Pebble Smartwatch Isn’t As Clever As It Thinks It Is [Review]

DSC05121

So, I finally broke down and bought a Pebble Smart Watch the other day. Just rolled into Best Buy and looked at both the FitBit Force fitness tracker and the Pebble. At just $20 more than the Force, I figured I’d get a fun geeky gadget that would do more than tell the time and count my steps.

Pebble Smart Watch by Pebble
Category: Wearable Tech
Works With: iOS, Android
Price: $149.00

What I got for my $150 was a geeky gadget that tells me the time and passes notifications–usually–from my iPhone. And that’s about it, really.

The version I purchased is one of the red ones, so it looks like a sports watch to begin with. The wristband is made of flexible rubberized plastic, and the watch itself is a fairly good-sized rectangle that bends down at the top and bottom to better conform to my wrist. The left side of the watch has a magnetic charging area and one large push button, while the right side has two large push buttons and a third, smaller button in the middle. You can download new watch faces from the Pebble iOS app, some of which are cleverly designed, and others that are not.

You turn on the blue back light with a shake of the wrist or a push of any button. The e-Ink display is readable in any light I’ve used it in, and is a great low-powered solution to a display screen.

Magsafe-like charging cable falls out a lot.

Magsafe-like charging cable falls out a lot.

The charging cable is an odd proprietary thing, which magnetically connects to the side of the Pebble device. It doesn’t attach super securely, however, which has resulted in some disconnects and non-charging issues. As long as I position it correctly for an overnight of charging it does fairly well. The battery life is excellent, lasting me several days between charges.

The watchband is functional, if not super stylish. Luckily, you can change it out for almost any standard watchband, so you can make it more sporty or more classy, as you wish. The plastic face seems like it could be a bit of a scratch-magnet, but I’m happy to report that I haven’t gotten any damage on the face. This is a good thing, because I’d hate to have to slap a clear plastic screen protector on it; that would just be too fugly. While the next version of Pebble, the Steel, will be more metal-tastic and fancy, I’m perfectly happy with the red plastic sports watch look and feel.

Not quite ready for prime time.

Not quite ready for prime time.

The notifications are enabled within the iOS app as well, and there are a few tweaks that have to happen before you can get notifications from all the apps you want to. You’ll need to enable “Show in Notification Center” for each app you’d like to pass Notifications from, but that’s just a start. Some specific apps, like Twitter, need the Banners notification style to work, too.

Even when Notifications are working, though, the iOS Pebble app seems to think they aren’t, which isn’t super helpful when trying to figure out if things are set up correctly. In addition, sometimes I’ll stop getting Notifications on the smart watch, even though they show up on my iPhone. It’s fairly inconsistent at times.

When you first set up the Notifications, you’ll need to enable them from the Pebble iOS app, as well. The subtle complexity of toggling all the right switches can be a bit confusing, even to a tech-head like myself. There’s no way my mom could manage this watch for anything other than telling time.

IMG_1642The apps, though, are where I figured the Pebble would shine. Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many out there, yet. You can download watch faces from within the iOS app, but there’s just so many ways I need to see the time. Other watch faces promise live weather updating, but those require support apps to be installed on the iPhone, and I’ve just not been able to make any of them work. Passing data beyond notifications is just not ready on the Pebble smart watch. Yet.

There’s the promise of the next version of the Pebble software, 2.0. Pebble developers can sign up to get this version and begin making apps for the wearable. The potential is there for access to the accelerometer already in the Pebble devices, which would make it handy as a stand alone fitness tracker or pedometer. I have found two great apps that run on the Pebble itself, one is a stop watch and the other is an interval timer so I can run for 5 min and walk for one when on the track.

There are a handful of iOS fitness apps that work with the watch, too, like RunKeeper, but they require having my iPhone along with me as well. In addition, I run on a track in the winter, so RunKeeper and I don’t hang out too much when it’s snowy outside. I do look forward to trying it out during the summer months when the roads are clear. Honestly, though, if I have to bring my iPhone along with me anyway, I really don’t need a remote screen.

