Hey folks – I’m back with a holiday review of the Pebble smartwatch in hopes of helping you decide if it is the perfect gift for the techie in your life or maybe even yourself. After spending a month playing with the Pebble, I was a bit surprised at the niche it carved out in my day-to-day life. Take the dive beyond the break and see what I thought of this fancy wrist piece, and whether it might make a good holiday gift.
What is the Pebble?
The Pebble is a ‘smartwatch,’ which is basically a watch that goes well beyond the age-old functionality of the common wristwatch. Your old watch will tell you the time, or maybe even the date, but a smartwatch will give you the weather, show you your calendar or to-do list, or even display your emails/text messages.
Smartwatches haven’t really gained widespread attention or use up until very recently, but the Pebble went a long way to bring a niche market to the forefront of the tech industry. The Pebble burst onto the scene with no shortage of fanfare, debuting on Kickstarter in April 2012 to crowd-fund the final development and initial production runs for sale to the general public. Despite requesting only $100,000 in funding, the Pebble quickly became the highest funded project on Kickstarter to-date, raising nearly $10.3 million and utterly trouncing the next highest-funded project ( the Ouya, which raised ‘only’ $8.6 Million…). The attention supplied by the Kickstarter campaign, as well as compatibility with both iPhone and Android smartphones, brought the Pebble to a wide audience and arguably brought the smartwatch concept much higher visibility.
But enough boring history – on to more details!
The Pebble is just about the size of a men’s wrist watch – 2″ tall by 1.5″ wide – and uses a standard 22mm wrist band which can be replaced to suit your style. The screen is a 1.25″ e-paper display with LED backlighting, a combination that makes for easy reading under all lighting. The use of an e-paper screen is also a boon for battery life – the Pebble boasts an awesome 5-7 day battery life. When you do need to charge up, the included USB cable connects to the Pebble with special magnetic interface similar to the Apple Magsafe or the new Microsoft Surface power cord. While it is pretty nifty, I would have much preferred a standard microUSB port so I could carry one cable for both my phone and watch.
The Pebble is also water-resistant up to 5 ATM (150+ feet), and carries a number of sensors that support current and future functionality; accelerometer, light sensor, and an e-compass that will be supported in a future software update. This provides a fairly complete sensor suite integrated directly into the Pebble, which I’m sure will provide clever developers all they’ll need to produce some creative apps.
What Does it do?
The Pebble is best described as an extension of your smartphone, compatible with both iPhone/iPod Touch or Android smartphones and connected via Bluetooth. Other than telling the time, the primary function of the Pebble is to bring notifications from your phone to a conveniently located screen at your wrist. This makes the Pebble experience entirely reliant on your phone Even the majority of the Pebble’s settings are managed through an app on your phone, as well as downloading new apps. So it goes without saying that you shouldn’t even bother with the Pebble unless you have a compatible smartphone (iPhone or Android).
As I mentioned above, you’ll need to install the official Pebble app, which can be downloaded in either the App Store or Google Play Store. From there, most all the Pebble settings can be managed.
With the official app, your Pebble is immediately capable of forwarding notifications from a number of apps to your wrist with a discreet vibration that is discrete, yet much harder to miss than your phone in a coat pocket or purse. Notifications that are supported by the official Pebble app include native phone functions (Calls and SMS), email, calendar and some more common apps such as Facebook, Google Talk/Hangout, and Voice. If the notifications don’t include all the apps you use, there are a number of 3rd party ‘helper’ applications available for the Pebble on Android (which we’ll talk more about later) that will enable notifications for most other apps not supported by the official app.
You also have the ability to disable notifications from the setting menus on the pebble itself, so you can quickly turn off notifications for some privacy without having to dig out your phone.
This is of course all based on my experience with the Android app, and I understand that the iPhone handles notifications quite a bit differently. As of IOS 7 you should be able to forward any app that you set to show notifications in notification center – check out the Pebble tutorial here, because I really don’t know any more than that.
The Pebble doesn’t stop at just passively receiving notifications from your phone. The stock Pebble application alone supports music control and alarms, as well as a selection of watch faces to personalize the look of the watch – there is even a snake game that will bring you back to the days of brick-phones!
In addition to the functionality of the native Pebble app, the flexibility offered by Pebble to app developers enables quite a diverse list of functionality to be provided at your wrist. 3rd party apps offer features such as text messaging (with presets), games, workout assistants, stopwatches, remote camera control, and even a remote camera view finder (IOS Only – Android version in development). There is also an apps (Android only) that allows you to make custom watch faces on your phone. I’ll discuss some recommended apps later in this review, but this is just a sampling of what is currently available for the Pebble.
