Pebble e-paper watch

What you’ll see in this review

The Pebble watch has captured the imagination of the Kickstarter and wider tech community with all the possibilities of its functionality, whether fiction or fact. We’ll take a look at Pebble and see how it actually is to use and how useful it actually is for everyday use. Since Pebble is practically useless without its connection to a smartphone (it would just be a cool looking, moderately expensive watch with terrible battery life), we will also look at the official Pebble App and some third party Android apps that extend the scope of Pebble’s functions.

First Impressions

As a Kickstarter backer, receiving the box after months of waiting adorned with the words “it’s time” couldn’t be more fitting. The packaging of the Pebble is a pretty simple affair: A simple cardboard box with cardboard inserts and only two loose objects inside, the Pebble watch itself and the charging cable. While this does seem like a bit empty, there is nothing else physical you will need to use with Pebble (well, and your wrist). Inside on the top insert are the words “Get started at go.getpebble.com”.

Pebble e-paper watch

This website forms the meat of the content that Pebble users will be using. It serves as a FAQ, a resource centre and also allows users to post up questions and discuss their experiences. Here you’ll also get the information on how to set up and link your Pebble to your smartphone.

First, you download the Pebble app. Then you turn on Bluetooth, both on the Pebble and your smartphone. You then pair your smartphone via Bluetooth to the Pebble, select Click to Connect on the Pebble app, and voila! You are now connected to Pebble.

Pebble

Features

Hardware

The Pebble is a fine looking watch, especially in black. The Pebble also comes in grey, red, orange and white; the white also comes with white straps. The body of the watch is made from a plastic face glued to an aluminium backing, creating a waterproof seal. While I don’t want to tempt fate and test the full waterproofing abilities of the Pebble, I can confirm that it can at least withstand your normal splash or two at the bathroom sink. There is one issue with this watertight seal, and this has been raised in reviews all over the internet: due to the glue pressed between the faces of the e-paper screen and the protective plastic, some strange stains can be seen in certain light when reading the watch face, usually in the sun. This isn’t a deal breaker, but it can be a bit annoying to have to reposition your arm just to read the time or a notification.

Pebble watch

The Pebble has four buttons in total; the one of the left side serves generally as the back button, the middle button on the right side serves as a select button, and the other two buttons are used as up and down. This is a very intuitive button layout and I’ve had little trouble getting the hang of using the buttons. They are spring loaded and feel solid to press; if anything they might actually require a bit more force than you’d expect, but the buttons are large enough that you can press them easily.

Pebble watch

On the left side of the watch is also the magnetic charging port. The charging cable itself is simple and I guess a bit cheap looking, but it does the job. The magnetic head snaps straight into the side of the watch no complaints, and it fits snuggly in with the contours of the watch. There are two magnets connecting the head to the watch, however they are quite weak; if you were wearing the Pebble while charging and pulled your arm away, the magnetic head would just pop off, MacBook-style. The only issue with this particular design is that after using the charger a few times (and I’ve only had my Pebble for about 4 weeks now), the paint starts to come off the magnets. This doesn’t appear to affect the actual body of the Pebble as it’s painted differently, but it’s still a bit disappointing to see signs of wear and tear after just a month.

pebble watch

The Pebble generally charges from dead flat to full in about 3 hours, which is good compared to a smartphone I guess. At full charge, depending on the level of use and number of notifications it receives, the Pebble is advertised to last around 5-7 days, however there are countless reports of Pebbles lasting as little as 2 days. From personal experience, I get a good 4-5 days out of the Pebble.

The straps are made from rubber and repels all manner of material, water and oil included and feels tough and suitable for its use. There appear to be an adequate number of wrist adjustment holes for people of all shapes and sizes, though I’m not the thickest-wristed person and I already use the 5th (of 9) hole. I believe Pebble does provide longer wrist straps if requested though.

pebble watch

Taking stock of what’s included in the Pebble, we see that it has:

  • 144 x 168 pixel display black and white e-paper
  • Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR and 4.0 (Low Energy)
  • 4 buttons
  • Vibrating motor
  • 3 axis accelerometer with gesture detection

Some of these components currently only have token implementations, however the app developments that are starting up now will hopefully use these to their full potential. The Pebble also has a backlight for dim light reading, and looks to work well with the e-paper screen.

pebble watch

Overall, the physical feel of the Pebble is light, but well-constructed. It’s not the most rugged watch, so I wouldn’t take it hiking for days and days, but it will serve you very well while doing your daily routine.

Software

Pebble watch

The stock Pebble comes with four watch faces for you to sort through. One of the early updates to Pebble allows you to change the watch face simply by pressing the up and down buttons, so you can change the watch face when it takes your fancy.

You can receive notifications from various apps on your smartphone such as SMS and Facebook (for full list, see Pebble app). Once received, you are able to use the up and down buttons to scroll through the message to read it. This is a very cool feature which allows you to read at the very least the title of an email or the gist of a message. However, if you want a bit more than the gist, you’re out of luck; if you are sent a message that is comprised of multiple SMSes, you will only receive the last message, which isn’t ideal. Furthermore, only the top notification is kept on screen; that is if you receive more than one notification, you can only read the most recent notification. The first notification will be overwritten and there is no way to go forward and backwards through notifications.

pebble watch

If you press the select button, this will take you to the menu where you get options for Music, Setting an alarm, selecting Watch faces, and the Settings menu.

Selecting the music menu takes you to the music player screen and syncs up to your smartphone so that you can play/pause music and change tracks. The music app that Pebble uses is set in the Pebble app (this will be described in detail later). I primarily use Spotify for music and Pebble is able to control Spotify, but only if the music was started from the smartphone in the first place. I’m not sure if this more of an issue with Spotify or Pebble as the stock Android music player works flawlessly.

