Wearable technology has made some huge progress over the past 12 months, with fitness trackers like the Jawbone, FitBit, and SmartWatches like the Samsung Galaxy Gear. Kris manages to track down a Pebble from the USA and shares his experience with it.

320px-Pebble_watch_trio_group_04 Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pebble_watch_trio_group_04.png

SmartWatches are hot at the moment, but the Pebble Smart Watch was the first of it’s breed:

Backstory

A huge Kickstarter success story, Pebble started asking for £100,000 worth of funding on April 11, 2012. It was a revolutionary watch that used an e-paper display (for ultra low power usage) and it connects via bluetooth to your smart phone, allowing the watch to be updated with live content and apps. Within two hours, it had reached their funding goal, and they finished on May 18, 2012 with a massive $10,266,844 pledged. Clearly this was something special.

As of July 4, 2013, Pebble had sold over 85,000 units. [1]

If they’re so great, why haven’t I seen anyone wearing them?

Pebble’s success also meant that supplies were limited – everyone wanted one. The original backers of the kickstarter had a long wait, and even once mass production started it was still relatively hard to get hold of one. Retail distribution was limited to BestBuy in the USA, and online ordering wasn’t possible (though thankfully it is now!).

On my recent trip to New York it just so happened that Pebble got released at additional retail outlets for $150, so I grabbed the last one on the shelf from a local store.

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My time with the Pebble

I’ve had the watch for about 3 weeks now. I love they physical size of the watch – it’s big enough to make it usable to read texts, check my upcoming appointments and get my phone’s notifications, but also small and lightweight enough to wear it as a regular watch. Being a software developer, the fact that so much of it is customisable and programmable means that I can tailor it to be exactly what I want from a watch:

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The above image shows a custom watch face I designed in the awesome Canvas Pebble App, which shows:

  • The weather for today, incl. sunrise + sunset times (good when the wife fancies doing some sunset photography!)
  • Details of my next 3 calendar appointments
  • The location for the next immediate calendar appointment (saving me from having to check my phone for road names or postcodes!)
  • Phone and Watch battery levels

There are also many cool watch apps – from showing a greyscale google maps render of your location, using the watch as a viewfinder for your mobile phone camera, through to controlling your phone’s music player (good for house parties!)

The screen is also pretty amazing – it has a high refresh rate as it’s not actually e-ink, it’s actually a low power reflective LCD (this ain’t yer amazon kindle e-ink screen, the pebble can do 30 fps!)

The Downsides

My wrist now vibrates when I get a text. Why is this bad? Well, with a mobile phone it’s quite easy to ignore it and to carry on without replying to texts, but now you have this thing on your wrist which is pretty hard to ignore when it’s vibrating!

There is no multi-tasking on the phone – if you run an app and then switch to a different app (or even back to the original watchfaces) then the app gets closed. I didn’t realise this when I was using a Multi-Timer App, and managed to overcook a load of food! (Future software updates could allow apps to request to be woken up at a specific time in the future to avoid this sort of thing happening).

Should I wait and buy a newer smart watch?

Whilst the Pebble is relatively old, the software stack is still being developed, and it has several areas which still make it a viable choice when the next generation of smart watches come out:

  • The E-ink display doesn’t draw power whilst it’s not being updated, meaning that the watch stays charged for longer – on average about 7 days (as a heavy user i get about 5 days). I doubt that OLED displays on the new smartwatches will be able to do the same, and I don’t want to have to charge yet another gadget on a daily basis…
  • It has a built in accelerometer which developers haven’t fully exploited yet
  • There are still some software optimisations that can be done (bluetooth 4 support on android, background app polling, etc)

For $150 the Pebble is a great value smart watch that still has plenty of life left in it yet.
Verdict: Buy (if you can find one!)