One charge review of the Pebble Time.

I like watches but I don’t like wearing them. I don’t like the dead weight.

first full charge of the watch arboring one of the nifty watchfaces you can upload through the companion app — here the ‘Weather Land’ watchface from reno

At the same time I also believe smartwatches are probably the most plausible evolutionary step between wearable and implantable electronics, both for health-activity tracking or knowledge enhancement.

But since my first try to smartwatching with a Casio Databank in the eighties (not much more than a watch with a memo and agenda), better screens, new sensors, direct or indirect network connectivity, are slowly working on me and things are looking fun to try again. I may want to change my mind, and I’m ready to try them newcomers.


Most attention naturally went to the Apple Watch (c.f. “Why the Apple Watch is (not) right (yet).”) but Pebble now has also got a color screen Time of its own.

I charged it to full and took it for a real-world spin. These are my raw impressions during that “short” charge-to-charge time interval.

First looks.

Got it out of the box (the darker colored one). I found the design simple and esthetic, nothing excentric, rather thin, robust and light at hand. Seemed scratch resistant (thought I wasn’t planning on testing that beyond standard use). The wristband is soft and flexible, comfortable to wear, while the tightening and closing mechanism seems reliable and precise.

While not tactile, the glass screen looks good and cleans readily against a t-shirt or a jeans (just avoid the rivets…). The buttons (one top left, three on the right) are made of a nice plastic, react well and seem robust.

my first favorite watchface: ‘blipblip’ from Sebastian Fabian — stylish and energy efficient

No logo or branding on top of the housing: great. I still don’t understand how one would want to pay the price to transform himself into a walking billboard, nor how marketing teams are able to get away with this.

As with the Apple Watch, Pebble was smart enough not to ruin the simplicity of the looks with their logo or brand name, they kept it for the behinds.

The works.

The UI is based on a rather simple concept. Four buttons and a microphone, a simple and rather straightforward GUI, a smartphone app to manage the watch apps and preferences (download watchfaces, apps, … manage notification settings, overall parameters, …).

The first startup was straightforward (very slick smartphone app on iOS), and then it only took me a few minutes of use for the navigation to feel natural.

the color eInk texture of the Pebble Time makes for a very soft and sensuous display compared to other techs — macro detail of the ‘Weather’ app by Ben Galaviz

The color e-paper screen is very impressive and readable. Incredibly reactive compared to my Kindle e-reader, and capable of smooth animations. Interestingly, it made much more of an impression to me than that of the Apple Watch.

Thought the later is incredibly vivid and readable, the reflective e-ink of the Pebble Time makes it feel much more natural and confortable to me. At the same time, while always on, it is very inconspicuous to others and this is a major point.

Put it on your desk during a meeting, it will barely buzz but keep things visible at all times. The backlight will also kick in when necessary and while not very remarkable, works as advertised, a bit similar to the ones on older LCD watches (cool retro-futuristic look?).

a notification example or why I’m glad I could spare getting my iPhone out for that during that executive meeting ;)

As for the notifications, works as expected. On iOS however, the inability to respond to messages makes it a bit of a bummer (for now). The microphone therefore doesn’t seem to be of any real use yet, and thus will definitely make it a huge improvement if finally up to voice-texting in the future.

The timeline / agenda works well too. The concept is simple and efficient, showing you things to come in a simple and orderly fashion.

Apps work as you might expect on a watch. Display estate is limited, but I tried some games and utilities (small action games, weather reporting, battery consumption, news, ..) and they all work as one might expect on such a small non-tactile surface. The advantage here over touch screen is you never have your fingers impacting visibility.

no comment — only playing with that ‘Tiny Bird’ clone of that other game from Stuart Harrell

Also never had any trouble with the smartphone connection, transparent connectivity with apps sometimes informing you of an impending transaction.

I however didn’t try any activity tracking or sensor-based app. This wasn’t my focus here as I don’t really believe in sole watch sensors to do that (c.f. “Where’s my built in Nike + app?”). Sorry, will however probably take a look at that in the future.

Autonomy.

near empty battery mode — only displays the time like an old ancestral watch — using the ‘Battery+’ app from Ycleptic Studios actually shows drastic energy saving from then on (but hey its only a watch now)

Six days on a single charge. Six days on a single charge. I could say it six times. Without restrain on use. This is a big win to me. No need to plug it in every evening and that makes a whole difference.

Nostalgic of the good old power-cord freedom days? You just keep wearing it, over and over, for six whole days! And then it warns you the battery is low, and you still have a day or so to think about it (or remember where that weird magnetic recharging cable is). If you don’t, it finally ends up only showing you the current time, but all the time and for a long one.

You still have to recharge your phone thought, but it actually seemed I did get greater autonomy with the later as I didn’t fuss around it as much, thanks again to the watch. While you still can’t respond to notifications straight from your wrist using iOS, most of these didn’t require me to.

The afterthoughts.

first recharge — getting ready for the second week of action — the charging USB cable holds its grip using a nifty ‘magsafe’ like connector

Thanks to the watch my mind hasn’t felt that free while remaining connected.

First it had been a very long time since I hadn’t felt salve to the power source using such a device. We’re talking of pre-smartphone era autonomy. And this is important if you want to keep wearing once again an extra gizmo. While not liberated of the phone’s autonomy, it helped his too.

Secondly it also helped me keep my smartphone tucked away where it always should be: in my jeans or jacket. I lost that urge to get my phone out at every vibration. The watch was readily there to inform me. All of that in a much more discrete way, seemingly much more respectful of the people you’re with.

While the watch is extra weight you again have to put up with, I’m now open to keeping the experience on for a while. And while I still am not fully convinced of its truly potent positive impact, it made the idea, thought embryonic of a smartphone free future, something realistic.

note: you can also check “One charge review of the Apple Watch” that was written after this one

You can also check: “The 4 key elements of successful smartwatch design” which sort of concludes my smartwatch reviews.