Smartwatches should complement the features of your smartphone or tablet without fundamentally changing the function of your watch. The MetaWatch Strata (which costs $233 to ship to the UK, or £156) achieves that goal to a certain extent, making a lot of useful information available to the user at a glance.
Like the Pebble Smartwatch, you get pertinent notifications from your smartphone delivered to your wrist, and that can ease the compulsive need to constantly check your smartphone for the latest updates. And while the MetaWatch offers a more customisable watch face with an array of useful widgets like weather and calendar updates, the added functionality can sometimes get in the way of usability. For some, the MetaWatch will be a feature-rich tool for keeping constantly connected, but for others it will simply be yet another digital device to keep an eye on.
The MetaWatch, like the Martian Passport (another of the watches featured in our round-up of iWatch rivals), is a bit chunky at 19mm thick, particularly when you compare it to the svelte smartphones around these days. The Pebble is definitely the thinnest of the smartwatch bunch at 8.4mm, and I also prefer its simpler design.
The MetaWatch Strata is square, rather than rectangular like the Pebble, and comes in black, green, blue, and orange (the latter three with black accents). There's also a higher-end design called the Frame, which comes in black or white, and features a leather strap and metal frame for $20 (£13) more than the Strata. There are three buttons on each side of the MetaWatch, and their functions change depending on what screen is displayed, but it's not always clear what each button does.
The 1in, 96 x 96-pixel screen uses a polymer network LCD, which is considerably different to the TFT LCD on the Pebble or the OLED on the Martian Passport. You really have to see the display first-hand to get it; basically, the pixels appear to have a mirrored finish to them. From straight on, the text appears black, with crisply defined edges and reasonable contrast. When you view from a slightly off angle, the text becomes mirror-like.
The advantage is clear in bright lighting scenarios, where the MetaWatch is easier to read without backlighting than devices like the Pebble. However, I found that from many angles the display looked washed out and was hard to read at times. On top of that, the only lighting is a weak LED at the top of the display, which provides uneven coverage.
Like the Pebble, the MetaWatch Strata has a 5 ATM waterproof rating, so it can be submerged in up to 165 feet of water. Battery life is rated at 5 to 7 days per charge; the MetaWatch never ran out of charge during my week-long testing period. You charge the watch using the included clamp charger and any standard micro USB cable. Attach the clamp, which you must line up with the pins on the back of the watch, then plug the USB cable into a computer or wall adapter. It's not quite as elegant as the Pebble's magnetic connection, but it gets the job done.
Setup and features
The MetaWatch connects to smartphones using Bluetooth 4.0, but for now it only officially supports iOS devices. There is an Android app available, but Android support is still in beta according to MetaWatch, and I was not able to connect to my HTC One X+. So this review focuses on the iOS compatibility features, and I tested the watch using an Apple iPhone 5.
Initial setup takes place in the app, which you can download for free in the Apple app store. Once installed, you press the Connect button within the app, then follow the prompts to scan and pair the MetaWatch with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Then you have to enable notifications in iOS. Once paired, you can customise your watch face with pre-loaded widgets, control which alerts you want pushed to the watch, and adjust settings like auto-connect and the date/time format.
The MetaWatch's greatest distinguishing feature is its modular watch faces, powered by pre-loaded widgets. Unlike the Pebble, which right now only offers promises of future apps and watch faces, the MetaWatch has widgets for weather, calendar updates, stocks, and phone battery status. Watch faces on the MetaWatch resemble Android home screens, in that the template and design is modular. For example, the weather widget can take up either a single corner or an entire half of the watch face. Also like Android, you can add up to four watch faces on the MetaWatch, which you scroll between using the middle right button. This is useful for putting a ton of information on your wrist, but it does make everything a bit cramped and busy.
It's easy to get lost using the MetaWatch as button functions change depending on what screen you're looking at, and having multiple watch faces loaded up with widgets can be difficult to navigate. One of my biggest complaints is that, even with only one watch face, pressing the middle right button will take you to a blank watch face template, and I often had to press that same button repeatedly just to return to the main watch face. And loading up multiple watch faces, then scrolling through the cumbersome system to get to information just seems counterintuitive – if I want all that information it's just as easy to check my phone.
Like the Pebble, the MetaWatch also has built-in music playback control. Pressing the middle left button brings up the music widget, which shows track and artist info along with playback controls. You only get Play/Pause or Forward Skip for music control, but you do have the option to adjust the volume, which is useful. That said, you get the same controls with any inline remote found on many of today's headphones.
As far as smartwatches go, the MetaWatch Strata is one of the most feature-rich available right now. Its customisable widgets will be a boon for some, but others might find it too complex for a device meant to simplify your relationship with your smartphone. The MetaWatch is also a bit too thick for my tastes, and the unorthodox display will leave some scratching their heads.
There's more realised potential with the MetaWatch over the Pebble, but its implementation isn't all that intuitive. Android support, for now, is also not on par with the Pebble or even the Martian Passport. If having the most information up front and on your wrist is your top priority, the MetaWatch is a solid companion device. If you're simply looking for a way to unshackle yourself from constant smartphone checking, I'd recommend the Pebble Smartwatch instead.