Pebble Smartwatch: some thoughts on why the smart watch is here to stay

By , Nov 28, 2013

Pebble Watch

Believe it or not, but Monday marked my first hands-on experience with the Pebble Smartwatch. I’ve striven to avoid the product all of these months, because I figured that Apple would eventually get around to making a “real” smart watch.

Apple still might do that, but its time table hasn’t aligned with the expectations of the tech blogging industry, mine included. Apple never said that it was working on a wearable, so it’s really our fault for creating such expectations.

In the meantime, the Pebble Smartwatch and its SDK have had plenty of time to marinate and mature. The latest update to Pebble’s software brings with it systemwide notifications, and there’s no hacking or jailbreaking needed to do that. In the eyes of many, that’s enough to make the Pebble Smartwatch worthy of serious consideration, and I tend to agree.

Unboxing the Pebble Smartwatch

Unboxing the Pebble was a simple affair. The device’s brick and mortar retail package comes in a tiny box wrapped in cheap shrink wrap. Inside of the box you’ll find the Pebble Smartwatch and a USB cable attachment for charging the device. You’ll also find a few pieces of documentation used for setting things up. Here’s a video showcasing the unboxing:

Looks, size, and fit

The Pebble comes in a variety of colors: grey, jet black, cherry red, orange, and arctic white. I have the jet black model, which is probably the best bet if you want to stay on the conservative side. From a pure looks standpoint, I do think the arctic white is the best looking color. All of the colors can be ordered from Pebble’s website, while only jet black and cherry red seem to be available from retail stores, including Amazon.com.

The Pebble is a bit smaller than I imagined it to be in person. It’s probably no larger than a modern men’s watch you’d find at a retailer like Macy’s. The Pebble isn’t a gaudy wrist accessory, but it’s big enough to be noticed and identified by passersby.

Pebble Fossil

The wrist strap that comes with the Pebble is large and consists of rubber. It’s definitely the weak link when it comes to overall looks. Due to its cheap rubber makeup, the wrist strap can be irritating to the skin. It’s not uncomfortable enough to make me want to take it off, but it doesn’t “disappear” like a good wrist strap should. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of third party wrist straps available, and I plan on acquiring one as soon as I can.

Setting things up

Setting up the Pebble Smartwatch for the first time was a nightmare, and judging from Pebble’s support forums, I’m not alone in my sentiments. I actually plan on publishing a setup tutorial at a later date, just because the setup was so clunky and cumbersome.

Pebble Recovery mode (1)

For whatever reason, setting up the Pebble Smartwatch properly involved downloading older firmware from some random link on its support forums, and installing the latest firmware on top of the old firmware. If you don’t go about this procedure in the right order, you’ll find yourself stuck in a recovery loop. I spent about an hour researching and trial testing my Pebble Smartwatch before I could even begin using it. It’s definitely not a plug and play procedure, and I could see a few people returning their Pebble’s due to the frustration that results from the poor setup experience

Using my Pebble

Once you finally get the Pebble setup on the latest firmware, using the device is an enjoyable experience. Actually, I’m shocked at how much I like the Pebble thus far. I’ve always doubted the viability of the Smartwatch or other “wearables,” but, after using the Pebble for a day, I’m a believer.

The team behind the Pebble did a great job of creating a functional and practical product. The Pebble’s e-ink display — similar to the one’s used in Amazon’s Kindle and other e-readers — makes it so that you can read the watch face in direct sunlight, and also promotes long battery life. Though I haven’t put it through its paces entirely, the Pebble reportedly last a week on a single 3 hour charge.

Functionality wise, there isn’t a whole lot you can do with the Pebble. You can’t initiate calls or texts messages via the device. It has no speakers, microphones, cameras, or any other input functionality, sans four physical buttons. The Pebble is a device used to spit out information from your smart phone, and nothing more. But that’s okay, because that’s an incredibly useful feature in and of itself.

The ability to receive all of your text message notifications, tweet alerts, incoming phone call notifications, and virtually any other type of alert is a massive convenience. This allows you to silence the alerts and squash the vibrations coming from your smart phone, and instead forward them all to your wrist.

Pebble twitter alerts

I’ve setup my Pebble to vibrate on incoming phone calls, so when a phone call does come in, I can quickly view the incoming caller, and answer the call with a simple button press. Or, if it’s someone calling that I don’t need to speak to at the moment, I can use the Pebble to quickly screen the call without removing my phone from my pocket. Think about how many times you take your phone out of your pocket each day to view a notification that requires no real action at that moment. Now think about the fact that you’ve just eliminated the need to do that so many times throughout your day.

