07
Jul
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It's been a bit less than six months since I got my Kickstarter-edition Pebble, and starting today you can waltz down to your local Best Buy and pick one up yourself. In that time I've gone from impressed, to slightly less so, then considerably more so, and now somewhat ambivalent. The Pebble has been much improved since its debut, thanks to consistent updates from the manufacturer and no small amount of third-party support. But the simple fact remains that this is an add-on device, a luxury even at its reasonable price. While it adds considerable functionality to any Android device, it would be hard to say that these functions are worth $150, or indeed, worth wearing and keeping track of another gadget on your person.

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Software

Pebble has done an admirable job keeping the watch fresh and relevant in the last six months. Thanks to regular updates to both the official Pebble app and the watch's firmware itself, the software's rough edges have been noticeably smoothed out. Most important is the support for third-party apps, but I'll get to that in a later section.

Two of my biggest complaints in the original review have already been addressed. Pebble now supports music control from a variety of music apps, selectable via a menu in the Pebble app. My main two sources of music, Google Play and Pandora, are supported natively, but any app that responds to Bluetooth A2DP playback commands should work. One small drawback is that it can only control one music app at a time, but you can pause or advance music without reaching into your pocket, and that's good enough for me.

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Pebble now displays multiple alerts at once. If you should get emails or texts in rapid succession, pressing the up or down buttons will allow you to scroll through them, more reliably eliminating the need to actually check your phone. While this isn't as useful as an alert center (where one could scroll through a complete history of alerts) it means that a second message or text won't send you diving into your pocket to check who the second-to-last sender was.

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Other areas of the watch's software have received attention, especially when it comes to usability. You can now scroll through watch faces without having to open the menu, for example. You can also tap the Back button from an alert to immediately return to your default watch face (another feature I wished for in my initial review) or whatever app you've been using.

In short, the software support from Pebble has been excellent. I only wish phone and tablet manufacturers were so dedicated to keeping their devices updated.

Hardware

Obviously hardware doesn't change over the course of six months, so there are just a couple of things to note here. One, the software updates have given the Pebble a noticeably longer battery life. In January, my watch would last a little over three days on a charge - fine, but not quite as long-lasting as you might want from a wristwatch that you're not used to charging. Now it regularly lasts for 5-6 days, a much more comfortable interval between charges. Battery life on my phone seems to have been slightly improved as well.

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I initially guessed that the plastic screen wouldn't stand up to much abuse. I regret to report that this is correct: my Pebble has already received an unsightly scratch along the bottom edge, courtesy of an errant encounter with a brick column while exiting the supermaket. It's purely cosmetic and doesn't even cover the screen itself (which isn't touch-sensitive in any case), but you know how this sort of thing goes: I can't help but notice it more often than I'd like. If and when Pebble releases a second generation watch, I'd hope for a more typical and more attractive quartz or synthetic sapphire screen cover.

The rest of the watch seems to be holding up well, despite considerable activity on my part. Even the waterproof build of the electrical contacts has remained intact. I'll add that the motion-activated backlight which comes on with a flick of the wrist remains one of my favorite features.

Apps

Here's the game-changer for Pebble, and smartwatches in general. The Pebble creators themselves have still released only watch faces for their hardware (plus one version of Snake), but they've opened the floodgates for third-party apps, and a small but dedicated community of developers has responded. There are hundreds of watch faces and nearly as many stand-alone apps to be had for the Pebble, ranging in utility from indispensable to novelty.

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Want a watch face based on the famous Swiss Railway design? There are several. How about an LCARS version, for you Next Generation fans? Make it so. More useful additions include stand-alone counters, timers, calculators, calendars, and any number of activity-specific apps like a golf score sheet. There's Tetris, there's Asteroids, there's even a Pokedex app (original 151 only) for those who still have to catch 'em all. For the ultra-custom look, you can even create your own watch face with this nifty little tool.

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This is exactly what I was hoping for when the watch was released, and well done Pebble for making it easy to take advantage of third-party apps. All that's necessary is to go into the Settings menu of the official app, then tap the "Install Untrusted Apps" option. I've found My Pebble Faces to be the best-organized and most frequently updated of the Pebble app repositories so far.

Apps on the Android side have become commonplace as well. My favorite for simple, device-wide notifications remains the Pebble Notifier, which requires no changes to Pebble itself to work. Another handy app is the Phone Ringer Switcher, which allows you to change between ring, vibrate, and silent modes without touching your phone. This app will make your phone beep and vibrate remotely, a perfect alternative when you can't find someone to call your lost handset.

