If you’ve noticed the wearable computing craze hitting all the major companies, know that a little company called “Pebble” started it all a long time ago on KickStarter! They asked for a hundred thousand bucks to build a few and ended up getting $10.266 million.
I was one of the folks fascinated by the idea of a smartphone connected watch and supported them in Kickstarter. Heck, I think that was my first Kickstarter experience almost a year ago. I have patiently waited for my watch and then one fine day this week … this came in the mail.
First thing I noticed is how much this resembled the Kindles that I have gotten from Amazon. I like how they make the box very functional and informative. It also amps up the anticipation as you think about opening the thing up! Enough, let’s rip it open.
To the right you can see the photo of the box after I opened it. There were no instruction books or anything. Only a watch, charging cable, and a printed graphic with instructions to get the application on your smartphone.
I like it. It’s not too hard to figure out what to do if you have half a brain.
Well, it turns out that the wrong half of my brain was working. I ended up going to the link on my PC and realized that I can’t do anything from there. It took me a second to hop over to my smartphone and install the app. After that, the instructions for pairing it with the Pebble watch was simplicity. Seriously, there are so few options that it’s hard to mess up.
Quality and Build:
The folks at Pebble took time to make this watch right. I followed along their blog as they went through all the startup pains for manufacturing on a mass scale. I was bummed when slips occurred and realized that my grey watch would not be among the first to be produced. I almost switched to black…almost.
I am glad to report that it was worth the wait. This thing is made very well. The grey color is actually under a clear shell. I am guessing this is the scratch resistant plastic that they were talking about. The band and buckle are all very good quality materials and the entire watch feels nice. It’s very light but looks and feels very nice.
There are 2 things that I had to get used to. One was the buttons. It feels like they are hinged on one side. Although they are large, they are easier to push on top than the bottom sometimes. I messed with this for a while and concluded that this is just an illusion. The “switch” appears to be in the middle but the buttons are large so that if you don’t push just in the middle, you have to push extra hard to activate the button.
The other thing i didn’t like so much was that the special magnetic charging plug has very weak magnets. Seriously, a small tap and it disconnects and stops charging. I had to leave it undisturbed for a few hours to make sure I got a full charge.
Loading Apps and Watchfaces:
The exciting thing about the watch is how you can customize it! It took me a few tries, but I discovered that all you have to do is choose to download a watchface from http://www.mypebblefaces.com/ (there are almost 500 of them now!) and it’ll automatically open up the Pebble application and install. If your Pebble is connected to your iPhone (via Bluetooth), the watchface also installs on your watch. You really don’t have to do anything else. Simple!
Once loaded, the watchface name appears on the smartphone app. Here’s a screen capture of the watchface screen on my iPhone.
There are only 2 options on the application. One lets you check status of the Pebble watch to smartphone connection and the other is this one.
You can see that the app has all the hallmarks of an iOS app in this case. You can rearrange the order or delete a face. That’s it. I searched around for other options and there are none to be had. Simplicity is a good thing for watchfaces.
I did come across a few apps that I wished to customize but realized that it required a change in code, a recompile and a retransfer. Now that is a pain! Perhaps it’s easier in Android, but with iOS unless you have a developer license or a jailbroken phone, you can’t load unapproved apps onto the phone. So this is an issue to be address.
An example of where this is a problem is in the watchfaces that have weather or multiple timezones. You can only install the one that the publisher provides. So if the timezone default is New York, that’s what you get. You can’t change it to CA and save it. It’ll always go back to NY. I’ll address this issue another time when I try to tweak an app. For now, let’s move on!
After browsing a plethora of faces, I ended up installing and keeping the following five (5) faces.
Well, since this post I have experimented with a few more watchfaces and apps, but ultimately removed them since they required coding or didn’t have much practical use.
When I have the watch on, I can switch between the faces by simply pressing the top or bottom button to cycle through all the faces I have installed. It’s great fun to change faces depending on your mood at any time.
Battery and Backlight:
So this watch has an e-ink face, which means that technically it doesn’t use any power when it’s not refreshing the screen. Obviously watch faces with second hands or other animation would result in constant screen refreshing. According to reports and specs, I should get about 5 days of operation from this. I let it charge fully when I got it and it’s been 3 days. I’m going to run it until it’s dead or I get a warning.
The face is really easy to read in good light. In the dark, there’s a motion sensor that will briefly activate the backlight. So if I want to know the time I can snap my wrist and see the face in the dark. I’ve noticed that I have to snap quite hard. I guess this is good to prevent accidental activation. Sometimes I’ll tap the upper right (quite hard) and it’ll also get the light to come on.
An item that bugs me is that there is no battery level meter. I’m always wondering if I need to charge. It turns out that when plugged into the charger a battery icon will appear. However, the icon really only shows a few states (5). It’s either full, low, empty, charging, or charging from low. That’s not so helpful. There’s an explanation for this, but I’m not going to get into it here. Here’s a link if you care.
Super Cool Features:
Now watchfaces are cool, but they have limited usefulness. What’s really great is the display of SMS messages and also incoming calls! I can keep my phone on silent mode in my pocket and when a call or text comes in, the watch vibrates and the message or phone number appears on my screen! That’s nice. I’ve used this numerous times already in the days I’ve had it. One caveat is that when a call comes in, it shows the number and not the name of the caller. I don’t know about you, but I’ve not memorized hardly any phone numbers. I wish it’d show the name.
There’s a native function to control the music app on the phone from the watch. It works well enough, but it’s limited to pause/play, skip ahead, skip back. I’ve not used this too much, but I can verify that it works.
The vibrating alarm was one of those features that was a great surprise. You see, my wife is a light sleeper. When I set an alarm in the morning, it’ll go off for a while before I wake up. By that time, my wife is wide awake. It bugs her. With the Pebble, the alarm is a series of vibrations on my wrist. Although you can kind of hear it, it’s not enough to disturb anyone and the vibration is surprisingly effective at waking me up!
I’m going to try a few apps/games in the next days. I’ve also noticed a lot of activity in the forums as the SDK is enhanced and people are trying out new things. After I have had a chance to mess with these items, I’ll add to the report. For now, I think I’ve typed enough!
- Great build quality
- Simple interface
- Tons of fun watch faces
- Vibrating alarm
- Good battery life
- Can see it in the dark without having to push anything
- SMS and calls on the watch
- Super community support and SDK
- Magnet in charger weak
- Button action – hard to press sometimes
- Hard to customize apps for timezone, location, etc.
- No persistent battery level indicator
- No name in caller indicator
At the end of the day, the Pebble watch is a great first generation device. It’ll be fun to see what Apple and Google come up with. In reality, I’d be surprised is Pebble doesn’t get snatched up by a larger company. They are way ahead of the game and will have a large developer community by then. That is worth a lot more than the watch itself. OK, signing off for now.
Update 6/15/13, 12:42am – Battery life was about 4 days for me.
So the last time I checked the watch was at 12:07am on Friday. I was in a theater watching a movie and was wondering how long it had been. I noticed that the low battery icon was present in the upper right. When the movie was over about 15-20 minutes later I glanced at my watch but the face was completely blank. I had read that the battery puts out at a peak voltage and then drops off dramatically at the end. That’s one of the reasons they have difficulty having an accurate battery meter. Apparently it’s a characteristic of a Lithium Ion cell.
So the watch lasted from Tuesday until Friday for me. So 4 days after the initial full charge. I’ll continue to keep an eye on this to see how it fares going forward.