The Pebble allows you to focus on driving, or continue a conversation without being rude. The Pebble makes it so that I don’t have to go digging out my smart phone every few minutes just to see an alert or an incoming call. All of those alerts now reside on a place that feels incredible natural — my wrist. It’s a liberating feeling that you may not come to appreciate until you try it for yourself.

Of course, the Pebble Smartwatch does more that act as a billboard for your phone’s incoming notifications. It can also control your music, tell the weather, act as an alarm clock, and yes, it can tell time, too. You’ll find quite a few apps on the App Store that allow you to get more out of your Pebble, and the list keeps growing each day. I’ll be sure to follow up with some reviews of my favorite Pebble apps in a future post.

The bottom line

I’m quite late to the party when it comes to the Pebble, and there are tons of reviews out there that go over every single nook and cranny concerning the device. With that in mind, I didn’t want this to be a regurgitation of what you’ve already read. I wanted to bring you this write up in order to emphasize how much I now believe in wearable technology.

The Pebble Smartwatch is by no means a perfect wearable. It has a terrible setup, an uncomfortable wrist strap, and it’s quite expensive at $149. Nevertheless, it has made me an unequivocal believer in this market. It vastly reduces the number of times that I have to look at my phone, and it silences its notifications. Because of that, it’s a product that I’ll be wearing on my wrist until the inevitable happens and something better comes along.

I’ll be sure to come back and provide you with a proper video review once I’ve spent enough time with the device to truly put it through its paces. In the meantime, sound off in the comments below and share your experiences with the Pebble Smartwatch.

  • Share:
  • Follow:
  • Andrew’s OwlCity

    Definitely not better than Galaxy Gear :/ Apple wheres the iWatch????

    • Alex Yamil

      see reviews, both are for different purpose. G gear is more to be seen as techie person. Pbbl is more practical due to water resistant and eink capabilities…

    • Glorin

      THEY NEVER PROMISED YOU AN iWatch..

    • Antzboogie

      The Galaxy watch does not even work on the Galaxy phone Lmao!plus the Pebble watch is awesome hands down!

  • Biken Dangol

    Smart watch can really be a thing. These days most of people don’t put on any kind of watch in there wrist.

    • Taf Khan

      Don’t agree. A watch is a must, one that keeps working, years without the need for charging.. I’m not convinced I need another device to charge up daily, still waiting for someone to convince me.

      • Biken Dangol

        Not that I care but people, usually around my age don’t like to put on watch. None of my friend do. It could change thing. If it’s so called “G-thingy” is attach with it. That’s it I don’t even know Who is bring what.If you don’t believe me then just visit MASSACHUSETTS. And again I’m not legislating. That was my suggestion which is not implemented to all pupils. You might like old traditional style.

  • Mutantblack

    Have the Galaxy Gear and love it. With the latest firmware update that enable all notifications, gear is way better than pebble. Of cuz it’s more expensive, battery life is about 2 days and only works with selective phones kill the gear but if have note 3 or supported phones, it’s the best smart watch.

    Or there’s pebble for everything else.

    • http://bnjm.org/ Jeff Benjamin

      I’ve played with the Gear. I know it’s getting killed in the reviews. The battery life thing would be a deal breaker for me. Having to charge it once a week is annoying enough. But I agree, the concept of a smart watch is great, and no doubt, the Galaxy Gear is very convenient to use because of the same points I outlined throughout this post.

    • Joey_Z

      The LCD screen on the Galaxy Gear uses too much power, which leads me to believe that Agent gets it right. Memory LCD could be the future for all smartwatches.

  • David J Delgado

    I don’t get why you had such an issue pairing it. I bought one from Best Buy, and before I made it to my car, it was paired and ready to go. And that was back when my iPhone was still running iOS 7 BETA.

    Nonetheless, It has matured very well, and I personally find it to be very useful.

    • http://bnjm.org/ Jeff Benjamin

      Not sure, but if you look at Pebble’s forums, you will see a ton of complaints about the same thing.

      • Aniket Bhatt

        But if he was on the ios 7 beta way back when. He wouldn’t have run into the software updating and such issues correct?

  • Brandon Weidema

    I was pretty skeptical when i bought my Pebble, didn’t have a problem setting it up though. I really like being able to see notifications on my watch and its much more subtle in social gatherings where its a bit rude to be checking your phone. I also noticed it lets you read messages without triggering the “read at” thingy. One of my favourite features is actually the vibrating alarm especially good since i like my naps. Also handy if you have your phone charging at home as you can still receive texts and phone calls without being in the same room as your device.

