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Pebble E-paper Smartwatch Review

Pebble Smartwatch Review

After using the Pebble E-paper Smartwatch for five days, I’d say I’ve spent enough time with it to give you all my final impressions. And when I say that I’ve used it for five days, I’m not kidding. This sucker has been attached to my wrist from the time I wake up until my face hits my pillow at night. I’ve tried to make it as much a part of my daily life as I would a smartphone to see if there are any real benefits to having a smartwatch. So far, I’m seeing a lot of potential here. But is potential enough?

Design

Overall, I really like the look of Pebble. It’s simple, minimal, and not obvious. I chose the all-black version, which features a semi-glossy exterior and matte-rubber watch band. It may not stand out as the flashiest watch on the planet, but sometimes that’s a good thing, especially when the point of a smartwatch is to be constantly staring at it. The face is slightly curved (outward), the buttons on each side stick out just far enough to be pressed with ease, and the entire watch fits perfectly onto my wrists, which I do not consider to be big by any means. The size matches up to many of the standard watches these days, and does not fit into the “oversized” watch category in my opinion

Build

The Pebble is supposed to be waterproof and scratch-resistant. While I have yet to take it swimming, I’ll assume they aren’t lying when they added that spec to the feature list. As far it being scratch-resistant, all I can say is that I haven’t scratched mine to this point. With that said, we are hearing reports of others scratching theirs “with normal use.” I’d definitely take care of the display of this like you would a smartphone, as I do not believe it to be the most scratch resistant substance on the planet. Outside of the display, the unit itself feels solid and like it won’t die after a single drop. And actually, I just dropped it from my desk to hardwood floor while writing this and it survived.

Pebble Smartwatch Review

Battery Life

The Pebble team claims that their watch with its E-paper display will last for up to 7 days on a single charge. As of writing this post, I’m at 5 days and counting on my first full charge. I don’t know if it’ll last the full 7 days, but I’m pretty happy with it at least getting me through a work week. There is a problem, though – it doesn’t have a battery meter. Unless we see an update that includes one, you have no idea how much life your Pebble has left in it before it dies.

Update:  In the menu, my Pebble is now showing a low-battery icon. This is the first time this has showed up, so I’ll assume this means that I should charge the watch or it will be dying soon. At least they notify you that death is near – would still like an ongoing battery meter.

Update 2:  Battery did die today, the 5th day of the first charge. Assuming the battery will get better over time, I can’t complain.

Notifications

The star feature of Pebble is its ability of it to show you notifications from your phone as they come in. It does a great job of populating your screen within seconds of a notification arriving. For now, Pebble can show notifications for incoming calls, SMS messages, calendar reminders, emails, Gmail messages (multiple accounts), Google Talk messages, Google Voice messages, Facebook messages, and WhatsApp messages. There will likely be more as developers build out support for Pebble.

While I mentioned that Pebble does a great job of notifying you immediately upon arrival, there are some limitations that I hope to see addressed before long. First, emails are limited to a certain number of lines or characters. If you are a power email user, you may find that a bit frustrating. For me, I eventually just had to use Pebble as a way to preview emails and to decide if I actually needed to pull my phone out or not. Then again, that’s sort of the point anyway, since you can’t actually reply to anything from the Pebble.

Also, notifications themselves aren’t handled well when you receive one after another. If you are looking at an email on Pebble and a Google Talk message comes in, the email disappears forever and you are left with the Google Talk message or whatever is newest. There is no way to return to the previous notification or manage say, your last five or ten notifications. At this point, Pebble can only handle one at a time.

Pebble Smartwatch Review

User Interface

The user interface of Pebble is not incredibly advanced, and that may be a good thing. Since it doesn’t have a touchscreen, you rely on back, home/select, up and down buttons to navigate. It doesn’t take long to figure out, so for those concerned that it may be too advanced shouldn’t worry. There are a couple of simple screens – the clock face and then the menu. As you can imagine, you use the back button to get out of options, the home/select to choose them, and the up and down to navigate the menu. The UI is much better explained in the video review below, so I’ll spare you from me trying to explain it here.

