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Released November last year, the LiveView is an iPod Shuffle size “gadget” from Sony Ericsson that reports information from your Android phone via Bluetooth.

It’s not had a smooth ride either – early software was buggy, battery life was poor, people had problems with one of the provided clips and reviews were generally negative. It’s now 9 months later, the software has been updated and the price has dropped. Is it now worth a look?

Can you use it?

Although made by Sony Ericsson, it does work on other phones as well – a  full list of compatible phone is listed on their site. As a general rule of thumb, just as long as you have Android 2.0 and  Bluetooth 2.1 or above, then you should be fine.

What’s in the box?

In the box you get the LiveView, 2 clips (more on that in a minute), a strap, a power cable (which plugs into the Micro USB port) and an instruction booklet.

The clips connect to the underside of the LiveView and you can either have a belt clip version or one that you can connect the strap to and convert it to a watch. However, connecting the strap is fiddly as it comes with 2 thin telescopic pins that must be threaded through the strap and pushed into the phone clip. I found the edge of a flat-bladed screwdriver was useful in pushing the pins down before snapping them into place. Once done, however, that’s it – why didn’t Sony package the strap already connected and save consumers this hassle?

I mentioned before that people had problems with one of the clips – this was the watch one and, apparently, many people had issues with it coming away from the LiveView when in use. However, there were then reports that a change was made to the design. If this is the case then it did resolve the issue because I’ve had no such problems.

What does it look like?

The device itself is square, black and is lacking any kind of branding what-so-ever (unless you look on the back). There are two buttons on the top and a micro USB port on the bottom. One of the buttons also has an LED built into it to indicate current status.

The screen is OLED – it’s not touch-screen but you scroll around by lightly pushing the edges of the screen. The one downside of the otherwise good screen is that the front is cheap glossy plastic and will very easily scratch in use.

The provided strap is of a canvas style material and is held with Velcro. Not very elegant but it works. Because it uses the standard “pin” method of being held in place, I suspect most watch straps would work so a replacement should be easy to come by.

Size wise, it’s 35mm square and 11mm deep. The depth is the real issue, particularly when used as a watch – it’s rather deep. I’d have preferred a wider device which had less depth. The weight is 15 grams.

I’d love to say that depth is due to a removable back, but it isn’t. As far as I can tell the battery is non-replaceable.

One further issue is that when used as a watch the strap gets in the way of the USB port so you have to remove the LiveView from the clip to charge it. Whatever the earlier issues were, though, I found the watch stayed in the clip without a problem.

Getting Started

The first you need to do is fully charge the LiveView using the supplied USB cable (or any other micro USB cable). Next, pair the device with your phone – I found this easy to achieve.

The next thing I’d recommend doing is updating the firmware on it. This isn’t documented, but you can download the Software Updater software from the Sony Ericsson website. Install it and follow the on-screen instructions. However, you’ll need a cable to connect the LiveView to your computer via USB (which SE didn’t include in the box).

Once you have the latest Firmware you need to head to the Android Market Place and download LiveWare manager and the LiveView Application. Confusingly, the first allows you to download any plugins available for the LiveWare, the second then lets you configure them and the LiveWare itself. That’s right – plugins. You can install special plugins to add further capability to the phone.

For some reason it doesn’t store the date and time when not connected to your phone so this is lost when they’re no longer paired – an odd way to do it. Press the power button and within a matter of seconds it will connect to your phone and, hopefully, the date and time will then appear. Press the second button to switch to the various events that can be reported.

What does it do?

Straight out of the box, the LiveView can do the following…

  • Music player control. Press the right button for a couple of seconds and the display will show a media control – your currently playing track on your phone is shown and you can use the 4-way screen control to move tracks, pause, etc. This is designed to work with the stock Android media player and is not guaranteed to work with others. However, it works fine with the player on my Samsung Galaxy S2.
  • Incoming calls. Shows the  phone number (and name, if available)) for incoming calls and you can mute the ringer too. Missed calls can also be viewed.
  • Text Messages. Shows any text messages that have been received.
  • Calendar Reminders. Not a calendar viewer, but simply shows any reminders.
  • Social Updates. Shows updates from Facebook and Twitter. This isn’t live “wall” information, but rather notifications. The functionality is limited but still remains useful.
  • Find my phone. Selecting this cause the phone to ring at full volume – useful for when you’ve mislaid the phone (however, it still has to be in Bluetooth range, which is only up to about 10 metres).

When any kind of event occurs then the LiveView vibrates. However, it’s so subtle that many people think the function doesn’t work – it does, but may be easily missed.

So, some reasonable functionality, but many are probably more limited than you’d have expected.

A number of plugins are available (some free, some not) to expand this capability but I’ve found few to be of use. The one I really wanted was Gmail but the only plugin to provide this doesn’t work (and everyone else appears to be having the same issue as well). Other useful plugins are “Mode” (allows you to modify your various volume controls) and  “Calendar” (view your calendar and any entries). Sadly the Alarm Clock plugin didn’t work for me either.

Battery Life

Battery life has been a real issue for many users, with many stating that it only lasts a day. Considering the fact it’s running an OLED screen and bluetooth in such a small device it’s probably not surprising. I’ve had the LiveView now for about 4 weeks and have only recharged it twice.

Although I wear it regularly, I have few alerts to look at so the screen is rarely on. And I suspect it’s the screen that limits the battery life rather than the connectivity.

If you assume you will need to charge it each night then you’re not going to be disappointed. But there’s a good chance you will be pleased.

Conclusion

It’s a great concept at a very good price. Sadly, it’s let down in the end by its lack of useful (or working) plugins, rather than the early teething problems. It’s also a bit clunky to navigate.

If Sony Ericsson were to release a replacement, here are my top wishes…

  • Expand the functionality of the built in functions
  • Improve the screen – a flat glass screen would be best
  • Reduce the depth
  • Put the USB port on the side
  • Ensure a number of good quality, working plugins are available – get developers interested in the product!

Lastly, a watch that displayed the time permanently would be good – a blank watch that needs a button press to see the time is like returning to an early 70’s digital watch. A thin LCD substrate over the top of the OLED screen would allow a traditional digital watch output when the LiveView has a blank display.

[review]Good price, good idea, good screen but let by down by the design (bulky, cheap plastic) and the lack of software  expansion. However, it’s good to see that Sony Ericsson ironed out a lot of the initial problems. Get it from Amazon for £42.99[/review]

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