Pebble Time + Android: One Week Deep


This is a review of the Pebble Time Kickstarter Edition, paired with a Nexus 6 running Android 5.1.1 — after one week of vigorous usage.

TL;DR

Without installing additional apps the Pebble Time smartwatch does exactly what I was looking for — deliver actionable notifications from phone to wrist. There are third party apps that can be installed to get even more functionality out of the Pebble Time. But beware, your mileage may vary when it comes to these third party apps, many of the apps I tested did not work as smoothly as the native apps.

The Pebble Time won’t interface with your Android device as seamlessly as Android Wear, but I feel that what it lacks in features it makes up for with simplistic design and stellar battery life. Despite it’s shortcomings (see full review), I think the Pebble Time is a keeper. Pebble is a great company that has proven to listen to their customers and consistently improves their product, I’m excited to see how the Pebble Time evolves.

UPDATE: the bezel of my Pebble Time has suffered a multitude of scratches, which are particularly prominent on the black version. I’ve heard reports that scratches on the silver version are less apparent. I highly recommend protecting your pebble if you’re worried about scratches, I picked up a wrap and screen protector from GadgetWraps. Or you could buff the paint off entirely to reveal the raw stainless steel, check out this how-to video to see how it’s done.

Setup

Setting up the Pebble Time was super simple, it paired with my phone immediately and without issue. Mere moments after extracting *my precious* from it’s minimalist packaging I was surfing the Pebble app store grinning ear-to-ear.

Design

The watch and strap are light weight at 42.5 g/1.5 oz, I was utterly impressed with how light it was when I first plucked it from it’s packaging. The chassis is 40.5mm x 37.5mm with a curved back that hugs your wrist comfortably. The chassis fits any standard 22 mm strap; the included silicone strap is supremely plush, comfortable, and adjustable. I thought I would need to purchase a replacement strap, but after putting this one on I’ve decided it’s a keeper. It really is quite nice.

The Pebble Time was built to survive the elements, it boasts water resistance for all aquatic activities up to 30 meters — you’re free to keep it strapped on from the shower to the pool. Additionally, the Gorilla glass display isn’t likely to crack under pressure. I’ve only gone so far as to wear mine in the shower and I’ve observed no water leakage or fogging of the glass.

On the seventh day…my Pebble Time bezel was scratched. I’m not the most careful person and some may even call me clumsy, so I should have seen this coming. Ironically enough I recently ordered a screen protector and skin for the Pebble Time from GadgetWraps, but it has yet to arrive. You may want to purchase some protection if you’re worried about scuffing the bezel or screen. UPDATE: by the second week the bezel attracted even more scratches. Thankfully my bezel and screen protector arrived today, they fit well but it’s not as nice as when the watch is naked — I wish Pebble would have made a more scratch resistant bezel. I’m actually considering buffing off the paint entirely as seen in this how-to video.

Included with the watch is a magnetic charging cable, that clicks in to place with ease. Though wireless charging would have been a nice touch, I’m happy with the charging cable provided.

For more specs check out the Pebble Time homepage.

Display

The e-ink display, which is one of the main contributors to the it’s stellar battery life, is super crisp in bright light. Sadly, the display is much duller in dim to dark conditions. Being the cave dweller that I am this can be frustrating. It does have a backlight, which makes the screen visible in low light conditions — but I have two major gripes with regards to the backlight:

  1. Auto-brightness requires a jerking of the wrist that is…unnatural to say the least. Pebble, please summon the mighty gods of code to activate the backlight when one raises the watch to their face-parts, and deactivate when the watch is no longer in front of said face — like the *cough* *applewatch* *cough*. Recently a third party app called Backlight was released which makes the backlight motion detection more responsive, and I have to say I love how well it works! The only downside is that this app absorbs the single background worker that is allowed to run on the Pebble (see Battery section for more on this).
  2. The backlight turns off after ~4 seconds. Please let the user configure the backlight timeout — battery life be damned! There are times where an app is loading and the backlight times out before it’s fully loaded, requiring a vigorious shake of the wrist (or a button press) every 4 seconds to reactivate the backlight.

I’m not the only one who’s frustrated with the backlight, and I suspect Pebble is well aware and is hopefully working on a fix.

On a brighter note, the Pebble Time display now supports color, 64 colors to be exact. The colors aren’t not going to knock your socks off, but it is a nice touch and I’m happy that they added color support. All things considered, the e-ink display with it’s quirky 8-bit-esque design gives the Pebble Time a retrofuture aura that has this 80's nerd hooked.

