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Pebble Smartwatch Review: A Useful Dumbwatch

Just before Christmas I received a Pebble Smartwatch (Manufacturer | Amazon). This is a brief review, but I’ll try to share everything that you realistically need to know before deciding on whether to get this gadget.

pebble

After a few weeks of use, I affectionately call it my “dumbwatch”, because I find it to be a lot dumber than what you might expect from an electronic device in 2014, yet it still manages to be useful. More specifically, I found the following pros and cons.

PROS

  • Plenty of Pebble Faces are available to customize the look and feel of your watch. Some are very cool looking and innovative. You can even create your own.
  • Easy to use, intuitive interface with a back button on the left, and up, enter/menu, down buttons on the right.
  • When you receive a message, it instantaneously appears on your watch. Useful when you can’t quite fish for your phone in your pocket.
  • Calls can be answered and rejected directly from the watch.
  • Music control is instantaneous as well. As soon as you hit pause, play, or next, the music plays accordingly on your phone (the pebble itself is only a controller and doesn’t have any built-in speakers or microphone).
  • Notifications can be customized on your smartphone, so that you’ll decide whether you want, say, Gmail alerts on your watch.
  • The watch is truly waterproof and you can shower with it in the morning.
  • Waking up to a vibrating watch on your wrist still beats by far annoying iPhone alarms blasting full volume while you are half asleep.

CONS

  • Battery life is poor. I found myself essentially having to recharge it overnight as I could only get about 1.5 days worth of battery life from it and hated seeing it die in the middle of the day. I don’t mind recharging my iPhone daily, but somehow it feels annoying to do so for a watch. As a result there are days when I forget to recharge it and end up with a dead watch at 1pm. Or whatever time it is, not sure, since my watch is dead. :-P
  • The magnetic USB charger doesn’t feel particularly secure in place once you snap it to your Pebble. Furthermore, to verify whether it’s fully charged you need to enter the main menu, as it’s not displayed on your regular face of choice.
  • Some of the best looking and most downloaded user contributed faces on My Pebble Faces have limited functionality. For example, the second most downloaded face (i.e., Smartface) includes among others, number of unread emails, messages, and phone calls. What you’ll discover installing it is that these are just mocked up and not actually implemented.
  • Most of the weather-based faces I tried will disconnect frequently from the phone. So you’ll know that it’s –10 and cloudy for an hour, and see an error until you manually disconnect and reconnect the watch via Bluetooth.
  • The screen is not bright enough to see it in dim conditions. You need to shake it to get the display illuminated. This can be not-so-easily accomplished with a rapid wrist-dislocating move.
  • When you answer a phone call, the Pebble doesn’t tell the phone to set the call in speaker mode automatically. This kind of defeats the purpose. If I can’t get to my phone and use my watch instead, I want to be able to speak hands free. So it’s only a big advantage over reaching for your phone to answer the call if you are using earphones.
  • You can only receive messages and calls, not initiate them.

All in all, my Pebble Dumbwatch is still useful. The most common use cases for me have been:

  1. Tell me what time it is. Yes, I can reach for my pants and fight my pocket to get the phone out. But the watch is just faster and easier.
  2. Control music playback when I’m showering or at the park in freezing weather.
  3. Immediately glance at who is calling to see if it’s worth pulling over to answer the call or just let it ring all the way to voicemail.
  4. When it works, knowing right away what temperature is outside.

Do I regret getting it? Not quite. I would however caution anyone interested in getting one that it comes with several shortcomings. I’d give it a 5/10 at best. It feels like you are testing out an early prototype of technology that might become actually useful in the future (or be entirely replaced by other gadgets like Google Glass).

Update (2014-02-02): Using a “dumber” watchface that doesn’t include weather information, my Pebble will keep charge for a very long time (easily over a week).


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8 Responses to “Pebble Smartwatch Review: A Useful Dumbwatch”

  1. Dan says:

    To solve the battery life issue disable motion backlight. It turns on far too frequently, like when you’re typing. With that turned off I get 5-7 days of battery life.

  2. You should be getting waaay more than 1.5 days of battery life. Are you using a very battery intensive watchface? This is the primary advantage of the Pebble over something like the Galaxy Gear. I use my Pebble quite a bit and I still manage to get at least 4 days of battery life. I do wish it warned you a bit more agressively when the battery is low, though.

  3. misato says:

    while I agree in most of the things, I would like to comment in 2 points of the cons that you have:
    – Batery life: Right now, I’ve got it in airplane mode for more than 2 weeks (I was out of the country) and it lasted for 10 days. On a normal use it lasts for about 4-5 days. How many notifications do you receive? Wich watchface do you use normaly? The e-ink screen only uses energy when it refreshes so I’ve got a watchface wich only does animation every minute and no other refresh data (like the weather ones, that connects with your phone every 30 secs i think). Basicaly the less refresh on the screen, the less batery it takes :) That’s how e-ink works and not the fault of pebble or any other device.
    – About the disconection with the weather apps, I supose you are using iOS. The disconection is (again) not a problem of Pebble itself but the OS on your phone. When iOS needs memory, it kills background apps so httppebble will be killed and though your whatchface disconected. Most of that problems will be solved in firmware 2.0 as you can do http requests (aka ask for the weather) directly from the pebble and not using httppebble or whatever other app in your phone.
    – The screen is not bright enough: again, that’s how it is an e-ink screen. It looks like paper. And that’s why you have the backlight (wich also takes out some batery charge).

    Other than that I think you did a pretty nice review. I hope you don’t feel bad for my coment as I only want to inform. I also agree with you in the rest of the things that you mention, especialy with the stupid magnet connector and not showing the remaining batery.

    • Thank you for your informative comment, misato. I think that httpebble and the weather face I’m using (Chunk Weather) might significantly impact battery life. I look forward to the new firmware. Regarding the ePaper display, I knew going in that it wouldn’t be particularly bright, but I still hoped for a little more brightness.

  4. James Freeman says:

    Your battery problems don’t sound right, to the point I think you might have a defective unit or your weather app is really power hungry. Mine lasts a week with no issues, but I don’t use an animating watchface, get that many emails/texts per day, or use any third party apps yet.
    As for the backlight, you can also push one of the buttons to turn it on (any of them should work).

    I agree, it’s a prototype technology that’s still being explored, but it’s been enjoyable for me so far. I didn’t realize how nice it is to have simple notifications on my wrist before I ordered one (vs digging into my pocket to get my phone). I have a feeling as smartwatch designs start looking better they’ll get more mainstraem adoption.

    • I’m going to try out a few of the suggestions I received and see if it helps. Being located in Canada, returning items isn’t as cheap (especially when you consider the insane $40 DHL brokerage fee).

      I fully agree with you that the idea behind it is far from dumb and smartwatches in general have a lot of potential.

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