Matrix PowerWatch X review: The would-be future of wearables
It’s about time the smartwatch fitness tracker industry did something interesting. We only need so many devices to count calories and measure heart rate.
The Matrix PowerWatch X might be just the shakeup that we’re looking for. This watch has pretty light fitness and “smart” functionality, but nevertheless grabs attention with one show-stopping feature: it never needs charging!
That’s right, this is a watch with a digital display and accompanying app that you can wear indefinitely without ever needing to look for a power outlet thanks to its proprietary thermoelectric technology. The PowerWatch X (like previous models) is powered by your own body heat, charging as you wear it.
We’ve all seen analogue timepieces pull a similar trick by using kinetic energy. However, that a digital watch with notifications, a stopwatch, and more never needs a charge is really interesting.
Is the Matrix PowerWatch X a device you’ll want to wear on your wrist? Let’s take a look in our full Matrix PowerWatch X review.
Features and capabilities
As I alluded to earlier, this watch isn’t all that smart. It’s light on fitness tracking features too.
It’s got a clock (of course), as well as a stopwatch mode and a running mode. It can receive notifications (SMS and phone calls), count calories, steps, and track sleep. Matrix also says customizable watch faces are coming.
All this runs on a custom, very light OS, which you navigate with two buttons and a dial on one side of the device. To change settings and access your data, you need to use the accompanying app for iOS and Android.
Instead of a heart rate monitor, the watch calculates calories at least partly by your body heat. Seeing as the body converts heat into energy, it’s theoretically another route for getting a good estimate. Apparently, the body generates 100 watts of heat at rest, and that number then jumps to a kilowatt when exercising!
That body heat is what gives the watch its longevity. Never having to take your watch off to charge is very cool, and it also makes a lot of sense for a fitness tracker. After all, if you’re meant to count your steps and track your sleep, when exactly are you meant to charge these things?
Moreover, this could be very useful for someone doing a long expedition who doesn’t want their device to die halfway through the trip. It’s also going to win favor with the environmentally friendly crowd, seeing as bioenergy is pretty clean!
For the average Joe, it might sound like a small thing, but it’s strangely liberating knowing you’ll never have to charge your device. (Even if most fitness trackers only require charging once every few days or even weeks the rest of the time anyway!)
Interestingly, it’s not so much your body heat alone that charges the device, but rather the differential between your body heat and the ambient temperature. If you’re running and getting hot somewhere that is very cold, that actually charges it faster.
When you take the device off, it enters an idle mode, saving your data until you next put it on. Apparently, it can last in this idle mode for up to two years.
So, there aren’t a ton of features here aside from the battery, which might lead you to expect the watch would perform those few jobs really well.
Not so much.
The notifications are very basic, to the point where you’re literally just being notified that you have a call incoming, or an SMS received, and who it is from, rather than what it says. You’ll need to open your phone to learn anything about it. Worse, sometimes they don’t come through at all.
The predecessor to this device — the Matrix PowerWatch (the X is new) — actually comes without the notifications. You could always save yourself a few bucks and some frustration by getting that instead.
Then there’s the sleep tracking, which flat out doesn’t work as far as I can tell. It’s supposed to auto-detect when you doze off and there is no way to start the tracking manually. According to the Matrix PowerWatch X, I haven’t slept a wink in the past three days. Disappointing!
The sleep tracking just flat out doesn’t work as far as I can tell.
Step counting fairs a little better and largely correlates with what my other devices tell me. Calorie counting is definitely a little strange though. I’m 77kg with around 11 percent body fat at the moment. Yesterday I walked 6,923 steps and did a 40-minute workout, but apparently only burned 1,500 calories. That is way off, and I would expect to see at least 2,400 calories.
This could be at least partly because the device wasn’t tracking my sleep — you burn a surprising number of calories at night. It could also be due to the simple fact that heat alone isn’t enough to calculate calories accurately. If it was combined with a heart rate monitor (which would require significantly more juice to power) that would be a different story.
Working out with the MATRIX PowerWatch. It can only track runs unfortunately but also seemed to fail to notice I burned extra calories for this hour…
Moreover, I’m not convinced the device is actually doing any BMR calculations to work out how many calories I burn at rest. You can input your details into the app, but it never explicitly asks you to. Since finding that option, I haven’t noticed much difference.
