Not since the days of Dick Tracy has a watch been the hottest news in tech. But the Pebble watch, the poster child of Kickstarter projects, is getting plenty of buzz in the tech community. The Pebble watch connects to your iPhone or Android phone to become a second screen, saving you the trouble of digging your phone out of your pocket or purse to read a text message, control your music or see who is calling you.
Remember when cell phones only made phone calls, before the days of smartphones? Well, you may be telling your kids someday about watches that only displayed the time.
This is the dawn of the smartwatch.
About the Pebble Watch
As a backer of the Pebble watch, I received the Kickstarter edition of the watch last week and I’ve tested it with my iPhone 4S and with the Galaxy Note 2.
Here’s a video showing the Pebble watch in action:
To use the watch, download the Pebble app for your iPhone or Android phone. Pairing the watch with Bluetooth is very easy, you confirm that you want to pair the phone and you’re good to go.
After the watch is paired, you will feel it vibrate when you receive a call or text message on your phone. The first few lines of text or caller ID will appear on your screen. You can also use the watch to control the music on your phone.
Pebble claims that the battery life extends for seven days, but real world testing has shown that its endurance usually lasts closer to three or four days. I ran through the battery in two days with my heavy testing. The watch doesn’t display a battery meter until you’re running low on juice.
The charge cord has a magnetic connector, similar to the MagSafe connectors for Mac laptops, though the connector isn’t reversible. The reasoning behind the magnetic connector is to help keep the Pebble water resistant. A dock connector such as the micro USB connector would have provided a channel for liquids to seep into the watch. But the cord connection is unique, so if you lose the cord you will have to buy a replacement cord from Pebble.
The Pebble has an e-paper screen, similar to the eInk screen of Kindle ereaders, though the font isn’t nearly as sharp as on the Kindle. The screen is mostly monochrome, though in certain light, blue can be detected.
The four buttons on the sides are designed to be simple and intuitive. The button on the left side takes you back a screen. The upper and lower buttons on the right side toggle the menu up and down. The center button on the right is used to select the highlighted choice.
The Pebble watch comes in five colors: Arctic White, Jet Black, Cherry Red, Grey and Orange. Perhaps as a gesture of good will to patient backers, Pebble developers allowed backers to choose the fifth color. Fans of Syracuse University, Philadelphia Flyers and the Orange Bowl must have banded together to choose orange. Backers of blue, such as myself, must have assumed that the obvious choice would prevail. Shame on me for not mounting a campaign with fellow fans of blue, such as IBMers, Smurfs and the Blue Man Group.
The watch comes with several watch faces and when I received the watch an update was available with even more choices. The Pebble app gives you even more choices. The watch faces range from the traditional analogue to the uber-geeky designs that may impress some, but will take some time to calculate what the actual time is.
I like my speedometer, watch and other dials to be analog so I chose Brains.
What the Pebble Watch Does
The Pebble functions differently for Android phones versus iPhones. The Verge has an excellent article comparing the differences: Pebble smartwatch review.
With both phones, the Pebble will vibrate to notify you of incoming calls and text messages. The vibration is quick, occurring even before the phone plays a ringtone. The screen displays the number of the caller, or the name if the caller is in your Contacts. The screen also displays the first few lines of the text message.
The watch also acts as a remote control for your music player, including, iTunes, Spotify and Pandora. The music player also works with Instacast, Podcasts and Audible apps so you can control your podcasts and audiobooks using the Pebble.
What the Pebble Watch Doesn’t Do
The Pebble watch doesn’t have a speaker or microphone so you can’t actually be Dick Tracy and use your smartwatch as a phone. You can’t answer or place calls or send texts using the watch.
The Pebble website mentions other apps that sync with the Pebble including a GPS and pedometer for runs and bike rides, and a golf range finder. But those apps are still in development and not available yet.
You can set an alarm but there is no stopwatch or timer.
