Review: Nixon The Mission Smartwatch

Striking a great balance between looks, functionality and longevity, the Mission is easily one of the best smartwatches of the year, without doubt.

While there’s no new version of Android Wear launching until next year, that doesn’t mean that new smartwatches haven’t launched throughout 2016. In fact, this has been a year where smartwatches have come from some unusual places, as the likes of Huawei, Motorola and LG refuse to launch new models until Android Wear 2.0 is ready. This year, we’ve seen Fossil, Michael Kors and Nixon launch some of the bigger smartwatches of the year. Focusing in on Nixon, a brand that was founded in California back in 1998, they’ve put together a rugged, good-looking smartwatch that features a fully-circular OLED display, built-in GPS and of course, the Snapdragon Wear 2100. The Mission has, well, a mission to do something that other smartwatches don't, and that’s appeal to snowboarders and surfers, all the while offering a rugged look and feel. With the Nixon Track app that comes with it, users can track their surf routes using GPS, and do the same while snowboarding. With a rating of 10ATM for diving, as well swimming, it’s clear that this is a watch that wants to be rugged as well as it does good-looking. On paper, the watch features all kinds of things that put it at the top of the smartwatch ladder, but what about in practice?

In the Box

Considering that presentation is a solid part of a device these days, and unboxing things is an experience, it was refreshing to see that Nixon took these things into account. The Mission arrived in a hard-shell zip case, with the Nixon logo embossed heavily across its length, and on the inside, there are a number of nets, two on one side of the case to hold the instructions and the charging cable, and the other to keep the Mission itself safe. The idea behind this case is to make sure that when traveling from beach to beach or from ski resort to ski resort, the Mission will be safe and sound in amongst all your other equipment. I was impressed with this, and while Huawei and Fossil have gone for more watch box sort of appeal, I liked this approach from Nixon, and for those that will be buying the Mission for the very specific antics of surfing and snowboarding, this is an attractive and functional way of keeping the watch safe between adventures.

Specs

Where specs are concerned, the Nixon Mission packs into its 48mm case a 1.39-inch fully-circular AMOLED display with a resolution of 400 x 400, which also features an Ambient Light Sensor, as well as a Snapdragon Wear 2100, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. So far, so standard, but with a built-in GPS, Thermometer, Altimeter, Barometer, e-Compass, Gyrometer and Accelerometer, it’s almost easy to forgive the lack of a heart rate monitor here. Even more so when we touch on the 10ATM rating, making the Mission able to survive depths of 100 meters or 330 feet. There is a built-in microphone, although there’s no speaker here, a vibration motor is included and everything is powered by a 400 mAh battery which is charged by a simple magnetic charging cable. Both Bluetooth 4.1 and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n make up the connectivity side of things here.

Design and Build

While it might look like most other Android Wear watches, the Mission is not built like the rest out there. The 48mm casing of the Mission, which is pretty chunky at best is built from polycarbonate, but there’s a 316L stainless steel “roll-cage” on top of the watch, which has a few segmentations in it for style, and is available in a myriad of different colors – a total of 12 different colors are available. It would have been nice to see a metal build here, especially as the rugged look and feel is clearly a strong selling point for the firm, but in the month-plus of daily wear I’ve put the Mission through, it has not a scratch on it. The strap is a custom 23mm affair, and while it appears to have a standard watch fitting, there’s an allen wrench sort of fitting that holds this on. Again, there are lots of different color straps, with all of the 24 different options being two-tone affairs and available in some very colorful options.

I’m told that the 316L bezels won’t be available after purchase, but that the straps will, however, I have yet to see them up for sale. Users can customize the look of their Mission when they buy direct from Nixon, but I do not understand why the bezels aren’t being sold separately. I imagine that, given the surf and snow target audience here,
some sort of user customization would go a long way to making this a more popular option.

