I love the idea of the smart watch. My first foray into this world was back in 2006 with a watch made by Fossil and powered by Microsoft Sync. That generation of watches was difficult to use to say the least, but I saw its promise. While it’s currently fashionable to talk about a product which has yet to be released, I thought I’d try the watch that started the ball rolling with the current iteration of smart watches.
Of all the smart watches at the moment which are actually available to the general public, the most popular is the Pebble. It syncs with both iPhone and Android devices. Pebble appeared on Kickstarter looking to raise $100,000. Instead, they brought in over $10 million. The company opened a lot of eyes – demonstrating that the market was ripe for wearables.
Design-wise, Pebble feels great on the wrist. The Pebble is neither too big nor too small. The screen size is what you’d expect in a standard watch. The screen uses e-paper technology which allows the wearer to read it easily, even in bright sunlight. When you are in the dark, you just move your wrist towards your face and the screen becomes illuminated up so you can read the information on the screen.
The Pebble does not have a touch screen. It has a few buttons on the sides that are used to navigate menus and select menu items. On the right-hand side there are three buttons; one to scroll up, another to scroll down and another to select items. The other side is a button used to navigate back through the menus.
The user can easily swap the factory-provided wrist strap that comes with the Pebble if they do not like it or if it wears out. The option to change the band is something that most smart watches do not allow. The Pebble is 5 ATM waterproof. Win. You can take a shower, swim, sweat, and walk/run with it in the rain. It connects via Bluetooth to an iPhone or Android device and allows you to control the music on your device, turn on alarms, change watch faces and control settings. For GPS, the Pebble uses the internet connection on your iPhone or Android when any application or watch face needs it.
Apart from this, the Pebble is primarily used to view notifications. When I configured it with my Samsung Galaxy S5, I received notifications via the Notification Center directly on the watch screen. This is good when the wearer is at work, in a meeting, driving, or just does not want to be bothered taking their mobile phone out of your pocket or purse whenever they receive a notification. Not only does the Pebble let you know you received an email or text message, but you can read the e-mail or text message in question from the watch, unlike other smart watches that require you to take out your phone in order to read what you received.
There are a couple ways you customize your Pebble and add functionality. First the watch faces give the Pebble its look. Depending on the display selected, your watch face will show time as a digital or analog clock, 24 hours or 12 hours. Watch face info can be expanded to display more information like the date, local temperature, battery status and more. To change a watch face to another simply press the up or down buttons to switch between them.
If you want more watch faces than the ones provided by Pebble, you can browse and search across several websites which offer free and fee-based watch faces. This is not the best way to find good watch faces as you have to navigate pages and applications on your phone, which can be tedious. You can also create your own watch faces if you have the gumption to try that. The easiest way to find new faces and apps is via the Pebble App Store, a place where you can find applications and watch faces easily and install from there. All options are available, depending upon which method fits your needs.
Applications can add a lot of functionality to the Pebble. Some allow you to take a photo using the camera on your phone. Others allow the Pebble to use the GPS for navigation, pay using PayPal, track your Dominos pizza order, follow your twitter feed, or keep track of your workouts. With the App Store, Pebble added applications such as Foursquare, Yelp and ESPN among others. The Foursquare app allows you to check-in from the watch, ESPN will give you the results of your favorite teams’ games via notifications. Unlike notifications you receive from your iPhone’s applications configured in the phone’s notifications center, applications residing on the Pebble do not require one to open an application on the iPhone for use. In the case of the ESPN Pebble application, sports scores are displayed directly on the watch face.
Other applications, like Smartwatch+ add many features to your Pebble quickly and easily by just selecting some options. Smartwatch+ is like an iPhone app framework which allows you to install various applications to your Pebble which provides more information that can be added to the watch face.
The Pebble provides 5 to 7 days of battery life. This is dependent on how long you leave Bluetooth active. It uses Bluetooth 4.0 which can impact the battery life negatively. To recharge the battery with the cable that comes with the Pebble, The user connects the watch on its side via USB to a computer or with the wall jack that you use to charge your iPhone or Android device.
The Bluetooth connection between Pebble and both my iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S5 was pretty good. There were times that it failed. When this happened I had to delete the Pebble from the list of bluetooth devices on my phone and then reconnect it. Not the best experience. This shouldn’t be happening. The Pebble should not be considered is a work in progress any longer and such a basic function should be full-proof. It is a mature product. The Pebble Steel, the model I demoed, retails for $199.00 and provides an improved design over the original Pebble. It has a better glass face (Gorilla glass) and a steel wrist band.
My experience with the Pebble has been overly positive. If you are thinking of getting a watch, why not get one that gives you more than just the time? The Pebble Steel may be my next smart watch, but I’ll make that decision in May. I’m leaning towards the Pebble as the rumors around the Apple watch seem to indicate that the first generation will leave the user with minimal functionality and less battery-life between charges. We’ll see.