I love being able to see the power meter on the watch face — telling me how much electric power my body is generating — but that information doesn’t really correlate with anything particularly useful (it seems to go up and down randomly with no relation to what I’m actually doing). I’m not convinced it’s more than a gimmick, though it’s admittedly a cool one.
The app is also disappointing.
When I first received my review unit, I eagerly installed the app and got ready to set up the device, only to find it wouldn’t pair via Bluetooth. I tried again and again — even on a different phone, in case it just wasn’t playing nice with my Honor 10.
Well that’s disappointing…
Checking reviews on the Play Store, it turned out I wasn’t the only person experiencing this issue. Seeing as you need to sync the device to set it up, I actually worried I wasn’t going to be able to write this post!
Luckily, when looking at the IndieGoGo page for the original Matrix PowerWatch (which uses the same app), I spotted a comment that mentioned their watch would sync only one in every 10 attempts. I decided to persevere and eventually it paired.
Since then, syncing has been a little more reliable (though not perfect). The biggest issue otherwise is that the app is incredibly bare bones, providing barely any more information than the watch face itself. Interaction is also awkward, to the point where scrolling doesn’t quite work for inputting numbers meaning I was forced to press “+” 30 times to enter my age (it starts at 0) and 77 times to enter my weight!
This is pretty much it…
The app is also incredibly power hungry. I’ve had to charge my phone significantly more frequently while using it.
Hopefully this will receive some attention going forward.
Although the concept is cool, the design of the device isn’t quite so space age. I like to think a watch powered by bioenergy is the kind of thing Tony Stark would wear. Sadly, I just can’t see him — or anyone who loves premium tech — being particularly eager to flaunt this design.
Although the concept is cool, the design of the device is also not quite so space age.
It’s not hideous or anything. It’s just not as svelte or curved as a lot of the competition. Nor is it as refined and elegant as an old-school analogue watch. The detailing falls flat, and it’s just kind of chunky.
It’s also really large, at 13.5mm thick with a 50mm diameter and 60-70g weight (I don’t know why this number varies so much either!).
The size doesn’t just make the watch a little ostentatious, it also makes it somewhat awkward and occasionally uncomfortable. It gets sweaty, catches on things, and it’s difficult to sleep with. Its included strap is rubber too, which tends to get hot and adds to the uninspiring look. You could of course change that should you so wish however.
The Matrix PowerWatch: thick!
On the plus side, this watch is also waterproof up to (down to?) an awesome 200 meters — making it the most water-resistant smartwatch on the market, according to its manufacturer. It uses aircraft-grade aluminum, making it very light and durable. It certainly looks rugged.
The display itself is black and white and the UI is predominantly text based. It’s fairly visible in direct sunlight, but there’s no backlighting. You can turn on a small light in one corner for reading the time in the dark though.
In future, Matrix Industries says it will bring a range of customizable watch faces to the gadgets. Taking a quick look at reviews and comments for the first Matrix PowerWatch though, the company already appears a few months behind schedule in this regard.
As mentioned, interaction is handled by two buttons and a dial. These are rather fiddly to use. It’s not always intuitive navigating through menus or starting and stopping the timer, among other things. I’m not really sure what the point of the dial is. It can scroll through some settings, but so can the mode button. Hopefully, this is an indication of upcoming features?
I can’t help but feel I’ve been a bit harsh on the Matrix PowerWatch X. The device is no doubt a laudable attempt at doing something different in the smartwatch space. I always have a soft spot for crowdfunded projects.
The watch is also pretty expensive. The Matrix PowerWatch X goes for $279, which is about the same as the Garmin Vivoactive 3 or the Fitbit Ionic, both of which offer considerably more options and features. Even the notification-less, 50m resistant original Matrix PowerWatch is $199.
Right now, it doesn’t really deliver on its potential. It has a lot of bugs and growing pains, and it’s not particularly good looking or comfortable. It feels more like a tech demo than a finished product.
Even if you’re a wealthy early adopter who just wants to show off with something unique, this hardly looks like the kind of thing you’d actually want to wear out and use as the conversation piece.
You probably shouldn’t buy this watch, but I hope Matrix Industries keeps making more. If the company can make the watch slimmer, improve its design, fix its software, and iron out the bugs, it could have something really special.
There’s a lot of potential here, but the Matrix PowerWatch X just doesn’t nail the execution.