Let’s cut to the chase. I didn’t intend to only spend a day with the Pebble. I wanted it to be my new everyday watch. I read glowing reviews of it at Verge and Engadget. I even read a not-so-glowing review at CNET, but it wasn’t enough to scare me off. I needed a new watch and with the brand new Pebble appstore going live last Monday, I figured now was as good a time as any to get one.
Also, I was eyeing a Fitbit Force as a fitness tracking device. They cost as much as a Pebble, and the Pebble is a full-fledged micro-computer, not just a sensor strapped to your wrist. The Pebble has a range of fitness apps it can run (which I’ll get to in a bit), so it seemed like a no-brainer purchase.
Note: the Pebble now comes in a fancier “steel” version that has a slimmer profile and a slicker overall appearance, but it costs $250 and the functionality is the same.
For those unfamiliar with the Pebble, it’s a watch with an e-ink display (the same as you’ll find on a Kindle, which means it uses very little power), a small processor, and various sensors. It’s designed to work as a companion to a smart phone (via an always-on Bluetooth connection which, yes, will drain your phone’s power a bit faster than usual). The Pebble should be able to go 5-7 days between charges, which is accomplished via a magnetic connector similar to those on Mac laptops.
The Pebble’s strength lies in its ability to relay any notification you can get on your phone — new text, email, incoming call, Twitter mention, upcoming appointment, sports score update, etc. — to your wrist. The Pebble works with any app that can “push” a notification to your phone’s home screen. Some apps have even been optimized to work specifically with the Pebble, offering even greater flexibility and options. Whenever you get a new text, for example, your wrist will vibrate and the entire text will appear on your watch. Unless you want to respond immediately, no need to go digging around for your cell. Darren Murph over at BGR wrote extensively in his review about how the Pebble fundamentally changed the way he interacts with his phone and, to a lesser degree, other people.
During my time with the Pebble, I found the notifications worked as promised. The only problem? I don’t get that many messages throughout the day, and I don’t particular like giving individual apps the power to notify me at will. This isn’t a feature I’d been yearning for. What I really wanted to try out was the appstore.
The Pebble appstore is built into the official (and free) iOS app that’s needed to set-up the Pebble. (The Android appstore is still in beta.) At launch on Monday, there was no shortage of apps to choose from. Big names like Yelp and Fourquare were represented, in addition to hundreds of more independent offerings. Some Pebble apps require additional software on your iPhone, but those are clearly marked so there are no surprises.
Do you like the idea of changing your watch face every five minutes? Great! There are literally hundreds available, completely for free, and I’m sure soon there will be thousands. My favorite was a rather basic watch face that showed the time, date, and current weather.
They had an app that’ll control your Nest thermostat from your wrist, and it actually worked. They had another that claimed to control your Sonos sound system, but I couldn’t get it to work at all. (FYI: Neither were official offerings from Nest and Sonos, but, rather, from fans of those products.)
Above you can see what the Pebble app manager looks like. The Pebble only allows 8 apps/watch faces on your Pebble at one time, but you can download many, many more to your smart phone and keep them in a “locker” ’til you need them on your watch.
I tried out two different kinds of fitness tracking apps. One app was wholly contained on the watch, utilizing your Pebble’s accelerometer to track your movement (i.e. steps). The other syncs up with an app that runs on your iPhone, using the phone’s far more sensitive sensors.
I found neither method was all that reliable. The entirely self-contained Pebble app only works when that app is running on your watch (which makes sense, as the Pebble doesn’t seem to support background processes). Want a different watch face while you track your steps? Too bad. The other kind of Pebble fitness app — the kind that’s tethered to an iPhone app — doesn’t have that limitation. It’ll keep a constant tab of your movement regardless of what else is running on your watch because all the heavy lifting is done by the phone. The downside of this method: Since it relies on the sensors in your phone, you have to always have your phone on your body. No phone in your pocket, no movement data will be collected.
I’m sure better fitness apps are yet to come, but I’m not convinced the Pebble will ever be able to replace a dedicated fitness band like the Fitbit or Jawbone Up.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I returned it. So what did I get? That’ll be the subject of my next blog post.
Don’t get me wrong: The Pebble is an inventive, practical, reasonably priced device that offers a heap of functionality and versatility. If the large, plastic-y, design of the 1st gen Pebble doesn’t launch your rocket, maybe the sleeker new Steel Pebble will. If my needs were slightly different, I probably would’ve kept it.