The Last 4 Months With a Pebble Smartwatch

 In Reviews
Photo of 3 Pebble Smartwatches

Pebble Smartwatch from the Kickstarter page.

Let’s rewind all the way back in time to April 11th, 2012. I was online on my desktop computer while I was at my day job, and my friend Jay sent me a link to this Kickstarter page about a smart watch called Pebble. “That’s neat,” I thought. But then I shrugged it off as just another dumb gimmicky toy. Besides, who wears a watch anymore besides prominent business people? I just like to tell time on my cell phone when I need to know the time. The smart watch Kickstarter page boasted an extended battery life (rechargeable of course), an e-Paper display like the older and simpler models of ebook readers, bluetooth connectivity to an Android or iPhone smartphone, and the ability to use custom watch faces.

It was a careful and wary decision, but I decided to back this piece of technology and hopefully have the first watch I’d own in years be an advanced one. I plugged in my credit card number and on May 18th, 2012 funding completed and little did I realize their Kickstarter campaign raised 10 million dollars, one of the biggest of Kickstarter record. I’d rather not bore you with the details, but the short version is they had to retool their production timeline to compensate for the massive response. A little less than a year later, late January actually, my Pebble watch arrived at my door. It’s been 4 months, and I think now I’ve gotten to use it long enough to give you an honest review. Thank goodness I ordered the jet black one, because they were the first ones off the line after the hacker pack prototypes.

A quick word on packaging and contents: I didn’t snap a photo of the box it came in before I threw it away. It was pretty snazzy and small enough to fit in my mailbox. Inside were pretty much instructions to get my ass online and read the setup instructions on the website, a charging cable, and the Pebble. I started the Pebble charging right away, though realistically it came with almost a full charge anyhow. I paired it with my smartphone, typed in my info to get G-Mail, Google Voice, and Facebook notifications. We were off to the races after a quick firmware update. You can use the interface to download a bunch of watchfaces to your phone, then upload them to the watch over the bluetooth interface.

Here’s a few I installed from both the Watchapp Store, and a few from unofficial sources (open on your phone):

There were more watchfaces, but most of what I found wasn’t to my particular tastes, but your mileage may vary.

Since the watch is both waterproof up to 5 atmospheres AND can control the music on my phone via bluetooth, I can change tracks while I’m in the shower or washing dishes. (I’ve really done both). It’s supposed to also be waterproof enough to wear while swimming. The pool for our community doesn’t open until this weekend for the summer, so I haven’t had a chance to test it, but plenty of others have.

Battery life – it’s pretty spectacular. I went a full 5-6 days without charging it. Unfortunately, if you use a watchface with a second-hand or other animation or changing number that updates each second, the battery drains faster because it has to poll that function to draw on the screen every second of operation. I usually leave mine set on Text Watch. The downside is there is no battery life indicator unless the Pebble is charging. Which means you can either charge it on a regular interval (on every Thursday, for example) or just use it til it dies and then plug it up and charge it (which is what I do).

The build material feels very sturdy, and the glass is scratch resistant so I’m not worried about banging it up as I clumsily skulk around my dungeon. The strap also doesn’t feel cheap or plastic, it’s a very sturdy silicone-feeling strap.

My big complaint about the Pebble is that the app on my phone doesn’t always update on it’s own and I have to uninstall / reinstall it to get the latest version with the latest firmware. The Pebble developers work very hard and push out frequent updates to either fix bugs or provide new features though.

My second, miniscule, first-world problem complaint is that I only have one charging cable, and it has a proprietary connector on it, so I can’t just use my existing micro-USB cables and chargers. It does have a magnetic bit to hold it on though, because due to the waterproofing the charging cable can’t actually plug into the watch, it has to sort of rest against it. It has a small plastic “male” bit that goes into a similarly shaped “female” bit on the watch body that is solely for helping keep the connector on, and mine broke very easily the first time I traveled with it. It still charges fine, I just have to be careful nothing is putting much strain on the charging cable while it charges so it’ll stay on there with the magnets.

There are plenty of use cases for the Pebble, like getting my phone notifications while I’m up and about and my phone is charging. Or being able to go do something that keeps me from actively looking at my phone, and still getting my texts. I can’t reply to them from the watch, but it’s a step in the right direction. One man on Twitter said he was outside grilling and his girlfriend texted him and he got it on his Pebble, she wanted him to know she wanted hers medium rare. You can change tracks on your phone in the car while driving by just pressing the next button on your watch quickly, without looking away from the road. You could even mount the watch on your steering wheel for that purpose.

In short, I’m not addicted to my Pebble, but it’s an exciting (and ultimately useful) gadget. And since I’m getting back into the habit of wearing it, I don’t have to ask for the time or fumble for my phone and power button to see the time. I also can pay more attention to who I am sitting with but still see if a text is something urgent or not. Oh, and did I mention that I get caller ID sent to my watch and can ignore or answer a call from it as well? Again, no microphone, but you can tell the phone to pickup from your watch (useful on the car dock on speakerphone). If you’re trying to decide if you should buy one, I would say it’s worth the price point if you’re excited about the technology. It’s definitely useful, and definitely stylish.

Update (5/26/2013 1:37PM): I was able to test the Pebble smartwatch in the community pool yesterday. It held up just fine at the bottom of the pool at 12 feet deep, although most of the time it was just at waist depth. I did push all the buttons while the watch was underwater. Also, from arm’s length, I could view the Pebble’s screen clearly with it submerged in pool water without the backlight active. Still no problems with it today, functions just fine. 

Dave
I'm a 29 year-old blogger and tech support guy at a small university in the south. Technology makes me angry. I have certifications from Microsoft and Apple and I love Linux too. RAWR.
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