For the holdiays this year I received a Martian Notifier smartwatch as a gift. I’ll admit that I never heard of this device before, and I keep track of these things. At first glance I didn’t think this would be something I’d like but decided to try it out and give it a chance.
What is it?
The Martian Notifier is a watch that can receive and display notifications from your iPhone or Android phone. Unlike other smartwatches, this one actually looks like a watch. It has an analog display (i.e. hands) and a small OLED display on the face. It comes in three different colors (black, white, and red) with silicone “quick change” bands available in a variety of colors.
When a notification comes in, the text scrolls across the OLED display and the watch vibrates. You cannot act on these notifications other than to tell the watch to stop displaying it by tapping the face.
Unlike Android Wear watches or the Apple Watch, the Notifier does not have a color display nor can it run apps. As its name suggests, the device’s job is to provide notifications.
The watch communicates with a phone via Bluetooth 4.0 (aka Bluetooth Low Energy). There is an app for your phone to pair the devices and customize the behavior of the phone. From the app you can choose which apps will send notifications, set silent alarms, and choose what to display when the action button is pressed. The vibration pattern can also be selected on a per-app basis.
Living with it
First of all, I like way the watch looks and feels good on my wrist. It won’t be mistaken for a Rolex, but it doesn’t look geeky like most other smartwatches. The watch isn’t too bulky or heavy so it can be worn comfortably. It is styled as a man’s watch and I suspect that many women would feel it is too big for them. I have the black model and I can easily read the face which is the most important feature of any watch. I do wish it had a second hand though.
To see the day and date you have press the button and wait for the date to cycle by, not unlike a 1970’s era digital watch. Pressing the button displays the battery, date, and optionally the time and weather. For some reason after couple of times the weather stops being shown, which I believe is a bug. I also wish I could change the order of the display to put the date first in the order.
After charging the watch, setting it up was pretty straightforward. Setting the time is done with the crown as with any other watch. After installing the app on my iPhone it was pretty easy to pair the watch with the phone and set the options. Updating the firmware was more of a hassle than it should have been. I couldn’t get the Windows updater to work at all. The Mac version is unsigned, which is makes it a hassle to run it, and doesn’t work on OS X Yosemite.
I quickly noticed that when wearing the watch I am much more aware of my notifications. Even though my iPhone is in my pocket I am feeling a buzz on my wrist when I don’t feel my phone vibrate. So I am actually being notified more now than I was before. I initially had notifications enabled for all apps but decided to start turning off the ones that weren’t worth bothering me for. Although you can set different vibration patterns for different apps, in practice I can’t say I noticed the difference enough to know which app was sending the message.
When a notification comes in, a blue LED flashes on the face and the display scrolls the text in white letters on a black background. The text is small and is hard for me to without putting on my glasses, by which time the notification has already gone by but I suspect that will be true of just about smartwatch on the market. A tap the watch’s face will re-display the last notification, but at that point I might as well pull out my phone. The display is also recessed a bit so if you’re looking at the watch at an angle the bottom of the text may be cut off.
Other than notifications, the watch has some other useful features that I did not expect. It has a “leash” mode so that if you get out of range of your phone the watch will buzz you. This can help prevent leaving your phone behind and losing it. It also has a “find phone” command that will play a tone on your phone to help you find it when it is buried in the sofa cushions. The top button of the watch can be used to launch a voice command (Siri on iOS and Google Now on Android) or be the shutter for your phone’s camera. Truthfully, I don’t find either command that useful and wish there were other options like toggling Play/Pause.
Battery life has been really great so far. Martian’s documentation says you should only need to recharge it every five days or so and that sounds about right. Not having to power a color display all the time is a big battery saver. You can check the battery level on the watch itself (by pressing the lower button) or through the app. You can also turn off the watch at night to save power. Charging the watch is done through a microUSB port on the side of the watch. The microUSB connector is longer than most so you have to use the provided cable. Prying out the little cover is difficult and I’m afraid I’m going to break it off. Because of this I suspect the watch is not waterproof so I won’t be wearing it to the beach or swimming. While charging an LED on the face glows red until fully charged when it turns green.
I like this watch more than I thought I would. I didn’t think a smartwatch without a full screen would be worth it, but I found the Notifier is more useful than I expected and performs its primary mission (telling time) well. It doesn’t have all the features that a Pebble, Android Wear, or Apple Watch have but that seems okay to me. Getting my notifications, having an easy to read clock face, and having long battery life are key features and the Notifier handles them well.