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Martian Notifier: The Watch that Wants to be Smart

Discussion in 'Android Accessories' started by codesplice, Jan 25, 2016.

  1. codesplice

    codesplice Elite Recognized Moderator
    Moderator Thread Starter

    Everybody, it seems, wants to be in the wearables game - but there's not a lot of agreement on what the rules of that game actually are. You've got companies like Pebble that opt for e-paper LCDs and big friendly buttons, brands like Apple that want a square touchscreen that goes black after a few seconds, platforms like Android Wear that want you to "Be Together, Not The Same" with a variety of shapes, form factors, and features to choose from, and things like the Rufus Cuff that offer brilliant opportunities to cosplay as Leela from Futurama.

    The Martian Notifier is the entry-level offering from a company that seems to think all of those options are just a little bit too smart. Instead, they offer a "genuine timepiece with smart features, rather than a miniature phone on your wrist". In other words, it's a classic analog watch with a small monochrome OLED display to show a single line of text.


    Martian will sell the Notifier to you for $130 from their website but you don't have to look too hard to find it for around forty bucks. I saw it offered from Android Area for $36 and figured it was worth trying out for that price. The large price variation makes it a bit difficult to evaluate this watch fairly. There are few smartwatches worth considering in the sub-$50 range, but $130 puts it competing with Pebbles ($100 for the Classic, $150 for Time) and a lot of older Android Wear devices. For reference, my smartwatch background includes both the original Pebble and the Huawei Watch (my thoughts on how they compare), but I've also owned many "dumb" watches from Seiko, Luminox, Marathon, Casio, and others. I was hoping that the Martian Notifier would wind up somewhere in between.

    Martian Notifier Android app is used to configure the watch’s various options, and it also registers a notification listener for forwarding alerts to the watch. In a strong throwback to Jellybean-era “Holo” design, the Martian Notifier app consists of seven horizontally-scrolled tabbed views. Some of the tabs have obvious purposes (Alarms, Setup, Help) while others are somewhat less clear. The Alerts tab is the place to enable and configure notifications on a per-app basis, the Repeater tab provides the option of an hourly vibration to mark the slow passage of time, and the Display tab offers options for the configurable World Clock and Today’s Weather displays. The Home tab displays the watch’s connection status (along with giant buttons for toggling that status), the state of the Notification Access permission (which really only matters once, during the initial setup), a Do Not Disturb toggle (since the watch blatantly ignores Android’s built-in DND rules), an option to configure the vibrator intensity (why is this not on the Setup tab?), and a static box for dismissing any currently-alerting alarms. The app uses a persistent high-priority notification which displays the watch’s current battery level. It is easy enough to block the app from generating that notification, but be warned that the battery information is not displayed anywhere else within the app. All told, the Martian Notifier Android app is a waking nightmare, and my only solace was in the knowledge that I only really needed to launch the app once for initially configuring the watch’s settings and notifications.

    On that note, aside from a few pre-defined rules, setting up the notification handler is an entirely manual per-app configuration process. In addition to simply enabling notifications for an app you are also able to set up custom Vibration Patterns for each, which consist of up to four sequences of Short/Long/Pause vibrations. In theory, this could be really handy for quickly distinguishing between notifications for different apps. In practice, however, I found that the patterns were all but useless for me: each custom pattern is preceded by a long pulse, and the vibrations at any given intensity level are sloppy and blend together anyway. Incoming alerts (or the first 120 characters of them) are scrolled across the Notifier’s 96 x 16 pixel OLED screen along with an accompanying flash of blue light from the excessively-bright notification LED. Notifications in this manner take several seconds to display; in the case of Hangouts, it’s frustratingly easy to get stuck in a minute-long backlog of constant sloppy vibrations, LED flashing, and scrolling text. And while Android Wear is kind enough to not notify my wrist of new messages when I’m actively engaged in a Hangout on my computer, the Martian just happily alerts me to every. single. message. Receiving notifications on the Huawei Watch or Pebble is a subtle nudge which doesn’t pull you out of the moment; being alerted by the Notifier is an altogether jarring and unpleasant experience. I will never complain about the Huawei Watch’s almost-too-gentle vibrator ever again. Active notifications can be dismissed by tapping on the Martian Notifier’s glass, and tapping while idle will recall the most recent notification up to five minutes after it is received. You can also display all previous notifications by pressing both buttons simultaneously and then stepping through the list using the two buttons to scroll.


    The Martian Notifier app was quick to let me know that my watch needed a firmware update. Rather than performing the update directly from the app over Bluetooth, the Martian must be connected to a PC (or Mac) via the provided USB cable in order to flash the firmware update - like a caveman. The good(?) news is that you’ll probably only ever have to do this once: the latest firmware update (10.54) was published in May 2015, and I get the impression that long term updates are not a huge priority for Martian. At any rate, the update added support for Android’s Actionable Notifications for apps like Inbox which provide interaction options within the notification. You simply tap the top button to trigger the first action (Mark as Done, in the case of Inbox) or the bottom button for the second action (Reply All). Clearly some of these actions are more useful on a wearable device than others, but it’s nice to have the capability.

    Aside from notification handling, the Martian Notifier does have some other tricks - some of which are even pretty clever. Pressing the top button while the watch is idle will launch Google Voice Search on your paired phone, and that actually works surprisingly well as a remote trigger. Pressing the bottom button will scroll through a four-panel display which shows the current time in the timezone configured by the app, current battery level and connection status, today’s day and date, and today’s weather forecast (high/low temperature and precipitation prediction - nothing realtime). Pressing the bottom button twice enters the menu where you can access a few options and different modes like activating the LED as a tiny flashlight or enabling Do Not Disturb mode. The Notifier also features a remote camera mode, which ties into a camera component of the Martian Notifier app and supports both front and rear device cameras. Once in camera mode, quickly pressing the top button will immediately trigger the camera’s shutter while a long-press will set a 3-second shutter timer. Activating the Martian Notifier’s Find Phone function will max out your phone’s media volume and play a few piano notes quite loudly - definitely effective for when your phone is playing hide and seek. Last but not least in the Notifier’s bag of tricks is a Phone Leash option which will alert your watch if you wander beyond the range of your phone’s Bluetooth connection. Oddly enough, these extra features all seem to work much better than the more primary function of handling notifications.

    This may be the best smartwatch that forty dollars can buy, but I certainly wouldn’t pay much more than that. I’m not even particularly wild about the Martian Notifier as a watch. It feels unnecessarily bulky (unlike the purposeful bulk of a Casio G-SHOCK) and is not especially aesthetically pleasing thanks to its apparent abhorrence for symmetry. The way it delivers notifications is functional, but quickly becomes annoying with rapid-fire messages like in the case of Hangouts. I could probably improve my experience somewhat by disabling Hangouts notifications entirely and using the Notifier only for email and other asynchronous communication, but then I would be missing out on an important set of real-time alerts. The added features like remote camera control and a dedicated Voice Search hot key are nice to have, but they’re not good enough to make me want to wear the Martian any longer than I needed to write this review.

    I had hoped that this watch might be appropriate for someone like my dad who has a casual interest in technology and gadgets but doesn’t need all the bells and whistles of an Android Wear device. I honestly like my dad too much to wish this experience upon him. This could be a good cheap smartwatch to wear at times when you wouldn’t want something as nice as the Huawei Watch to get banged up. For my money, though, I’d much rather go for the Pebble Classic ($77 shipped from Amazon) - it handles notifications more elegantly, is more comfortable and less bulky to wear, and is infinitely expandable with apps and watchfaces. Also, its symmetry is nice.

    What do you guys think?

    Shamelessly ripped from my blog post, here.

    #1 codesplice, Jan 25, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2016
    electricpete, Mikestony and twister6 like this.

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  2. twister6

    twister6 Android Expert

  3. codesplice

    codesplice Elite Recognized Moderator
    Moderator Thread Starter

    Thanks @twister6 - your review was certainly more timely. :D

    And I do imagine that I would have been happier with the Martian if I had purchased one when they were shiny and new, before my opinion had been tainted by Android Wear. For someone who hadn't tried (or like) Android Wear, this could probably still be a great watch.
  4. electricpete

    electricpete Android Expert

    Sorry for the tangent, but I had to thank you for this idea. (Launching phone voice search from watch)

    I'm a note-to-self junkie. For on-the-go notes-to-self, I've always preferred the phone to my android wear watch, for two reasons:
    1 - the phone is more interactive: it tells you when to start talking, and acknowledges when it's understood your note (all without looking at the screen).
    2 - when note-to-self on the phone is set up to save to google keep, it keeps a recording along with the transcript (that way if the transcript is garbled for any reason, I can listen to the voice recording to figure out what I said.). Note to self on watch doesn't do this.
    These two features together make a quick easy bulletproof note to self from the phone (compared to the android wear note to self direct from the watch)

    I carry my phone in a holster. It never occurred to me to launch the phone note-to-self feature from the watch until I read this thread. So I just built a Tasker task which can be launched from my watch (watchmaker face shortcut to tasker task) to do just that.
    A1 - Secure settings / Screen On
    A2 - Wait one second
    A3 - Autoshortcut / Nova Launcher voice search activity

    After launching that from my watch, I just listen for the bell and say "note to self". As long as I don't say "ok google", there's no interference with the watch.l
    It works like a charm. Thanks for the idea

    EDIT I also had to add after A2:
    A2A shell - input swipe 800 1200 800 600 (root)
    A2B wait 1 sec
    ....this takes care of my situation when screen timeout delay has elapsed, followed by security lock screen timeout display elapsed. So after turning on the phone screen with tasker I have to simulate Swipe up (there is no pin required due to smart lock). In situations where it hasn't yet timed out, the extra swipe up didn't seem to hurt anything.
    #4 electricpete, Feb 2, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2016
    codesplice likes this.
  5. codesplice

    codesplice Elite Recognized Moderator
    Moderator Thread Starter

    Nice solution!

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