A smartwatch is the hi-fi accessory I never knew I needed

Apple Watch, Amazon Music on an iPhone 12, and Sony WF-C700N wireless earbuds
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Some people use their smartwatch for health benefits; some speak to it like Dick Tracy (one for our older readers). I use my Apple Watch Series 8 (other smartwatches are available) as a link between my smartphone and wireless headphones.

I think it’s fair to say that anyone investing in a pair of wireless headphones is willing to sacrifice a little in terms of outright quality for a little extra convenience. Being freed from wires is quite refreshing after all. But there’s one slight niggle that I have with some wireless headphones that can sometimes be a source of personal frustration.

It doesn’t happen with all pairs, but I have stumbled across it over the years, most recently with the Sony WF-C700N wireless earbuds and it has reaffirmed my belief that my smartwatch has been, dare I say, a smart investment. Let me explain…

Even the best wireless earbuds aren’t perfect

Sony WF-C700N wireless earbuds on a yellow pillow

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Now, Sony’s WF-CN700 are among some of the best wireless earbuds we have tested recently. They are very comfortable, sound superb, boast ANC and don’t cost a small fortune.

Instead of touch controls, they have buttons built into the earpieces, which in itself is perfectly acceptable at this price point. Some people might even say buttons are preferable to touch-sensitive controls which can sometimes feel a little vague or can be over-sensitive at times. 

But the Sonys suffer from an issue that makes them a little less convenient than some rivals. It concerns those push button controls and how they can (or in this example cannot) be configured to carry out specific tasks. You see, the controls (the round discs on the surface of each earpiece) can be assigned to alter volume, playback (including summoning your voice assistant of choice) or switch between ANC on/off and Ambient Sound Mode. Three different types of control, but the buttons can be assigned only two of these at any one time.

I have experienced this at a wide range of price points so it’s not just something that happens at the cheaper end of the market. And I’ve found it frustrating. I don’t really want to spend time fumbling around in my pockets for my smartphone either to adjust the volume or to enable the transparency in Sony’s Headphones Connect app.

Smartwatch to the rescue

iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Series 8 showing Amazon Music

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Step forward the Apple Watch. I was relatively late to the smartwatch game, with my first foray being an Apple Watch Series 4 I picked up in Las Vegas during CES 2019. I don’t tend to buy gadgets and gizmos for the sake of it and thought I would bide my time until a few generations had passed and any kinks had been ironed out.

Over time it has become an integral part of my daily life, whether performing as a heart rate tracker while I am exercising, or a golf app to help me around the local course – or just providing notifications that keep me up to speed with text messages. And, of course, it’s helped by the fact it works seamlessly with the other Apple products I own.

I switched to an Apple Watch Series 8 earlier in the year, and the role it plays in my consumption of audio content only continues to grow. Over time I have found it more and more helpful during my daily commute to control my iPhone without having to get the smartphone out of my pocket.

This brings me back to the Sony WF-C700N (although the same issue also relates to their premium siblings, the WF-1000XM4). Because I am limited to two types of control when I want all three, my Apple Watch can pick up the slack.

I can set the Sonys to control sound modes and music playback and use the Apple Watch for volume. In my opinion, there’s something hugely satisfying about using the digital crown to turn the volume up and down. Instead of feeling like a gimmick, the sliding scale of haptic feedback actually adds something to the occasion. Spinning the crown never fails to put a smile on my face.

Of course, I could reach into my pocket and wrestle with my phone – but in a crowded tube or train, where a stray elbow could result in an all-out brawl, it’s nice to be able to just reach for my smartwatch. It also means I can wander around the flat, and go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea or a toasted sandwich (tuna mayo and cheese if you were wondering) and not have to take my iPhone with me.

The Apple Watch also has other benefits

Apple Watch Series 8 showing Apple Podcasts

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

I can also use my smartwatch to navigate my way around content that’s actually stored on my phone. Okay, so the Amazon Music app for Apple Watch isn’t perfect, but it still allows me to access and, to a certain degree, navigate playlists; plus I can tap to pause, play and skip tracks. The album art looks neat on the watch’s screen too.

Besides Amazon Music, I tend to use Apple Podcasts for my podcast fix, so occasionally I’ll want to swap apps on the fly. Again, without reaching for my phone, I can use the slick Apple Watch interface to switch from Amazon Music to Apple Podcasts at the press of a button and the swipe of a screen. Again, I already had pretty much all the functionality I really need, but instead of going through my iPhone, it can all be done through my fingertip and the watch.

Yes, we are all about sound quality and performance per pound at What Hi-Fi? but convenience is becoming more and more important, especially where portable products are concerned. I just never thought a watch would be able to play such a neat role in the way I interact with my tech on the move.


Read our Sony WF-C700N review

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs WF-C700N: which wireless earbuds are better?

Sony WF-C700N vs Sony WF-C500: Sony's wireless earbuds battle it out

Sony WF-1000XM5: release date rumours, potential price, features and spec leaks

Andy Madden

Andy is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi? and a consumer electronics journalist with nearly 20 years of experience writing news, reviews and features. Over the years he's also contributed to a number of other outlets, including The Sunday Times, the BBC, Stuff, and BA High Life Magazine. Premium wireless earbuds are his passion but he's also keen on car tech and in-car audio systems and can often be found cruising the countryside testing the latest set-ups. In his spare time Andy is a keen golfer and gamer.

  • Friesiansam
    You "need" a smartwatch?

    How the hell did we survive, back in the days when digital watches had a red LED display and, phones were tethered to the wall socket or, inside a phonebox?