Pebble Smartwatch – Review

Lee Comley
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I’ll start this whole thing by agreeing with what you’re already thinking. It’s an ugly watch. In fact I’m guessing that if most people were handed a Pebble as a gift, and simply told “it’s a watch” – they’d probably then throw it into said gift-giver’s face – screaming about how gift-giver must hate them and want them to wear horrible things.

So yes. It’s not pretty. It is quite smart though.

It’s been a long time coming – this supposed ‘wearable computing’ future. As our lives move towards a world that is increasingly online, where we spend almost every waking second staring at some sort of screen – there’s a desire (from many of us, I’m sure) to spend less time worrying about every notification that pops through on our smartphones.

Pebble is hoping that its solution is one that works – move those notifications and bits of information from the phone in your pocket to the watch on your wrist, by connecting the two together over Bluetooth.

It took, quite frankly, ages for my Pebble to arrive. From its incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign to delivery it took the company a year to turn things around – a fair bit longer than the company’s initial promise. By the time I got the Pebble I’d backed the year before I was almost over the idea. The reality of wearing a rather ugly watch as a different tool to distract me kicked in, and I started to question what part of my brain thought it’d be a good idea to stump-up lots of cash for something which hadn’t even made it into production yet (I’ve since been burned by Kickstarter for something else – but that’s for another time).

Arrive it did though, and the biggest praise I can now give it is that I miss it when it’s not there. Despite its ugliness the Pebble (or at least something like it) deserves a spot on your wrist.

I think it’s fair to say that the Pebble, as it exists today, is still very much an early product. A beta even. It’s unfinished. The software is being upgraded every few weeks to include more of its promised features, but as it stands it more of an early look at how this wearable stuff is going to work.

On a basic level the Pebble offers you a range of watch-faces on its relatively small black and white e-paper display, some are quite animated, others less-so, but already there’s a huge range of third-party ones that can be quickly downloaded and installed on the watch over Bluetooth. This in itself is great – and I’m sure this on its own would be enough to shift a few of them – but it’s the deeper functionality that makes it stand out.

Notifications are the Pebble’s big selling point – and at the moment (like most parts of the watch) they’re also pretty rough around the edges. They currently work better with Android – you can download third-party applications on your smartphone which will help push notifications to the Pebble, and give you better control over what you get. With iOS (the platform I’ve been using it with) things are a touch more complicated – for the moment at least.

The basic notifications work perfectly well. New calls, texts and emails from the stock email app all show up on your watch with a little buzz. Other apps – at the moment – seem to decide at random whether they’ll push things over. Pebble promise that iOS 7 has made things easier for them and there’ll be an update out soon. It isn’t here yet though, leaving its usefulness a bit lacking.

RunKeeper hints at where things are really going though – open up the app on your smartphone and you get an extra option on the Pebble, which allows you to see your current time, distance and pace in real-time while you’re running – all while the phone’s in your pocket. While this all sounds a bit simple, it’s amazing what a difference it makes just being able to glance down and see this kind of information, and for me at least it’s made RunKeeper so much more useful. In the future people will be able to write quite sophisticated stuff to run on the Pebble – but once again this just isn’t there yet. No great life-changing apps just yet (and no, no watch-Grindr) although the ability to skip through music tracks is quite cool.

Over the past few months I’ve spent with the Pebble I’ve found it to be really useful. It means I’m checking my phone less – a quick glance at my wrist and I can tell if a call, text or email is worth my time – and if not, I can ignore it. Battery life’s pretty good, I tend to get about 4 or 5 days use out of it – although there’s still that weird thing of actually having to charge a watch.

This is an early example of where we’re headed. I’m sure in a few years’ time we’ll look back and this first Pebble watch will look incredibly out-dated. Its simple screen, operating system and design will all have been iterated and improved upon by numerous other companies. Samsung’s ‘Gear’ watch has received awful reviews – but when it finally steps up its game, and when Google and Apple get in and decide to build a watch I’m sure we’ll see things that far surpass this. The big difference is that the Pebble’s here now. It works, and (in black at least) it’s bloody ugly. The question is whether you want to spend around £100 on something which will undoubtedly be outclassed pretty soon. In the meantime I’ll be trying to decide whether staring at your watch while at dinner is just as rude as staring at your phone.

Yes. Yes it is.

About Lee Comley

You can normally find Lee reading the early morning news on ITV in the Midlands, propped up with caffeine and Berocca. When not half-dead through lack of sleep he'll be writing about gaming and geekiness on here. Share the love on Twitter: @LeeComleyITV