Pebble smartwatch is awesome, and you should buy one [Belated Review]

pebble7Those that follow me on Twitter will most likely know that I love wearable technology. From the idea of smartwatches, to Google Glass, wearable technology is really something interesting, and is a market that has yet to be completely explored as of yet. There are a few products out at the moment, some good, some horrible (looking at you, Galaxy Gear). Each wearable technology device has its place, and, I feel, serves a specific function. Currently, on a daily basis, I wear 3 pieces of this so called “wearable technology” almost everywhere I go: Google Glass, Nike FuelBand, and of course, Pebble. If you were to ask me if I could only keep one of the three, it’d be a very tight race between the Pebble and Glass (sorry FuelBand, the other two just do more). But, why?

Pebble does its job, and it does it exceptionally well. When I first decided to take the plunge and purchase a Pebble, I sat there wondering, would I actually use this? Or is it something that I will end up leaving in my drawer on the pile of other tech items I no longer use? Well, after consideration, here I am, and on my wrist is Pebble.

I have not once felt one bit of regret about my decision.

This has got to be one of the best investments I’ve made. I love the Pebble, and now feel completely disconnected if I forget to wear it. But what makes it so special? Why do I love it so much? There are a few different reasons. First off, the obvious and most notable feature of Pebble that the “normal” consumer would use: notifications. With a recent update, Pebble was given the ability to communicate with iOS over Bluetooth LE and with support for new Notification Center APIs that are only available in iOS 7. What this does is keeps battery drain on your phone to a minimum when using Pebble, and also allows for every single notification your iPhone gets to be pushed to your wrist. Sitting in a class or meeting and feeling your wrist vibrate, you just have to glance down and see whether or not it is something that needs to be addressed. This has been my favorite thing. If I’m walking somewhere or even driving, I can see every notification quickly and immediately determine its importance.

The hardest part about having a Pebble is explaining why the notification support is such a great thing. So many people simply say, “Why don’t you just look at your phone?” or “Why do you need to get all those notifications on your wrist?” The only way to really understand Pebble, is to use Pebble. Order one from its online store, and if you don’t like it you can return it. What do you have to lose? If you are already considering a purchase of Pebble, I say go for it, you won’t want to send it back; that I can almost guarantee you.

Notifications aren’t the only reason I like Pebble, however. In a very close second, another reason I love the Pebble is application support. Pebble has provided an SDK to developers so that applications can communicate with the device, and applications are built for the watch to communicate back to the apps. A simple search in the App Store on my iPhone for “Pebble” gave me back around 20 applications that are built for Pebble; some of which are included in my holiday wish list I wrote up last week. This is awesome, and as an independent developer myself, I can’t wait to start building for the Pebble platform. The recently released Pebble SDK 2.0 (beta) allows developers to take advantage of some of the hardware inside Pebble, which opens a whole new range of possibilities.

Something that I have found when trying to describe the experience of wearable technology such as Pebble and Google Glass is that what I really am trying to explain is the potential of the devices. Wearable technology is such a young market, and not much has really been attempted in this field that has been successful yet; except for Pebble, which has been extremely successful for a company that is still not known well by many “average” non-techy consumers. When explaining Pebble (and Glass) to friends and family, I often find myself saying something along the lines of “It’s about what it could do, what it can’t do, yet.” Potential is a huge part of the wearable market at the moment, and it is hard to get people excited about something they don’t have a passion for, or haven’t experienced.

But aside from that, there are other reasons I love the Pebble. It is extremely durable for a piece of technology that is supposed to take the place of the wristwatch. Watches have been known for a few things: having great battery life (years usually), being nearly indestructible, and looking great. When it comes to battery life, the Pebble performed near exactly the way the company promises it will. When I first got my Pebble, I immediately charged it completely and didn’t take it off the proprietary magnetic charger until the next morning. It didn’t die until a crazy 7 1/2 days later. For a piece of technology in this day and age, that is remarkable. What else do you know that lasts that long? The Gear certainly doesn’t (Samsung promises only one day battery life).

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Next on the list, durability. This watch is waterproof, and you can shower, wash dishes, go in the rain, go in the snow, etc with it on and it won’t hurt it one bit. That is definitely a huge plus. I also find it to be quite scratch resistant, having hit it up against a few things and dropped it while putting it on or showing it to someone (on concrete once, not even a scratch). What about looks? Pebble, in my opinion, with its minimal and understated design, looks awesome. I have the black model, as you can see in the pictures, but it also comes in orange, white, red, and gray. It works with most standard 22mm watchbands, so if you don’t like the fairly comfortable rubber one it comes with, you can switch it out for one you prefer.

