Pebble Time Smartwatch Review

Buy Pebble Time SmartwatchFollowing the success of the original Pebble, the Pebble Time smartwatch was again launched as a Kickstarter campaign. As of writing it remains the most funded Kickstarter campaign of all time. A huge number of the original backers returned to fund this evolution. Let’s see if their enthusiasm was founded:

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Specifications

Phone Compatibility:  Android 4+, IOS 6+
Screen Size (Diagonal):  1.25" (color display)
Screen Resolution:  144 x 168
Screen (crystal) Material: Scratch-Resistant Polycarbonate, with anti-glare coating
Strap Type: Standard 22mm Watch Strap
Sensors: Accelerometer, Ambient Light Sensor, Magnetometer, Microphone
Water Resistance: 50m (5 atm)
Estimated Battery Life:  7 Days
Weight:  42.5 Grammes

 

What's in the Box?

Pebble TimeOpening the box reveals the Pebble Time smart watch, the charging cable, and a quick-start guide to help you get the watch set up. Like all Pebble smartwatches, the Pebble Time is charged via a supplied charging cable which magnetically attaches to the side of the watch. It should be noted that the charging cable for the original Pebble or Pebble Steel do not work with the Pebble Time, so don’t lose it!

 

Design 

Pebble Time SmartwatchHarkening back to the original Pebble watch, the Pebble Time is largely constructed from plastic, although it does sport a metal bezel surrounding the watch face. This time (no pun intended), the back of the watch is slightly curved, which—combined with it’s very light weight (42.5 Grammes with its included silicone strap)—makes it extremely comfortable to wear. 

It is available in black, white and red. The 1.25” display is covered with curved Corning Gorilla glass which should help to alleviate some complaints with the original Pebble watch that it scratched too easily. Although our example held up well, I have heard some complaints about the metal bezel surrounding the display scratching on this watch, so if you’re a little hard on your watches, you may consider investing in one of the after-market skins available for it.

The supplied strap is a standard 22mm size, which means it can easily be replaced with a wealth of straps available online or at your local store. I was pleased to see that the supplied strap features the quick release pins, meaning it can be changed quickly and easily without any tools. Why aren’t all watch straps like this?

Overall, it is a very lightweight and comfortable package. As for the overall look, people tend to love it or hate it. This isn’t going to win any admiring looks at swanky dinner parties, but it is functional, youthful and modern. Think surfer rather than banker; barbecue rather than gala. Note that there is an upcoming Pebble Time Steel which, much like the Pebble steel, promises to package the same watch into a more premium package (for a price).

Just like all Pebble watches, the watch is operated with the four buttons surrounding the watch. One is on the left side, and three are on the right. I sometimes see reviews citing the lack of touchscreen as a failing for Pebble. I see this as short-sighted. What they see as something lacking, I see as a designed benefit. Pebble smartwatches don’t have touch screens because Pebble consider that a touchscreen is not the optimum method for controlling a smart watch. Having used Pebble watches and Android Wear watches extensively, I tend to agree. While it may seem a good idea to swipe away at the miniature screen on your smartwatch, practically, this means paying more attention to it, and careful placement of your fingers. It also means carefully avoiding touching the screen of your watch at other times. There have been countless times, while wearing a touch-screen smartwatch, that I have felt a buzzing on my wrist—only to find that I have entered the mode to select a different watch face because I have crossed my arms, or inadvertently rested the watch on my leg. Equally, while driving and listening to music, I can easily change track, or change volume, or dismiss a notification, without taking my eyes off of the road. There is something to be said for operating simple devices with tactile buttons, and by the very nature of smart watches, most of our interactions are simple—otherwise we’d be doing it on our phone!

What's New with the Pebble Time?

While the Pebble Steel was basically a repackaging of the original watch into a premium case, the Pebble time is much more of a revolutionary change. The Pebble Time introduces three major enhancements. Let’s talk about these individually:

Color Display

Pebble Time SmartwatchOne of the major things that differentiates the Pebble range of watches from other smartwatches is that they do not use LED or AMOLED displays. This offers two advantages: the higher the ambient light, the clearer they become. While other display types struggle (or completely disappear) in bright light, the e-paper display becomes even clearer. The second advantage is that they consume very little power, which allows the stellar battery life for which Pebble are known.

