Pebble smartwatch: So simple and just works.


I don't wear a watch. Well, I didn't until just about 2 hours ago. I really have no interest in wearing a watch (aren't they mostly for fashion?), but this isn't just a watch, it's Pebble. 

If you've never heard of Pebble, it's an e-paper (think Kindle screen) watch that hooks up to your smartphone over Bluetooth.  Through this connection you can receive notifications, update the software, install new watch faces, etc. It's a simple idea that to date hasn't ever been done well. It can also be banged up and submerged in water, so you don't have to baby the thing. Back in May of 2012, Pebble became the largest Kickstarter campaign ever, ending up with over $10 million in funding. I found out about it when Gruber linked to it back in April, and backed the project for $115 - enough to get a black Pebble from the first lot. After a ton of delays, reneging on the promise of a holiday 2012 delivery, it finally arrived.

5 Minutes From Box To Wrist

After unboxing, I powered it on and was instructed to pair it over Bluetooth and go get the app. I used the iOS app - if you have an Android phone it's a completely different setup - and was immediately prompted to update Pebble's software.

Updizzling. The watch is actually black, I just haven't corrected the horrific white balance of the photo.

The app handles software updates, watch face downloads, and eventually native Pebble apps. The only other setup that had to be done was to switch on notifications in iOS bluetooth settings for this device. After this 5 minute setup (mostly spent updating the software), it was ready to go.

iMessage notification

iMessage notifications are delivered to this guy at the same time as they appear on the phone. You get a little buzz for each one as well, since Pebble supports vibration. It's important to note that your wrist isn't vibrating like crazy when you're texting back and forth - it only gets a notification and a buzz when your screen is locked or you're in another app. With one button press the message is dismissed and you're back to looking at the watch face. You can have other apps direct their notifications at Pebble as well, but this is the only one i'm interested in for now.

What I found most useful about receiving notifications here, almost immediately, was that I don't have to carry my phone around with me at home in case I get a message. As long as you're within bluetooth range of your phone, you'll get the message. It's great!

"Simplicity" watch face.

There are three built-in watchfaces: An analog dial and two that tell the time in words. I ended up using one downloaded from the app called Simplicity. My only complaint is that it uses 24 hour time and that my brain does not. It appears that the watch faces use 12 or 24 hour time, but not both. Over time, more will be added and the perfect one may just appear one day. For now, I'll accept the minor mental math penalty in favor of having the date visible all the time. That's going to be hugely helpful; I never know what day it is.

First impressions:

  • It's not hideous, as one would expect a smartwatch to be, and the screen is easy to read without a backlight
  • The interface is simple and fast
  • The relatively low resolution e-paper display is just fine - no complaints, ok at non-retina resolution
  • The app is super simple: Updating the software, adding watchfaces, and configuring Pebble went without a hitch and was self explanatory.
  • I love getting SMS notifications on my wrist
  • Deep thought: Looking at your wrist for the time requires less energy than reaching in your pocket for a phone
  • I've played with every feature (there are few, so that was easy) and have found it to be neither buggy nor laggy. It's responsive, the menus aren't very deep, and the buttons feel good. What else can you ask for?

I'll have more to say about it in the coming weeks, but I'm very happy with it so far. Battery life is of course a big concern, but from what I've read and from what they claim it's excellent. You can thank that great e-paper screen that uses very little power.

I think it's safe to say that the smartwatch has arrived... and we're just getting started.

If you want to buy one, you can preorder one in various colors for $150. And if you want to learn more about Pebble, Nilay Patel at the verge did an amazing review of it, and I've embedded the video below.