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Pebble Time: What it did right (and wrong)

By Michael Low - 24 Jul 2015

Pebble Time: What it did right and wrong

It's time

Three years ago, the first Pebble smartwatch was successfully funded on Kickstarter, where it raised a total of nearly US$10.3 million to become the highest backed campaign in the history of the crowdfunding site. That record was unceremoniously smashed by its own successor – the Pebble Time – in March this year to the tune of US$20.3 million.

By now, the first shipments have already made their way to the backers who finalized their color selections and delivery details. At the same time, those who missed out on the campaign can place their pre-orders at getpebble.com, where the Pebble Time is listed for US$199 (approx. RM757).

Mine arrived in the mail recently, and it took just minutes to get the latest firmware installed and have it paired to my iPhone via the new Pebble Time app. Now that it’s been on my wrist for a week, I thought it fitting to share my thoughts on the second-generation Pebble smartwatch.

 

RIGHT: Always-on, color display

One of the reasons the original Pebble didn’t quite resonate with me was because of its black-and-white e-paper (read: transflective LCD) screen. Sure, it does what it sets out to do, from displaying the watchface of your choice to the at-a-glance notifications and messages that remain highly readable under bright sunlight, but it feels a little lacking.

Pebble Time improves on its predecessor with a 64-color e-paper display that is also ‘always on’ and fitted with an LED backlight. The presence of colors allows for easier identification of notification sources (e.g. green motif for LINE messages, blue for Facebook Messenger), and really brings the watchface to life.

If you’re used to the vibrancy of LCD and OLED, then you’ll need to adjust your expectations accordingly as the 1.25-inch screen is nowhere near as bright as, say, the Apple Watch or Samsung Gear S. Colors also take on a more muted appearance, but that is to be expected of an always-on screen. Even so, it works excellently outdoors and under the sun, which can’t be said for most smartwatches.

For times when a little light is needed, the LED backlight can be activated with a quick button press. Unfortunately, there is no way to increase its duration (Update: v3.2 firmware adds backlight intensity and duration options, among other enhancements!). It’s also possible to activate it with a flick of the wrist (or a tap on the watchface), though it took me a couple of tries to get it right. Be sure to enable the Motion option in the Settings > Display menu.

 

WRONG: Battery life's not as expected

Just like the first-generation Pebble, the Time boasts a ‘week-long’ battery life, which is quite a feat given the color upgrade. However, that didn’t seem to be the case for my unit, as its battery percentage typically drops down to 20 percent in half that time. To give you a better idea, the watch was configured to deliver calendar reminders, incoming call and message notifications, weather data, a weekday alarm, as well as to monitor daily steps and sleep patterns from the Misfit app. I’ve also went through the Slides of Time, TrekV3, and Final Fantasy GT watchfaces between each recharge, but they led to similar results. Thankfully, the Time can be fully charged in a little more than an hour from any powered USB port using the included magnetic charging cable.

While I’m not entirely sure what causes the drop in battery performance, it’s mostly a minor nuisance having to recharge the watch twice a week, which is something that I can live with. At the end of the day, the battery life is still miles ahead from the contemporary smartwatches.

 

 

RIGHT: Comfortable wear

For someone who’s not much of a watch person, it’s funny how quickly I’ve acclimated to wearing the Pebble Time from day to night. The soft silicone strap was easily adjustable, which makes for a comfortable fit on most wrists. At 37.5mm by 40.5mm, the watch case is predominantly polycarbonate, opting for a more square-ish design than the first Pebble, with the edges curved slightly inwards to follow the contour of the wrist.

Much has been said about the stainless steel bezel that surrounds the 2.5D Gorilla Glass display. While the matte, polished finish is a nice touch, the thickness of the bezel may be off-putting for some. But there’s always room for customization, as can be seen in the selection of skins available from GadgetWraps. More importantly, the Time is actually 20-percent thinner than the original Pebble (9.5mm vs. 11.5mm), and you can swap out the silicone strap for any standard 22mm watch strap.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Time is rated according to the newer ISO 22810 standards, where manufacturers will need to ensure that their watches continue to operate at its actual rated depth (for this instance, down to a depth of 30 meters) without leaking. What this means is that you can brave the rain, grab a shower, or even go for a swim with the watch on you.

 

WRONG: Limited iOS functionality

With the exception of fitness trackers, smartwatches are rarely designed for both Android and iOS devices. The first Pebble led the charge at a time when the Apple Watch was just rumor and speculation. Naturally, the Pebble Time continues the tradition of supporting both mobile operating systems, but iOS users will feel a little short-changed by the lack of voice replies (as of v3.1 firmware). Android users, on the other hand, are able to reply to their messages using voice dictation (six-second replies using the built-in microphone), emojis, or a set of predetermined responses.

This is understandably due to the restrictions in what third-party apps can (and cannot) do with iOS. Only time will tell if the next update will bring some semblance of voice replies to the Apple camp. For the time being, iOS users (such as myself) will have to contend with reading and dismissing messages as they come in.

 

 

RIGHT: Personalized Timeline

Don’t think for a second that Pebble is content with slipping some colors and a new look into the Time, and calling it a day. Yes, you still need Bluetooth to pair it to an iPhone or Android smartphone, but that’s all handled by the new Pebble Time app, which lets you apply firmware updates, browse the Pebble appstore, and personalize your watch experience. But that’s not the main point here.

What Pebble has done is introduce a whole new OS – one that sets out to reduce the clutter of apps by organizing information around the concept of past, present, and future. The aptly-named Timeline interface lays out notifications, reminders, and events in a chronological order. Pressing the top button offers a look back at what transpired in the past hours, while further presses let you travel back further into the past (figuratively, of course). The same applies to looking ahead with the bottom button, letting you scroll through future appointments and upcoming birthdays, for example. I should also mention that the OS is peppered with a cute mix of transition animations that accompany your actions, which is a welcome addition.

Pushing the center button brings you to the apps list, which can be reordered at any time via the Pebble Time app. The four pre-installed ones are Music (remote playback), Notifications (recent items), Alarms (self-explanatory), and Watchfaces. You’ll be glad to know that there are over 6,500 watchapps/watchfaces in the appstore, but most are not updated for color just yet. Pebble also removed the eight-app limit that was enforced on the original Pebble. Instead, a dynamic app loader is in place to cache and offload the watchapps as needed.

 

 

WRONG: More of the same

At the end of the day, the Pebble Time is essentially an incremental upgrade from the first-generation Pebble. It’s priced competitively at US$199, but there’s very little incentive for existing Pebble owners to make the switch, seeing as PebbleOS v3 is expected to make its way to these US$99 models sometime in the future. Keeping the backward compatibility with existing watchapps is a sound move, but one does wonder if that ended up limiting the potential of what the Pebble Time has to offer.

With that said, I’m quite pleased with the Pebble Time, despite its iOS limitations and lack of touchscreen and NFC support. But tell me, just how many smartwatches can boast a (theoretical) 7-day battery life? Some may balk at its clean simplicity, but there’s definitely room for customizations – whether on the watch case or the plethora of watchface designs that are ripe for the picking. I, for one, am eager to see what the upcoming Smartstraps will bring to us Pebble Time owners. For now, I’m happy not having to pull out my phone whenever it beeps for attention.

 

8.0
  • Design 8
  • Features 7.5
  • User-Friendliness 8.5
  • Performance 8.5
  • Value 8
The Good
Decent color display, adjustable backlight level (w/ firmware update)
Timeline interface makes navigation a breeze
Comfortable to wear
The Bad
Limited iOS functionality
No built-in GPS and NFC
Battery life falls short of 7-day claim