The Martian Notifier is the first 2014 smartwatch we’ve tested that’s actually a watch. Yes, this affordable US$130 tech timepiece is an honest-to-goodness analogue quartz watch - the small OLED screen for displaying alerts is what makes it ‘smart’.
If Samsung wristputers and expensive fitness bands have stopped you strapping in so far, the Notifier could be the perfect entry into wearables. But with the bold ambitions of Pebble and Android Wear becoming clearer, this Martian watch looks the practical, not particularly future-gazing, choice.
A Watch That's Smart
This wearable hybrid really is a proper mechanical watch - Japanese movement, real hands that ‘glow’ in the dark, a two year battery for the analogue part.
The Notifier’s combination of a plastic case (in white, black or red), stainless steel bezel and matte silicone strap is neither strikingly classy nor ugly. The important thing is it’s subtle, inoffensive and will only turn heads for the right reasons. In this respect, the Martian automatically has more mass appeal than, say, a Samsung Gear 2.
As with any slightly sporty US$100 watch the Notifier is also comfortable to wear and light, at 52g. Plus if you don’t like Martian’s selection of rainbow coloured Quick Change Straps, any 22mm watch band can be fitted without the need for fiddly tools.
It’s just a shame it’s not waterproof - unlike the Pebble and Gear 2, it’s only splashproof if the port flap is sealed and Martian recommends wiping off water drops as soon as possible.
What makes the Notifier unique is how it combines its admittedly tiny monochrome 96x16 OLED screen with customisable vibrations. Yep, Martian has essentially squeezed a pager into a regular looking watch.
The screen takes up part of the bottom quarter of the Notifier’s classic watchface, blocking out the 5, 6 and 7 lines (indices, watch nerds). It’s not quite symmetrical due to the M logo to the right, which will irk perfectionists, and head-on it doesn’t blend into the watchface perfectly either. But it’s as subtle as smartwatches get right now and much cleaner and clutter-free than some of Martian’s previous efforts. Apart from the OLED there’s a small LED above the 8 line - red for charging, green for charged, blue for pairing. Simple.
The screen has good contrast so it’s easy to read alerts outdoors. These scroll along the display in a single line of white text following the app icon and are pulled in from your iPhone, iPad or Android device’s notifications and apps via Bluetooth (see Tech Specs for full compatibility).
The clever bit is how the Notifier vibrates when you get an alert. It’s more useful than a smartphone in your pocket because as well as setting the strength in the free companion apps, you can customise the pattern of vibrations and pauses for different apps e.g. two short bursts for a text message, one short, one long for Gmail.
In practice, you’ll still glance down at your wrist, at least we still do. But after a few months with the Martian, this tech morse code could well become entrenched in your memory making it a killer method of knowing when to sneakily tilt the watch towards you in meetings or at dinner.
Screen: 96 x 16 OLED display
Battery: Lithium polymer, separate watch battery
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Compatibility: Android 2.3 and above, iPad mini/iPad Air/iPad 3rd gen, iPhone 4s/5/5c/5s
Dimensions: 43.22 x 43.22 x 12.7mm
Tons of Compatible Apps
The main Martian Notifier companion apps are free on the App Store and Google Play and setting up the Bluetooth connection is simple. The Alerts section of the Martian app lists core alerts - calls, texts, calendar, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail etc - with the options to tick to activate and customise the vibrate pattern. And more compatible apps are available as a longer, hidden ‘Installed app notifications’ list too.
There’s some difference between compatible apps on iOS and Android but both platforms have strong offerings of news, fitness and the social apps smartphone addicts use everyday- WhatsApp, Snapchat, Skype, Vine, Instagram, Tinder.
There’s a couple of bonus features too - Find Phone triggers an alarm on your phone or tablet, remote shutter quickly launches the camera app and, finally, pressing the top button from sleep activates Google Voice on your device. Full voice controls and phone call functionality are missing.
Ultimately, the Notifier is a one-trick pony. It’s extremely reliable at displaying alerts with lots of granular customisation - speed and delay of scrolling, date and time formats, do not disturb - and the Bluetooth connection dropped out just once in an entire week. But we missed being able to skip Spotify tracks - as on the Pebble Steel - or see info that needs a bigger screen like maps or train times. The Notifier’s simplicity is admirable but Pebble hits the sweet spot for now.
Four Day Battery Life
We’ve been using the Martian Notifier as it was designed to be used - that’s plenty of alerts coming through from eight to ten apps, worn almost all day until slung to one side before bedtime. And we’ve been getting a three to four day battery life tops which is less than Martian’s quoted five to six days.
It’s not the only smartwatch to offer alert vibrations but Pebble devs have been advised to use the feature sparingly to extend battery life. To stretch the Notifier to five days, the vibration strength slider needs to be 3 or below and non essential alerts culled.
It’s easy to keep an eye on battery with an icon in the watch’s settings menu and a percentage in Android notifications. But it takes two to three hours to fully charge and it can only be used with the bundled long-plug microUSB cable as the port is embedded so deeply into the device. Of course you can start using this for your phone too, for trips away, but it’s one more cable to lose.
With a screen this small and functionality this simple, a longer battery life - say, a week - would really make the Notifier stand out. Still, three to four days is decent.
Martian Notifier Verdict
Smartwatches may have come a long way but we’re still waiting for that ‘iPhone moment’ for the category. The Notifier isn't the watch to do it.
It does one job - alerts - impeccably well and you won’t be ashamed to wear one in public. It doesn’t completely shake off smartwatches’ dorky image but does offer a design which blends a regular-looking watch with smartphone smarts into an affordable, comfortable, reliable - if not flawless - package.
If the Martian’s functionality is too simple, try the Pebble Steel. If you want a truly next-gen smartwatch for 2014, keep your eyes pinned to our Android Wear coverage for news of the upcoming Moto 360 and more.