DSC05123And that’s the ultimate rub. The Pebble–in its current state–still feels like an open source project. The watch is fine for telling the time, and for getting my iMessages and other notifications when my iPhone isn’t right at hand (even though it usually is).

The potential here is limitless, but I’d sure like to see–in addition to the already planned fitness tracking abilities of SDK 2.0–some attention paid to making the integration between iOS and the Pebble a bit stronger, and allowing the Pebble to perhaps do a few more things on its own without the need for a smartphone.

Ultimately, I feel like the $150 I paid is more than most would for a plastic watch, but it’s my early-adopter tax. The Pebble is a watch I’ll be wearing quite a bit for the near future, or at least until the fabled iWatch is revealed.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 11.56.06 AMProduct Name: : Pebble Smart Watch
The Good: Solidly designed hardware and fairly good integration with iOS 7 notifications; the watch faces are fun.
The Bad: Not much in the way of unique or useful Pebble apps; waiting for 2.0 makes sense.
The Verdict Grab this if the price doesn’t scare you away and you like first-version products.
Buy from: Best Buy, Amazon, Pebble Store



Cult of Mac rating: Good

Related
  • pastortroy

    Yes, I’d agree that the BT connection can at times be a bit frustrating (drops and doesn’t inform you) to say that it is only good for telling the time and notifications is a bit limiting. With the purchase of a $2 app (Smartwatch+) you can show much more information (including but not limited to: schedule, weather, temp, and phone battery status) as well as control camera, music and more). Just letting you know.

  • Stevenj

    That’s a pretty accurate review of the Pebble, the BT link is pretty unreliable and I’ve had quite a few non-charges due to the poor power connection. I also find that there can be some disagreement between the Pebble and my phone as to whether I have a phone call too. Low battery warnings are also poorly implemented. I’ve learnt my lesson and won’t jump in for Kickstarter gadgets until they are well proven.

  • aslguy

    I have a Pebble, and I would say that I almost never have any of the BT connection issues. Maybe 1 – 2 times since October. As with any electronic device, an occasional restart keeps it purring right along. It’s not just good for telling time and getting notifications. I can control my music with the Pebble, skipping songs I don’t care for while in the shower. I also use it as a remote camera control when using a tripod since touching the phone can mess with focus. It’s a great alarm clock that wakes me up but not my partner. It integrates with RunKeeper to show speed and distance without having to look at your phone.

    Overall, I think this reviewer has a myopic view of the Pebble. The watch is capable of quite a lot, and with the upcoming SDK 2.0 it is only going to get better.

  • c01000100

    I am an early adopter through Kickstarter.com. I’ve used my Pebble only with Android on Galaxy S4. BT was initially buggy, but over time, through some frustrating updates for Pebble, and for Android, BT stability has come to a nice solid working state. I don’t know how well Pebble does with Apple iOS, because I switched from Apple iOS when leaving Germany, but with Android, I couldn’t be happier. Pebble does now what I expected it to do when initially investing. I have no issues with application notifications, but as mentioned above, third party apps are required to extend functionality. Actually, third-party support seems more reliable than native support through Augmented Smart Watch, which supports more than just Pebble. I also wouldn’t expect the average person to really appreciate, and get full use of Pebble.

  • TruthCopy

    The latest public release of the watch firmware (1.14…) and iOS app have fixed most of the connection problems for me. If you still have the “notifications not set up” then… surprise surprise, something isn’t set up properly. Because it shouldn’t be there. You might still get notifications (calls, texts, etc) but you won’t get all of them if it’s not set up 100%.

    You’re right, with 1.x you do need a support app to support weather apps and such. But if you did any digging at all, you’d see that 2.0 is coming out within a couple of weeks and will negate almost all of the issues you mention (aside from the plastic build) in your review.

    I’ve been running the 2.0 beta for a week or so and have to say – this fulfills the promises Pebble made during their Kickstarter campaign. Want a preview of the apps that will be available? Go to mypebblefaces.com and filter by SDK2.0.