Utility

Here's where things get a little dicey. You see, although Pebble has become quite a bit better than it was at the beginning of the year, there's still very little reason for me to wear it on a daily basis. It's certainly cool to check an incoming email just by raising your wrist, and I can see a certain subset of users coming to rely on it for their daily routine. (An admittedly geeky subset - not that we mind that around these parts.) But I can't say I've encountered a single situation that needed a Pebble, or indeed any smartwatch, and wasn't already adequately served by a smartphone alone.

Take the phone ringer switch app above. It's a great idea and a useful addition, and it could be argued that Pebble should have included it as a first-party feature. But even in a crowded, dark movie theater, is the ability to set your phone to silent with a few button presses so much better than reaching into your pocket and doing it, for lack of a better term, the "old-fashioned way?" More importantly, is saving a second or two a few times a day worth wearing yet another gadget?

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For me, the answer is no. I've worn a watch nearly every day for my entire adult life, and despite the added functionality of Pebble, I still put on my reliable Seiko nine times out of ten. I'll admit that this has something to do with fashion: the Pebble isn't the most attractive device out there, and despite Sony's best efforts, even a cheap sport watch will beat it for looks every time. And it's true that even with Pebble's sunlight-friendly screen, a conventional analog or digital watch is easier to read at a glance. But for the most part, it's because the only things I really, truly need from a watch are the time and date, something that hasn't been seriously improved upon for decades.

Of course, this is more of a knock on the concept of the smartwatch itself than Pebble in particular. But the simple fact remains that I'd rather wear a conventional watch, and I think that the majority of users - even among our tech-savvy readership - would agree.

Conclusion

The Pebble is a good little gadget, and has become much, much better thanks to ceaseless effort on the part of the manufacturer. Those who have to have the latest and greatest in wearable tech (and can't find or afford Google Glass) will be thrilled, and pleased with the continually-evolving nature of the platform.

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Dedicated gadget hounds will be more than willing to put down $150 for the Pebble, and at this point I'd encourage them to do so without fear of buyer's remorse. But for most smartphone users, Pebble, and indeed all smartwatches for the foreseeable future, will quickly become little more than a novelty. There simply isn't enough extra functionality on top of a smartphone alone to overcome the added expense and hassle.

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • mgamerz

    A big use of this for me will be biking. I want to control my music and have the time as well as notifications without pulling out my phone.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Still, many headphones have inline controls which have the benefit of only requiring you to lift a single hand up, as opposed to riding with no hands or awkwardly reaching over to touch a button on your watch. It's both safer and easier.

      As for notifications, I guess it's safer than pulling out your phone (still not particularly safe, frankly, not that Pebble notifications tell you much of anything.

      • RoboBonobo

        You probably want to stop your bike if you're going to do any of that skipping tracks or reading notifications, with or without a watch. You could have an accident.
        To pause/play or skip a track, on a BT speaker, with your watch, is much more convenient than taking your phone out and navigating the UI, each time you want to do that. If you're out in bright sunlight, doing it with the phone is a nonstarter.
        And then if you're wearing extra sensors -- fitness trackers, heart-rate monitors, pedometers, etc -- counting steps/distance/calories, which you can display on the watch. If you're jogging, climbing stairs or working out, glancing at your watch is much easier than stopping and pulling your phone out of your pocket several times per session; which you'll do, especially as you're getting close to reaching your goal for the day.

        • squiddy20

          It's really not that hard to double tap/long press the volume up button on your phone to skip to the next track when it's in your pocket while riding a bike. It's even easier if, like David stated, you have inline controls on your headphones/earbuds that you don't have to "find" through your pants. Nowadays, you don't have to look at the screen to change the song...

          • RoboBonobo

            I'd still suggest stopping the bike for a couple seconds while you do that. You'd be surprised how bad of an accident you can have as a result of distracted riding. You can have a nasty accident without even being distracted by trying to change the track, so why take the added risk?
            And I'm not saying that doing things with a watch is always better, but there actually are use cases where it's better to not have to take out your phone.

          • mgamerz

            That only works on some roms. I run pure stock on my nexus and there is no way to switch songs without pulling out the device.

          • squiddy20

            Like I said in my other comment, apps like PowerAmp have this functionality built in, no root or special ROM necessary. There's also quite a few other apps on the Play Store that can help in this area.

            Additionally, as I said in the above comment reiterating what David stated, a lot of headphones have play/pause/next/back buttons in addition to volume up/down buttons, or a double tap/long press on the volume button serves as the next/back button. Headphones such as this: http://www.klipsch.com/s3m-blue or many of the (cheap) headphones that come with smartphones these days.

