The rugged and burly Mission by Nixon is a high-end smartwatch aimed at the extreme skier or surfer. This watch does have some unique features and an unparalleled level of water resistance and protection, but overall fell a little short in some of our tests. While it does have an impressive array of specialized features and functions, these do apply to a limited audience and it forgoes some of the more generalized functions that our top scoring models possessed.
Nixon Mission Review
Pros: Waterproof, decent battery life
Cons: Expensive, display is not the best
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Our Analysis and Test Results
For those dedicated skiers, surfers, or other extreme sports enthusiasts, this may be the smartwatch for you. With a ruggedized impact-resistant case and an impressive water resistance rating of 10 ATM, the Mission by Nixon is all set to accompany you on your ski or surf trips. Unfortunately, this all comes at a premium price — the most expensive of our test — and earned a rather mediocre score overall, though it does have plenty of bells and whistles. It's up to you to decide if these extra features are something you would use or if they are needlessly boosting the cost.
To come up with the final score and crown a winner in our test for the best smartwatch, we pitted the top models currently available against each other in an exhaustive array of side-by-side tests. In total, we spent in excess of 160 hours ranking, researching, and testing these products to assign a final score. The Nixon Mission earned a somewhat average score, meriting a 54 out of 100.
Our extensive testing process — totaling over 25 head-to-head tests — was divided into five separate rating metrics: Battery Life, Ease of Use, Fitness Impact, Smart Functions, and Display. Each weighted metric made up a portion of the overall score, with the next sections detailing exactly how the Mission did, where it excelled, where it fell flat, and any other noteworthy features that pertained to the test.
Ease of Use
The metric that made up the most of the total score — 30% — was Ease of Use, consisting of comparing and evaluating the screen responsiveness, interface, and charging methods, water resistance, ease of capturing a screenshot, as well as the ability to swap the wristband. The Nixon delivered an average performance, netting a 5 out of 10 for its efforts.
This watch is running on the Android Wear operating system, similar to many other models — the Huawei Watch, Asus ZenWatch 3, and the Fossil Q Marshall, just to name a few. These watches rely on the Android Wear app to capture a screenshot, and altogether unintuitive and finicky experience that takes a few tries to figure out — much, much more difficult than other models. However, this model does have unmatched water resistance, rated to 10 ATM or 100m of depth. Nixon states on their site that this means it is suitable for rain, splashes, shallow swimming, submersion, and even snorkeling or surfing — rightfully so, for a watch that is marketed directly to surfers. An important note: This rating only applies when the microphone door is closed, something worth checking if you plan on taking your Nixon Mission in the water, as forgetting to close it could turn into a very expensive ($400) mistake with a dead smartwatch.
This watch has a similar charging setup to other Android Wear watches, with a multi-pin connector on the back of the watch using magnets to align properly. This would take a little precision on your part to connect, but it was a fairly reliable connection and not often prone to accidental disconnects from being jostled.
This model does allow you to swap wristbands, but it does require specialized tools (small hex wrench) and is only really compatible with bands from the manufacturer, which does offer an impressive array of additional bands and bezels to customize your watch. The Nixon does lack a crown scroll or rotating bezel input method, leaving only the touchscreen and the single side button as an input method.
We weren't terribly impressed with the touch screen on this model, finding that it could be overly sensitive at times and completely unresponsive at others. This model also had the longest delay to wake when you raised your wrist, taking almost 1.5 seconds to light the display. While this seems fast, it is noticeably slower and substantially more frustrating than the seamless transition of the Apple Watch Series 2 or the Samsung Galaxy S3.
Contributing 20% to the overall score, our Smart Functions metric consisted of testing the ability to take a phone call on the watch, use it as a payment method, how the watch could control music, if it had a built-in GPS, and its compatibility with popular apps. The Mission delivered an average performance, earning it a 5 out of 10.
This model has a standalone GPS module, but lacks NFC technology, meaning that it is not usable as a payment method with Android Pay. The Mission does have music controls that will pop up automatically when necessary, identical to the other Android Wear models. You can play/pause, or skip tracks — even thumbing a song up or down from the watch screen when using Pandora. You also can load up music directly on the watch to listen to offline. The Mission lacks a speaker, but can pair directly with a pair of Bluetooth headphones for listening to music.
Unfortunately, this lack of speaker means that you can't take calls directly on the watch itself. The watch will notify you of an incoming call, but you must answer your smartphone to complete the call.
The Mission does have a microphone for use with the Google Assistant, but only works when the waterproof cover is open.
To test popular app compatibility, we took a sample set of 10 common apps and attempted to install them on each model, seeing if the app was even compatible and if it was fully-functioning. The Nixon worked with Spotify, IFTTT, Strava, and Shazam, with more app compatibility coming with the Android Wear 2.0 rollout. You can receive the push notifications from other apps through your phone, but you can't perform any actions with the apps.
The Display rating metric also contributed 20% to the final score, based on comparing the screen quality, its various adjustment modes, and its visibility. The Nixon did fairly well, meriting a 6 out of 10 for its display.
The 1.39", 400 x 400 fully circular screen was well-received by our rating panel, which found that it was a high-quality screen, on par with the Asus ZenWatch 3 and the Huawei, only being beaten out by the Apple Watch Series 2 and the Gear S3.
The Nixon fell a little short in our visibility test, being reasonably difficult to see in bright outdoor light — quite a conundrum for a watch primarily marketed for avid outdoor athletes. It did redeem itself slightly by having both an automatic brightness adjustment mode and an always on mode.
Rather than requiring you to wear both a smartwatch and a fitness tracker, all of the watches in this test have some amount of fitness tracking capabilities. Our Fitness Impact rating metric made up 15% of the overall score, consisting of heart rate monitor and step counter accuracy testing, as well as stair and workout tracking ability. The Nixon delivered an average performance, meriting it a 5 out of 10.
The Nixon uses the Google Fit app — like the other Android Wear watches — to track workouts and your basic fitness stats. You can choose between walking, running, and cycling, or select from one of the three challenges: push-up, squats, or sit-ups. This watch is also set up with the Trace apps to monitor your skiing or surfing session, as well as providing a summary of the current conditions.
This watch did lose some points for lacking a heart rate monitor, but had an exceptionally accurate step counter, being dead on in most of our tests, though the total steps did take some time to refresh and update after walking for a while.
The last rating metric, Battery Life, accounted for the remaining 15% of the overall score. We based this on how long each watch lasted during normal use, how long it took to charge to 50% and the time to completely charge. The Nixon scored slightly above average, earning a 6 out of 10 for this metric.
To simulate normal use, we woke up each watch on a set schedule, as well as sent it a prescribed set of texts, call, and notifications. The Mission lasted for 31.5 hours of this, putting it squarely in the middle of the pack. It did distinguish itself slightly by charging rather rapidly, taking only 32 minutes to hit 50% and 80 minutes to completely top off.
This specialized watch comes at a premium cost, while only earning an average score — definitely the wrong choice for budget-minded shoppers.
The Mission by Nixon is a rugged, outdoor watch that is the perfect match for the skiing or surfing enthusiast. This watch can take a beating, but unfortunately, might deliver quite a beating to your budget with it exceptionally high list price. For the avid surfer, skier, or rider, it may well be worth it to get such detailed data on your performance, as well as remain connected, but for many people, this watch's performance and price just don't add up.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer