The smartwatch game is growing constantly. Adoption rate isn’t growing as fast as manufacturers are cranking out device though. It seems to be hit and miss on how people perceive the wearables that are currently available. Many that I have spoken with don’t see a need for another screen attached to their wrist that they have to worry about breaking, charging or learning. Others couldn’t live without the abilities that many, like Android Wear or the Apple Watch, offer. Arguably the two best wearable platforms are Android Wear and Apple Watch. While those might be the ones you hear the most about, there are others out there that can offer a lot to consumer with a different approach. Martian Watches is one such company that I have had the privilege of growing with over the last few years. Unlike many of the other big name brands, Martian took the idea of the smartwatch and went back to the roots, which is a ‘watch’ and then made it smarter.
Building the business up with a watch first direction keeps them in a different market then the more flashy smartwatch manufactures. The first line to hit the shelves was the Martian Voice Command. It offered a square Passport and rounded, but still square, Victory line. They followed up that line with a simpler design, the Notifier, that took the mic and speaker out to bring just notifications to your wrist. At CES 2015 we got to take a look at this year’s line, the Martian Active Collection, that brings back the voice command line, but takes its old design and goes more stylish.
Whats in the box
The packaging is very classical and places the watch first and foremost when you first receive it. It is wrapped around a soft and squishy little pillow inside the box. under the pillow and watch you find the bare necessities like a charging cable, but no wall plug, some legal documents and a short instruction manual.
The Martian Active overview
The new line, Martian Active collection, really steps up the company offerings in terms of looks, design and functionality. The Active collection features 5 distinct designs.
Just looking at the images you can see these aren’t your typical LCD or AMOLED screen faces. By design, the Active line is a watch first and foremost. The time is kept by an analog quartz watch with Japanese movement. Inside, the watch is powered by a typical watch batter that keeps your time for approximately 2 years before it needs replacing. Unlike other smart watches, this design lets you still use the watch even if the smart part of it is dead.
The smarts of the watch comes via a 96 x 16 pixel graphic OLED display found in the bottom part of the watch face. The display will ticker feed you all the calls, texts, emails, calendar appointments and more with minimal effort. The OLED is powered by a separate lithium polymer battery that is charged up via your typical micro USB cord. Charge time is about 2 hours and your smart parts should stay on and available for 5 days of use.
As with a normal watch, you have your crown on the side to set the time. You also have two additional buttons, one above and one below. The button on the bottom is a select button of sorts. It lets you pull up a digital clock, the date, the weather and scroll through the menu of the watch. From the menu on the display you can set the watches speaker volume, activate the small LED light to help you find a keyhole, turn on Do Not Disturb to silence all notifications, Camera Mode to trigger your phone’s camera, Find My Phone to force your device to ring, along with other setup details.
The top button is a command button that triggers both Siri and Google Now, depending on your device. Yes, the Martian Active line does offer a mic on the right hand side which offers noise cancellation and a fairly loud directional speaker on the left side. Triggering commands gives you all the same abilities you would have with either platforms voice command apps. With Google Now you can send texts, make calls, add appointments, reminders, search direction and everything else Google Now is capable of doing. You do need to wait a few seconds as the trigger isn’t as fast as if you did it directly on your phone, but it works just as well.
The body of the watch is a light weight nylon composite resin case with a screwed on metal plate on the back. 4 screws hold it in placed. Under the plate is where the battery can be replaced for the normal watch aspect of the device. The top glass is a anti-scratch mineral glass and is your typical 42MM diameter with a weight of .5 pounds.
In the case of the Alpha T10, the watch strap is made from a flexible, but thick, silicone. The clasp is made from stainless steel and looks awesome. Other variants of the watch come with a leather strap of sorts to match its body and could be a bit more pleasing to some.
3 Weeks hands-on with the Martian Alpha
Martian was kind enough to ship me over the design of my choice to give it a whirl prior to their launch exclusively at Bloomingdale’s on September 12th. I opted for the Alpha T10 because of its classy look that would be good for both business and for pleasure. I was also drawn to it because of the inner military time aspect. Having a few friends in the military who still tell me times in military time, this has become useful more than a few times. Rather than mentally thinking what time 2100 hours is, I can glance down and know its 9 p.m.