          • mgamerz

            I own poweramp, but I use Play Music. Poweramp continuously loses my playlists and I use the cloud now for my music.

          • aatifsumar

            False. Stock Galaxy Nexus here: The buttons on my WH-920 let me pause/play and go to next and previous track.

          • mgamerz

            I'm not talking about in line controls. I'm talking about on the phone.

      • Brandon V.

        You seem to be vehemently against smartwatches, to the point where you'll decry every good thing someone could say about them. Why is that? There's also the fact that coming across inline headphones that sound good that aren't generic buds is hard. Harder still to find those that work properly with any music player. This would work out of the bag, and not be nearly as hard to find. And you don't have to worry about having to use something with terrible sound quality. And headphones also cannot tell you what time it is.

        That said, I'd rather have something like the MotoActv, an actual smartwatch.

    • squiddy20

      I use my phone for music while biking as well. For the most part, I just use a biking playlist and PowerAmp, which supports music control by long pressing the volume keys. Don't like the currently playing song? Hold the volume up button for about a second and the next song comes up. Much less cumbersome and safer (I would imagine) than having to reach your free hand to your other hand while it remains on the handlebars.

      Additionally, installing a ROM that supports music controls system wide (long press or double tap vol. up to skip to the next song, vol. down to go back, etc) helps out with this. I'm not sure if it's CM or Pandora, but when I'm using Pandora while biking and want to skip the currently playing song, all I have to do is long press the vol. up button. All without another (somewhat) expensive gadget.

      • mgamerz

        When I bike I don't put my phone in my pocket since it makes it uncomfortable to ride. My phone lives in my bike trunk so pulling it out is nigh impossible.

  • CaliLove310

    I really want one.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

    Smart watches don't make sense to me. They don't add any particularly high-value functionality to your daily life, and they don't do anything that's all that unique. It's a watch that can pause your music and displays email snippets. If that's really important to you, I guess go for it, but I personally see no real utility in these products. They're also all really ugly. People stopped wearing watched because of smartphones, what makes someone think building a smartphone-like watch is going to get them interested again?

    Activity trackers make a lot more sense to me. They provide you meaningful, insightful information about yourself that a smartphone can't (at least not yet), let you interpret that data with high-quality web services, and that information can then be used to improve the quality of your life (it's also just really neat), and you can add your own data to get even more insight. That's huge. That's why things like Fuel Band, Jawbone Up, and Fitbit get so much attention in the press. What they do (track your movement, basically) isn't technologically revolutionary, but the fact that they have these data interpretation suites, are not intrusive, inconvenient, or difficult to operate (usually) is why they're so much more popular than smart watches. Not being fashion disasters probably helps, too.

    It's hard not to see activity trackers eventually just emulating what few desirable features smart watches have (digital clock, music controls, basic notifications) in the future. I see no reason why I would want a full-on smart watch vs. a smart-esque activity tracker, and I think that most people really couldn't give a damn about smart watches in the first place.

    • Phil Oakley

      Yeah. I think smartwatches and activity trackers will merge, and take the 'activity tracker' name. I mean, I have a normal watch (shows the time and date), but I don't wear it very often, because I only need it when I want to save my phone's battery (i.e. checking the time; I can do this on my phone but if I'm out and want to preserve my phone's battery life, I wear my watch). A smartwatch, I don't think, would serve me any purpose at this point.

      I am genuinely interested in buying an activity tracker (probably a Fitbit. If the Nike Fuelband worked with Android I'd go for that, but it doesn't). I'm hopefully moving to London soon (from about an hour outside London) and I'll have big open spaces like Hyde Park to go running in, I hope. I'd like an activity tracker of some kind to track how much I run, how far etc etc. If that could also tell the time and give me a faint buzz if something very important came in (like an important email), that'd be perfect. I don't really want it to do more than that, I don't think. If I could then have that email read aloud to me through my head/earphones (I almost always wear headphones when exercising on my own), or maybe summed up using Summly-like technology, that'd be truly amazing.

      Smartwatches, activity trackers and to a lesser extent things like Glass will hopefully form one big cluster of information services in the future. I think it'll be great, but currently we're in the 1970s of personal computing, only for wearable devices. Even further back than that, maybe.

    • aNYthing6

      There's no reason the Pebble cannot become an activity tracker. The hardware is there. The software just needs to catch up.

      • Phil Oakley

        Eh. I haven't tried out a Pebble, but from the pictures I've seen it looks too big and clunky, like a normal watch. Hmm.