The overall design is nice, and certainly looks like something you’d associate with a rugged sports watch. It reminds me of an oversized G-Shock, but with a little more of a restrained feel to it. There’s a Diver’s watch look and feel to the whole affair, and it will no doubt appeal to those that have worn these type of watches before. It’s chunky, well-made and looks good on the wrist on someone who is on the bulkier side, while also working well on a thinner wrist. The mic-lock (more on that later) on the left-hand side of the device gives it a little more flair, and the strap is one of the better included straps I’ve seen included in a smartwatch for a long, long time. Little details like the button on the right-hand side having the Nixon logo on it, and the way the silicon strap locks into place go a long way to making this feel more like a watch than most others I have worn. In the month or so of daily wear, going out with friends and such, nobody said a word about the watch. Normally, people comment about whichever smartwatch I am wearing at the bar or in stores, but the Mission has blended in perfectly. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you, but part of what makes Android Wear so attractive is that it’s a watch first, gadget second.

Comfort

No watch, no matter how good-looking or smart would be worth wearing if it weren’t comfortable. Given the Mission’s large footprint, you’d imagine that it would be fairly roomy, but that doesn’t appear to be the case for me. At 6’4” and in need of losing more than a few pounds, it’d be easy to say that a tight watch strap would be the norm for me, but I have never, ever needed to buy an oversized watch strap, regardless of metal, silicon or leather. The Fossil Q Founder I reviewed last year I had to take two links out before it was tight enough on my wrist. The Nixon Mission, however, is very, very snug on my wrist. This is something that I was actually surprised by, although I have now been told that this is a “Nixon thing”, but have no prior experience to confirm this. I would say that the Mission is not uncomfortable on my wrist, as I have worn it for the last month or so without any irritation or any red marks left on my wrist or anything, but it is quite tight on my wrist. This is disappointing, but clearly a more “me” problem than it is anything else, but worth considering for those of the larger size.
Some friends of mine tried the Mission on, and it was fine on their wrist, the larger size of the watch does make it a little more cumbersome on the wrist, but it’s not all that heavy, despite the size. The larger 48mm footprint rests well on the top of the wrist, and there’s little discomfort from the size and weight of the Mission. The only real concern people should have with the Mission is whether or not the strap will fit, and it’s worth trying to track one down in person to try it out.

Software

Just like other Android Wear watches, the Mission runs the same sort of software as every other. Nixon have launched the Mission with the latest version of Android Wear, which at the time of review was 1.5.0, based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Where the Nixon side of things is concerned, the firm have kept their hands off of Android Wear, and do not offer a different companion app to manage watch faces and such, instead, they offer the Mission app.

This is an app that allows users to track either – or both – Surf and Snow locations. After all, this is what the watch is designed for, so it’s nice to see an app like this here. It offers users a way to track their favorite beaches, as well as well recommend nearby places for Snow and Surf. From there, it will show up the height of waves and visibility with Snow falling. Wind speed, snowfall, temperature and more is all displayed here on the phone. On the Mission itself, users can swipe between forecasts and such for the locations they’ve set up on the phone, but the app on the watch isn’t all that helpful, to be honest. It does, at least, give those looking to head to one of many beaches nearby a quick and easy look at which of these is their best bet. For those in the mountains for Snowboarding, however, this is less useful.

The Trace app, on the other hand, is all about using the watch itself. It allows users to start an activity on their wrist, and have it tracked as they catch waves or ride over peaks. Users launch either the Trace Snow or Trace Surf app from their watch and then hit record to track a session. Stats that are tracked include max altitude, the weather at the time and so on. Users are given a fairly sparse UI when using the Trace app, but it does pack in a lot of information on to the display when in use. The use of GPS tracks the location and route you take across the coast, for instance, and despite this being a pretty niche part of the package, it’s arguably what a lot of people will be purchasing the Mission for. As such, it’s nice to see a way for people to track their activities in the water without having to get their watch damaged or worry about it getting wet.

