I backed the Pebble Time Kickstarter project, and my watch arrived a couple of weeks ago. It’s a great device and the first “smart watch” I’m happy wearing.
I’ve been critical of the wearable space. Back when Samsung and Google were first making noises about smartwatches, I thought the design was wrong and the devices themselves needed more battery, smaller size, less weight. I tried the Sony Smartwatch 2, but it ended up in a drawer as the frequent charging (and cumbersome USB port) was too much hassle. I looked at the Apple Watch, but I’m annoyed enough at charging my phone daily, I don’t need another thirsty device.
When the Pebble Time was announced, I was convinced. A few things won me over: the “up to a week” battery life, colour display, and the microphone. The original Pebble E-Paper Watch was nice, but this third iteration from Pebble convinced me. For a run-down of the differences between versions, see Pebble Time vs Pebble Steel vs Pebble.
So is the Pebble Time any good?
The box felt like something Amazon would ship; very much like Kindle packaging. That actually is a good summary of the feel of the device itself: “Kindle-like”. It’s not premium, but it’s functional.
The hardware is nice and ‘watch-like’: it does not look particularly oversized, and it fits on the wrist properly, especially compared to the Sony Smartwatch 2.
Setup was really easy. Plug in, turn on, connect to phone, up and running.
After a couple of weeks I seem to be getting 5-6 days battery life between charges. The choice of watch faces seems to make a difference: watch faces that update frequently (second hand, or weather reports) naturally chew through more battery than the less-featured faces.
The notifications are good, and less problematic than they were with the Smartwatch. This is in part because Apple Mail’s VIP feature is responsible for delivering only important mails to my wrist, and because it’s easier to control what you see by turning off iOS notifications.
The much-heralded timeline functionality is nice but to be honest I haven’t much used it.
One annoyance is that a lot of meetings show on my watch even though they are cancelled. I’m assuming this is a problem with corporate calendaring systems rather than the Pebble but it’s still irritating to be buzzed for an event that isn’t happening.
Another annoyance is that iOS’ Do Not Disturb capability is ignored by the watch, so even if the phone makes no noise when a new notification arrives, you can be sure the watch will vibrate.
Another problem is that when your phone rings the pebble gives the option to accept / cancel a call, but the first time I accepted a call on the watch, the watch kept vibrating until I hung up. This seems to have been a one-off glitch as I can’t replicate it.
The Pebble website is a disappointment, all style over substance. The pebble watch faces and the pebble apps are killer use cases, but there’s no easy way to see what’s available. The website that powers the app store in the Pebble iOS app is http://apps.getpebble.com/ but browsing is blocked. You can go to http://apps.getpebble.com/en_US/watchapps and http://apps.getpebble.com/en_US/watchfaces but there’s no search. You can search the app store via http://pas.cpfx.ca/ which recreates the phone app UX, but it’s not ideal.
Reddit’s /r/pebble is a good source of community and I found a few nice apps and watch faces from recommendations there.
How is the watch for developers?
In Mean Time to Hello World, I talked about the importance of developers being able to be productive quickly:
if you want developers to adopt your platform, provide the simplest possible path to getting a trivial application up and running in the minimum amount of time.
And that’s what Pebble has done. The SDK is simple to install, and the tutorials are straightforward. I was able to get a simple watch face built in no time at all.
brew install pebble/pebble-sdk/pebble-sdk
pebble new-project foo
pebble build && pebble install
With the built-in simulator it’s easy to see results without having to debug on-phone. Simple.
Despite the niggling annoyances, this is a really credible smartwatch and a great example of how innovation can come from a scrappy startup just as easily as from an industry behemoth. It’s amazing that Pebble hit a feature/functionality sweet spot that the likes of Samsung, LG, and even Apple have struggled to match.
Arguably as batteries improve then the Apple Watch and myriad Google Wear watches will overtake Pebble, but for now I’ll take a week without charging over any number of wearable gimmicks.