Smart watches are great ideas on paper, but they haven’t really come together into compelling products. The idea of a smartphone accessory you keep on your wrist is appealing, but between interface issues, design problems, and a general lack of must-have functionality, no one has hit a home run in this space yet. We might see our first winner with the very promising Pebble when it finally hits the market, but for now smartwatches are mostly expensive novelties. Case in point: the Martian Passport Watch, which employs a very small OLED screen and very few buttons in a minimalist, functional design that looks like a real watch. But at $299 (direct), it’s simply not smart enough.
The Passport version of the watch, which I reviewed, is tasteful but very plain. It has a square, black watch face with silver hands and a black silicone wristband; there’s also a white Passport model with either a white or black leather wristband available, as well as the round-faced Victory and the brightly colored G2G version. In all three models, a large, analog watch face sits over a monochrome, one-line, 0.7-inch OLED display. The watch notably has no second hand, and while functional and modestly attractive, it won’t likely be mistaken for a very expensive designer watch.
There are no touch controls, no bright, colorful screens, and no significant extension of Android or iOS. Instead, the Passport Watch functions as little more than a speakerphone, caller ID device, and text message reader. The watch has only two buttons; one cycles through the very simple settings menu on the watch and rejects calls, and one activates voice control and accepts calls. Voice control, in this case, simply enables the speakerphone feature and activates Siri on iOS devices, or S Voice or other voice control features on Android devices. Beyond that, the watch doesn’t actually do anything besides serve as a microphone and speaker for the voice control feature already present in your smartphone.
The display shows one line of text or simple icons, and it takes a few seconds to scroll through the first few words of a text message. It’s a functional caller ID, for what it’s worth, and it displays the watch’s own few settings. But besides that, it seems several generations behind the OLED screens currently on many mobile devices. The vibration feature is more useful than the display; it lets you know if you’re getting a call even when the phone itself is in a pocket or bag and can’t be easily felt or heard. If your phone is across the room, you can answer calls with the watch and use it as a small speakerphone.
That said, as a speakerphone, the Passport is middling at best. In quiet rooms, you can hear calls through the watch and callers can easily hear you as long as you hold the watch close to your your face. However, its usefulness doesn’t go beyond that. In any public place where there is more than a small amount of ambient noise, the speakerphone is nearly useless.
The Passport has a few other features, but they’re less compelling. The watch has a “leash” mode that vibrates if you get out of range of the paired phone, preventing you from accidentally leaving your phone somewhere. There’s also a Gesture function that lets you deny calls by lifting your hand and shaking it, but it’s easier to simply press the accept or deny button on the watch when you get a call. Then there’s a Camera Control mode that is supposed to let you control your smartphone’s camera with the watch by pressing a button to take a picture. I couldn’t get the feature to work with my Samsung Galaxy S III. A remote for a camera seems nifty, but smartphones are so small and they don’t work with standard tripods, so there’s little use I can see for remotely triggering them.
All told, the Martian Passport Watch is an interesting novelty, but it’s too expensive and too limited to justify the $300 price. Its OLED screen and speakerphone function feel more like a next-gen smart watch from the late 1990s or early 2000s than a must-have accessory for 2013.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc