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Review: Martian Passport watch not quite smart enough

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 11:23AM Friday November 15, 2013
under Product Review

My recipe for the perfect smartwatch is pretty simple.

First, it should look classy, not clunky, ugly, and tech-y.

Second, it shouldn't try to do too much. It should be an extension of your phone, providing notifications and information, nothing more.

Third, it should last for at least a week before needing to be recharged.

Finally, it should cost no more than $100.

The Martian Passport is not the perfect smartwatch. It gets a lot of things right, but also misfires in a few key areas -- not the least of which is basic wristwatch duty.

At first glance, the Passport looks pretty snazzy, with its analog face and shiny chrome casing. It's available with a black or white face, though the black one (which I tested) has a decidedly non-snazzy rubber wristband. The white one comes with a leather band. (Update: Both leather and stainless-steel bands are available via the Martian Web site.)

But the actual watch part is squished into the top half of the face, which is odd given that there's extra room below it. Below that non-essential strip resides a small, single-line OLED display that shows notifications (reminders, text messages, Caller ID, etc.). The space in between watch and display could have been used for either a larger watch face or, better, a two-line display.

Overall, the whole thing just looks a little clunky on my wrist, roughly twice the thickness you really want from any watch. I'm not saying I wouldn't wear it (personally, I think it's more attractive than the Pebble), only that it needs to be thinner.

The Passport paired easily with my iPhone 4S (it also works with Android phones), and after a small tweak to the settings, I started getting exactly what I wanted from a smartwatch: vibration-powered notifications of calls and text messages. And by glancing at the display, I could see who was calling or read the actual text message as it scrolled smoothly across the screen.

Cooler still, the Passport doubles as a Dick Tracy accessory: It has a speaker and microphone so you can actually have phone conversations with your wrist. This works pretty well, though it's not a great experience in noisy environments. Plus, the press of a button activates Siri (or Google Now), meaning you can place calls, send text messages, set reminders, and so on, all while leaving your phone in your pocket.

Good stuff. But I encountered a few usability issues with the watch. For starters, the face doesn't glow in the dark, and there's no way to light it up. When you activate the screen to check watch status, it displays a few tidbits of information (battery guage, volume setting, etc.), then the date--but not the time.

In other words, you can't check the time in the dark. What?! (Update: a setting in the Passport apps allows the time to be shown, which solves that problem.) And the ironic flipside is that the OLED display is hard to read outdoors.

You also can't make the screen repeat your most recent text messages, meaning if you miss it the first time through (like when you're driving), you're out of luck unless you pull out your phone. (Update: Though this isn't clearly documented, if you tap the watch face within one minute of receiving a message, it will display again.)

All this might be okay if the Passport cost $100, or even $150. It is, after all, a wrist-mounted speakerphone and caller ID/text-message display. The vibration factor alone has great value, as it prevents you from missing important calls/messages because you couldn't hear, see, or feel your phone.

But the Passport costs $299. That's simply too expensive for what you get. Here's hoping Martian's next-gen smartwatch (if they make one) is slimmer, cheaper, and at least a little smarter.

Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and, and also writes for PC World and Wired.