    • Bojan Gutic

      Honestly, it just comes down to a personal preference thing. Personally, I LOVE the look of the Pebble, and it tends to turn heads. A lot of my friends, when they first see it, think it's ridiculously cool and ask me all about it.

      The main reason I got it is because I'm absolutely BARRAGED by texts and emails every day, most of which can wait. Pebble makes it really easy for me to see what's important now, and what I can leave until later, when I actually feel like getting around to it.

      Seems like a minor thing, but it's helped make my days that much easier.

  • imtoomuch

    My problem with pebble is the black and white, or E-Ink, display. This is 2013. I want color. This is why I'd be way more willing to try something like a Sony SmartWatch.

    The Pebble should be $100 or less. At this point it's just too expensive in my opinion.

    • exadeci

      the main reasons are battery and readability under the sun

      • imtoomuch

        I understand the battery life part, but you can make non-reflective LCD screens for reading in the sun.

        • mgamerz

          If you want to charge it everyday or have a brick on your wrist.

          • imtoomuch

            Sony is trying to prove that wrong.

  • a

    This is once of those 'I have no use for this, but I want it' devices that I'll no doubt buy at some point. :P

  • Firelight

    I have to disagree. I was a dedicated wristwatch person for years. Somewhere along the way my OCD took over and I stopped wearing one - especially since the phone functioned as my clock/watch. I hate having things in my pocket (even keys or wallet), on my wrist, around my neck or on my head.

    Then came the Pebble. The functionality of being in a meeting at work - I can somewhat discreetly check a text or email to see if it is important & I'm able to auto-text a caller (using the Glance app) that I can't talk right now -- has been very useful.

    I feel naked without it now ... but it's not perfect. I get weird screen artifacts too much for my liking. The "oily' screen does bug me sometimes. And the band was crap (since replaced).

    Favorite super-geek-app moment: with Glance & Tasker I can put my phone in the car holder on my windshield and remotely take photos of the road in front of me. Or the inside of the car to catch my kids when they're being goofy. That's both fun & useful enough for me to keep on keepin' on wearing it.

    • Harriet J. Hernandez

      like Marjorie answered I am blown away that people able to profit $4519 in one month on the computer. did you look at this website w­w­w.C­a­n9­9.c­o­m

  • ExtraMedium

    What Seiko watch is that?

  • http://shanked.me/ Shank

    I'm in the opposite camp. I used to wear a trusty Timex everywhere I went, but the straps kept dying and I stopped bothering to replace it because of function. The pebble changed that, because I get more function and it still doesn't look that bad for me.

  • ins0mn1a

    i stopped wearing a watch when i got my first cellphone, some 14 years ago. i can't really justify having an annoying thing on my wrist if the only thing it does is tell time. a smartwatch, however, sounds like a more interesting proposition. the fact is 9 out of 10 times i pull out my smartphone is to check time, read an sms or check notifications, all of which would be perfectly served with a smartwatch.

    i haven't been convinced by pebble though, i prefer to have colors and a touchscreen, even if it somewhat impairs sunlight visibility and battery life. sony smartwatch 2 is something i will definitely consider. i already charge a smartphone and two tablets every night, so another thing to plug in is not that big of a deal. enthusiastically looking forward to the future with ubiquitous wireless charging though.

  • Philip Kahn

    For what it's worth, I'm one who has worn a watch nearly every day of his life, and now my pebble is indispensible. I can't imagine going back to a smartphone-only status. It finally fixes the damn "do I give a crap about that buzz" phenomenon -- and, with Pebble notifier, the buzzes that don't show up on Pebble are just as informative as the ones that do for me.

    And text-message multifactor authentication? Again, insanely convenient.

    Controlling music in the car? My wrist is way safer than fiddling with controls on a dashboard, especially for someone like me who ZipCars, which means the controls are never in the same place twice.

    Music when you're biking? Those ludicrous inline controls are impossible with biking gloves on, which is smart for both wind-drying your hands and for crash protection. No problem on a Pebble. (not to mention your pebble isn't swinging in midair unlike those crazy inline controls which are in a different 3D space every second if your road is anything but perfect). My wrist is always where my wrist is.

    Worth every penny, and then some. I dunno, I feel like people that don't get it don't really leave their house or socialize with people sometimes.

    • Jonathan Epp

      Agreed. Backed it on a whim, now it's indispensable. I love not needing to turn my phone to silent walking in and out of meetings. I also love not having to physically check my phone mid-meeting to discover if that work email was either urgent-you-need-to-step-out-of-the-room-now or more likely enter-for-a-chance-to-win-some-product-you-have-no-interest-in-office-spam.

