Pebble Time is the latest smartwatch crowdfunding success story, having broken records by hitting $2m in 58 minutes and ultimately raising more than $20m. But is the watch that works with both Android and iPhone – making it a direct Apple Watch competitor – worth the hype?
This is the second time on the merry-go-round for Pebble. Its first cross-platform smartwatch, simply called the Pebble, broke Kickstarter records in 2012 and reignited the smartwatch industry.
Two models on and, after 1m units sold, the Time is a more modern smartwatch that concentrates on doing a few things very well and doesn’t try to do too much.
The Pebble Time, unlike most smartwatches, can be used with either the iPhone or Android. For this review we will concentrate on its use with an iPhone. A later review will look at the differences working with Android.
Compared to the many other smartwatches available, including the original Pebble and Pebble Steel, I was struck by just how small the Time was on the wrist.
It’s just 9.5mm thick, curved to the wrist, and uses a standard, user-replaceable 22mm-wide watch strap. The Time ships with a comfortable silicon rubber strap. The case is 40.5mm by 37.5mm – 47mm including the lugs – which makes it about the size of a small Casio and slightly thinner and smaller than the 42mm Apple Watch.
The Time is also waterproof, not just splash-resistant. It can survive trips to 50m deep, although its microphone can only survive to 30m. Basically, it will survive pretty much anything, including swimming.
The 1.25in screen is a new type of always-on, colour e-paper display. Like e-ink displays on Kindles and other e-readers, it can be read easily in direct light, but also has a backlight activated by movement, or a button should you need to read the watch in the dark.
Unlike the previous Pebbles, the screen can handle smooth animations and while it doesn’t look as slick or as brilliant as the LCD or OLED screens used on other smartwatches, it is on all the time and doesn’t kill the battery.
I was very impressed by just how far the e-paper technology has come. It is a big step forward over the previous black-and-white Pebble smartwatches.
The Pebble connects to an iPhone via Bluetooth, needing the Pebble iOS app to make things work.
The app controls settings guide users through the connection process – including asking permission to access location, notifications and calendar information.
Pairing is simple – just turn on Bluetooth on the iPhone, access the app and select the Pebble. Accept the pairing request and follow the screen prompts. The whole process took less than two minutes.
The Pebble Time doesn’t have a touchscreen, instead relying on four buttons on the sides: the button on the left side acts like a back button, the right side has an action button and two buttons for scrolling up and down.
Scrolling up or down from the watchface browses through your calendar entries, up for back through the last day’s entries and down to scroll through the next two days.
From the watch face, the up and down buttons can also be used to launch one app or screen when held for a second, such as a list of notifications, the Misfit app or music controls.
There’s no keyboard on the Pebble, and while it has a microphone, it currently doesn’t support voice replies when connected to an iPhone. (It does on Android, but I will discuss that in a later review.) Pebble hopes this to change in the near future.
Notifications and music
Notifications are a smartwatch’s bread and butter. The Time takes a simple, effective approach to notifications – anything that has been allowed to show you a notification on the iPhone is sent to the watch.
The watch vibrates and displays each notification as it comes in, displaying a small snippet of emails, texts, tweets and other alerts. The last notification stays on screen until it is dismissed, which takes two taps of the central button.
All currently pending notifications can be seen in a list through the notification menu option, and dismissed en masse, although dismissing a notification on the Pebble does not dismiss it from the iPhone.
Beyond notifications, music controls are the key reason to own a smartwatch. Pebble’s universal music remote shows what’s currently playing on the phone, can change the volume, pause, play and skip tracks. It’s fast, effective and works great with the iOS Music app, Spotify, Google Play Music and most others.
Pebble also has more than 6,500 apps in its app store, typically focused on doing one thing well. Highlights include Misfit and Up for health and fitness monitoring, including sleep tracking; Runkeeper and Runtastic for tracking runs; Evernote; some transport and train times apps; Foursquare’s Swarm; and internet of things apps such as Leaf, which is used to control a Nest thermostat – the list is long.
Many of these apps are made by hobbiests and are clean, simple and free. When needed, some have companion apps on the phone – and all of them are available through the Pebble app on the smartphone.
There are an equal number of watchfaces to choose from too. Many of them have added functionality beyond telling the time, including showing the weather, fitness tracking, and the status of IoT devices. There’s pretty much a watchface for anything you want to do.
I haven’t found many that I find aesthetically pleasing, but that is likely to change now the colour e-paper screen allows for more creative uses over the old e-ink screens on the original Pebble.
Battery life and charging
Most smartwatches rarely last more than a day, with the exceptions being the Sony Smartwatch 3, which lasted three days in my testing. The Pebble lasts much longer.
Even with heavy use, with hundreds of notifications, sleep tracking and lots of prodding and playing, the Time lasted 72 hours on a single charge.
Without wearing it overnight, that’s around five working days, and likely much longer if you’re not using it constantly.
Once the battery drops below 5%, it switches to a basic, time-only mode and lasted for about a day in that state. A full charge took two hours using a magnetic USB charging cable, which is long enough to stretch to a bed-side table.
The Time’s impact on the battery life of the iPhone 6 Plus it was used with was negligible in my testing. The iPhone’s battery usage monitor said the Pebble Time app consumed just 4% of the battery, compared to Safari’s 19% and the home and lockscreen’s 16%.
The Pebble Time is available in black, white and red, costing $199 (£130) – a stainless-steel version will cost more at a later date. For a comparison, the Apple Watch costs £300 and up, while Android Wear watches cost from £100 and up.
The Pebble Time is like the Casio of smartwatches: simple and easy to use, it does a couple of things very well, without trying to do everything.
The battery life is fantastic. The always-on screen is clear and easy to read. Its music controls are excellent and its app ecosystem rich.
The Time is the best watch available for the iPhone for simply getting notifications with the minimum of fuss while still telling the time, which is what smartwatches were born to do.
It’s also one of the most discreet smartwatches available – small, with muted styling that goes unnoticed, again like a Casio. That won’t be for everyone, but having standard straps means it’s easy to customise, and costing $199 won’t break the bank doing so.
Pros: Long battery life, always-on screen readable in direct light or in the dark, lightweight, waterproof to 30m, simple to use, great music controls.
Cons: No way to reply to messages, screen is smaller and doesn’t look as good as some, ties into iOS not as good as Apple Watch.
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