  • hilgert

    I very rarely write comments on reviews, as typically it involves getting into a religious debate. However, in this case, I feel the need to correct a few ideas the reviewer has about the Pebble.

    First, the charging connector…which is brilliant. The Pebble is water resistant (I believe to 5 atmospheres), so any openings for another type of connector would be prone to leaks. The supplied charging connector is a balance between being strong enough for charging when stationary while still having the ability to break away. That said, I actually charge my Pebble while wearing it (it rarely leaves my wrist) at my desk…and I find the charge connection pretty reliable. If I happen to get up and forget to disconnect it, it drops right off.

    Second, the apps. While the reviewer mentioned SDK 2.0, it does not look like (from his review) that he did much poking around to see some of the awesome 2.0 apps (a simple search of the Pebble development forums would show many of these). I think the real benefit of the Pebble is the 3rd party development, and I’ll point out SmartWatch+ (both SDK 1.0 and 2.0 versions) as a prime example. This particular app allows one to display the time (surprise), local weather and the next calendar appointment on one watch face (no button pushing required), and it’s the go-to app I keep up all the time.

    And this is why I got the Pebble…the ability to use the watch face for so many more things than just the time. Having ditched my watch years ago when I got the first iPhone I found myself constantly pulling it out to check several things: the time, the weather, my upcoming appointments, answer calls, answer texts, check email. Of those, all but the last one is now something I can do on my Pebble without touching my iPhone. Time? Look at the Pebble. Weather? Look at the Pebble. Next meeting? Look at the Pebble. Incoming call? Look at the Pebble and dump it by clicking a button if you don’t want to talk to the called (caller info is display from your contacts list). Incoming text? Glance at the Pebble to see if you want to deal with it now or later. And ALL of those things could be done with SDK 1.0, much less 2.0.

    I think other entries into this space will be compared to Pebble for some time to come. Pebble is not just a smart watch…it’s a trail blazer.

  • Rob LeFebvre

    I very rarely write comments on reviews, as typically it involves getting into a religious debate. However, in this case, I feel the need to correct a few ideas the reviewer has about the Pebble.

    I think other entries into this space will be compared to Pebble for some time to come. Pebble is not just a smart watch…it’s a trail blazer.

    Totally agree with all of this, but this was a review of the Pebble out of the box from Best Buy. I dug enough to see that there’s a ton of potential, but even knowing about SmartWatch+ is something that happens outside of the Pebble experience. It’s a great app, sure, but it’s not in the box.

    I think your point about the waterproofing with the charging connector makes a lot of sense, but it’s still no good if I wake up after thinking I’ve been charging it all night and it’s dead (happened a couple of times).

    I agree–the Pebble is a cool trail blazer. But it’s not ready, yet, to take the world by storm.

    I do appreciate the comments, though, thank you!

  • hilgert

    Totally agree with all of this, but this was a review of the Pebble out of the box from Best Buy. I dug enough to see that there’s a ton of potential, but even knowing about SmartWatch+ is something that happens outside of the Pebble experience. It’s a great app, sure, but it’s not in the box.

    I think your point about the waterproofing with the charging connector makes a lot of sense, but it’s still no good if I wake up after thinking I’ve been charging it all night and it’s dead (happened a couple of times).

    I agree–the Pebble is a cool trail blazer. But it’s not ready, yet, to take the world by storm.

    I do appreciate the comments, though, thank you!

    I’d amend (if I could) my assessment of the review…as an out-of-the-box review it is accurate.

    On the charging connector, if one spends more than just a few minutes in front of a computer each day (which I assume most anyone reading this would) it’s very easy to keep the charging cable plugged into a USB port (or any nearby USB charging device) and plop the charger on the watch. I’ve found with normal typing and such it stays just fine, and with only a few minutes each day I can keep it topped off easily.

    Note that Pebble sells additional charging cables for $10 on their site, including shipping, which is a very fair price.

About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre is Cult of Mac's Culture Editor. He has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef

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