  • http://www.kizi10.info/ Kizi 10

    The improvement is remarkable that, and hopefully it will be even better next time.

  • Cyber Akuma

    Hmm, not sure what to think of this review. He goes on and on about how great the pebble is, then at the end claims its just not a necessity (P.S. I disagree that I would rather wear a fashionable watch). I mean, of course it's not, but that seems like a rather silly point to make. A lot of things are luxury items and not a necessity. I doubt they will just be a novelty though. I mean, even Bluetooth headsets aren't a necessity and yet they are popular. There were smartwatches before, hell, I owned one (Fossil Abacus WristPDA) but the fact that they were self-contained devices made them kinda useless, especially with the popularity of smartphones. I always thought a watch that is a companion device to your phone made perfect sense rather than putting a phone into a watch, then I saw the Pebble kickstarter...

    Smartwatches are just taking off so I guess it can be hard to say if they will become popular or not, but so far I think Pebble is doing a damn good job if both the kickstarter and the comments here are any indication, I love mine and the ability to not have to take my phone off to check or verify a response is well worth it (not to mention apps that can warn you if you forgot your phone, since its unlikely you will forget something strapped to your wrist). There's even rumors of Apple making one, can't imagine them not becoming popular if that is true. (although personally, if they do make one, I really really hope everyone doesn't start dropping support for any watch that doesn't have an Apple logo on it)

  • Thomas Lockyer

    I appreciate what Pebble has done in terms of shedding light and 'kick-starting' (ha) this whole modern smartwatch business, but the Sony Smartwatch 2 looks more appealing in every way. I'm really interested to see what Google inevitably brings to the table though. Mmmm.

  • Hernan C.

    As the developer of PebbleTasker, I gotta say you're missing one of the best Android apps on your list :)

    It's hard to sound unbiased, but being able to control Tasker from your wrist is pretty damn awesome. You should check it out if you haven't! Contact me if you wanna try it out.

  • imjimscout79

    I bought the abacus 2006 and loved it (big watch)..I am not willing to drop another $150 and have the plug pulled in a couple of years

  • Albert Charles

    I use the shit out of my pebble. Being military it breaks the rule with walking and view text or emails. I don't have to stop to see what text I got or email or see who is calling. It's kind of that loophole that I can get away with. Even when I'm home and my phone is on the other side and I'm to lazy to check the text it lets me know if it's worth it to get my phone or see who is calling. Or when I'm laying in my bed and phone is charging I can see everything i need to see.

  • Genghis Khent

    I would stay away, far away. My Pebble stopped charging. Based on a web search, I'm far from alone. When Pebble support finally responded after several tries and weeks, they said it was a faulty charge cable and would ship me a new one. Many weeks and follow ups later, no cable, support is radio silent, I have a watch that I can't charge. Jeff Kent

  • kpjimmy

    I have had mine for a few months now and I have to say it's hard to revert to my wooden watches, which I adore, I have a Mica Deck and recently got my Kickstarter NFNT bamboo watch which is wicked light and looks awesome as well.

    I have a hard time wearing my other watches now because of the Pebble. For me, it's become valuable to me if I have my phone charging on my desk or nightstand and I am around the house doing chores or playing with my 4 year old. At a glance I can tell if I get a text or call and can decide if I need to answer the phone or if the phone was ringing and rolled over from my wife's number using google voice. I can tell my wife to grab my phone lol.

    Controlling music is just gravy for me. The watch is basically an extension of a notification bar from my phone to my wrist. And for the look of it, I have put a slickwrap wood wrap with a screen protector to avoid scuffs and scratches. Next I replaced my 22mm band with a Fossil Heirloom cuff strap and looks more aggressive, maybe too aggressive at times lol, but it's ok IMO.

    With the pile of of 3rd party apps/watchapps out there and growing number of apps that can be used with the Pebble is just great IMO. Do I wish I can get a firmware update to notify my pebble that I left my phone behind before leaving the office at lunch? Sure...I'm sure there will be an app for that later lol.

  • Thatguyfromvienna

    My major problem is that Pebble is ugly, seriously ugly.

  • onceopenacan

    2 reasons why Pebble won't leave my wrest now:
    As a professional musician, I was often afraid that my phone, while in my bag, may not be on "silence" mode during a rehearsal or a gig. Now this is solved by the "phone ringer switcher" app. Those who have never had their phone ringing "Cucaracha" in the middle of a dark and quiet Requiem may not understand what I mean...
    Second reason is that my phone is a Galaxy S4 Zoom, pretty big with its 10X optical zoom, and I can now have it in my bag rather than in my pocket without missing a call or message.

    So thanks Pebble!

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