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The Pebble “smart watch” finds it’s self in the growing market of smart watches which currently includes the likes of Sony and Motorola, and(if rumours are to be believed, Apple will soon be joining in. The advent of wearable technology is here; and if the initial buzz around Pebble’s initial Kickstarter project and Google’s upcoming Glass Project is anything to go by, demand will be huge.

My Pebble, the “smartwatch” that became Kickstarter’s most funded project, landed on my doormat over a week ago. I feel that’s just enough time to get some thoughts out.

Design and Tech

On the surface the Pebble looks good, a simple curved plastic case covers the 1.26-inch black and white E-Paper display. Four buttons can be found on the device, one on the left which acts as a back button of sorts, and three on the right for up, select, and down functions. Easy enough. The design reminds me of the old Sinclair Black Watch, Thankfully the circuitry is much more robust. I’ve had a few compliments on the looks from people who probably had no idea what it is.

I had worried that the device would be too big to wear comfortably day to day, so it was a happy surprise that the Pebble is a lot smaller than I had expected – certainly not too big for my wrists, but it may be a problem for those with small writsts.

The E-Paper display is very readable in direct sunlight and thanks to the backlit display it’s readable in pretty much any situation. It also packs an accelerometer to pick up on movement, which gives the option to enable the backlit with a flick of the wrist or by tapping the screen which I find very useful.

I’ve got some gripes with buttons though: the button’s pressure pad is in the centre of the button. This means if you press at the top or bottom of the longer buttons they rock instead of hitting the pressure pad, there’s too much give in them. I’ve also noticed a few scratches appearing on the face, they’re not noticeable in normal light but once I saw them I couldn’t ignore them, I’ve since ordered up a screen protector – I’ve seen how messed up plastic screens can get.

Pebble watchfaces

Pebble currently has 11 watch faces available, my favourites are Text Watch, Simplicity, and Big Time 24 (shown here).

The device charges through a cool Magnetic charger this enables the Pebble to stay water resistant to 5ATM; even so, I’ve not had the courage to wear it in the shower or swimming.

Software and Use

The Pebble runs it’s own OS: Pebble OS. The company promised an SDK for developers to create apps and watch faces which would ship when the watch did. Yet here I am with my watch with no SDK or announced release date, hopefully we’ll hear something soon. Besides choosing a watch face, settings, an alarm, showing notifications and the music controller there’s not a lot to the software. This simplicity makes the device incredibly easy to pick up and navigate with little learning involved.

On the flip side of the coin, the Pebble requires a bluetooth connection with a smart phone and the Pebble app to be running on said phone. Again, the app is simple enough to use: allowing for the installation of new faces and (eventually) apps over Bluetooth. The app also serves to push notifications to Pebble when they appear. Notifications are simple but functional, usually displaying what is shown on the notification preview banner. However there’s no way to go back and read previous notifications, if a new notification comes through it immediately replaces the old one, hopefully a software update will incorporate something like a Notification Centre view.

I’ve been using my pebble with my iPhone 5 and getting notifications to work consistently has proven difficult. Stock iOS apps work with no issues, but every time the Pebble drops connection with my phone (which it seems to do more often than I’d like), I have to do a dance with my notification settings to get third party app notifications to push to the Pebble again. From what I can gather this is more an issue with how iOS handles notifications, in fact iOS has trouble with identifying what Pebble is. It often picks it up as a headset which ends up confusing the phone and renders Siri unusable!

It’s an annoyance but it’s not a deal breaker. Not yet anyway.

Pebble SMS notification example

SMS notification example

One of the other complaints I’ve read regarding the Pebble is the battery life, many users have had just three days of use from a full charge. My experience gave me five days of moderate use (50-100 notifications a day) before needing to charge it up, not mind blowing but satisfactory.

The other features work well enough, the music controller works exactly as you’d expect: you can skip tracks, play and pause, and the display shows the name of the artist, song name, and album title. Nifty. The alarm feature is pretty basic: you can add a number of alarm times and the watch will vibrate when the alarm goes off. The Vibration motor has proven strong enough to wake me from sleep.

What’s next for Pebble?

What I feel is really missing from Pebble is a mic for Siri/Google Now support. I’m not talking full on Dick Tracey style conversations but just enough to pull up quick information when needed. Again, this is something that needs to be built into iOS, equally I’m sure Android has some way of achieving this with Google Now.

I’m disappointed that no apps or even the SDK have been made available for the Pebble’s release. It’s one of the company’s key selling points and one they really should have worked on getting ready in time for launch as promised. With this somewhat broken promise, it does place some doubt on whether the company is set to last.

Overall, I love it.

Seriously. For all it’s faults, it feels completely unobtrusive and seamless. I like not having to get my phone out whilst I’m walking down the street just to check what that last buzz was about. It might not have all the bells and whistles but when set up right, it does what it I expect it to do, and does it well.

 

4 comments

  1. Nick Lewis March 6, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Reply

    Thanks for the review; the first I’ve read of the new generation of “iWatches”.

    My personal hunch is that people will bypass this watch and its competitors, and go straight for the Google Glass type options; I don’t think there is much difference from manipulating a device strapped to your wrist and pulling a mobile phone out of your pocket to make the concept truly revolutionary or highly desirable.

    For me, there is one main deal breaker; will any of these watches be replicas of the bracelets seen in “Blakes 7”? ;-)

    • Ben March 6, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Reply

      Thanks for the comment Nick!

      If only a Blakes 7 bracelet were possible!

      I’m not so sure about jumping straight to the Google Glass type products, in fact I still think there’s a long way to go before such devices become acceptable. As much as the geek inside me loves the idea of Glass, I honestly can’t see me using a pair day to day, They look perfect for the kind of people who are out sky diving every day but for us mere mortals who spend most of the time in work? Nope. Also the ethics of such devices need to be called into question, I think we’ll see a lot of paranoia appear from devices that can record everything with little or no indication of doing so. At least with a phone you know there’s a chance you’re being recorded.

      The concept is cool, but we have a way to go yet.

      I think the key to keeping a smart watch useful is to not make a fully fledged mobile device on your wrist but an accessory to those kinds of devices, much like the Pebble does at the moment.

  2. Joseph Loder (@CrazedHatter) March 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Reply

    I do hope there will be an update that comes along to address the notification thing, especially in situations where you may get 3 or 4 notifications in quick succession so you don’t get a chance to see them, however it sounds like it does exactly what I expect it to do.

    Also, to the comment about jumping straight to Google Glass – I for one cannot, because I wear glasses already, until there is a version that can work with people like me that particular option is closed off.

    I’m looking forward to getting mine, I don’t know how much longer it will be since the status page says mine should ship around March 18th, but everything I’m reading indicates shipping is a bit more sporadic than that, so… we’ll see.

    Good review though, and I think a lot of the issues you mentioned will get straightened out with software updates soon!

    • Ben March 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      Reply

      Thanks for the comment and kind words Joseph!

      I agree that all the problems can be solved with software updates, but I think that some of the issues with notifications are issues with how iOS handles notifications and not with Pebble. This obviously causes a lot of problems for the future of Pebble and iOS as it’ll be down to Apple to change, If you’re an Android user you’ll probably be fine.

      With regards to the Google Glasses, I think Joshua Topolsky mentioned in his review for The Verge:

      I also learn that the device actually comes apart, separating that center metal rim from the brains and lens attached on the right. The idea is that you could attach another frame fitted for Glass that would completely alter the look of the device while still allowing for the heads-up functionality.

      So it sounds like those with bad eyesight (my self included) will be able to use them with normal glasses soon.

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