The alarm set menu is very simple: add a time you want to alarm and the Pebble with vibrate as an alarm at that time. I don’t normally wear a watch to sleep, so this function is pointless for me, though maybe if you have a particularly noisy table to put Pebble on that might suffice.

The watch faces menu is used to set the default watch and also to see what watch faces are installed on your Pebble. The Pebble only has enough internal memory for up to eight watch faces (or eight total apps), so choose wisely.

Finally, the settings menu has your normal behind the scenes options: turning on and off Bluetooth, changing the date and time (by default, Pebble will sync to your smartphone date and time), display options, a shutdown option, factory reset option and an About Pebble section. As of the time of review, the Pebble is currently on firmware v1.10.0 which is very stable and ironed out a lot of the common issues plaguing the early Pebble builds. There is, however, one issue that is plaguing me; the screen flashes for every second that passes, occurring occasionally, but enough that it is noticeable and irritating. Pebble has not yet responded to queries about this beyond submitting your Pebble for a RMA, but I personally hope that is not the only option available.

pebble watch

Pebble app

The Pebble app is very simple and acts mostly as an updating platform for the Pebble itself. Any time there is a firmware update, the Pebble app will download the firmware and upload it to the watch. Likewise, any watch faces you download are uploaded to the watch this way. Unfortunately, Pebble currently only lists faces created by its creators; if this were made into a library for in-house and third party watch faces, this would make the Pebble experience better.

Probably one of the more interesting features of the Pebble app is the settings menu which will allow you which notifications you would like forwarded to your Pebble (by default, the Pebble app is able to forward calls, SMS, calendar reminders, Gmail, Google talk, Google Voice, Facebook and WhatsApp notifications), and to select what default music player you wish to use.

pebble watch

While the list of apps that you can receive notifications is fairly sufficient already, there are third party apps available from the Play Store which allows you to add even more apps to receive notifications from. The one I have tried is Pebble Notifier and for the most part it works quite well; there are others that do similar things such as Pebble Plus (which adds the ability to send battery status notifications), Pebble Glance, and Pebble Tides (which sends you tide notifications).

Durability

So far, the Pebble has held up well; apart from the cosmetic deterioration of the paint on the magnets, the Pebble still looks like the day I got it. As with anything with a screen, the plastic screen on the Pebble appears to attract all manner of dust and oil, so it’s best to give it a good wipe now and then as it lowers the visibility in the sun.

The wrist straps appear to be designed for everyday use and there’s been no suggestion that they won’t do so for a long time. If there’s one part on the Pebble I’m worried about it’s the buttons. While they are spring loaded and solid feeling, I have a small irrational fear that the buttons will eventually fail and stick inside the body. But again, there is no hint that this may happen anytime soon.

Ratings

Hardware: 8/10, solidly made, though the glue stains are off-putting and the buttons’ future scare me.

Software – Pebble watch: 7/10, intuitive and simple to use. If there was actually more to do with the standalone watch, and if the ability to read full messages (multiple messages) and the ability to read stacked notifications was added, I think that would go a long way to making Pebble a lot better

Software – Pebble app: 5/10, currently very simplistic and needs to have a better interface for acquiring both in-house and third party watch faces/apps.

Future

One of Pebble’s greatest features, and probably the one that caught everyone’s attention is its open source nature. While there are currently only a handful of features, many of them generally gimmicky for a smartphone-connected device, once Pebble has normal production routines in place, the further development of third party apps that were promised during the Kickstarter can resume.

Apps such as RunKeeper which use the built in accelerometer and other apps that make use of all the nice gadgets inside Pebble will start to be developed, and this will make Pebble even more useful and attractive to those who understand the possibilities and the allure of the promise of much more in Pebble’s future.

Conclusion

pebble watch

If you are looking for a smartwatch, look elsewhere; Pebble is not the watch you are looking for. You won’t be able to do without a smartphone using Pebble and that’s fine, because it is a perfect companion for it.

What you see from Pebble now is already serviceable and useful in daily life, and if the promises for future development hold true, then Pebble can only become an even more endearing buddy to your smartphone.

Name: Pebble E-paper Watch

Price (RRP): US$150

 

7 Responses

  1. Wes Sothard

    I have been rockin my pebble for a month now. I have been happy with it as a companion to my S3. Now that they are working on expanding what applications you can work with and functionality, it will start getting even better. I really like to be able to change the song on my phone while in the shower or swimming laps. No need to stop. Even leave my phone locked in my gym locker and be able to change songs while I lift or run. Also see my texts and emails as they come in. Lets me know if it a “Meh… get to that later.” or a “Gotta stop everything and answer this!”

    Reply
    • Stephen Yuen

      It is amazingly convenient. I’m loving it so far too

      Reply
  2. Huien

    Was one of the earliest to order. Ordered a red pebble on Kickstarter. Waited. Watched the later people get their watches first. Waited. Waited. Gave up waiting. Changed to a black pebble. Delivery tracking number did not work. Finally got the watch. Should have just picked up a pebble from the beach.

    Reply
    • Stephen Yuen

      I guess it couldn’t really be helped, it would’ve been much more inefficient to do the coloured Pebbles first, or attempt to do them concurrently. I’m glad you got it in the end, and I suspect it does quite a few more things than a pebble from the beach 🙂

      Reply
  3. P

    That flickering does not happen to me. You should send it back, might be a sign it is dying.

    Reply
    • Stephen Yuen

      It seems to vary user to user, though it seems like a common enough issue as I’ve seen several forum posts about it. And I would send it back, but seeing how long it took for me to get it, I might just hold on to it a bit longer.

      Reply

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