PowerWatch Series 2 review: Faustian flaws mar the Matrix smartwatch that charges itself
- Self-charging tech
- Decent durability
- GPS eats up battery life
- Limited smartwatch functions
- Underwhelming display
If you can justify the expense and live within the lines, the PowerWatch Series 2 lets you cut the cord and experience eternal battery life.
Should I buy the PowerWatch Series 2?
If you find that most of the things that modern smartwatches offer feel unnecessary or superfluous, the PowerWatch Series 2’s back to basics approach and nifty self-charging tech might just be enough to justify the high price. It lacks high-tech looks and breadth of functionality but tries to make up for it with seemingly endless battery life and rugged durability.
Price when reviewed
At launch, you can import the PowerWatch Series 2 for around US$499.
Powerwatch Series 2 full review
In Australia, you can import the PowerWatch Series 2 for around US$499.
You can buy it on PowerWatch website here.
Design & Display
In terms of looks, the PowerWatch veers closer to classics sports watches than contemporary gizmos like the Apple Watch. It’s unabashedly chunky and rugged. If you’re the kind of person who usually goes in on brands like Suunto or Garmin, it’ll feel pretty familiar from the moment you slap it on your arm. It feels like it’d be right at home on the wrists of hikers and gym-junkies alike.
Of course, where the aforementioned opt for more mature and responsive software capabilities and platforms, the Powerwatch keeps to the essentials. There’s a four-button control scheme here that’s functional but not particularly intuitive. I kept forgetting how to the use this thing but it was relatively easy to remind myself.
Regardless, the PowerWatch does have one big hook that sets it apart from every other smart watch on the market. You never have to charge it. The PowerWatch harnesses the heat that your body produces into a source of electricity and runs off that. It’s the stuff of science fiction. Previous efforts in the smartwatch space by manufacturer Matrix featured similar tech. This time around, these thermal-electric capabilities are augmented by a solar panel strip that runs around the edge of the display.
The catch here is that the amount of electricity involved isn’t all that great and that, as a result, the PowerWatch’s processor and display are pretty humble. Even in good light, I struggled to read the text on the screen and interacting with the smart watch felt more like using a Kindle than the smooth software experience offered by even mid-tier smartwatch fare like the Fitbit Versa or Amazfit GTS.
The other caveat here is that, whenever the GPS is involved, the notion that the PowerWatch Series 2 can draw on enough energy to sustain itself goes out the window fast. Leave it enabled for more than 30 minutes and you might just deplete the whole battery. When stuff like the Suunto 9 can deliver 120 hours of GPS tracking, that specific drawback becomes hard to reconcile.
Annoyingly, you also need to charge the PowerWatch up the first time using a proprietary charging cradle. This isn’t a huge issue but it kinda runs against what you’d intuitively expect when unbox your first body-heat powered wearable.
Features & Performance
Despite the archaic looks and unconventional power source, the PowerWatch Series 2 comes equipped with many of the same conveniences found in other smart watches.
The latest PowerWatch has activity tracking for indoor runs, walks, cycling and interval training. It lacks any sort of dedicated swim tracking mode but will be good for depths of up to 200 meters. It also supports sleep tracking, calorie counting and smart notifications on Android.
If that’s all you need, that’s fine. However, if you’re coming to this expecting the PowerWatch to deliver the breadth of utility that even a Garmin or Fitbit does, you might come away disappointed. The list of supported activities is pretty limited. There’s no music controls. There’s no contactless payments system. The screen is too small to comfortably read notifications. There’s no room to customise your watch face. If these are things that you care about, then the PowerWatch Series 2 is probably not the smartwatch for you.
There’s a PowerWatch app that collates all the data the device gathers together into reasonably readable info graphs. However, it doesn’t necessarily integrate as smoothly with other fitness tracking platforms as I’d like. If your fitness app of choice isn't Google Fit or Strava, you're out of luck.
Overall, the experience of relying on the PowerWatch Series 2 as a smartwatch is technically impressive but, most of the time, it rarely feels anything more than just adequate. It's closer to a smartwatch than a traditional digital one but not in many of the ways that matter.
The Bottom Line
The PowerWatch 2 is an interesting alternative to standards of the smartwatch category. Battery life that never runs out is a perk that neither the Apple Watch nor the Fitbit Versa can match. However, after spending a few weeks with it, it feels like you’re trading one set of chains for another.
The PowerWatch Series 2 won’t so much see you break free from the established limits of the modern smartwatch experience as much as it will force you to reacquaint yourself with the capabilities of that which preceded it. Even at its best, it’s an expensive experiment, a mixed experience and one that rarely trumps the capabilities of more conventional fitness trackers.
If you can justify the expense and live within the lines, the PowerWatch Series 2 lets you cut the cord and experience eternal battery life. In a fundamental sense, that part of the pitch works. Nevertheless, I feel like even the people this product is targeted at expect more than just the essentials from a $500 gadget and the specific trade-offs demanded here just aren’t going to work for them.
The PowerWatch Series 2 delivers on what it sets out to offer but those ambitions are more humble than they might first appear to be.
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