Martian Notifier Review: Almost the Ideal Smartwatch

eHow Tech Blog

Martian Notifier

My wrist just got a whole lot smarter. And my wallet didn’t make me feel dumb about it.

For the past week I’ve been wearing the Martian Notifier, a watch that fulfills nearly all my requirements for such a device; nice looks, low price, simple features and great battery life.

It’s not perfect, and in fact suffers from a couple of glaring flaws, but it has earned a permanent home on my wrist — and some jealous glances from people encountering a smartwatch for the first time.

Compatible with Android and iOS devices — I tested mine with an iPhone — the Notifier is available in black, white or red, each with a matching rubber watch band. Martian sells replacement bands in nine different colors ($20 each), and touts quick, tool-free swapping. I wasn’t able to test the band swapping, but you can “dress down” the watch for your days at the office and wear a splash of color on the weekends.

Martian Notifier color bands

The time piece itself has an elegant, business-friendly face, though the watch is on the thick side. All told, I like the way it looks and feels on my wrist, but I wouldn’t argue against a thinner design.

One possible reason behind the size: The Notifier has two internal batteries. One is a standard watch battery that keeps the hands moving for up to two years. The other is a rechargeable lithium-polymer cell that runs the Bluetooth radio and other connectivity features. It’s good for up to six days, according to Martian. I’ve been running it for at least that long, and the battery gauge still shows nearly full.

I love the fact that even if I forget to recharge the Notifier — and then can’t get notifications on it — it will still function as a watch.

Although the Notifier closely resembles a traditional timepiece, it includes a single-line OLED display — meaning right out of the box it’s far more capable than, say, the Cogito Pop, which has the same $129 price tag.

So when a call or text message comes in, the watch vibrates and the display reveals the name of the caller or the contents of the message. This deceptively simple combo provides two awesome benefits: You won’t miss an important call or text because you couldn’t hear or feel your phone, and you can see at-a-glance whether you need to fish your phone out of your pocket or purse.

Martian Notifier appWhat’s more, the Notifier lives up to its name by supporting lots of other notification options. For example, it can transmit alerts from apps like Twitter, Whatsapp and Instagram. And here’s where it really gets interesting: The Notifier app lets you customize the alert-vibration pattern for different apps, the idea being to avoid “buzz fatigue” if your watch is vibrating all the time.

Thus you could set up, say, short-short-short for text messages, short-pause-long for an incoming call and long-long for Skype. One thing I couldn’t figure out was why the Notifier app listed a bunch of apps I didn’t have installed, while at the same time failing to include apps I did have, like RunKeeper. The app also constantly reported a 100 percent battery reading, so clearly Martian needs to work out a few bugs.

Other app-powered features include setting the vibration intensity, toggling Do Not Disturb (which you can also set on the watch itself) and enabling an hourly alarm at the minute of your choice (say, 15 minutes after the hour, so you remember to drink water or stand up and stretch).

In short, the watch is quite good at its core function, which is alerting you to important events. However, it has shortcomings, a few of which are maddening.

First up: To recharge the battery, you must use a proprietary cable. It’s actually a standard microUSB cable, but with an extra-long connector to reach the deeply recessed port. This is an outright design fail that simply shouldn’t have happened.

Second, the Notifier is completely silent; it lacks the option to beep while vibrating, or instead of vibrating. Silly. Furthermore, its two side buttons serve myriad functions, but they can be hard to remember — and media controls aren’t among them. You can use one to engage voice controls, an almost useless capability as the watch doesn’t have a microphone, and one to remotely trigger the camera, but no play/pause or track skip function? The app should let you program these buttons to perform any number of functions, but it doesn’t.

As for the display, it’s bright and easy to read, though quite narrow, so not ideal for reading long messages. Indeed, there’s an irony to it. When you’re driving, which is worse: glancing at a text message that has popped up on your phone’s screen, or looking at your watch while that message scrolls across the display? Trick question: Both are incredibly unsafe, so cut it out. The latter definitely takes longer, meaning your eyes spend more time away from the road. That’s bad.

It’s also a quibble. My only real complaints with the watch are the proprietary charging cable, a problem that can’t be fixed, and the slightly buggy, slightly confusing app — a problem that’s easily fixed.

In fact, if simple alerts and notifications are your primary motivation for buying a smartwatch, I’d argue that there’s currently no better option than the $129 Martian Notifier. But I must admit: The uglier, chunkier Pebble Smartwatch does a lot more, and costs just $21 extra. Decisions, decisions.

Photo credit: Martian

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