The best iterations of Android Wear don't come from electronics manufacturers trying to make watches, it comes from watch manufacturers taking advantage of Google's smartwatch platform.
Devices like the Tag Heuer Connected and the Polar M600 achieve more through design and application than any of the devices that are half the price. Tag and Polar achieve this by designing a watch that's nice to wear and a watch that knows what it wants to be.
Which leads us to the Nixon Mission, which calls itself the "world's first action sports smartwatch".
Nixon Mission review: Design and build
- 48mm diameter, 16mm depth, 102g
- 10ATM for 100-metre water resistance
- Black, grey, orange colour options
- Custom orders available too
The Nixon Mission sets out to be one of the most solid smartwatches you'll find. And that certainly plays out.
The body is a 48mm diameter, which makes for a rather boisterous timepiece. Finished in the orange of our review sample (but there are other colour options) there's certainly no missing it.
The casing is a reinforced polycarbonate, so yes, it's plastic, but given the sporty aims of this watch, that feels right. There's a stainless steel backplate which we love, as it imparts a real feeling of quality against the wrist, so much more so than some of those devices with a plastic back. The bezel is also stainless steel, referred to as a roll cage, surrounding and protecting the Gorilla Glass face.
To the right is the single button carrying the Nixon branding which allows you to interact with various Android Wear functions; to the left is an interesting detail, which Nixon calls MicLock, which not only protects the mic from water ingress, but adds some technical detail to the watch.
The result is a watch that offers 10ATM protection, which is double the rating of most other smartwatches, so it will be happy in rough conditions and down to 100-metres beneath the waves.
There's a 23mm strap on it that's really comfortable too. Fusing two silicone layers, it's easy to adjust and comfortable to wear. You can also choose the colour when you order your watch, with a full customisation service available from Nixon.
So, yes, the Nixon Mission is a big watch, for sure, but over the weeks we've been wearing it, we've had a lot of positive comments. We think Nixon has got it bang on.
Nixon Mission review: Hardware and display
- 1.39-inch OLED display
- 400 x 400px resolution
- Touchscreen operation
The Nixon Mission offers a round display - so no "flat tyre" black bar to be seen here as with many other Moto and Fossil watches - and it even works with wet fingers.
One of the advantages that a bigger smartwatch offers is exactly that: its size. The Nixon is easier to use thanks to its scale. Fully touch-enabled, the display also has an ambient light sensor to adjust to its surroundings.
Nixon Mission review: Surf and snow hardware and software
- GPS tracking, altimeter and e-compass for tracking
- Humidity, thermometer, barometer for weather
- Gyro & accelerometer for motion
- Bluetooth connectivity
- No heart-rate sensor
Sitting at the heart of the watch is a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset. This is typical hardware for an Android Wear device, with a chip designed specifically for wearables.
In addition you get a full loadout on the hardware front, more so than many other devices. Draw breath: there's Bluetooth, GPS, thermometer, altimeter, barometer, e-compass, gyro, accelerometer and humidity sensors. That's a whole lot of sensors.
The obvious thing that's missing is a heart-rate sensor, which moves this watch on from being a fitness device - it won't be your first choice as a running watch - but then Nixon is pitching it as an "action sports watch", the sort of thing you'll take surfing or snowboarding.
The Mission comes with a couple of watch faces that are designed to tie-in with those surf and snow functions. In combination with the Mission app that you'll download as a companion to your smartphone, you can see favourite or local locations for snow or surf reports too.
The idea is that you can tap into information from Surfline and Snocountry, either for your favourite spots, or to discover areas close to you. Once you've got locations into the app, you'll be able to access those locations on the watch to see reports on the conditions. You can setup alerts too, so if there's a snow dump you'll know and can thenn jump into your boots and head out to shred the mountain.
This all means that you can look at the information on that location on your wrist. Surfers will be able look at the tide times, size of the swell and so on, while skiers will be able to see when it last snowed and what the weather is expected to do next.
It sounds great, but might only be useful for a small subset of people who happen to live in the right place. For someone in London, with no surfing or mountains within practical distance, it's more a case of playing action sports than actually being able to do anything about it.
Then there's Trace apps which are designed to track and store your data. These are third-party apps from your phone that you might already be familiar with, as they work with the optional ($199) Trace sensor that can be attached to your board.
Outside of those elements, the Nixon Mission is fairly standard Android Wear offering, supporting those apps you install through a range of other functions and working just as well as other devices do.
That means the Nixon happily plays with Android phones, but less well with Apple - as fewer applications and features are supported, plus battery life is worse with the iPhone. That's standard for Android Wear devices, so no different to many other devices out there.
Nixon Mission review: Battery life
- 400mAh built-in battery
- Magnetic charger
Battery is the bane of smartwatches and that's very true for the Mission. Getting through the day on a single charge is possible, but fire up the GPS and track your performance and you'll find it's less effective. While that might not be a huge problem - we've already said this isn't a great choice if you want a running watch - it does sort of undermine the "action sports" side to this device.
The battery in the Mission struggles to get anywhere near the life of the Polar M600, which will generally do you two days, including fairly hefty GPS run tracking. Both those devices struggle to get near the sort of battery life you'd get from something like the Garmin Fenix 3 which, as it happens, is close in size and feel to the Nixon Mission.
Charging takes place via a magnetic connection to the rear of the watch using the included cable. This can be connected to USB on your laptop or via a charger.
The Nixon Mission succeeds where many smartwatches fail in offering a great design that feels nice to wear. The rugged build is also a big sell, meaning you don't have to worry about water, so it's well suited to being warn in rough conditions, like surf or snow.
What the Nixon doesn't really offer is an experience that takes it much beyond this. While that protection is good, you presumably won't have your phone with you when surfing, so it's then a disconnected timepiece. For mountain sports there's added appeal, but we can't help feeling that Nixon should have perhaps offered a little more to fit its sporty aims on the proprietary software side.
Ultimately, the Nixon Mission is a good-looking watch for those who are happy with a larger-scale device. It carries a lifestyle charm to it with rugged looks and, in the case of our review sample, eye-catching looks. There are better choices for those wanting an active sports watch, but sometimes, looking good is good enough.
Nixon Mission: The alternatives to consider
The Polar is a fusion of smartwatch and sports device. It takes Android's platform and laces in sports and fitness tracking functions, but maintains a balance that some devices don't manage. It might not be as pretty as the Nixon, but it's a little more advanced for less money.
If you want to go full-out design (and have the cash) then Tag is another viable alternative. It's a connected watch, it's packed with confidence and it's at the forefront of Android Wear. It doesn't offer as much sporty prestige as the Nixon though.
If battery life is the be-all and end-all of your purchase criteria then Garmin - which is on its own platform rather than Android Wear - is one of the best to buy. Long-lasting, rugged, but perhaps a step behind in terms of looks, it'll depend on what's most important to you when it comes to purchase.