Review: Pebble watch gets its second wind
The Pebble Watch was certainly long in gestation. It was my second Kickstarter project and I have been following the trials and tribulations of the development team for over a year. When the Pebble arrived a couple of months ago it was something of an anticlimax. I played with it for a day or two but was discouraged by the various negative reviews I read. I thought I would wait a while.
My initial reactions were not positive. I found the watch a bit big for my wrist and the rubber band was not very comfortable. I also had difficulties getting it to work reliably. The display became corrupted on two occasions and the watch bricked itself a couple of times. No wonder I put it on the top shelf and almost forgot about it.
Fast forward to last week when I dusted off the Pebble and plugged it in to charge. It immediately paired with my iPhone and proceeded to download new firmware. This time it works, there are no display problems and it has survived a week without mishap. It is even comfortable, though this is nothing to do with the firmware. I suppose I have got used to the slightly elongated shape and the rubber wrist band now feels fine. So much for first impressions.
Overall, I see a quality product that works well as a digital watch. I particularly appreciate the e-ink screen which means that it passively displays the day and date (depending on which watch face you choose) without any need to switch on backlights or press buttons. It is waterproof, which is a very good thing, and all the buttons work with precision. Navigation is straightforward despite the small screen.
As for functionality, the watch does what it claims to do and works well within its limitations. It displays SMS messages and emails and it is possible to scroll up and down to read the full text. You will not get warning of other event such as Tango calls or WhatsApp messages. Pebble also buzzes the wrist as a very effective alert. In this it is much better than the lily-livered dither of the analogue Citizen Proximity watch I reviewed last November. You won't miss the Pebble as your wrist shudders in resonse.
The Pebble also controls music but I have not tried this other than for a quick visit.
Bluetooth and battery
An early Pebble problem was constantly losing connection with the phone. Unless the phone was always within a foot or two the connection would drop. It was particularly annoying around the house. When going into the garden or into another room the watch would break the connection unless the phone happened to be in a pocket. Often, the connection had to be coaxed back into activity. The upgraded software seems to have addressed these problems and I find the Pebble automatically reconnects when the phone is back in proximity. Come to think of it, I have had the same pleasant experience with the Logitech keyboard I reviewed last week. Perhaps this is down to an overall improvement in Bluetooth connectivity protocols.
I have not performed a full battery test but I can say that it lasts a few days, perhaps as long as a week. I am afraid to risk running out of power because a watch is an essential accessory for me. I've taken to charging the watch every night rather than trying to remember how long it has been since the last boost. The short power lead (which fits any USB charger) has a proprietary magnetic connection which is neat and functional but can lead to problems if the cable is lost or forgotten.
There is one unavoidable problem with the Pebble and all similar devices. For it to operate satisfactorily, and not just be a watch, it is essential to leave Bluetooth active on the iPhone. This, as you know, hits battery life and adds further to the problems all heavy iPhone users experience. You will make more use of that Mophie Power Station than before.
It is certainly possible to come to rely on the Pebble and I have to say I now quite like it. The visual alerts are useful if the phone is in a pocket or bag. Or, indeed, very useful when driving because you can see messages easily and without any danger.
My big problem with the Pebble is that I am a bit of a watch aficionado and I love my IWC Pilot's Chronograph. Wearing a Pebble, a fabulous iWatch or any other smart timepiece means leaving the IWC at home, constantly running down and needing rewinding. Short of wearing the Pebble on the other wrist, which is super nerdy, there is no solution. I realise I am probably unusual in this.
Many people, undoubtedly, will be happy with the Pebble as a day-to-day watch and will appreciate the alerts and visual messages. I cannot help thinking, though, that the Pebble, good as it is, is a tad before its time. If the big boys, particularly Apple, jump on this bandwagon with even closer phone integration, I think Pebble will have trouble competing.
by Mike Evans, 30 May 2013
UPDATE: Pebble have ugraded the firmware today, May 30:
We've released an updated firmware with a few new features and bugfixes:
- Multiple notifications can now be viewed if they arrive within a short timeframe.
- Fix for vibration getting stuck ‘on’.
- UI changes for Date & Time menu.
- Option to show current speed (different than current pace) added in the Sports API.
- Next and previous track buttons swapped in the music control application.
- Power consumption fix for some Bluetooth connections.
- Improvements to presentation of clipped text and graphics.
- Fuzzy Time watchface is no longer installed by default and now available in the Pebble watchface list via the Pebble phone app.
- Fixed crash while changing windows, generally when setting alarm or setting time.