Is the Pebble Really Practical?
Like I said earlier, I’ve spent about a month with the Pebble, and have had quite a surprising experience. I had gone into this review period expecting the Pebble experience to be a bit middling – as much as I’m a tech junkie, I’ve never been one to buy such highly specialized accessories, especially at such a high price (~$150). I expected to find the watch to be little more than a novelty. Albeit, a well designed and implemented novelty, but a novelty nonetheless.
Much to my surprise, I actually found the Pebble to be a wonderful filter between me and the constant deluge of alerts and notifications I get sent to my phone on a day-to-day basis. After playing around with the various settings, I ended up entirely silencing my phone, and forwarding notifications from only the applications I was interested in getting real-time alerts from; SMS, email from my primary account, and my various Google services (talk, voice, G+). This filtered out all the notifications from apps that I was less interested in getting alerts from real-time, but whose notifications would still be queued on my phone when I check it next. This setup almost eliminated the need to pull my phone out of my pocket at all, as I could read all but the longest emails from the Pebble, and only needed to go to my phone for those that were important enough to respond to.
Even better, I found a 3rd party helper app called Glance, which adds even more functionality to the Pebble. In addition to all the notification control I already had, Glance added the ability to check the weather, my calendar, sending preset SMS responses, and much more. Between my notification settings and the capabilities of Glance, I almost never had to pull my phone out to check a notification. That doesn’t really seem like a big deal, but when you think about how often you get notifications, that’s a lot of time digging in your pocket, staring at your phone, then putting it back.
The other plus is that I never missed a notification or call because I didn’t feel my phone vibrate or it was too loud to hear the ringer (though I rarely have my phone’s ringtones on). The vibration on your wrist is much more noticeable, and it’s also a much more discrete than a ringer.
And last but not least, the Pebble is a pretty handsome watch, but more importantly, it isn’t too flashy/outlandish if you get the black or grey models. Swapping out the stock wristband with a nice leather or fabric band goes even farther toward making the Pebble blend in with other watches. While this may not be the bold fashion statement some may like, it does make for a clean and sleek watch that is an unassuming and inconspicuous addition to my day-to-day attire, as much in business garb as in casual.
To be honest, the fact that I could wear the Pebble even in fancy presentations and meetings was one of my favorite things about this watch. Between the Pebble looking fancy enough to fit in, and being able to use most of the common function of my phone from my wrist, it was the perfect gadget for work. Rather than looking disrespectful during a presentation and staring at my phone, I could check the text I just got with a casual glance at my watch, or even send a simple response with only a few presses of a button on the watch.
And last but not least, the e-paper screen on the Pebble makes for a delightfully long battery life compared to most other smart watches that use OLED displays. The Pebble can go 5-7 days between charging, which means you don’t have to work about charging it nightly. On the flip side, though, it does eat through your phone’s battery a bit faster, so beware of that.
Is the Pebble Worth the Money?
This is a fair question, I have to admit. My first impression when I saw the $150 dollar price tag for the Pebble I was a bit taken aback too. I though, ‘that much for a watch? That’s a bit steep…’ Then I remembered that the last watch I bought cost just shy of $125 and it only told me the time. In that context, the Pebble doesn’t seem so expensive when all of the additional practical functionality is weighed.
Certainly the level of convenience and practicality of the Pebble will vary from person to person, but for me the price tag is well worth what I get out of the Pebble – a more productive smartphone experience. This question is one I can’t answer for you, but what I can say is that for that for the money, the Pebble is the best smartwatch on the market by a wide margin, and worth the money if you’re a heavy smartphone user.
If you’re a frequent smartphone user and are looking for a better way to wade through all the alerts you get and have more convenient access to quick and frequent tasks, I highly recommend the Pebble. It’s a great watch no matter what your daily life throws at you – tough, water-resistant, stylish, and useful. Whether you’re going out on the town to heading to rub elbows with upper management, it’ll serve you well.
Best of all, the additional functionality available from 3rd party apps is continuing to expand, so you can look forward to an ever-increasing suite of functionality as time goes on. As I said before, my experience is limited to Android devices, so I’m not entirely sure how well the 3rd party application community is for IOS, but things are looking great for Android.
Stay tuned for a list of the top apps you should get for your Pebble, coming later this week!