Delivered in packaging that states “it’s time” and “meet pebble” with cutesy watch face that says “hello” to you in a speech bubble, one might get the impression that the Pebble Smartwatch should be a friendly addition to your family — and not a wristwatch.
However, despite what Michael Fisher showed you in his recent video “Wristwatch, Redefined: Life on a Pebble Smart Watch“, the Pebble smartwatch isn’t prefect.
What’s with that strap
Michael backed the Pebble project on Kickstarter for $99. I got in just a little later with a $115 pledge. Today, if you want to pre-order a Pebble for yourself, it’s 150 bucks. A watch that expensive demands a certain level of build quality and workmanship. Don’t get me wrong, the watch itself is polished and looks good, its buttons that are logically placed and work they way they’re supposed to every time. But that strap… it’s just, “meh”. Made from a rubbery plastic and not quite long enough to fit my man-sized wrists, the strap is simple, understated, but functional. If anything it draws your attention to the watch itself, as perhaps it should.
You may find it somewhat ironic to learn that both Michael and myself almost immediately purchased a high-end metal wristband for our Pebbles. Mine hasn’t arrived yet.
The display isn’t high resolution
I’ve owned other smartwatches in the past. Those that were a “watch first” did their “watchy” job very well and were readable in virtually every lighting condition imaginable. Those that were “smart” first failed at almost everything — especially readability in sunlight or low-light. That’s one of the things that got me really excited about Pebble: its display was to be an “e-paper” technology. Having seen the Kindle and Nook, I was quite impressed with the readability and ultra-low power consumption of e-ink displays, and having that on a watch would be oh so very cool.
Unfortunately, I, like many others, read that wrong. It’s not “e-ink”, it’s “e-paper”. What’s the difference? A lot, actually.
The display on the Pebble smartwatch isn’t e-ink like the e-book readers include, it’s an e-paper that’s based on LCD technology. Liquid crystal displays have been around for a very long time, and have proven themselves in wristwatches for decades. That holds true with the Pebble’s display which is highly readable in every lighting condition.
From a distance what you see on the Pebble display is beautiful. When looking at it close up, however, jagged lines appear and “goofy shadows” are used to indicate when there’s more information to be seen by scrolling up or down. They’re “goofy” not because of their presence, but their implementation, which is pixelated.
I’m not terribly surprised, the display is only 144 by 168 pixels, and there’s only so much you can do with that. With today’s “Retina Displays” and high PPI screens on a good deal of our smartphones and tablets, it’s surprising to see pixels again.
Media control doesn’t work
Being able to control the media player on my tablet or smartphone from my watch is just cool. Being able to see what that song is, and who’s performing it on the watch display, that’s geek nirvana! Luckily the Pebble smartwatch does that — sort of.
If you’re listening to music from Google’s Play Music app on your Android it works exactly as you’d expect. You can switch tracks, pause and resume the music, and even get your media information right there on your wrist. As soon as you switch to Pandora or your podcast player not only does your media information not come through, it displays the media information of what you’re not listening to. Odd.
Everything is an app
I have small children at home that are always coming home with a cheap watch from someplace. Setting the date and time on those things is so miserable that I’ve given up and have adopted a somewhat controversial family policy: “It’s your watch, you’ve got to set your own time.” I have to admit, I was a little concerned with how easy or difficult Pebble would be to setup and change its settings. Luckily, I quite enjoy the way you navigate on the Pebble smartwatch… with one exception: everything is an app.
One push of the left-button and you’re presented with a menu. You navigate up and down, and make selections with the buttons on the right. At the top of the menu is a watch face that you can choose from, beneath that another watch face, and beneath it another, then “Music”, “Set Alarm”, and “Settings”, but then you’re back into more watch faces again. The menu isn’t organized by type, nor is it arranged alphabetically. Everything is an app, and they’re all just thrown together in a big list. I’d hoped to see menu items for “Watch Faces”, “Apps”, “Alarms”, and “Settings”, each with sub-menus beneath them. Instead I have to scroll through three full screens before I can select my preferred watch face.
This problem will only get worse as developers come on-board and start writing useful apps for Pebble.
Where are the Apps?
Speaking of apps, where are they? The Pebble website shows off some cool features of the watch: a cycling app, one for jogging, and even a range-finder for when you’re on the golf course. Unfortunately they’re not on the watch, nor are they available to download and install on the watch, not yet anyway.
Of course this is a new product, and it’s the classic chicken-and-the-egg problem of which comes first, but I’d hoped to have at least the features they showed off (and are still showing off on their website) available when I finally got my Pebble. Patience, I suppose.
I backed the Pebble project in April 2012 and finally received my very own smartwatch ten-and-a-half months later. I’ve been patient so far. Despite these shortcomings, I still love my Pebble. It’s the best smartwatch that I’ve ever owned, and very likely the best watch I’ve ever worn.