Battery

After 1 week of extremely heavy use, including use of a single background process*, I can safely say the battery life is great. I was able to squeeze 3 days + 8 hours of life before the battery died, after which point the time continued to display and update. Although 3+ days is not close to the 7 day battery life touted by Pebble, my mileage was based on extremely heavy use while testing the unit and I expect to get closer to 7 days of life once my usage normalizes. Charging the Pebble from dead to 100% took about 1 hour. UPDATE: during my second week of use I decided to remove the running background process to see what the battery life would be like — and as you might guess it was much better, and lasted about 7 days.

*Pebble allows apps to run in the background, but limits the number of background workers to one. Check out Pebble’s Background API docs for more info.

Watchfaces

One of the first things I did after setting up the watch was peruse the huge array of available watchfaces using the Pebble app store on my phone. I came away from that experience, many moons later, with even more respect for the awesome Pebble developer community. Speaking of which, someone made a pretty cool site where you can peruse Pebble watchfaces online!

Timeline

Though I do have a calendar populated with appointments, I found the Timeline to be of minimal usefulness. Perhaps as more third party apps take advantage of the Timeline API the feature will grow to be more useful. Though it does work flawlessly, so if you are a heavy calendar user you may get more out of the Timeline than I.

Microphone

The Pebble Time has a built in microphone that can be used to dictate replies to incoming SMS and Emails. The Pebble speech-to-text accuracy is really impressive, and I found this feature to work really well.

I’m really excited for other microphone & speech-to-text releated features, most especially “OK Google” access. According to an 04/03/2015 post on the Pebble developer blog:

We will give developers access to our speech-to-text APIs. You will be able to show a UI to start a recording and your app will receive the text spoken by the user. This API is coming soon™ — not in 3.0.
We are considering other APIs such as direct microphone access. Stay tuned for more information on those.

Apps

The Pebble Time comes equiped with some basic stock applications, listed below:

  • Music — control your various music/audio apps from your watch
  • Alarms — set multiple vibration alarms, customize alarm frequency to either ‘Once’, ‘Weekdays’, ‘Weekends’, ‘Everyday’. I’d like to be able to set recurring alarm for a specific day of the week, ie. ‘Monday’ — alas that is not yet possible.
  • Notifications — view your notifications backlog and clear all notifications. Unfortunately you cannot act on any of the notifications listed in the Notifications app backlog, you must act on a notification right when it is received. This makes me sad, I hope Pebble enhances the Notifications app to allow the same actions to be taken on the Notification as when it was received.
  • Watchfaces — browse your downloaded watchfaces and swap watchfaces on the fly. Note: watchfaces first need to be downloaded to your watch using the Pebble Time mobile app.

To see what third party apps are available check out this clone of the Pebble App Store from your favorite browser.

Many of the Pebble Time watch apps have a companion app that must be installed on your paired phone, some of which require you to provide notification access which allows the app to access to your notifications.

What doesn’t it do?

Pebble Time will not interface with your Android phone as well as Android wear devices right out of the box, at least not at this current stage. There are some third party apps that attempt to bridge the gap, and hopefully updates to the Pebble OS & emerging third party apps will continue to make the Pebble experience feel more native. Here’s a list of the most notable features Pebble Time lacks when compared to Android Wear devices:

  • Step Tracking — 3rd party options: Misfit, Pedometer
  • Fitness Tracking — 3rd party options: Endomondo, RunKeeper, Runtastic PRO, Strava
  • Google Maps Navigation — 3rd party option: Nav Me
  • Initiate Calls/SMS * — 3rd party options: Dialer for Pebble to initate calls, Awear robust communication manager that allows SMS initation, though I found Awear app to be buggy at times and ultimately chose to use the Pebble stock Notification app
  • Set Native Android Reminders*
  • Voice Search*
  • Start Navigation*
  • Google Now — perhaps this could be integrated into the Timeline. Google recently Opened the Google Now API to allow developers to publish to the Google Now feed, and since it seems Google has big plans for Google Now I hope they’ll open up the API even more to allow Pebble to take advantage.

*Access to “OK Google” via the Pebble Microphone would make up for most of these deficiencies.

Want to Develop for Pebble?

If you’re interested in developing for Pebble, check out the Pebble Developer site. I ran through their watchface tutorial in about an hour and was super impressed with their documentation and the developer site on the whole.