Friday, April 19, 2013

My Pebble smartwatch review (UPDATED)

Disclosure: I backed this company and got this product with my own money.  Nobody is paying me for this review and I have no stake in the company.

Hi everyone!  This is a review of the Pebble smartwatch I got through Kickstarter.  For those of you who don’t know, Kickstarter is a website that does something called crowdfunding.  That means people can post on the website with their idea for a project and ask for people to invest (or back) with a certain amount of money.  If after a deadline the project is funded, they get to collect the funds from the promised backers and go forward with the project.   Backers are usually promised a “reward” for backing certain amounts.  In this case, I backed enough to get a pebble.

The journey to my wrist:

I backed the project early on and they had so many backers that the company had to switch strategies in order to supply everyone with their promised rewards.  This meant there were significant delays from the original estimates. They are still having trouble getting the manufacturing of color pebbles down just right so they gave us backers the choice to switch to black pebbles if we originally chose a colored pebble.  I elected to do so and now have my pebble.

The product:

The watch, as is shown in pictures below, is a fairly tall but average width rectangular watch with a very nice e-paper display.  It has 4 buttons which are very intuitively spaced and function like they were labeled up, down, select, and back most of the time.  It has a magnetic charging dock, which plugs into the proprietary cable that comes with the watch.  For its specs, it has a bluetooth radio that is capable of running on bluetooth low energy, but that software tweak hasn't been enabled yet.  It has a backlight which is activated by pressing the button on the left of the watch OR by shaking your wrist.  The vibration feels very nice and strong.  Some people have reported it being too loud when using a metal watch strap, but mine is very discreet.

What’s special about it:

The pebble watch is a digital, e-paper screened watch that connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone (android and iOS currently).  The idea is simple, whenever you get a call, text, or email, the watch is supposed to vibrate and show a preview of what’s incoming to your phone.  In addition, it has many customizable watch faces (that I’ll get into later), promised integration with other software in the future, an accelerometer, and magnetometer.  This early on, the software on the watch and my phone don’t take full advantage of everything the watch has to offer so there is no compass yet to take advantage of the magnetometer, no integration with other apps to function as an activity tracker, and no accessible full software development kit (SDK) although there is now a watchface SDK and and a proof-of-concept SDK available to those who really want to delve into app writing for the pebble.

The software:

The software on the watch is very simple and easy to navigate.  There are menus for music control, set alarm, choose watchface, and settings.  The music control app allows you to pause, play, and skip songs on your iPhone or android device.  The other menus are self-explanatory.  Settings allows you to change time and date, turn off vibration of the watch, and toggle the backlight setting.  Additionally you can shut down and reset the watch from the settings tab.


This is where the watch shines.  Right now, you can set it to vibrate and let you read text messages as they come in.  You can scroll through them right away and dismiss them with the select botton.  When a call comes in, you can answer or dismiss the call from your wrist.  When an email comes in, it gives you a short buzz and allows you to scroll through it.  However, there are currently some IOS bugs that originate from the Apple software that make it so you have to toggle notifications on each separate email account whenever the phone and watch have been disconnected (even by distance or one of them being turned off temporarily).  This is a huge pain but can be fixed with a jailbroken iPhone.  There is no such problem with Android devices.  For the future, what I want to see is the ability to delete emails and text messages from the watch when you get them.

From a medical student perspective:

This is a fantastic tool to have during rounds to triage emails, text messages, and calls from your wrist without having to take out your phone.  THIS is the point of the smartwatch.  Being able to interact with your phone without being obtrusive is fantastic.  Right now, when a text comes in while I am rounding with the team on the wards, I can simply look at my watch, decide it it's important, and go from there.  If it's something that I really want to read, I can scroll through the message with the watch.  If it is something very important (like your resident telling you he/she will be late, I can pull out the phone and answer or text back.  If it isn't important at all, I can just look at it and ignore it.  This could become an issue if you check your watch all the time and it looks like you are bored or need to be somewhere, but I think that's a little better than pulling out your smartphone! 

Battery life:

When I use a conservative watchface that doesn't change every second like the one pictured with the white face below, I have gotten 5 full days out of my battery before needing to charge.  This was a one time test run and I will keep making observations but that does seem to be other pebble-owners' observation as well.  If you use a watchface that changes every second and get a TON of notifications everyday, I imagine you would see a poorer battery life.


The watch is great.  Wrist-top notifications are something that I can definitely get used to.  It will cost $150 to pre-order it now and the wait to getting yours is anyone’s guess right now.  They are still working on getting Kickstarter backers their watches and ironing out the problems with manufacturing color pebbles.  I wouldn’t expect to get one for a few months if you are wanting to order one now. 

The big thing about this watch is its potential.  The company is currently working with the app-makers who created runkeeper (UPDATE: the runkeeper app has just been updated to have pebble integration).  This will allow you to track your progress on your watch while running instead of looking at your phone.  There is further potential use with the popular automation website IFTTT (if this then that) that allows you to trigger actions when something happens (e.g. send yourself a text message when “I’m tagged on facebook”). 

The ability to interface with your phone via your watch seems to be the new direction many companies are going.  Now that pebble has seen the first real success in this market, companies like Samsung and possibly apple are showing interest.

I’m enjoying my pebble for now and will update this review as I have more time to experience its daily issues and usage and specifically, battery life.

A work in progress! (much like the watch).

UPDATE: added battery life section and updated the overall and from a medical student perspective sections.

Updated photo of my pebble with a gadgetwraps face cover in white

Just showing the watch charger.

This is the music controller screen.


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