What I will say, is that in world where we touch everything, it does seem like somewhat of a step backwards. Maybe this was how they kept it somewhat reasonable on the price?

Price

At $150, the Pebble is not necessarily cheap. It may carry the “smartwatch” tag, but it still needs to pack in a robust feature set in order to get people to want to commit to such a product at that price. For now, it lacks some features that we would like to see in the very near future (like pairing with workout or GPS-enabled apps). Give me Nike+ support with Pebble, and you won’t need to go out and buy a separate watch, just for exercising. The problem right now, is that we don’t know if apps like that will ever work with Pebble.

I should point out that you can buy a product like the Sony Smartwatch for as little as $100. It also handles notifications, does social media, controls music, and has a touchscreen.

Gallery

Video

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The Verdict

Overall, I’ve definitely enjoyed my time with the Pebble. I love the idea of having notifications for emails or messages appear on my wrist so that I don’t have to pull out my phone all of the time. I’ve also been able to use it during the course of a normal workday, as it has allowed me to avoid having to dive into email every 30 seconds. Instead, I can look at my wrist for a second and decide if the email is important enough for me to take a deeper look at. It has a subtle design that makes it look like nothing other than a typical black watch, phenomenal battery life so far, and could turn into one heck of a product assuming developers decide to build out support for it through their apps.

On the downside, Pebble needs to fix the watch’s handling of multiple notifications and expand email output. They also need to convince those previously mentioned developers to build out support for their apps, so that this watch can be taken to the next level.

At $150, I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Pebble is overpriced, but I’m also not sure it’s priced to grab the average tech user. This is for early adopters and tech geeks, like myself that will have some patience as this eventually turns into the watch we all dream of it becoming.

  • Ray of Perth

    What the!! The video comes up as “Private” ??

  • Edward Smith

    Version 2: NFC in the watch linked to the phone for upstream authentication.
    Then make NFC payments without ever touching your phone.

  • Alex P

    Please let it handle more then one notification at a time! No point of using the watch for notification if you can only read one and then have to pickup your phone to read the rest.

  • http://www.haiensheng.com/#cid-discus Eric Hansen

    That’s a lot of expectations for something that just barely came out…

  • http://www.haiensheng.com/#cid-discus Eric Hansen

    You can disable ongoing notifications from the System App manager

  • http://www.facebook.com/davey0728 David Gray

    I’m a tech geek so I’m thinking these “Smart Watches” are going to be the next BIG thing! maybe not so much the Pebble but go take a look at a REAL smartwatch like the I’m Watch Smartwatch. This thing has a ful color touch screen that allows you to actually type e-mails and text messages AND you can even answer your phone through your wrist with it’s built-in bluetooth. This thing is pretty awesome…. http://www.imsmart.com/en

    • A. Rojas

      Yes and expensive. I personally wouldn’t want to have my conversations over speaker phone with people around and am sure the speaker and mic would make it non-water proof. Not a tradeoff I’m willing to make. Of course other would love it, but many like me would admire it but not get one.

  • http://twitter.com/zerstoer David Pucknell

    This killed all desire to own this watch. Thanks for the review!

  • JulianZHuang

    because taking out your phone is too much to ask

  • Casey K

    I could see myself buying one at that price if it had those workout tracking capabilities in addition to everything else it has. Hopefully they made enough money to get crackin’ on a sequel

  • https://www.facebook.com/aaron.williams.125 Champion1229

    Whats the real differnence between this and the Motoactive with the watch strap?

    • Laki S.

      Size. Battery life. Notifications. GPS. Music. Included memory. Water resistance. Touchscreen.

      The Motoactv is great for working out, because of the GPS, music, BT notifications, and touchscreen, but if you use all of it at the same time, it’ll last through maybe one or two workouts. Even without using all those functions it won’t last as long as the Pebble. And it’s not waterproof. It’s got open ports for micro USB and headphones, so you can’t take it in the water. The Motoactv is for a slightly different audience than the Pebble. The Pebble is for everyday wear, the Motoactv is geared for fitness. I love my Motoactv, but it’s way too large to wear normally, so I’ll use my Pebble for that. The Pebble won’t be able to track my routes and doesn’t have a music player built into it, so I’ll use my Motoactv for that. Apples and oranges.

