Pebble Smartwatch Review

This review was originally done for Bad Voltage, but I figured it may also be of interest to my general readers.

In Season 1 Episode 13 of Bad Voltage, we covered the topic of wearables. One device that came up in that episode was the Pebble watch. For those who are unfamiliar with the device, it’s a first generation smartwatch that has an e-paper display and an ARM Cortex-M3 processor. It was originally funded via kickstarter, where the project hit over 10 million dollars of funding based on a goal of just $100,000. I was one of the initial backers, who got a Jet Black Pebble for just $99. With its fairly low price point, the watch is admittedly pretty basic from an aesthetics perspective. The rubber watch band, for example, is certainly not my favorite. The watchface itself, while plastic, is sleek and well constructed and the e-paper display is quite usable. The battery lasts for around a week, depending on usage, and the device is even water resistant, meaning it can be fully submerged in water or worn while running in the rain. It connects to iPhone and Android smartphones using Bluetooth and can alert you with a silent vibration and on screen notification to incoming calls, emails, text messages, weather alerts, sports scores, calendar events and more. You can also select from a wide variety of watchfaces. Some of the watchfaces are extremely well done and while simple, this is one of my favorite aspects of the watch.

From a customization perspective, that’s really just the beginning though as the watch can also be loaded with apps. Cyclists can use Pebble as a bike computer, accessing the GPS on their smartphone to display speed, distance and pace data. You can use the music control app to play, pause or skip tracks on your phone with the touch of a button. You can use the device to control your GoPro camera or nest thermostat, and there’s even a Freecaddie app that works as a golf rangefinder.

The Pebble can receive simple alerts and notifications from “if this then that” or via a web-facing RESTFUL endpoint. There is also a C-based SDK. Basically you can send anything that would have been a push notification directly to the device and the device can send data from the accelerometer and buttons back up to the Internet. The app ecosystem is fairly new, but some interesting 3rd party apps are already starting to appear, with services like Pandora, RunKeeper, Foursquare and Yelp jumping into the fray.

For those who didn’t like the look or construction of the original Pebble, which is still available with an MSRP of $150, the next generation Pebble, the Pebble Steel, is already available. As the name indicates, the new device is made of brushed or matte stainless steel and comes with either a leather or metal band. The watchface itself is both larger and higher quality and now comes with Gorilla glass and a notification LED. Overall the new Pebble Steel looks significantly nicer but does so at a higher cost of $250.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? At $99 I have to say I’m pleased with the device. To be fair, the new app store has certainly had some hiccups, and some of the apps are either a bit buggy or sound more useful than they actually end up being. The largest disappointment is probably that you can only have eight watchfaces or apps on the device at any given time, which is not nearly enough. But, for a first generation device that cost less than a hundred dollars I think it was a bargain. The new Pebble Steel looks to be a nice iteration, but whether it’s worth $250 is likely a matter of personal preference… so I leave that decision to the listener.

–jeremy
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