    Overall, im pretty happy with it, the only downside for me, is that it doesnt look high end since its plastic and I’ve had a bunch of my friends call it a nerd watch, take it how you will i guess. If i had the option to go back in time and re-buy it, i probably would. Typically, i get about 5-6 days battery life with vibration enabled.

    • http://bnjm.org/ Jeff Benjamin

      I really like being able to see notifications on my watch and its much more subtle in social gatherings where its a bit rude to be checking your phone. <- THIS.

      • Usman

        Or you (not speciffically you) can look rude looking at your watch as it shows you want to leave!

  • derekaw

    I love my Pebble. I had the same setup problem. What watch face are you using with the weather? I could not get that working.

    • http://bnjm.org/ Jeff Benjamin

      It’s called Futura Weather 2. You install it using the app Pebble Faces.

  • Ricco DeRossi

    I have had it for a few months now. The only reason he had so much trouble setting it up is because the one he purchased was two firmwares back and needed to be updated in sequence before use. It is a great watch and does exactly what it needs without having all these marketing gimmick features that ruin the experience and battery life. Only problem I have with this watch is the screen is plastic and can get scratched really easily. Hit up BestSkinsEver for a screen protector, I’m glad I did. Anyways it’s a great watch, and I’m glad I own it, I would recommend it to anyone!!

  • Joey_Z

    I was at the LA auto show the other day, tons of people chatting and trying cars, you can imagine the noise level. My phone was at max ringtone volume with vibration. A phone call came in, I didn’t hear it or feel it in my pocket since I was busy hopping in/out of cars too, but I felt the vibration on my arm, so I didn’t miss the call, sweet.

  • Jacob S

    After a lot confusion and thoughts I finally got one couple dl weeks from BBY and now I like it and use it every day. If you planning to get one get it from BBY today as they have a promotion with $20 gift card with pebble. I guess it is only good for today.

  • mwpitt52

    I ordered the HOT Watch which is a Kickstarter project. They promised a December delivery but today received email will be delayed another month. You are supposed to be able to make calls and it looked better than Pebble.

    • Scott Shearon

      I have mine preordered also. Can’t wait for it to get here. That email was kind of a kill joy tho…

    • Burge

      At last another HOT watch buyer.. Which one did you order ..?

      • mwpitt52

        I ordered the Edge. How about you?

      • Burge

        I had the basic.. I didn’t like the metal around the the other 3 .
        So looking forward to getting it though.

  • MVCHASE

    Don’t you think apple already did that with previous versions of iPod Nano?!

  • Rowan09

    I wanted to purchase a Pebble and almost did, but I can’t see myself paying $150 for a watch that’s looks so cheap.

    • Fuji

      You would enjoy the functionality than the looks if you have bought it. To me it is not the face, but the ability to send all notifications and alerts and even make a phone call to anyone in your contact list while your headphones is connected to your mobile, it saves me a lot than to have to pull out my mobile from my tight pocket like Jeff said. It’s really worth the money although the looks is so cheap, but who cares?

      • Rowan09

        Maybe if I actually got to play with one I might change my mind. I’ve never seen one in person only online, Best buy by me is always sold out.

  • n0ahcruz3

    A smartwatch without a smartphone is useless.

  • Chuck Finley

    “because I figured that Apple would eventually get around to making a “real” smart watch.”

    So what you mean is you were waiting for Apple to make a smartwatch?

    I don’t see how any of the other smartwatches on the market currently are any less “real” because they’re not made by Apple, yes they have their faults but it’s a market that’s still teething.

  • Moreno Oro

    Hi
    any chance you can explain how to get out from recovery loop?
    been spending an hour to try fix it, dont wanna waste my weekend on that one
    thanks

    • http://bnjm.org/ Jeff Benjamin

      I plan on creating a post on how to do so soon.

  • Tobi

    I’ll be waiting for another video review Jeff. I’ll be receiving my Pebble on the 2nd week of Dec. Can’t wait to use it with my phone.^^

  • Michael Mai

    Still wearing iPod nano 6. It’s enough.

    • Mutantblack

      I still have mine somewhere. If nano 6 has bluetooth, it will be my ultimate workout watch.

  • Wes

    After reading this article I went out and bought a Pebble and I love it. The future is now!

  • Mel Zagala

    what is the future of this watch with Windows 8 smartphones?