      • https://www.facebook.com/aaron.williams.125 Champion1229

        I just saw that the Motoactiv could basically become a smart watch and figured it would be about the same (I haven’t personally seen either device) but thanks for enlightening me!

  • normmcgarry

    Michael Kohrs. Nice watch.

  • Andrew Sharrow

    Did you have any trouble pairing the watch with your phone? I saw some discussion in the Pebble Forums talking about having troubles with the bluetooth stack in 4.2.1. Perhaps what’s causing yours to lose synch overnight?

  • http://gplus.to/bdbplatano M. Puente

    I want to know if I can continue to have my phone paired to my car for media audio via bluetooth, to the headset for phone audio via bluetooth and the pebble for notifications via bluetooth? Right now, I have the first two and they work fine, just want to know if adding the pebble will disrupt that. Can anyone speak on that?

  • Stache

    When you receive the notification on the watch, does it mark the email, text, or call as read or unread on your phone? While I would like to preview it on my watch, I would still want it marked as unread as a reminder to reply if needed.

    • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

      No it doesn’t mark it as read. It leaves it as unread.

  • azndan4

    Ripoff

  • Jason

    How bad does this affect the phone battery life?

    • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

      I haven’t had any battery issues with my Nexus 4. At least nothing serious that has caused major drain or anything.

  • Diablo81588

    Not that I wear watches, but not having a battery meter would be a huge deal breaker if I was interested in this. I know its just a watch, but having it die randomly would be a pain.

  • Paradisimo

    What the heck Kellex? They didn’t have a big, gold version for you? :)

    • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

      I wish hah :P

  • Lenny Fudenna

    How much of an impact did you feel it made on your phone battery life?

    • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

      Really didn’t notice much of a difference. Nothing that scared me off from using it. Nexus 4 seemed to last its normal daily life.

    • joejoe5709

      Whatever battery life is used with bluetooth, is probably saved with not having to take out your phone.

  • Mastaking

    Can you reject a call from the watch? Or silence the call? Or answer the call (I would want this when in my car with bluetooth)?

    I pre-ordered one and can’t wait (but probably have to wait 2+ months) to receive this.

    I hope it gets supported and updated with apps consistently.

    I personally would love to see the next turn displayed when using Google Navigation.

    • mastaking

      just watched the video and it answered my question

      • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

        :) Yeah it silences the call, but doesn’t reject.

        • A. Rojas

          One of the reasons a lave a Metawatch coming. you can Answer, ignore, ad hang up from the watch. You even have an option to answer via your phones speakerphone. Though I’m still keeping an eye out on the pebble.

  • MovingDavid

    I got mine last Thursday. Largely agree with the review. I do wish it could keep multiple notifications. So far the battery has not run out yet. One problem is that with html email I tend to just get garbage code in the notification. Also will not work with Handcent, the SMS app I use, but routing my text messages through Google Voice instead words fine. As for price I was looking in the $100-200 range for watches before I backed this on Kickstarter. The Sony watch may be $100 but it is also terrible. Its battery can die in less than a day of use, and its screen is not always on, which is what you need in a watch.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicholas-Labert/547589011 Nicholas Labert

      this may be a silly question but how do you route your text messages through google voice?

      • MovingDavid

        I am with Sprint, so I just associated my number with Google voice. Anyone though can use the Google Voice app as your sms client. In the app go to settings / Sync and Notification / Recieve text messages

  • tanknspank

    There is also a pretty sweet way to get more notifications from unsupported apps, through tasker and another “plugin” app. Check it out: http://forums.getpebble.com/topics/1437

    • gbenj

      Yeah, if you can do an update or a new video showing this in action that woudl be awesome. It should literally be able to notify you of ANYTHING with tasker plugged in.

    • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

      Looking into this today. :)

      • tanknspank

        Awesome! Had some reported success on reddit, but I myself do not have my pebble yet to test it!

