Geekery, Real Life

Pebble Watch, The Smart Watch Which Isn’t So Smart

As a friend would say, I am part of the targeted demographics for smart watches and of course that means only one thing:

I’m a first generation sucker

Thus when the opportunity came all initial doubts were swiftly dropped and the itch to moan about the fallacies surrounding first generation devices were thrown away. A Pebble watch, Kickstarter Edition, I would get.

My foray into smart wearables was bound to start, finally, and the standard heavy metal chronograph on my wrist would be replaced. Around 2.5 decades after I ditched the almost as standard Casio Calculator watch and would feel naked without a 150 gram or heavier watch on my wrist.

The Pebble Watch in its box. Much better in photography than in real life.

The Pebble Watch in its box, complete with protective film. Better in photo than in real life.

If I were a self-respecting gadget blogger, selling every newest device as brighter than the sun and the third best thing since sliced bread(1), I would now post a totally boring unboxing gallery and probably even more boring unboxing video. Luckily there’s more than enough who do that already and the rather minimalist design of packing – and cheap – are not a topic here. After all it is a first generation Kickstarter device which sold to backers starting at $99.

Complete with a whole bunch of tech, waterproof to 5ATM and with an eInk screen. There’s even more specs, albeit all very minimal, but again copying and pasting these is a job your average gadget ego-publisher can do much better than I could dream of.

Instead let us focus on the experience of actually having a Pebble watch, and whether the watch is smart or not.

Set Up

Once the Pebble iOS app was installed, setting up the Pebble Watch was as simple as one would hope it to be. Activating Bluetooth and pairing the device with my phone was all that was required, and went like a breeze. Within seconds the watch was updating its software via the data connection on the iPhone.

Less than 2 minutes later I was ready to go, and be smarter.

When reading this on a small device my pulse and watch are not 4 times larger than they are in real life

When reading this on a small device my pulse and watch are not 4 times larger than they are in real life

But that was pretty much it and soon the experience would turn slightly dumber and First Generation Sucker Remorse™ would set in. Even more so because the watch feels as if a gift bought for a 11-year young kid, after the family saved their last pesos just to by a digital gift to their kid.

And by that I mean the Pebble Watch feels even cheaper than a Samsung Galaxy phone sold at a premium in a plastic case. A strategy Apple will soon also rehash with its upcoming iPhone 5Cheapo.

Rather Dumb Watch Actually

Thanks to the 1.12.1 update for Pebble watch I could link an email account(2) to my watch and am now updated of new incoming emails, complete with a 3-4 lines preview. Other than that the Pebble Watch alerts one of incoming phone calls and messages (both SMS and iMessages).

Sadly Caller ID doesn’t seem to function with iOS 7 Beta 6 yet, and as anyone can expect as soon as a message comes in the reality kicks one in the bottom as well: you still need to grab your phone to reply.

An issue Apple will probably circumvent when the company launches its iWatch in the near – or not so near – future, thanks to Siri integration. Knight Rider reimagined in 3D IRL, popularized thanks to the masters of You don’t truly miss anything we took away, and even if you will nevertheless love how gorgeous we made this device™.

Those who can absolutely not live without social media, can include their Twitter stream thanks to the iOS app Smartwatch Pro for Pebble, which costs $3.99. Smartwatch Pro also allows to receive iCal notifications, as well as notifications from the iOS reminders app and can even read out the GPS coordinates via the iPhone’s location services. Sadly it takes several clicks to open the Smartwatch Pro app on the watch and see all details.

Some apps such as SmartStatus (Mod Buttons)are also able to read out and display the amount of missed calls, unread messages and emails and even the battery charge of your phone. Smartwatch+ even allows you to Find Your iPhone.

Other developers are trying to improve the music player controls with a better UX, but the Pebble watch simply isn’t there yet. You can find them over at My Pebble Faces nevertheless.

And that is very much where things end.

Right now the Pebble Watch is very much limited to pixelart bitmap quality style watchfaces and then some, albeit only very few apps. It’s a notification center for email and SMS addicted Gen-Y hipsters who will definitely claim that it improves their life balance and life quality even, but other than that it is nothing more than a notification center and a poor one at that. Even the iOS Notification Center is better. And for commuters maybe a Music [app] controller.

But that’s it for now for iOS users.

It does come with a cool magnetic charger connector though, which connects to the watch via 2 metal pins.

The cool magnetic Pebble Watch charger connector.

The cool magnetic Pebble Watch charger connector.

There Is Hope, It May Be More Than Marketing Vaporware

There is hope for smart watches nevertheless. Maybe even for Pebble. Pebble right now only has a an alpha SDK, released in April this year. When connected to an iOS device the watch is also limited due to iOS restrictions which allow only one app to communicate in 2-ways with external devices at any time.
Hopefully when the next SDK launches the official Pebble app will be more capable and offer more features, allowing developers to create better and more original apps. Not merely watchfaces or very limited apps, despite the watch having a Snake game.

Some day somebody will probably even make great use of the Pebble accelerometer, possibly annihilating the need for Jawbone UPs, Fitbits or Nike Fuelbands.

My impressions right now are only based on having connected the Pebble Watch to my iPhone, but according to the Pebble forums some iOS Pebble owners have gotten Android Envy because there are more Android apps for Pebble, some even which allow to send more notifications to the watch. I will pair the watch with my just as plasticky Galaxy Note over the next days, maybe it will improve my impression of the Pebble watch, but I highly doubt it.

Golf players may enjoy the integration with FreeCaddie and love to be able to read out the distance to the hole on their watch. Runners may love the rather limited options the Pebble integration with Runkeeper.

As for me, I don’t particularly enjoy the Pebble Watch so far, and can perfectly imagine that someone else will be the proud(3) of the watch soon. But it is highly doubtful this post will insprie anybody to want to buy my Pebble watch. ;)
After which I will probably get burned by the next wearable, whether from Samsung, Google or maybe even from Jawbone or Fitbit.

Until the iWatch finally is released.

  1. After Marmite and Gin & Tonic obviously()
  2. Or several()
  3. Or not so proud owner()
  • James Troi

    Accurate assessment. As someone who has had my pebble for a while now, I don’t often wear it. Mostly though because I’m a clutz and walked into a pole and the face scratched easier than I probably would have expected it to. No one wants to be seen with a scratched up watch.

    But the one thing you touched on, though you called it “limited” was Runkeeper integration. It’s awesome for that. You can view your current activity and pause it without having to take your phone out. Reduces the battery use of the phone because usually when riding I’d have it placed in front of me so I could see the details that I can now see on my watch. So I wouldn’t really call it limited as far as RunKeeper is concerned. I don’t think I’d want it to do anything more than it does.

    Other than that, as I said, accurate assessment. From one first generation sucker to another.