One Month Challenge: Pebble Smartwatch Review

Mobile / Reviews / Tech / Wearables / Wearables Reviews

In December 2013, I won a black Pebble Smartwatch (Model 301) as a prize at a Christmas party. I’d always had a passing interest in the device but not being a watch wearer, I had never really been able to justify the $150 USD price tag. I’d watched the Pebble rise through the ranks as one of the most popular Kickstarter projects to date, and decided that since I actually had one, I should give it a go. I gave myself one month to test the device – I’d wear it every day and see how it held up to my busy lifestyle.

PebbleI have to admit that after going watch-less for many years, strapping the Pebble to my wrist bothered me for the first few days. To be entirely fair, my discomfort wasn’t the fault of the Pebble and I took that into account when writing this review. Ergonomically speaking, the Pebble’s polycarbonate frame and TPU rubber band are actually pretty comfortable after you determine which notch is best for you. The frame itself is slightly curved, which allows the Pebble to form around your wrist much like a traditional watch. The smartwatch isn’t big or bulky, either. The casing also makes the watch sweat- and water-proof, up to 5 ATM. Because I vowed to put my Pebble through its paces, I did put it in a bowl of water for a few minutes. It held up marvelously and dried off shortly with no short term or long term damage. It is, indeed, waterproof enough for the average person.

The Pebble has a crisp e-paper display, very similar to the e-ink technology you see in simple e-readers like the Nook Simple Touch and Kindle Paperwhite. This sips the lithium-ion battery, and Pebble’s claim of 5-7 days of battery life, assuming that you turn it off when you’re done using it after a 10-hour day, is generally true. I usually get six days of battery life out of it in this way. Though only 1.26 inches large, the display is very clear, and covered by a hard coating to promote damage resistance against life’s everyday situations. It’s also LED backlit, which is very handy when you want to check a notification or the time in a dark area like a concert venue. There’s an optional “shake to light” feature that uses the built-in 3D accelerometer (which is also helpful for workout apps like RunKeeper). This allows you to shake your wrist to light up the Pebble. Some users may like this, but I turned this feature off as I “talk with my hands,” as the adage goes, and would often turn on the LED by accident.

Screenshot_2014-01-15-11-47-21The Pebble connects to most modern Android and iOS devices via Bluetooth 4.0, a low-power consumption method. You can use the Bluetooth connection to play, pause, skip forward, and skip backward in most of your media apps, including Plex, Spotify, Pocket Casts, DLNA, and more – a feature that I absolutely love! Through the Pebble app on your smartphone, you can set a large range of notifications to appear on your Pebble smartwatch. These include: Incoming calls, SMS messages, calendar reminders, multiple email account notifications, Google Talk, Google Hangouts (which works with both SMS and Hangouts notifications, which made me exceedingly happy), Facebook messages and updates, and even WhatsApp messages. These apps will cover most peoples’ needs, but there are Tasker alternatives that you can program if your favorite app isn’t yet supported directly through Pebble’s app interface.

That’s a definite plus, by the way – Pebble is very open and developer friendly. The community is very active with alternative notification methods, watch faces, skins, and more customizations. Not only that, but Pebble’s developers have recently announced that they’re launching an appstore for the device and its upcoming metallic variant. This will collect all of the amazing third-party Pebble apps available across the Internet and the Google Play Store into one location for Pebblers, as they’re called, to browse and discover. That takes a lot of guesswork out of finding and installing many of these cool apps. Easier usability and greater customization will help Pebble grow in the future, without a doubt.

I have only two small issues with the Pebble smartwatch. First, charging the device can be a little tricky if you don’t place it on a flat, sturdy surface. Pebble uses a waterproof, magnetized charging port that holds the connectors in place. The problem is that the magnets are a little weak, so the charging cable can easily become disconnected from the Pebble. I understand the need for this type of charging port to keep the smartwatch watertight, but I’d like to see some sort of improvement here.

Screenshot_2014-01-15-11-49-34Second, although I love having the ability to pause what I’m listening to or watching, you have to manually change which app is designated as using the play/pause feature through the Pebble app. Let’s say that I’ve designated Spotify as that app, for example. However, I want to listen to a podcast through Pocket Casts. If I use the play/pause feature with the intent to pause Pocket Casts, it will actually start playback from Spotify, because that’s what the Pebble is programmed to interact with. I’m not sure if this is just a software limitation, but if this feature could be improved to automatically allow access to whichever app is playing media, that’d be a nice (though not wholly necessary) fix.

Those two tiny drawbacks aside, the Pebble is absolutely an amazing little device. The first really mass-marketable smartwatch since the early 2000s, Pebble has done it right, including enough bells and whistles to keep you up to date with the things that really matter. By not mashing things like cameras and speakerphones into the watch, Pebble ensures that you have an easy, but customized, experience that you just can’t live without if you require the ability to constantly monitor what’s happening on your smartphone.

1210130908I actually use my phone a little differently now as a result of having a Pebble. What I like about the Pebble is that I can put my smartphone down and walk away from it. I’ve found that I’m having more meaningful interactions with people since I don’t have my phone in hand all the time – I’m breaking the habit of needing my phone on me at all time. I don’t have as many distractions that way, but I still have important notifications available to me so that I can assess whether I really need to address a situation, or if I can just put it off for a little while and enjoy what I’m doing at the moment.

Will I continue to wear the Pebble daily? Absolutely! It’s now an integral part of my daily life. Would I consider purchasing the Pebble Steel for myself in the future? For the immediate future, I’ll hold off; my Pebble is still very new. But when the time comes for a replacement Pebble or if I accidentally break mine? Absolutely! Would I recommend a Pebble to anyone?

Without a doubt!

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