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.
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.
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.
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.