Smart Watches are finally going to happen - Pebble Watch Reviewed
The Pebble Watch is shipping and it's revolutionary, fresh and new! Well, kind of. Dick Tracy got his first smart watch in 1946. It seems we've always wanted a computer and communicator on our wrists. I remember wanting to buy a TV watch in the 80s and we all had Casio Databank watches growing up (well, the nerds did).
The history of smart watches goes back much further of course as Microsoft Researcher Bill Buxton points out. He has a collection of smart watches going back almost 40 years!
My buddy Karl still wears and uses his Timex Datalink watch, originally made in 1994. Almost ten years ago I bought a Microsoft SPOT Watch from Fossil and loved every minute of it. It had news, sports, stocks, weather and the occasional email. However it didn't connect to my phone (it was mostly PalmPilots back then, and the occasional Blackberry pager) and Bluetooth wasn't a thing quite yet.
Smart Phone sales are flattening out as, well, everyone who wants one has one. There's only so many things you can sell with batteries, screens, and wireless technology, right? Moreover, young people don't wear watches! I'm a watch guy, myself, with a watch case and a growing collection. I like watches old and new. I'm often teased by my younger co-workers who declare "my phone is my watch! Why would I want something else to carry around?" Watches are such an outmoded concept, right?
I for one, think that the wrist is the next big thing. This is a market that's right on the edge of mainstream adoption and has been for at least a decade, if not the for the last 70 years!
The Pebble Smart Watch
I was a backer of the Pebble's Kickstarter campaign and my red Pebble showed up last week. It's worth noting that Kickstarter isn't a store or marketplace, but rather a place you invest in an idea and watch it grow. Many Kickstarters fail. You might invest your money and never see a return on your investment. Fortunately, the Pebble succeeded and almost a year later my investment arrived.
The boxing was very Kindle-esque and classy in its recycled granola-ness. It was simple and served its purpose well. The package included just the watch and the charging cable. Sadly, the charging cable is custom with an unnecessarily clever (and weak) magnetic connector. I'd have preferred a micro-USB port (and in fact, would for every device) so that I might travel with yet-another-unique-cable-I-can't-afford-to-lose-can't-tell-apart-at-a-distance-and-will-eventually-lose-in-my-bad. But I'm not bitter.
The watch is lovely. Truly. Considering that I paid $125 for it - a reasonable price considering its potential - I'm happy with it and would recommend it. Still, it feels...cheap. It's plastic. It's light. It's glossy and smears easily. I'm afraid it will crack or scratch if I bump whilst walking. It's fine, but it's not, well, it's not an Apple Product. It's not made of magical Surface Magnesium. It's a plastic watch with a rubber wristband.
It's a little too tall, for my taste. This causes the Pebble to be a half-inch taller than the average (read: my) wrist, causing it to stick out just enough that I notice it. I prefer the wider square style of the iPod "watch." The Pebble is not at all unattractive, but I'm assume the creators must be thick-wristed people to not have noticed this.
What do we really want? Something with the intense attention to detail and built quality of an Apple iPod Nano 6th generation combined with a Lunatik Watch Strap. Now THAT'S a fantastic watch.
The idea of an iWatch is an attractive one...and the combination of what you get today with a Pebble combined with what you get with a (now discontinued) iPod Nano is near-ideal.
The Pebble gets you:
- Low-power Bluetooth 4 connectivity
- An open SDK
- Reasonable battery life of a few days
- Motion-activated backlight
- a 144x168 1-bit display
The iPod Nano (6th generation) "watch" gets you:
- Fantastic build quality
- A color screen
- FM Radio, Photos, Music, Headphone Jack
- Crappy battery life of a day at best
- a 240x240 color TFT display
The Pebble effectively gives us connectivity and an SDK. If the iWatch does come - and it will - it better have all these things. Although, I expect it won't have an open SDK (Watch App Store anyone?) and it won't play well with Android as the Pebble does. Therefore, iOS people will get iWatches, and Android people will get Pebbles. Check back in six months and we shall see!
What the Pebble does for an iPhone
My main phone is an iPhone 4s. Pebble really shine on Android, I am told, as the open Android OS gives developers free reign. Still, I've been very happy with the device exactly as it is, even if it didn't improve...and it will.
Today the Pebble is a Bluetooth-connected watch that will give you:
- Vibration notifications and the full text of SMS texts sent to your phone.
- This is brilliant, and it's the vibration that is the key. I was in the movies just this evening and got a text from the babysitter. The watch discretely let me see that it wasn't urgent without removing my phone from my pocket.
- SMS notifications are totally reliable on the Pebble with iOS but email notifications barely work. They say they'll fix this soon.
- Clear, backlit display
- Go into settings, and turn on Motion Activated Backlight and the Pebble will light up with a gentle shake. This was nice at the movies tonight.
- Customizable watch faces on a clear screen that is visible in total darkness (due to its backlight) and in bright sunlight (due to its low-power memory LCD).
- It's great to be able to change the LCD screen with new watch faces, but I admit I'd have appreciated plastic colorful watch covers. It's nice I have a red Pebble, but it's forever red. Why not make the face swappable?
- Answer and Hang-up the Phone
- When paired with a Bluetooth headset, this means you can get a call, glance at your watch, see who it is, and answer it without touching your phone. iOS doesn't show the name, just the number. Again, we shall see.
This is the Pebble today. Tomorrow promises apps and better notifications.
What Pebble Needs
The Pebble needs what my SPOT Watch had ten years ago. I want:
- Weather alerts
- How about Dark Sky weather alerts on my Pebble? Surely they are working on a notification bridge for 3rd party apps?
