

Out of the box and with just the base Android software you can view the following information types: text messages, incoming calls, missed calls, Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds and calendar events. The wearable display can also be used to control music playback on your Android device. In the Android Market a number of additional plug-ins are available. I added support for Gmail and, just for kicks, a remote camera plug-in. Using the latter, you can remotely click the camera shutter on your handset and view the picture right on your wrist.

Questionable Reviews and Connectivity

I purchased my Live View micro display for $72, which is far less than the initial $150 price tag from the when the Live View debuted last year. I had doubts about the wearable device because I had read many mixed reviews about it. Prior to a firmware update in January, most reviews were overly negative due to poor battery life and dropped connections. Some Live View owners reported improved performance in both areas after the update, although a fair number of people weren’t as impressed. I took the plunge mostly because I have faith in the idea of such wearable displays.

Unfortunately, I’m in the camp that’s not impressed by the firmware upgrade, and I have great tolerance for gadgets with issues, because I tend to also look at the potential of such devices. Even with the latest software on the Live View, the Bluetooth connection drops multiple times an hour from my Nexus One. Often that leaves the watch in an unusable state as even the current time disappears. To resolve the situation, I have to reset the Live View and then re-pair it with my handset before it starts to work again; at least until the next connection drop. While writing this post, the Live View was inches away from my Nexus One and dropped the connection within a few minutes of the first pairing.

What’s the Problem?

It’s interesting that the Live View loses the connection so much, because the distance between it and my handset is often a meter or less: Well within range for even a low-powered wireless connection. Since the Live View works for some people and not others, I wonder if it simply plays nicer with certain handsets. While Bluetooth is a standard, there are a number of different Bluetooth radio component makers, so there could be some performance variance among different smartphone models. Another possibility is that the Live View isn’t playing nicely with Android 2.3, which is what version my Nexus One runs.

Once I gather up a little more patience for the Live View, I’ll take it for another spin with my Galaxy Tab or a different Android phone. For now however, my Live View often can’t even tell me the time of day. If you’re interested in the device, I highly recommend you seek out reviews from people that are using the Live View with the same handset you have. That should improve the odds of knowing how well or not the Live View will work for you.