Of course, this great visibility outdoors has the inevitable opposing side: Get it into dim situations, and it becomes harder to see. Fortunately, a quick flick of the wrist—or a press of a button—turns on the backlight which, with the latest OS update, can be adjusted for both intensity and the length of time it stays lit.

The biggest difference though, is that the display is now color. Don’t expect the bright, highly-saturated colors that you will see on other smart watches though. The Pebble Time display offers 64 colors that are, necessarily, more muted. This is a function of the LCD technology used. They become more saturated as the light levels increase, but can appear a little washed-out when using the backlight. For me, this is a small price to pay for the seven-day battery life offered by the Pebble Time.

Timeline Interface

Pebble Smartwatch TimelineThe second biggest enhancement with the Pebble Time is the operating system—and more specifically the Timeline interface. Users of previous Pebble watches will feel right at home, but pressing the up or down buttons brings into play the new Timeline interface. The Timeline interface is built on the simple premise that your life revolves around the present, the past and the future. Pressing the down button scrolls through upcoming events, reminders and anything else that you, or enabled applications, can pin into your timeline. Pressing the up button goes back in time enabling you to review past events, notifications and reminders. You can selectively allow applications to insert events into your timeline so that, for instance, you can get your favorite sports team’s results, or reminders about your favorite T.V. shows. 

Every interaction with the Pebble Time is accompanied by cute animations. Each app has its own icon so, for instance, Gmail has an envelope, Twitter has the famous bird, etc. Muting an application shows a bird burying its head in the ground. It’s a small thing, but it all adds to the somewhat offbeat, original character of the Pebble watch in a world of smartwatch uniformity.

One thing to mention about the Pebble Time: it has increased memory over the previous models. With the original Pebble , and the Pebble Steel, you are limited to eight slots, to be shared between watch faces. and apps. Any more than that were placed into a "locker" on your phone to be easily loaded onto the watch when you wish. With the Pebble time, this limit has been removed. It's difficult to say just how many watch faces/apps can be loaded at a time, but it should be somewhere between 50 and 100—more than you will probably ever use.

Incidentally, the new timeline interface is slated to be available as an optional upgrade for the original Pebble smartwatch, and the Pebble steel, some time in December of 2015.

Microphone

The inclusion of a microphone on the Pebble Time signals a new range of functionality, and a divergence between Android and iOS. The microphone now allows the user to dictate, say, responses to text messages and e-mails without having to fish their phone out. I find this works about as well as it does if you were dictating directly to your Android phone, which is to say: adequately. However, this doesn’t currently work with the iPhone. This is because of the more closed nature of the iOS operating system. Pebble is working to surmount this obstacle and the hopes are that integration with Siri will be possible in the near future.

If you are looking for full Google now voice integration, you will not find it here. However, dictated replies are a welcome addition and a useful time-saver when it is not convenient to get to your phone.

Battery Life

I find battery life to be on par with the original Pebble smartwatch, and the Pebble Steel. Five days are quite easily achievable, and seven is possible if you take steps to minimize battery drain. Just before the battery is fully depleted, the watch goes into a low-power mode, which shows you the time for something like another day before the screen goes blank.

Charging, however, is refreshingly fast. I found that full charge can be achieved in about an hour—accompanied by the cute animation of a coffee cup being filled drip-by-drip.

Conclusion

The Pebble Time definitely heralds a revolutionary change in the Pebble smartwatch range. I think you’re either going to love the look, or not. If you’re in the latter camp—and prefer something more conservative looking—the Pebble Steel is still a terrific smartwatch which is available at a great price right now. Alternatively, the upcoming Pebble Time Steel should satisfy all your needs.

Other than that, the Pebble Time is a great watch which definitely stands out from the crowd of run-of-the-mill Android Wear smartwatches. It is incredibly light and comfortable, and embodies the Pebble ethos of a focused, efficient accompaniment to your smartphone.

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