Review of Pebble Time smartwatch
Pebble Time is the third smartwatch by San Francisco based Pebble and the second to have become a runaway Kickstarter success.
This time around, Pebble has fitted their smartwatch with a 64 colour e-ink screen (reminding me of the screen on my old Game Boy Advance), with a battery life which allows for 5 to 6 days of continuous use. All of this is packed into a watch which is smaller, more comfortable, and much better looking than the original Pebble.
Finally, Pebble Time works with both iOS and Android, although you will get more features including the ability to send replies to messages from your wrist if you’re an Android user.
With its part-metal, part-plastic build, the Pebble Time looks sleek and smart, but still retains the geek-chic look of the original Pebble. I personally love the look of the watch, and unlike most other smartwatches, it’s very comfortable to wear with its slight curvature at the back.
The Pebble Time comes in three different colours, red, black and white, and all use the standard 22mm watch strap, allowing you to swap out the included strap for anything else which takes your fancy.
Like the original Pebble, the Pebble Time’s input consists of four physical buttons, with one on the left and three on the right. However also added this time is a small microphone, used for dictating short replies to messages (the voice recognition is quite hit and miss though, so don’t expect to use this feature very often).
All of this is wrapped up in a package which is protected from scratches with a Gorilla Glass 3 screen (although major bumps will still cause scratches), and a casing which is waterproof down to 50m.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first – this is not the Apple Watch (although at least half a dozen of my friends have already asked me if it is). This is neither a good thing or a bad thing, but those who are expecting the design, usability, and features of Apple’s wearable will be sorely disappointed.
However, this is in many ways what attracts me most to the Pebble Time. It is not simply a smartwatch for bargain hunters or chasing the bottom end of the new smartwatch market. Instead, it forges its own path.
The Pebble Time essentially has three different sets of features.
- Notifications: If you’re anything like me and have become accustomed to checking your phone three times a minute just in case you might have missed that all important text message or Instagram update, the Pebble Time will go some way to giving you your life back. Any incoming notification will be pushed to your Pebble Time when connected, accompanied by a slight vibration which is impossible to miss and yet generally unobtrusive. The Pebble Time’s colour screen also animates and colours your notifications depending on their category (blue for Facebook, yellow for Snapchat, and so on). I find that notifications are the best and most usable feature of the Pebble Time, although expect to have to customise your notification settings in the Pebble Time app to prevent group Whatsapp conversations from sending your hand into spasms through constant vibration).
- ‘Timeline’: Want to find out what’s coming up for the rest of the day? Press the down button and you’ll see your upcoming appointments and step goals. Want to review your day so far? Press the up button and you’ll get similar results for the past. If you’ve synced your calendar appropriately, this should place events into your timeline, as will a small selection of apps which you can download. If you put the time into finding things to populate your timeline it can be a great feature, but I worry that most users simply won’t bother, leaving most people with sad, empty, and unused timelines.
- Apps & watchfaces: In order to boost the content available at launch, Pebble made all of its old black and white watchfaces and apps compatible with Time. However, there is already a pretty impressive array of colour watch faces available – with many also allowing you to customise them yourself with the colours of your choice. There is pretty much something for everything, from simple ‘analogue’ faces to more complicated ones which show the weather, the date, battery life, and even more. There’s even a Nyan Cat watch face if you’re into that sort of thing. Odds are you’ll find one which you love and will spend more time than you care to admit adding new ones to instantly change the look of your watch.
Pebble Time also allows you to download apps which show up in your main menu. Unlike the previous Pebble which limited you to eight ‘slots’ (including watchfaces), the Pebble Time allows you to download as many apps as you like until the storage is full (and I’ve found the storage so far to be more than enough). In fact, you’ll probably struggle to fill your app storage as there just aren’t that many apps you’ll want. While there’s a wide array, from live bus timetables to what is essentially Uber on your wrist, none of them give you any reason to use them over simply taking your phone out of your pocket. I still remain unconvinced that apps offer anything to any smartwatch owner. That is, except for fitness tracking apps.
As a fitness tracker, the Pebble Time does quite a nice job, although it is pretty obvious that fitness tracking is very much a secondary feature for the device. Essentially, the Pebble Time can only count your steps – there is no heart rate monitor and it can only track your run/cycle if it is able to use your phone’s GPS (although Pebble has left the door open for third party ‘smartstraps’ which could add these features on). The Pebble Time therefore acts either as a fancy pedometer, similar to devices such as the Garmin Vivofit, or as a second screen for any fitness trackers running on your phone. As a regular user of the RunKeeper app, I love that I can use my Pebble Time to display information on my distance and pace at a glance from my wrist.
The Pebble Time is currently open for preorders at £179 (there will also be a more expensive Pebble Time Steel with an all metal exterior and bigger battery launching later this year). This puts the Pebble Time in a similar price bracket to most Android Wear smartwatches, but is much more affordable than even the cheapest of the Apple Watches.
Although not cheap, the Pebble Time’s price point makes it a good starting point for anyone looking to dip their toes into the world of smartwatches.
There’s a lot to love about the Pebble Time, but I worry that some newcomers to the smartwatch category could be left disappointed. The Pebble Time is not a small phone on your wrist – in fact it is much closer to a crazy mash-up between a pager and a pedometer.
However, if you want notifications reliably pushed to your wrist, solid fitness tracking capabilities, and the smugness that comes from being an early adopter, all at an affordable price, then the Pebble Time may well be the smartwatch for you.