Pebble Resurrection

I remember when the Pebble was the Kickstarter darling and everybody was talking about it. I got sucked into the hype and put down my money. I was happy to wait a few  months before my Pebble arrived so I could see the next innovative smart watch. 

Then I waited, and waited, and waited.

I really can’t begrudge the Pebble team. They started with a small project that unexpectedly turned into a massive project. I’m sure with the huge success came a million small problems they never anticipated they would have. 

Nevertheless, it took them way too long to deliver the product. When they finally did deliver, they got lackluster reviews and my own watch didn’t get shipped to me until months after the original products went out. (The problem was I chose to get an orange one and it turns out it took them a lot longer to sort the color out.) There were black ones in stores already, the Pebble was old news, and my “early adopter” reward came months late. I was sick of the Pebble before it even arrived. 

When it arrived, I played with it for about 30 minutes but was unimpressed with the build quality, the software, and the screen. I put it in a drawer. I didn’t even write it up here because by the then, the story was already months old.

So this year at Macworld I noticed a lot of friends wearing Pebble watches. These weren’t the fancy new metal ones but the first-generation plastic watches, like the one sitting in my drawer at home. I got curious and finally asked a few people to show me their watch and it turns out Pebble has improved the software quite a bit since the last time I looked at it. I decided to give it another chance. Upon returning home I pulled it out, charged it, updated the software, and I’ve now been been wearing it for a few weeks. With the new software, the watch is actually a lot better than it was the first time I played with it. 

As a timepiece the display is still pretty ugly and low contrast. It does, however, stay on and I dont’ have to push a button to see the time. Some of the faces incorporate extra data, like the weather. These require that your phone be close to your watch in effort to stay updated. Also, it appears that if the iPhone drops the Pebble app in the background, the data stream ends. There are some fun watch faces ranging from traditional to experimental. There are also novelty faces like a traditional Mickey Mouse watch and another one that looks like the Star Trek LCARS interface. My favorite is a simple display of time with digits and the current weather.

The Apps are interesting. They can provide a lot more information and some have accompanying iPhone applications. I’ve got a few apps running on it (including a tea timer) and I’ve downloaded several others. Overall, the more complicated apps are not ready for prime time. They take too much fiddling with the watch buttons to get data and with that eInk screen, really don’t offer much of a payoff. I think that if you want anything remotely complicated, pull your phone out of your pocket.

The notifications, however, are another thing entirely. I really like getting text messages and other iOS notifications on my wrist. Often my phone vibrates in my pocket but I’m too busy to pull it out and check. Then, of course, I later forget to look at why the notification came in. Now I can just look at my wrist. I definitely see the benefit of this. I also like the ability to control my music from my wrist, especially when my phone is on the other side of the room in its cradle and streaming to SONOS or my office Bluetooth speaker.

Overall, I’m still not entirely thrilled with this watch. It feels pretty cheap and the design feels like Soviet-era public housing. There’s probably a lot of good reasons for these massive buttons on the side and the otherwise blocky design of the overall watch but I wish they made it a little more subdued and refined. I do, however, appreciate this watch for finally getting through to me why a notification watch would make sense.

I’m very curious to see what Apple does in this space (or even if they make a watch at all). I’m also curious to see how often I’m wearing my Pebble in six months. For now at least I’m going to start wearing it a lot more often.