Mic Lock

To give it its 10ATM rating, Nixon had to come up with an interesting way of keeping the device water tight. As such, the Mission has an interesting- if not fiddly – mic lock system on the left-hand side of the display. This is an entirely-manual affair, which sees users needing to use their nails in order to lift up a leaver, cover up the microphone – so that the red tab is no longer visible – and then push the leaver back down and cover it up to lock the microphone away. The whole reason this is here is to ensure that when using it while Surfing, saltwater and such doesn’t make its way inside of the watch. It’s a fairly cool solution to a problem that can cause some issues for users, and while it’s not as fun as the Apple Watch Series 2’s method of “ejecting” water, it does work, and will more like the sort of feature you get on a watch, and less of a gadget.

Watch Faces

No Android Wear watch from a brand like Nixon would be complete without some custom watch faces. Here, the selection is okay. It could be better, and it could certainly be worse, but the amount of Nixon DNA that is in these watch faces is fairly high, and they all suit the watch very well. There are six in total; Player, Ranger, Sentry, The Mission, The Mission Pro and Unit. Four of these are analog, while the The Mission Pro and Unit are digital, with the latter tapping into date from the Mission app on the phone to show off data amount nearby spots for surfing and snowboarding. All-in-all, the selection here is nice, but Sentry and Player are arguably throwaway faces that don’t offer much in the way of a unique feel.

The Mission watch face, however, is excellent. For me, it was the best match to the overall look and feel of the watch, and it has a lot of custom options including different colors for the digits and hands. My only complaint here, however, is that there’s not much in the way of customization from the phone, it all has to be done on the watch.
The ambient modes for these watch faces are all very, very sparse, indeed. It seems as though the Mission goes into a hyper-ambient mode with the stock watch faces, with only white ever being shown on the display, even if you use third-party watch faces. The Mission appears to be keen to keep burn-in on the AMOLED display to a minimum and this approach does help with battery life, that’s for sure.

Battery Life

The Mission is, like other Android Wear watches, rated for 48 hours of battery life. In practice, I would agree with that statement. The ambient mode is very, very light on battery life and I never, ever found myself rushing for the charger at any point, even if I didn’t charge it overnight, I would still get through another day from the morning into the evening, around 7PM or so with a little to spare. I was impressed with the battery life on the Mission, not because it lasts an especially long time or anything, but more because users do not have to worry about it, at all. The device charges quickly as well, and if you turn the display off and don’t use it too much, you might even get two or three days out of it if you’re careful.
Needing to charge the device every night, or every other night is still a pain, but as smartwatches go, the Mission lasts as long as you would want it to, and a little longer, too. It’s great not to have to worry about battery life on the Mission, and I never encountered any surprises when using it, either.

Verdict

My approach to the Mission might not be the same as everyone else’s; I decided to wear the Mission daily, Monday to Friday as my watch. For that, the Mission performs wonderfully. The display is sharp, fairly readable in daylight and it’s a good-looking watch that wouldn’t look out of place on the wrist of any young person out there. It’s stylish, unique and built extraordinarily well. With no surprises on the battery life front, and great performance all-round, the Mission is an excellent Android Wear smartwatch from the ground up. Sure, the rugged look and feel won’t suit everyone, and the strap needs to be longer, but it works well and is a damn fine watch.

For those that are looking to use the Mission for the Surf and Snow features, they’ll be happy to see that the Mission performs well out in the field, and with a 10ATM rating, it’s not afraid to get wet or be knocked about, which is something few other smartwatches can offer. The problem is, however, with either of these approaches the Mission is a little on the pricey side of things. Near $400, the Mission is certainly not cheap. Striking a great balance between looks, functionality and longevity, however, the Mission is easily one of the best smartwatches of the year, without doubt.

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About the Author
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Tom Dawson

Former Editor-in-Chief
For years now I've had a heavy interest in technology, growing up with 8-bit computers and gaming consoles has fed into an addiction to everything that beeps. Android saved me from the boredom of iOS years ago and I love watching the platform grow. As an avid reader and writer nothing pleases me more than to write about the exciting world of Android, Google and mobile technology as a whole.
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