Matrix PowerWatch review

If you're wearing it, it's charging. The Matrix PowerWatch runs on body heat

Tech companies are constantly working on better ways to charge and power your devices. Apple, for example, has finally adopted Qi wireless charging in its phones, and the technology for true wireless charging technology is well on its way. A California-based company called Matrix, however, is trying a different approach with the PowerWatch, its Indiegogo-funded smartwatch. The Matrix PowerWatch uses body heat to charge, meaning as long as you’re wearing the device, it’s juicing up. This technology is a big deal, because who wants to hook up a watch to a charger every night? We took the PowerWatch for a spin to see how its highlight feature performs.

Chunky watch, monochrome screen

The Matrix PowerWatch is undeniably chunky. It may be an issue for some with smaller wrists, but on medium- or larger-sized wrists, it doesn’t look too out of the ordinary. There are three different models you can choose from: Black, silver, and a sportier black variant called the PowerWatch X.

Christian de Looper/Digital Trends

The watch we’re reviewing is the standard black, and it comes with a black mesh strap. The watch has a masculine design, with exposed screws on the front, and a very angular look — despite the round display. We like the strap, because it’s easy to adjust it to your liking, and it looks stylish. As with many metal straps, there were a few times where it caught our wrist hair, and that’s never pleasant.

On the right edge of the watch, there are two buttons and a rotating crown, which can adjust the watch’s software. The top button changes the watch’s mode, such as daily activity, running mode, stopwatch, and watch settings. The bottom button lets you start and stop the stopwatch, and you can use it to cycle through settings in the menu.

The PowerWatch is undeniably chunky, which is fine on medium and large wrists, but may be an issue for those with small wrists.

The buttons can be frustrating to use. They require a good deal of pressure to work, and it gets tiring holding down them down to turn the watch on or off. You can activate the watch’s backlight by pressing down both buttons, but we ended up just checking the time on our phone instead. The crown, on the other hand, is easy to use. It rotates flawlessly, and lets you cycle through options on the main screen and in some of the settings.

The PowerWatch packs a monochrome LCD display, which helps conserve power. It’s sharp, and relatively easy to read in most environments, but it doesn’t get as bright as we’d like in direct sunlight.

The all-black model of the watch looks minimal, but its size may put people off.

Thermal power

What sets the PowerWatch apart is its ability to charge up with heat emanating from your wrist, thanks to thermoelectric technology. It means you never have to worry about replacing the battery, or plugging in the watch every day. The use of your body heat goes beyond charging too – the PowerWatch can also see how many calories you’re burning more accurately. To round out its health-tracking capabilities, the watch can also count steps.

Matrix PowerWatch review
Christian de Looper/Digital Trends
Christian de Looper/Digital Trends

But first, does the thermoelectric technology work? Yes, and it’s impressive. We wore the watch for more than a week, and it never ran out of juice. We also didn’t wear the watch for a week, and it still didn’t die. If you leave the PowerWatch unattended for a long period of time, it will simply turn off before completely running out of power. You can turn it back on again and wear it to charge it back up.

We did encounter a faulty temperature sensor on the watch. The device would constantly read that my skin’s temperature and the watch case’s temperature was 492 degrees. We’re not scientists, but 492 degrees Fahrenheit sounds just a little too warm for skin temperature. Resetting the watch fixes the issue for a few seconds – but it goes right back to displaying the incorrect reading. According to Matrix, this should be an “isolated incident,” and we’ll be testing out another unit to ensure this is true. We’ll update this article once we do so.

Not having to charge a smartwatch is great. We’re not yet at a point where this technology could charge a more feature-packed device like the Apple Watch, but it’s exciting to see it genuinely work.

Simple software

Matrix is a hardware company, not a software company. That’s evident in what exactly you can do with the PowerWatch. The main screen shows the time, and the ring around the watch face shows the amount of power being generated. Use the buttons to switch modes to quickly glance at data like steps taken, calories burned, and access the stopwatch.

Matrix is foremost a hardware company, and that’s evident in what you can actually do with the PowerWatch.

There are a few annoyances we’d like to see addressed. For starters, you have to manually tap the sync button in the watch’s settings to see fitness information on your phone, which is a little annoying. It’s easier to see your step count straight from the watch itself, of course, but the advantage of syncing with your phone is that the data can sync with Apple’s HealthKit and Google Fit.

The iOS- and Android-compatible app is barebones, but it gets the job done. After downloading it and pairing your watch, it shows you data like steps taken, calories burned, and accurate sleep metrics (like how long you’ve slept for). You can add “friends” in the app, and then you can compare fitness data. That’s about all there is to it.

Price and availability

The PowerWatch does very little. If you’re in the market for a watch that can measure your basic fitness data, track your sleep, and has a stopwatch built-in, we recommend buying a hybrid watch like the Fossil Q Commuter.

The Q Commuter is a beautiful timepiece that hides its smarts well, and it can last for 6 months to a year depending on your use — just replace the cheap coin cell battery to extend its life. That doesn’t mean the PowerWatch is bad — there’s just no real reason to recommend such a bulky watch that does so little, but costs $200. Especially if it doesn’t look as attractive as many hybrid watches.

The watch is largely a showcase of thermoelectric technology, and it truly is incredible. We can’t wait to see it miniaturized in a more attractive, future version of the PowerWatch that packs a few more features.

DT Editors' Rating: 3/5

Updated on February 8: Added news that Matrix had responded to our hardware issue saying that it’s an “isolated incident.”