Martian mVoice Smartwatch Review — Not Extra Terrestrial

Pebble wasn’t the only smartwatch to get its start in 2012. That same year also saw the debut of the Martian Watch. Now that Pebble is out of game, many are looking for alternatives. At a glance, the Martian looks like something from another world ─ namely the world of analog watches. However, there’s some hidden functionality under the surface. Let’s take a closer look.

Design

At the risk of giving away my age, let me say that I’ve been wearing a watch since the ‘70s. We had one digital clock in the house and my parents told me I couldn’t get a watch until I could tell the time on the analog clock. Since then, I’ve had a variety of watches, both analog and digital, but I’ve always preferred analog watches. There’s just something about them that exudes a certain level of class. After using the Martian Watch for a few weeks, I would say it certainly has class.



The Martian Watch is what I would classify as a hybrid smartwatch. It doesn’t have a display like Pebble, Apple Watch, or Android Wear watches. Rather, the Martian has a regular analog watch dial. Designs vary by model, but the AE 02 sent to me by Martian for this review has a conventional analog display. It has a “12” at the twelve o’clock position and tick marks for the subsequent hours. The bezel has tick marks for each minute. There’s a sweep “tick” second hand. The watch is set and can be adjusted with a setting crown, just like a conventional watch. The conventional portion of the watch has a non-rechargeable, replaceable battery that is supposed to last about two years.

The analog portion of the watch is always on. I really enjoy being able to just glance at the watch and to be able to clearly see the current time. Depending on lighting conditions, this is not always easy on my ZenWatch 2. If the Martian Watch is in a no-light or low-light situation, you can just press a button and the time and date will be displayed on the OLED display. The temperature is also supposed to be displayed, but this doesn’t always work properly.

The time-piece portion of the watch is a resin and has a glass crystal, offering a durable build that looks great as well. The strap on my review unit is a thick genuine leather strap, and I feel it’s a much better quality than the 3rd party genuine leather strap I picked up for my ZW2. The strap is 22mm with a quick release connection, but can be easily replaced with another quick release strap.

The “Smarts”

The “smart” portion of the watch is represented with a 96×16 pixel OLED display on the analog portion of the watch. This is where the watch will communicate notifications and settings. The watch also has an LED light to alert you about notifications, charging status, and the like. However, it’s extremely bright — enough to disturb me, a light sensitive sleeper. The battery for the smart portion of the watch is separate from the battery that powers the analog portion. This battery is rechargeable and is supposed to last up to five days, but in my experience, it’s closer to three.

The Martian works with both Android and iOS, however, I only tested it with the former.  The connected app on your enables you to set which notifications get passed along to the watch. Any app you don’t specifically enable does not get passed along to the watch, which can be a pro or a con depending on how you look at it. You can also set vibration patterns for each app, so you know a short-short-long-short is an SMS notification and a long-short-long-long is an incoming Gmail message. The vibration is stronger than the vibration on my ZW2, which is to say it’s a vibration you’ll certainly notice, but isn’t overbearing.

The OLED display doesn’t show the entire contents of a notification, but you do get just enough to determine if you need to take any further action or can safely ignore the notification. If you miss the notification, you can tap the crystal and the notification is redisplayed, which is a nice touch for sure. If you don’t see the notification right away and take too long (I believe longer than five minutes) to tap the watch, the notification is lost and you will need to look at your phone to review any missed notifications. The watch also has two buttons, one above the watch crown and one below the crown. This is to interact with the watch, watch functions, menus, and notifications.

Google Now & Amazon Alexa integration

The Martian Watch also interacts with both Google Now and Amazon’s Alexa. There’s a microphone and speaker on the watch. The watch is not always listening, so you need to do a short press of the bottom button to summon Google Now and a long press will summon Alexa (the Alexa app needs to be installed on your phone). I found that Alexa only seems to work when you’re on Wi-Fi, which takes away a bit of the usefulness. I’ve found using Google Now can also be a little cumbersome. In order to send a text, I need to tell it “send a text to <contact> <content of text>.” Google Now would then read back my text (since it can’t display it on the watch) and ask me to confirm whether or not that’s correct and whether or not it should be sent. The watch is connected to your phone via Bluetooth, so you hear everything the phone wants to tell you via the speaker on the watch. This includes phone conversations, so you look like Dick Tracy talking to your wrist. The downside to this is that others around you can hear what’s being said and if you want it to be private or if you’re in a noisy situation, that can be bad. Interacting with Alexa is pretty cool, but can be delayed. So if you ask for the Philips Hue lights to be turned on, it doesn’t happen right away.

Other features/downsides

Negatives to point out is that the watch is quite thick. It’s about 15mm thick and often gets stuck when I’m putting on a sweatshirt or a winter jacket. The watch will often lose Bluetooth connectivity. There are times that I turn on the watch and the watch and the phone are not connected, which can definitely get annoying.

Charging is a problem. The watch uses a proprietary micro-USB charging cable. I don’t understand why it had to be proprietary. If you’re going to use micro-USB for charging, then just use the standard that everyone else uses, this way I won’t have to pack a special cable for charging the watch on the go. The Martian company informed me that POGO charging will be coming in 2018.

The watch is not waterproof, but it does feature an IPX4 rating against water, meaning it’s splash-proof. If you’re around water, including washing the dishes, I would probably take off the watch and store it away until you’re done, just to be on the safe side.

Remember I mentioned that this is a hybrid watch and there’s a standard portion and smart portion? Well, they don’t interact. So, the standard watch can have a different time than the smartwatch portion. Also, when there are changes in time, such as Daylight Saving Time, you will need to adjust the standard portion manually. This could be good, especially if you want to see the time in two different timezones.

Here’s the deal killer on the Martian Watch. There are no OTA updates of the firmware. The only way to update it is to use a firmware installer which you install on your PC or Mac and then connect the watch to your computer via the proprietary charging cable. If you own a Chromebook, there is no current way of sending firmware updates to the watch. Luckily, updates are few and far between. There was only one firmware update in 2016.

The watches retail for $295, which is a bit much if you ask me, but can be found for $159 on Amazon, which is a pretty solid deal. The older, non-Alexa powered versions of the watch can be found for about $30-$40. Considering that a new ZenWatch 2 still sells for $129, I’d consider the Martian Watch not to be out of this world, but it’s certainly designed for an audience that is quickly shrinking.

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