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.


The Ride for Roswell; Together, We Can Help Find Cancer Cures and Save Lives

I never post to this blog about personal issues. Posts are usually related to LQ, Linux or Open Source. The truth is, I’m a pretty private person. That means I’m stepping a bit outside of my comfort zone with this post, but it’s for a cause that’s extremely important to me. This June I’ll be participating in the Ride for Roswell, a bike race that helps support the cutting-edge research and patient care programs that benefit the 31,000 patients who turn to Roswell Park for hope. From my donation page:

Cancer is a disease that has impacted myself and my family a great deal. I’m participating in the Ride for Roswell in memory of my grandmother (whom cancer took far too soon) and my mother (who was able to beat cancer with the help of Roswell). I myself am genetically predisposed to get a certain cancer. I know this because of Roswell Park; and because of Roswell Park, I am not afraid. The cutting-edge research that Roswell does, coupled with the top notch patient care they provide, offers hope to many against an insidious disease that has taken far too many lives. With your donation and facilities such as Roswell Park, I’m confident that, together, we can help find cancer cures and save lives.

I know people have a tendency to speak in platitudes when it comes to cancer. In this case, however, we can make a difference. We can be the change we want to see in the world. We can win.

When making donations, I know two things that are very important to me are how responsible the organization I’m donating to is with my donation and how transparent they are with where that donation goes.  The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation has traditionally been counted among the most responsible charities by the national rating agency Charity Navigator. Financial Health and Accountability / Transparency are the two criteria used by Charity Navigator to give the Roswell Park Alliance it’s top rating.

I know that we’re in difficult fiscal times, but any amount helps. Please visit my donation page and give, if you’re able. If you’re not able, I appreciate you reading my story.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.


Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer Review

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

As I mentioned in the season one, episode four “Open Source Health” segment, I’m someone who makes a concerted effort to stay relatively healthy. Part of that means exercising regularly and being cognizant of my eating habits, but as an Open Source tech guy, I’m someone who prefers to make empirical decisions. I like data. I like being able to spot trends and from there see if I can find causation. Unfortunately, I’m not dedicated enough to regularly weigh myself, write it down manually and then start graphing that data. Enter the Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer, which is an Internet connected Smart Scale. A few seconds after stepping on the scale, you’ll know your body weight, BMI, fat-lean ratio and heart rate. It even tracks air quality, carbon dioxide levels and temperature. That’s just the beginning, though. Moments later, all the data is synced and available online in the Health Mate dashboard. From that dashboard you can view a variety of graphs and trends, see how you’re progressing toward goals that you’ve set and see how you compare to normal ranges for your body type. You can also access the data via both iOS and android apps. Armed with this data it’s easy to spot that your recent trip to Los Angeles for SCaLE may have caused you to put on a pound or two, or that giving up a certain product after a certain date actually has paid dividends. If you need a bit of an extra motivator or are just the attention seeking type, you can even automatically post your data to Facebook and twitter. The scale supports multiple users, identifying different users by weight, with a clever system for choosing between users with similar weights.

If that’s all you use the Smart Body Analyzer for, I’d already consider it an extremely useful device. Especially if it actually motivates you to adhere to the fitness goals you’ve set for yourself. But, once you’re using the Health Mate dashboard, you’ll find that it also integrates with other Withings products. Add the Pulse Activity Tracker, for example, and you’ll get sleep cycle analysis along with steps taken, calories burned, elevation climbed and distance traveled throughout the day. Additional data sources aren’t locked into Withings products, however. With over 100 supported 3rd party apps you can add information from RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal, Fitbit and many more. This allows you to form a fairly comprehensive view of your overall life.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? The Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer is a great way to track and monitor a large number of health-related metrics. While expensive for a scale, in my opinion $150 is a small price to pay for a device that is easy to setup, easy to use on a daily basis and provides such a plethora of health related data.


