This is the smartwatch that first got the world interested in smartwatches. Pebble is an Android and iOS compatible smartwatch with open source operating system. There’s no denying that the watch has gained an impressive amount of admiration, completely smashing past its initial Kickstarter funding goal and reigniting interest in an area of tech that was seemingly dead and buried. Pebble app store filled with new types of apps has turned the Pebble into a more useful device.
The new Pebble Steel has a sleek modern look with just the right drop of geeky. The original Pebble, on the other hand, goes full-tilt towards a plastic, toy-tech look. It’s a minimalist retro-geek style that’ll appeal to lovers of Kindles and Casio watches, but the chunky design and scratch-prone display won’t win tons of admirers. The Pebble has a tiny 1.26-inch diagonal “E-Paper” display, with a 144×168-pixel resolution. E-Paper is a bit of a misleading label. This isn’t e-ink, but rather a black-and-white LCD display with a more-reflective-than-usual back. In daylight, text and icons seem more crisp. There’s also an LED backlight that turns on with a press of the left-side button, or a flick of your wrist. The Pebble has five colors: orange, red, black, white, or gray. There are a variety of other watchbands sold online that you could mix-and-match with. It’s like the Swatch of the smartwatch world. The Pebble’s rated at 5 atmospheres (ATM) water resistance for uses up to and including swimming and showering. That alone could make a difference to potential smartwatch shoppers. There’s no touch screen, but the four buttons handle most tasks well enough. Buttons on the right handle scrolling up and down through the main menu; the center button selects options; the left button both acts as a back button and activates the watch’s backlight. The display is exactly the same as the one on the original watch – a monochrome LCD with a backlight, which is easy to read in direct sunlight.
Pebble’s approach is not to be a mini-smartphone but a ‘thin client’ receiving handset notifications over Bluetooth. What it can receive varies significantly between iOS and Android (more of later) but includes email, SMS and social media alerts along with calendar reminders. It can also control music playback and accept or reject incoming calls.The Pebble watch has a number of unofficial apps too made using its open SDK, which brings additional third party functionality from customisable watch faces to basic games like Chess and Space Invaders. The screen also has a backlight that can switch on automatically depending on the lighting level or be set to activate with a flick of the wrist. On the left side of the watch are four metal contact charge points. The lack of microUSB is to keep it water tight, and while it means carrying a proprietary connector it is much lighter than the bulky charger for the MetaWatch and is neatly held in place with magnets. As for setup, it merely involves pairing Pebble with your handset via Bluetooth and installing the official app which lets you toggle which notifications you want. Once your choices are made these are wirelessly synced automatically with the watch and you’re ready to go.
One benefit of the new colour e-paper screen is fresh watch faces with everything from a classy Mondrian style face to Donkey Kong available to adorn your smartwatch. Pebble has also removed the limit for the number of watch faces and apps so you can add a bunch to the Pebble iOS or Android app to swap in and out. There’s a lot of tat still though and the quality of the apps compatible with the Apple Watch and Android Wear does put Pebble’s roster to shame a little. The Time also suffers from the limitations – it won’t display images or Vines, for instance, which the Apple Watch can. Part of the reply options include templates and emojis but these aren’t rendered clearly enough to be able to distinguish the faces without really squinting at the watch. Devs won’t get into the Pebble game to make beautiful apps then. There’s no extra sensors such as heart rate monitoring though these could be added in future via Smartstraps.
A watch is usually something which has fairly modest power demands – most digital watches will happily run on the same battery for years. It is claimed the Pebble smartwatch will last up to 7 days with light usage and 5 days with heavy usage. Pebble claims the tiny 140mAh battery inside couldn’t be read accurately given it discharges so slowly. The best we managed was 5/6 days. It charges very quickly via a proprietary cable which secures to the pins on the back of the watch more easily than previous Pebbles, a plus point which means you won’t think it’s charging when it’s not. The battery life is definitely a reason to choose the Pebble Time over Android Wear watches.
Long battery life, water resistance, and a display that you can read in the sunlight may be have been great selling points years ago, but Android Wear and the Apple Watch have put more on the table. Style, a smooth user interface, sharp screens, and heart rate monitors put other smartwatches on a different level. Pebble has been left behind. Its most attractive smartwatch to date. It is smartly designed, intuitive and affordable. Currently it works far better on Android than iOS, but that is down to the limitations of Apple’s platform and should change with iOS7.