Pebble, one of the very first consumer smartwatch makers, recently debuted in Indian market by launching its entire range of smartwatches. Selling exclusively via Amazon India, the smartwatches start at Rs 5,999 for the Pebble Classic version and goes all the way up to Rs 15,999 for the Pebble Time Steel variant. I recently got my hands on the Pebble Time, which is priced at Rs 9,999. I ve put the Pebble Time through its paces for over three weeks now, and here s my review. Also Read - Nokia 5310 Review: A heavy bet on XpressMusic nostalgiaAlso Read - Pebble Twins TWS earbuds review: Hit or Miss?
History and product philosophy Also Read - Pebble Twins Stereo EarPods with up to 25 hours of battery life launched: Price, Features
Before I begin with the actual review, here are some insights. While the concept of smartwatches existed for over a decade, it took a bunch of geeks to turn the idea into reality. The original Pebble Classic smartwatch was designed based on the concept by Eric Migicovsky, who is also the founder and CEO of Pebble. His idea was to develop a smartwatch a companion device that could display messages from the iPhone and Android smartphones.
On April 11, 2012, Pebble Technology launched a Kickstarter campaign with an initial fundraising target of $100,000. Just two hours after going live, the campaign had already met its $100,000 goal. Over the next six days, it turned out to be the most funded project in Kickstarter’s history by raising more than $4.7 million and 30 days spare for the campaign to end.
Fast forward to today and we have smartwatches with built-in cameras, IR blaster, touchscreen displays and much more. However, the guiding philosophy of Pebble smartwatches is simple rather than putting a small smartphone on your wrist, it s a watch first. Besides showing time, it can also display notifications from a smartphone, track your fitness activities, monitor sleep and more. Pebble also aims to tackle battery life woes with its range of smartwatches that can last up to 10 days on a single charge.
The Pebble Classic is the very first and the most affordable of the lot. It features a plastic body, silicone straps and a monochrome e-paper always on display. A little later, the company had also launched an improved version of the Pebble Classic, called the Pebble Steel, which featured a stainless steel casing and belt. But it has been discontinued.
Last year, Pebble introduced three new models the Pebble Time, Pebble Time Steel and Pebble Time Round. While retaining the always-on display and long battery life, one of the highlights of these smartwatches is the color e-paper display. While the Pebble Time and the Pebble Time Steel are square in shape, the Pebble Time Round has a circular design and display.
Soon after launching the Pebble smartwatch range in India, the company also unveiled the next generation Pebble 2 and Pebble Time 2 smartwatches with slightly improved design and built-in heart rate sensor. The company also launched the Pebble Core a lightweight wearable with built-in GPS, internet and music streaming device that runs on Android 5.1 Lollipop OS. Now it is, um, time for the Pebble Time review.
Design and build
The Pebble Time is the second-generation smartwatch after the Pebble Classic and Pebble Steel. It features a new design, improved features and functionality to the table over the previous generation. The Pebble Time is a geeky looking smartwatch with a square display. The upper layer is made from metal alloy which is tough, feels durable and looks good too. The Pebble Time is lightweight and sleek compared to other smartwatches that are currently available in the market.
The bottom layer is made from plastic and is slightly curved to ensure that it fits perfectly on your wrist. It also has a magnetic connector charging and data transfer (mostly for manual firmware upgrades). Pebble had also mentioned that the smartwatch could gain additional functionality via the charging port. For instance, partners could make a strap with flexible battery to offer additional battery life or add a camera to the straps, and more.
The Pebble Time houses a 1.25-inch color e-paper display with LED backlight, and is covered with Corning Gorilla Glass to ensure scratches at bay. It has thick black bezels along the top and bottom of the screen, which makes the display look smaller. Capable of displaying only 64 colors, the screen isn t vivid as one would expect. However, one of the reasons to include an always-on e-paper display is to save on the battery life. In terms of legibility, I absolutely had no issues with the display under direct sunlight. In fact, while the colors look washed out with the LED backlit on, I found the display looked much better without it.
The Pebble Time features lugs on the top and bottom that can accommodate standard 22mm straps. Thanks to the spring mechanism, removing the straps isn t problem at all. By default, you get the silicone strap, but you can replace them with standard steel or leather ones. The bundled hypoallergic silicone straps are pretty good and do not cause any type of irritation. In fact, I wear it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the only time I remove it is for charging.
One of the other interesting aspects of the Pebble Time is that it is waterproof too, up to 30 meters. I ve been wearing it throughout, even while taking a shower. Just to test the claim, I also took it for a swim about 10 feet under, and it survived!
Pebble has its own operating system called Time OS which is specially designed for Pebble smartwatches, and the interface is called Timeline UI. Since there is no touchscreen, the smartwatch can be controlled by four buttons – one on the left edge and three on the right edge. The right edge also has a tiny hole for microphone which can be used for dictating voice notes.
I did give it a try to respond to some texts and WhatsApp notifications with voice notes, and it was pretty accurate too. However, the accent needs to be fluent and at times, the voice recognition engine faced difficulties to catch complex terms. There are also canned messages that can be customized for quick reply. These can be something like haha, lol, on my way, I ll call you later, in a meeting, and so on.
The single button on the left edge acts like a back button to exit from the menu, apps and notifications. Long pressing the button for three seconds starts Quiet Time mode, where vibration is disabled, more like silent mode on smartphones. Again long pressing for three seconds, deactivates the mode. However, I wish the placement of the button was at the bottom and not on the top, as it could have been easier to operate with the thumb without obstructing the display. Also, the smartwatch seems to be designed keeping left hand wearers in mind, and it is awkward to use while wearing it on the right hand, especially while clicking the buttons. But I guess it won t be much bigger of a deal for those who are used to wearing a watch on the right hand.
On the right edge, you have three buttons the middle one is to enter the menu (or select button), whereas the other two can be used to navigate within the OS. On the main screen, pressing the top button brings up all events from the past two days, including birthdays, appointments and much more. On the other hand, pressing the bottom button shows future events lined up for the next two days.
If you have a sports app installed with your favorite team chosen, the Timeline UI will also show those notifications for the past and forthcoming games. The OS also supports animations with frame rate of 30fps (frames per second). This means you can have GIF based watchfaces and also play some casual games.
The interface is pretty simple and navigating through the menu isn t difficult. Pressing the menu button you can access settings, health app to check your number of steps and sleep activity, control the music playback (play/pause, skip tracks), read missed notifications, set alarm and timer, send texts, change watchfaces and run installed apps. I installed two games to try out – Tiny Bird and Obelisk, both of which are quite addictive. There are a handful of others like Tetris, Blocks, 2048 for Pebble and more in the list.
Compatibility and Apps
The Pebble Time is compatible with both Android and iOS platforms and you ll need the Pebble companion app on your smartphone to pair it. It uses a Bluetooth connection for pairing and the process is quite easy. The app has four tabs health, watchfaces, apps and notifications. The health tab displays your sleep activity and number of steps, watchfaces tab shows the ones that are already installed. There is also a + button at the bottom right corner pressing which takes you to the store.
There are plenty of watchfaces available to download right from simple ones to most complex ones. While most of them are free, some of them are paid ones. But the options fall short compared to Android Wear and Apple Watch catalog, mostly limited due to its hardware limitations.
The third tab is for installed apps, and there is a + button too, which takes you to the app store. Again, the number of apps are limited, and not the high-quality ones as you could find on Android Wear and Apple Watch. There are popular apps such as ESPN sports, Pandora radio remote control, Uber, Misfit and Runkeeper among others. I have also installed sports apps to keep myself abreast with the latest football news, fixtures and live game alerts, and it works pretty well. There is also a TV series app that notifies me about upcoming episodes of shows I follow.
In terms of notifications, the access is pretty limited, and things like replying to WhatsApp and Hangouts messages aren t supported. However, Pebble recommends you to install Android Wear app for more richer notifications, and it works to an extent.
The Pebble Time also works as a fitness tracker that counts the number of steps you take, distance walked and the calories burned. The pedometer is mostly accurate in tracking the number of steps, but it does go haywire at times. My daily commute is on the bike and distance from home to office and vice-versa is 40 kilometers in total. During my 40-kilometer bike ride to and from office, the Pebble Time added some 700-800 phantom steps. But that is still better compared to the Mi Band, which adds nearly two times more phantom steps.
You can even monitor your sleep with the Pebble Time. It tracks the number of hours I sleep, the deep and light sleep, and also the time when I sleep and wake up. While It does track accurately, there were a couple of instances where I woke up at 8AM and as I wasn t feeling well, I took rest for another couple of hours, before finally waking up at 11AM. Unfortunately, the Pebble Time did not record the extra sleeping time, and only displayed that I woke up at 8AM. The Mi Band, however, was able to track those extra hours.
Another annoying bit is that while the Pebble app syncs your apps and watchfaces on cloud, it does not save the fitness data. You do get an option to sync it with Google Fit. So in order to sync my fitness data, I will have to download and sync with Google Fit while other data gets synced with the Pebble companion app. I found it out the hard way when I changed my smartphone and found that the companion app only had some data backed up and the fitness data was missing.
Pebble claims to offer a battery life of up to 7 days on the Pebble Time, and up to 10 days on the Pebble Time Steel. I tested the Pebble Time under different scenarios and I couldn t get more than five days of battery life, which is still decent compared to the Android Wear and Apple Watch devices that need to be charged daily.
With intensity of display brightness and vibration intensity set at high, along with wrist motion enabled, the battery lasted for a little over two days. With wrist motion off, backlight brightness and vibration intensity at low, I could squeeze out about five days of battery, before it needed to be charged again. One of the good things here is that the magnetic charger connector easily snaps on and it hardly takes about an hour to take the battery from 0 to 100 percent.
Priced at Rs 9,999, the Pebble Time is an interesting smartwatch for those who want a simple connected device to read notifications without having to take out the smartphone all the time. With features such as a battery that can last for nearly five days, waterproof up to 30 meters, fitness tracking, replaceable straps and always-on e-paper color display, the Pebble Time is perfect for those who want a no frills smartwatch. It s also ideal for those who are on the budget and want to try out smartwatch for the every first time.