  • j__h

    I can see use a a bicycle computer, I can strap it on the handlebars and run an app that could display time, distance and other metrics. Also for navigation, to show when and where to turn.

    But all these things require apps for the watch/phone that do not seem to be there yet.

  • http://twitter.com/HellRa1SeR Siddharth Pradhan

    Its been almost a year since Pebble was announced and now there are other smartwatches that have started cropping up (like IMWatch, cuckoo etc)

    Even now Pebble doesnt support much of the features it committed to. It really needs to ramp its game to be ahead of competition.

    But I do hope that the community and the Pebble team will contribute to this great innovation.

    • Laki S.

      The I’mWatch is pretty much a scam; a quick search on their business practice online and you probably won’t order from them. Plus, their price point is ridiculous. The Cookoo doesn’t even work with Android. I got mine last month and it’s been sitting on my dresser absolutely useless. There’s no release date for an Android app, and even then, they’re saying it’ll only work with certain rooted phones. And the maker of the Cookoo has all but stopped responding to inquiries about it. The Sony Smartwatch is a bust—it’s been universally panned and even though I don’t hate mine, I won’t deny that it looks hideous and I rarely wear it. There’s also the Martian, another Kickstarter project, that looks promising, but it’s not out yet, so I can’t compare. Right now, Pebble seems to be owning the game. I think it’s the other companies who need to ramp up.

  • mustbepbs

    My wife would laugh at me so hard if I spent $150 on this. Right now, I’d definitely say it’s a waste of money, and with the features built in, I’m surprised it got past the Kickstarter.

    In a year? I might be eating my words. Depending on how easy it is to develop for, and if it’s even worth it, that is.

    • T4rd

      Eh, I almost think it’s worth it just for the vibrate notifications because I often leave my phone on low volume or vibrate and get in a noisy environment, so I miss calls because I can’t hear the phone and can’t feel the vibrate through my pocket. There’s no way you’d miss anything with this thing and you can even silence/reject the call without even looking at your phone, which is pretty nice, IMO. Everything else would be gravy to me. But yeah, I would pay maybe $90 at most for it right now. Kinda wish I had backed it now. =/

      • http://www.facebook.com/archercc Ryan Stewart

        I want one for more convenient controls when using the phone for audio. The notifcations is just a bonus. I also like the idea of a quick widget like weather.

    • cdick133

      It’s definitely something I’m more interested in a second iteration of.

    • michael arazan

      When you can actually check and read messages on it and listen to music then it’ll be a hit

  • Danrarbc

    “I should point out that you can buy a product like the Sony Smartwatch for as little as $100. It also handles notifications, does social media, controls music, and has a touchscreen.”

    It also doesn’t last a week per charge and is almost universally reviewed poorly.

    • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

      Well yes, I’m just using it as a reference. :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/Admiral.Obvious Collin Danger-Megatron Kleditz

        i almost bought the sony a while back but i found out that without a bluetooth connection it can’t actually track time. so your phone dies or bt glitches and your $100 watch can’t tell time. dealbreaker.

        • A. Rojas

          That was true when the Sony Smartwatch first came about about a year ago. It no longer need a smartphone connection to keep the time. It’s has had several updates since and is a better device today. I have a Metawatch (Frame model) on the way and am considering a Sony Smartwatch as a less expensive option for my work phone. It this point they both offer more functionality than the Pebble (this may change, but not yet).

  • T4rd

    I wonder if there will be a time when I can put CM nightlies on my watch..? =p

  • Brent Cooper

    Kellex, will this replace your every day watch and become the one you use in a daily basis? And great review by the way :)

    • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

      I’ll probably wear it for a while hoping that it sees those two major updates I mentioned. If it does, I’ll probably use it quite a bit.

      • droidify

        I know you mentioned it wasn’t a BIG watch. I can’t find the dimensions anywhere on pebble’s site (which is a strange oversight considering a watch is like shoes, one size doesn’t fit all). Would you, or someone else that has one, mind giving the measurements . I would really appreciate it.

  • teejaycard

    I’m dreaming right along with you.