“But Kyle, what if you forget the charger? It isn’t one you can just go out and buy.” This is something that has been pointed out on plenty of sites, and while I understand why many would prefer a micro-USB charging port, how would it then be waterproof? Answer: it wouldn’t be. Pebble had to make the decision to use its proprietary magnetic charger in order to keep it waterproof, so I would prefer this to a non-waterproof micro-USB port. Just make a second note to remember your charger if you are going to be gone for more than a week, because any less than that and your battery should last you anyway.

Something I didn’t know about the Pebble until after I received it is something I find myself using quite often: motion backlight. What does this mean? Well, if you are somewhere you can’t see the e-paper display of your Pebble, a simple flick of your wrist will activate the backlight for about 3-4 seconds, which is plenty of time to simply glance at the time or read the notification you just felt vibrate your wrist (vibration can be turned off if you wish). So if you had any worry about not being able to see it at night, worry no more.

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But all this greatness doesn’t come without its flaws and setbacks, unfortunately. Pebble is made of plastic, and its light weight may make some think that it feels cheap, and therefore not worth the $150 price tag (yes, Pebble is $150). I’ll admit, it is a very lightweight device, but that isn’t always a good thing. On one hand, it makes it feel like you aren’t wearing it at times, which can be a good thing, but when coupled with a metal watchband, it feels much too light in relation to the watchband itself, giving it a very unbalanced effect. One central reason for timepieces is the design. While – as stated above – I love the understated, minimal design, it isn’t exactly what one would consider a “classic” or “stylish” design; this is something that could deter buyers immediately upon seeing it. If you are into minimal, into simple, you will fall in love with the look. But if you are someone that has more an appreciation of the class wristwatch design, you may be disappointed.

Also, as I have said many times, the potential of the device isn’t quite fully realized at this point because of the immaturity of the wearbles market. Sure, there are a good selection of applications (and very few – if any – are “crapware,” if you will), but nothing near what there could, and hopefully will be. Buying a device like this – especially in its first generation – is putting a lot of faith in the potential is device offers. At this point, there’s still a very real chance that adoption won’t be what Pebble, and myself at that, expect it to be.

As with any new product that runs any type of operating system, Pebble will have its flaws. Pebble OS 1.3, the currently available non-beta software (2.0 is in an open beta if you wish to use it), is very simple, and developers can’t really take much advantage of all Pebble has to offer. There are bugs every now and then, but for the most part it is a pleasant experience. Just as with the app market for this device, the 1st party software that Pebble has developed is still young, and will grow in the future. If you are worried it may be too immature at this point, you will probably want to hold off until either Pebble 2.0 is out, or we see some second generation hardware. Until then, you will be able to tell you are using a very young product, from a very young company.

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Overall, despite the downfalls, this is still one of the best purchases I’ve made. I can not completely explain how great of a product this is; the only way to truly appreciate it is to try it out for yourself. If you are on the edge about picking one up, I highly recommend you do so. It is a remarkable product, it has a blossoming development environment, and will only keep on getting better through software updates and increased developer support. Sure, there are setbacks and places where improvement is needed, but the improvements will come with time. It is a matter of patience. As an overall product, the awesomeness of this device can not be understated.

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  • DrewPage

    I used to think I wouldn’t ever use a smart watch, but after reading your review and checking out the Pebble website, I am sold.  I simply have to figure out how to get one.  I can’t immediately afford one, but maybe as a Christmas or birthday gift from my wife?

  • Caroldepietro

    I am not completely satisfied that I have made the right decision to buy. Received in the mail yesterday and have not been able to download new update to run the watch. Keeps repeating the same loop, downloads and and disconnects. Have checked web site for further instructions and have followed as directed. I have sent an email to troubleshooting and waiting and answer.

  • essveecee

    Just got my Pebble on Friday. The 2.0 SDK takes it up a notch, with phone apps like Runkeeper and Strava (Running and Bike versions) having Pebble support built in. I lost my FitBit, I’m waiting for someone to develop a like app, the hardware is capable.

  • dabdemon

    I actually works much MUCH better without the Pebble App running: better communication with your iOS device and no lag in the notifications. However, if you want to be able to enjoy some of the cooler watchfaces, you need the Pebble App features to run JavaScript request…

  • Jarom_Ells

    I wear my Pebble every day and really like it but I sure wish it was better looking.