The Pebble watch doesn’t automatically reconnect with the iPhone. Unfortunately, with the iPhone, you have to reconfirm on the phone that you want to pair the watch any time your phone is out of range with the watch, which sometimes means the next room. No matter what you’re doing on the iPhone, a pop up notification appears, asking you if you want to allow the watch to pair. When you press Allow, the Pebble app opens to confirm the connection. You then have to return to whatever you were doing prior to the interruption. Repeat this sequence several times a day and the routine can become tiresome.
Who Might Like the Pebble Watch
People who attend a lot of meetings – when you’re in an important meeting but expecting important news via a phone call or text message, looking at your phone can be awkward, even disrespectful. Sneaking a glance at your watch is more easily accomplished. That buzz on your wrist may be the most inconspicuous way of getting the news you’re waiting for.
People who miss important phone calls – if your spouse, kids, boss or other loved ones complain that you never answer your phone, the Pebble could solve your problem. If your phone is buried in your purse or your pocket and you can’t get to it in time to answer it or you don’t hear the ringer, the Pebble can help alert you to the call in time to answer it.
People who enjoy controlling music from their wrist – I quickly became used to being able to control music, podcasts and audiobooks from my wrist.
Who Should Avoid the Pebble Watch
Fashionistas – Don’t put your diamond-studded Rolex watch on eBay quite yet. No one will mistake the Pebble watch for a fashion statement, except techies who will be much more impressed with a Pebble than a Rolex. That is, until the next cool smartwatch is launched.
Those who are resisting reading glasses - The Pebble watch screen is small, about 1″ diagonally, and the font isn’t as crisp as a Kindle ereader. Reading the face of the Pebble watch may be what gets you to finally admit to needing glasses.
Those who don’t have patience for cutting edge tech – The Pebble watch is at the forefront of a new product category, the smartwatch. The first smartphone models were criticized for what they couldn’t do and in hindsight became antiquated quickly. Smartwatches will probably follow a similar trajectory with future smartwatches making the Pebble seem like a prop from the Flintstones. But if you don’t appreciate getting a glimpse of the future, then stay away from the Pebble.
Ideas for Future Development
Make a non-water-resistant watch. Not everyone cares about going swimming with the Pebble. Many of the design features have centered around keeping the watch as water-tight as possible. By conceding that the watch could be affected by moisture, the developers could add a:
- USB port
These features would add tremendously to the functionality of the watch. A microphone and speaker would allow you to answer calls using the watch, á la Dick Tracy, handy for when your phone isn’t easily retrievable.
A micro USB port would mean those charge cords you already have for your Android, Blackberry, Windows phones and Kindles would work to charge the Pebble. You could also transfer data and files to the watch using a micro USB cable.
Increase screen space. The watch is large, but the screen is small. The design is limited by the size of a screen that can be worn on a wrist, but much of the watch face is taken up by a rather thick bezel. Narrowing the bezel and using a square design would increase screen real estate significantly.
Offer the watch in blue. Orange? Seriously?
Other Smartwatch Options
If you like the idea of a smartwatch, but want to explore other options, check out David Pogue’s article in The New York Times: Dick Tracy, Your Watch Is Ready, Almost.
The Pebble watch is available to pre-order from the Pebble website for $150. Expected ship dates are in April or May. International shipping is available.
The Pebble watch app is available for:
The Pebble watch is simple to use for its basic functions. If you’re a fan of getting cutting edge tech and are patient for improvements, then get in line now for the Pebble. If you are satisfied with a watch that just tells time, well, the Pebble watch is probably not your best investment of $150.
Are you excited about smartwatches? Are you interested in the Pebble watch? Have you ever missed a call because you couldn’t hear your phone ring in your purse or your pocket? Would you like to control your music from your wrist? Do you know how to tell time using a Tic-Tac-Toe board? Let us know in the Comments section below!
See also, Mashable The Tech That Makes the Pebble Watch Tick to get a peek at the insides of the Pebble watch.