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.
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.
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.
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. 😛
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:
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.
Control music playback when I’m showering or at the park in freezing weather.
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.
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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Antonio Cangiano is a Software Developer and Technical Evangelist at IBM. He authored 'Ruby on Rails for Microsoft Developers' by Wrox (2009) and 'Technical Blogging' by The Pragmatic Bookshelf (2012). He is also the Marketing Lead for Cognitive Class, an IBM educational initiative which he helped grow from zero to 1 Million students. You can follow him on Twitter.