As I have used the last two iteration of Martian Watches, I can speak to the improvements the company has made over the years. My biggest gripe on previous models was centered around charging. Martian had recessed the micro USB port behind a rubber grommet that required a longer, and proprietary, charging cable. In the new Active line they have since seated the port closer and it can easily be charged with any micro USB cable you have sitting around. The estimated charge time from 0% to 100% of 2 hours was accurate to my calculations and so was the 5 days of usage. The occasions that I forgot to plug it in weren’t world ending as it charged quickly on commutes or while I was getting ready for work. I could easily plug it in for 45 minutes and get through an entire day without worry.
Pairing the watch is as easy as pairing with any other Bluetooth device. Once you install the app, you run through a few motions and are up and running in less than a minute. Once paired you are free to set it up any way you wish through the Martian app.
Martian also dramatically improved the wrist strap of the watch allowing for removal and changing of the bands at will. The included band, on the Alpha T10, is made from silicone with a stainless steel clasp to keep it on your wrist. The new design also allows for something that the Martian Notifier didn’t, and that is for the watch to actually lay flat. Might be silly to want that ability, but it is worth mentioning.
Over the month of use I experienced very few issues. There was a few times, and I mean like 2 times, that it needed to be plugged into power to turn back on even though it was charged well over 50%. I never did discover the reasoning behind it, but it it happened. The delay between hitting the voice button and the phone connecting to Google Now took a bit of time to get used to. With it active the watch still directs all voice controls through your wrist, so if you are using your phone and tap the mic, or use the Google Now command, you will need to give it a second or so or else your command will only be partly recognized.
The Martian App
The app is what brings you what you want to the OLED. Through the app on your device you can enable, or disable, any and all notifications you desire. I personally keep things simple. I want calls, texts and hangouts. However, you can get email alerts, calendar, alarms, reminders and much more, as you can see in the screenshots below.
Inside the app you can also set the vibration intensity for notifications along with specific vibration patterns. I have an absolutely horrible memory, so setting 2 long and short doesn’t make me think of a text at all. I feel it vibrate and I look.
With the Martian Active line you have a mic and speaker. The mic lets you take calls, ask Google questions, command your phone and more. The speaker gives the voice feedback from those questions or the people you are talking to on the phone. The speaker also offers up audio for call ringtones and notification tones. I spoke to many people while walking around the house, the store and driving in the car. No one gave me ill feedback about my sound quality from the noise cancelling mic, nor were there any missed voice actions with Google. I was able to hear the caller in most cases, but did find myself pulling my hand to my face for a little more volume occasionally.
I have always thought highly of Martian and their line of smartwatches. They take the watch first approach and make it smarter. They cater to a very different type of user on the market who love a real watch, but want their watch to do a little bit more in their lives. The latest Active collection is step in the right direction for both form, design and functionality. It certainly looks more ‘watch’ like and premium than the first two lines. I can’t necessarily directly compare it against the Notifier collection because that collection was aimed at notifications only with no voice actions or controls. My only real disappointment with the Active collection is the branding of Active. While it certainly looks Active and some of the models look more sporty than others, they suffer with an IPX-4 rating which only covers splashes from various directions. That cuts out pools, hot tubs and showers. I would have gone with an IPX-5 or IPX-6 with an ‘Active’ collection. After all, busy people may need to see meetings, texts, calls and more while hitting the shower before work, after a workout at the gym or when they are back at the hotel taking a dip in the pool. It isn’t enough of a detractor to make me dislike the watch, as it still serves a very relevant purpose in 90% of a normal users day. Just take it off before you get in the water.
Pricing for the Martian Active line cruise up some from the previous Notifier line. They vary from $249.99 to $299.99 depending on the model you choose. The least expensive variant is the Envoy G10 with the higher priced listing being for the more female orientated Electra E10. You can find them Bloomingdale’s across the nation or check out the MartianWatches.com website to get more details and place an order.