Review: Martian Watches Passport Watch
The 2013 International CES saw a number of Kickstarter-backed Bluetooth smart watches make their official public debuts: ConnecteDevice's Cookoo, the infamously-delayed Pebble, and a several-model lineup from Martian Watches, including the Passport Watch ($299), which we received for review back in January. It has taken Martian Watches nearly three months to launch the companion app for its timepiece, and now that it's in the App Store, Martian appears to be getting ready to ship the hardware to customers, as well. In addition to the black silicone banded Passport we've been testing, models with white and black leather bands are also available for the same price, and each of them are swappable. The company also offers a line of $299 Victory Watches, and $249 G2G Watches. All three versions have the same functionality, differing primarily in aesthetics and materials.
Whereas some smart watches dedicate their entire surfaces to electronic displays, Passport combines a modern 0.75”-tall, 1.25”-wide analog face with a 96- by 16-pixel, single color OLED screen. On this version of Passport, the face is black, while the leather-banded versions offer have white faces. Both have a three-color LED light next to the watch face’s number 4. The watch body is abnormally thick, measuring just a little under a quarter of an inch tall. It’s mostly a metal frame, with a plastic back. On the left side there are two buttons, and on the right are a dial for setting time, a pivoting plastic door protecting a Micro-USB port for charging—the USB cable’s included—and a microphone. Directly underneath the electronic display is a speaker.
Passport Watch connects to recent model iPhones, iPads, or iPod touches using Bluetooth 4. The pairing process is painless; it’s the same as connecting most other Bluetooth wireless devices, using the iOS Settings menu. Once Passport is connected, pressing the top button on the left side triggers Siri on supported devices. The audio input and output are handled by the watch’s microphone and speaker, Dick Tracy-style. You can also take phone calls in the same way.
The lower button activates the small display, which first shows a status bar with battery life, volume, Bluetooth status and app connections. Pressing the button multiple times allows you to scroll through a settings menu, with control over features such as volume, the watch’s app-assisted leash and camera modes, and more.
As with other smart watches, Passport’s key advantage over traditional watches is supposed to be an ability to quickly view messages coming into your iPhone without having to pull the phone out of your pocket. Texts, emails, and other alerts are meant to be previewed on the display. By default, with the basic Bluetooth connection and no additional app support, the screen shows text messages/iMessages and incoming call notifications. For the former, Passport displays the first 40 characters of the message, which scroll along after the sender’s name. The watch also vibrates to alert you, and the LED flashes blue.
Taking calls with the watch works, but it’s not something we’d ever actually want to do. Outgoing audio is good, but tends to clip off at the end of speech, as if the microphone is being shut off too quickly when your volume level drops. Similarly, the audio coming from the watch is just OK. While we had no problems making out what was being said, the speaker has a tinny quality. It’s worth mentioning that you’re able to converse either with your wrist up near your mouth, or down at your side. The former method seems impractical to us for long-term use, and with the latter, you might as well just be using an iPhone’s speakerphone. It isn’t crazy for Passport to include this functionality, but it’s practically the sort of feature you’ll only want to use when nothing else is practical.
The company’s just-released Martian Watch Alerts app is supposed to add alert functionality for Facebook messages, Twitter mentions, event alerts, and incoming emails, as well as world clock and weather support. In our testing, the only notification feature that worked properly was messages received on Facebook. Tweets, direct messages, calendar events, and emails didn’t prompt any sort of notification, even after we tried everything from restarting the app to re-installing it, resetting the phone, and changing every setting imaginable. The world clock feature merely adds secondary time support for a city of your choosing, and the weather feature shows you the high and low temperatures for the day in your location. They pop up after the notification screen, and aren’t particularly impressive additions to a watch.
Additional functionality includes the ability to set a Bluetooth leash, which will alert you when you’re physically out of range from your iPhone—about 30 feet, the distance of a standard Bluetooth connection—plus gesture controls that allow you to shake your wrist to turn down calls, and a camera mode. This last feature lets you use Passport Watch to trigger the camera’s shutter, assisting with self-portraits.
Martian Watches claims seven days of standby or two hours of talk time on the tiny battery, and we had no reason to doubt this in our tests; we used the watch on and off for weeks, noting that the watch thankfully continues to keep time even when the notification and talk battery needed a recharge. The company notes, however, that battery life will vary based on how often you have notifications sent to your watch. Texts and phone calls come through at the time they are sent, so we’re guessing this refers to tweets, emails, and the like—when they work.
Consumers typically expect a lot from a $300 watch—this is two or three times the cost of a “good” traditional watch, depending on the brand, features, and materials that interest you. Even if Passport Watch lived up to everything Martian Watches promised, our feeling is that it wouldn’t be worth this sort of high price tag. On a positive note, Martian did get a few things right: the watch ensures that even when the display’s battery runs dry, you’ll be able to tell the time, and the overall design aesthetic is solid. Apart from the choice to include a rubber wrist band with such an expensive device, it looks nice, and is comfortable enough to wear. Unfortunately, the functionality is shaky at best, questionable at worst. Being able to see notification alerts is nice, but doesn’t feel truly necessary, and certainly is incompletely implemented in the current version of the Martian app. Add to that the tiresome constant vibrating on your wrist, and the microphone/speaker question: who really wants to have phone conversations with their wrist? It doesn’t all make sense, at least as it’s been implemented here. Consequently, the Passport Watch merits a C rating. The price is wrong, and the functionality doesn’t work as it should, but with some additional thought and polish, there may be reason to give a sequel more serious consideration.