I had a smartwatch for a day, it didn’t solve my problems — and it won’t solve yours

With the Apple Watch still hot around the internet every passionate iPhone-user has to decide whether to dump up to a thousand dollars (just for a reasonable combination of watch and strap).

I just can’t help but analysing every minor detail before making a decision on purchasing anything. And therefore I needed an iPhone-compatible testing device I could afford. Obviously I chose the original Pebble smartwatch.

It had a reasonable 99€ price-tag on amazon and I promised myself to send it back the second I didn’t feel comfortable wearing it.

Additionally it featured the much needed iOS support for notifications. Which differentiates it from its Android Wear competition.

Though this comparative advantage might disappear in a few weeks:

“We always want as many users as possible to enjoy our experience, so in terms of enabling more people to use Android Wear we’re very interested in making that happen.” — Jeff Chang, Android Wear Product Manager

The Pebble’s e-ink display can last up to a week without charging. Which makes it one of the longest lasting smartwatches — if not one of the longest lasting wearables — today.

When the Pebble arrived I was surprised how tiny a 1.26" display is and how big the body looks.
This is interesting, because the Apple Watch doesn’t feature that much screen-estate with just adding 0.06" to its usable display. The Apple Watch features a much better screen to body ratio, with 44% of its body containing the display, against the Pebble’s measly 27%, though.

Strapped on the Pebble is much bigger than theApple Watch would be but the screen size is comparable

But much more important than screen and body sizes is the advantage you gain using a smartwatch. And despite its low price tag the Pebble can keep up better than expected. There are a lot of apps to sideload via an iPhone companion, ranging from different step-counter-apps to interchangeble watchfaces. Some of which are not only beautiful but display additional information like weather forecast or notification-counter.

The standard watch face has a beautiful minimalistic feeling

Its biggest feature is not counting your steps (there’s the UP for that) or changing the watch-face (that’s just childish — but fun, though). Its biggest feature is prompting your notifications, without the need to reach into your pocket.
And here Pebble shows it’s almost as good as the Apple Watch: As soon as an e-mail, an iMessage or a call reaches your iPhone your watch vibrates and gives you rudimentary options to quickly react to them.

Using the Pebble for a day I realized: It is exactly this feature I don’t need; and you probably don’t need this feature, either.

If your smartwatch vibrates and shows your latest notification there are two possible options:

  1. You need to react now! Therefore you reach into your pocket, pull out your iPhone and react.
  2. You don’t need to react any time soon. Your iPhone stays in your pocket and the information might have been completely useless to begin with.

Interesting is the second option. Owning a smartwatch shows you, that a lot of your push notifications are completely insignificant (I am looking at you, mostly wrong weather forecast and at you, click-baiting news app). All these notifications are easily ignored on a phone if you are busy. If you are bored they are welcomed — on your phone, because you are not busy then and just want to fool around or check twitter.
Either way: If you are busy and don’t have the time to react to a notification you often can’t take out your phone anyway and if you are not busy your phone is probably in your hands already.

Smartwatch OEMs do know about this, too. Therefore they tout some kind of quick reaction you can throw at the reaction-worthy notifications. But more often than not these quick reactions are kind of limited — more so on the original Pebble with no touch screen and just three buttons.

If my smartphone — or your smartphone, respectively — wouldn’t contain a bunch of apps just meant for killing time; or if my phone just vibrated if it was really important, a smartwatch would be completely useless. But as it is, a smartwatch is still useless, by forcing me to still reach for my phone if there is anything important or by showing me some unimportant notifications.

One video showing most fields of application for the Apple Watch — and smartwatches in general — comes from WSJ and besides an unarguable playfulness, no real benefit is in sight.

Besides my difficulties finding an usecase for a smartwatch, the Pebble had quite a few additional problems:

The plastic strap and cheap body are not appropriate for a white-collar working-environment.

And the body — although water-resistant — feels a bit rough, clunky and unfinished.

All in all the Pebble — and no smartwatch for that matter — can solve my notification problem, caused by apps I merely use. And it can’t compete with the better manufactured Android Wear watches and the Apple Watch. The more impressive materials and processing-depths of the Pebble Steel and Pebble Time Steel move them into the same price-range as expensive Android Wear watches. And if I would be ready to pay such a high price for a fast obsolete wearable I’d take a few extra bucks and buy an Apple Watch instead.

After this test, do I still want an Apple Watch? Definitely! It is a beautiful toy and looks more than good enough to be worn under a business-shirt at the office. And “looking good” is the only urgent usecase I could identify using the Pebble for a day.