Bad Voltage Season 1 Episode 11: Internet of Thugs

Myself, Stuart Langridge, The Invisible and Inaudible Ghost of Lunduke, and Jono Bacon present a new Bad Voltage, in which we discuss:

  • Our new series, Breaking Down The Bullshit where we delve into the current buzzwords and trends and determine if they are all hype or have substance. In this show, we discuss the Internet Of Things: crock of doo-doo or the future of technology?
  • Jeremy reviews the Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer and we discuss it and the notion of measuring your body to get fit
  • Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media joins us to discuss print media, free culture, publishing, the Internet, privacy, and where the future is taking us
  • Jeremy and Jono saw Lawrence Lessig keynote recently, and we all discuss whether his ambitions of ridding governments of corruption is in any way possible
  • We talk about Bad Voltage community goings-on, on the forum, the chat channel, such as selfie contests, gaming servers, Bad Voltage apps and more!

Listen to: 1×11: Internet of Thugs

As mentioned here, Bad Voltage is a new project I’m proud to be a part of. From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.


Bad Voltage Season 1 Episode 10: Midnight Throne Travels

Good Listening, Bad voltage

Myself, Stuart Langridge, Bryan Lunduke, and Jono Bacon present a new Bad Voltage, in which we discuss:

  • Tech conferences — which ones are good, which ones are not, and why?
  • Desktop machines versus laptops, and a review of Stuart’s new gorgeous desktop computer from PC Specialist
  • Whistleblowing. In the light of the Snowden and Manning revelations, is whistleblowing a good idea, what’s available to protect whistleblowers from problems, and do we need to protect against those motivated by malice?
  • Miguel de Icaza, head of Xamarin and past founder of the Gnome and Mono projects, talks about why he was singled out as a “traitor”, what he’s doing now, and how to best work in the open source world
  • The winners in the Bad Voltage Selfie Competition! See the forum for more details and all the entrants

Listen to: 1×10: Midnight Throne Travels

As mentioned here, Bad Voltage is a new project I’m proud to be a part of. From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.


Bad Voltage Season 1 Episode 9: The Starting Pitstop

Myself, Stuart Langridge, Bryan Lunduke, and Jono Bacon wend their troublesome ways down the road of:

  • We weigh in on the upstart/systemd brouhaha in Debian and discuss what happened, why it happened, and whether it was a good thing or not.
  • Bryan reviews the Lenovo Miix 2 tablet and we get into the nitty gritty of what you can do with it.
  • We take a trip down memory lane about how we each got started with Linux, which distributions we used, and who helped us get on our journey.
  • We take a recap and look at community feedback about guns, 3D printing, predictions, Bad Voltage gaming, the Bad Voltage Selfie Competition and more, all making an appearance.

I think Bad Voltage continues to progress nicely and this is probably my second favorite show to date (it may be difficult to surpass 1×07: Life On Mars in our first season, but we’ll certainly try).

Listen to: 1×09: The Starting Pitstop


Happy New Year & Browser and OS stats for 2013

I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year on behalf of the entire LQ team. 2013 has been another great year for LQ and we have quite a few exciting developments in store for 2014, including a major code update that we originally had planned for 2013. This year brought a new ChromeOS related site to The Questions Network, joining and LinuxExchange. In addition, LQ ISO recently surpassed 30,000,000 Linux downloads.

As has become tradition, here are the browser and OS statistics for the main LQ site for all of 2013 (2012 stats for comparison).

Firefox 41.75%
Chrome 40.43%
Internet Explorer 9.63%
Safari 4.13%
Opera 2.02%
Android Browser 0.71%

Firefox usage (as a percentage) continues to decline at LQ, and it appears likely that it will be surpassed by Chrome next year. IE usage has fallen into a single digit percentage for the first time since we’ve posted the annual update.

Operating Systems
Windows 52.24%
Linux 34.77%
Macintosh 9.44%
Android 1.58%
iOS 1.31%

Linux usage is once again down slightly, as is Windows usage. Macintosh is slightly up and both Android and iOS have cracked into the single digit percentages.

I’d also like to take this time to thank each and every LQ member. You are what make the site great; without you, we simply wouldn’t exist. I’d like to once again thank the LQ mod team, whose continued dedication ensures that things run as smoothly as they do. Don’t forget to vote in the 2013 Members Choice Awards , which recently opened.



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