- News, Stocks
- Breaking news and Stock price alerts would be lovely.
- Quick SMS responses
- "I'll call you back" and a few quick choices for responses to texts would be a nice time saver.
- Motion details...speedometer, GPS, etc
- This would all be using the Pebble as a "remote view" of an app that is doing the right work, but would be great for exercise.
- What's my next appt? Give me Google Now, but on my watch.
The Future of Pebble is Bright
Give people an easy to use SDK and let them download (side-load) apps directly to their device and you'll get a thriving community in no time, and that's what Pebble has done. Watch faces are written in tight "C" and move PNGs around, usually. There's lots of info at http://developer.getpebble.com. One way apps are now starting to show up with two-way apps coming soon (although Pebble will be limited on iOS due to Apple-imposed limitations). Also, there's dozens of great watch faces you can get at http://www.mypebblefaces.com. You can download Pebble Watch Faces directly from your phone which acts as a bridge to the watch. The experience is two clicks, really clean and simple.
Smart Watches are the next big thing. You watch.
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Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
- Has Bluetooth 4.0 actually been enabled in the latest firmware? I had read that the chip supports it but that the current FW was still using 2.1+EDR.
- Is there an easy way to disable all notifications? I'd rather not have the watch lighting up/vibrating on my bedside table if I receive a notification during the night.
- I agree with you that a micro USB connection would've been nice; the reasoning for the magnetic connector was to allow the watch to be water resistant though, which is a big deal for a lot of people.
Regarding watches being out of date, I always wear one with a suit. It’s a great accessory and I do not feel fully dressed without it, like I wouldn’t wear a suit without a tie.
Private time, different story. I wouldn’t want any watch with a plastic or neoprene strip like those pictured.
What I want are GPS-transmitters in watches for the kids, though.
All we really have to do is take our old Spot watches to bits and pop in a Bluetooth chip plus an ePaper display. Almost worth a Kickstarter of its own.....
The most exciting thing for me is the openness of products like this. When i read SDK in the product description, I'll buy just about anything :)...which explains the sphero staring at me on my desk. Not to take anything away from the amazing engineers that build this next gen hardware, but software is king. With software you can transform the product to your specific needs and do things yet to be conceived by others. Needless to say, i too am really excited about the potential of this next round of tech.
I've recently paired Pebble with my HTC Droid DNA and I never have to worry about fumbling with notifications again...It just works.
A work-around to your news/weather/calendar issue is play around with IFTTT.com & text messages. I have unlimited text, so I've programmed IFTTT to send me a ton of messages for weather, package shipping, calendar updates, etc. Thoes messages are sent to my Pebble as well and I will get them even if my phone is on "Silent"
Jonas - I suspect it will happen!
Tim - They say (and I've seen) no more battery drain than with my Jawbone Bluetooth...the Bluetooth radio is already on.
Rob - Agreed, but one wasn't easily available. The general sense is that you get more reliable notification of emails.
Kev - Totally possible from what I can tell.
BrothaTech - Interesting. I've only had the connection drop twice, and I just got a prompt on the phone saying "Pebble wants to connect - allow/deny" and it starts up again.
Tori - You want this. ;)
Methinks that will change when Apple drops its own watch.
I am hoping for mirasol displays to finally take off making an always on colour screen possible with reasonable battery life.
I received my red Pebble last week too and am very happy with it. It's not watch Nirvana but it's 85% of everything I want it to be. Thanks to Pushover, IFTTT, Twilio, I'm set on notifications of all types: weather, financial, news, etc.
File under the law of unintended consequences: now when I'm in meetings, I get dirty looks from people because they think I'm constantly checking the time as if I can't wait to get out of the room (which is often true, but in this case the Reds just scored another run in the bottom of the 6th).
Until then if I want message notifications from my phone... it's in my pocket.
I had a Datalink... I don't see any reason I need one now.
I could not help but notice that all four watches in your picture are all displaying different times. Remember the primary job for a watch is to tell time -- accurately :-) Even Dick Tracy didn't want to show up late!
Does the Pebble get set manually, or does it have the ability to sync the time with your phone?
I might be dreaming here for a while but the show stopper for me here is no solar power. High-end watches do a pretty darn good job of running with only solar power. If Pebble X.0 comes bundled with that, I would replace my current watch and write apps for the Pebble myself.
Thanks for writing,
P.S.: The Pebble forums say that "solar would never deliver enough charge". Although it is true that the hardware technology may not be here yet, I'm also sure that early watchmakers said pretty much the same thing for the sun-powered watches we take for granted today.
Also, I think we're running e-paper display, not LCD.
Was disappointed to learn while travelling that the time on my watch didn't automatically change with my phone. Hopefully that'll be in the next version.
Love the Runkeeper app and can't wait to try Free Caddie for Golf range-finding.
I'm going to get a protective cover.
I use my phone as my car stereo and would love to be able to keep the phone in my pocket.
The one thing to notice there is that it's apps are written using the .NET Micro Framework. There is also the wireless charging and the cool design.
The word on the street is that the new iOS supports pushing all sorts of things to Pebble much like Android does - hope mine holds together OK until then!
It adds and interesting gesture control and speak/microphone to enable answering of calls and possibly voice commands- something I've found that Pebble had.
@Scott: The SDK already supports two way communication and this brought some community watchfaces with weather support (most of them for Android), for instance this one.
Also, I agree that it would be nice if the cable weren't proprietary but I wear mine in the shower to control the music on my iPhone and wash it under the tap after I exercise. For it being waterproof to 5 ATM I can cope with the cable. As long as it doesn't break, there doesn't seem to be an accessories store yet :-S
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