Smartwatches are the new hottest trend in today’s tech world, and the Pebble e-ink watch helped start the fire. The most successful Kickstarter project to date, the Pebble raised over $10 million during its 1-month campaign which ended in May 2012. It had almost 70,000 backers, and more than that in non-Kickstarter pre-orders, and still you don’t see many people in the street wearing the watch. Why?
Before we get into the Pebble politics, a subject we won’t be able to avoid even in this innocent review, let’s start by saying that after months of waiting, we managed to get our hands on a pre-order red Pebble. For those of you who weren’t following, the Pebble is a smartwatch with an e-ink screen (similar to various eReaders), which can hook up to your iPhone or Android device. With its infinite amount of apps and watch faces, it is far more customizable than your regular watch.
The Pebble is still playing hard to get. You can currently pre-order the black version from Best Buy or pre-order any of the five available colors from the Pebble website, but it’s not clear when you’ll get the watch. In the meantime, you can read all about it in the review below, and, yes, join the running to win this $150 new cherry red Pebble for free! With the way things are going, this may happen before you can actually get your hands on it from any merchant.
Pebble History Lesson
If you read the intro, you already know that Pebble had almost 70,000 Kickstarter backers, and more than that in pre-orders. It was originally offered in three colors: black, red and white, with two more colors added later on: grey and orange. As it stands today, many pre-orders of colors other than black and red have not been shipped yet. Worse still, many Kickstarter backers have not received their Pebbles yet either, especially those who ordered the white one.
The company made promises of Pebbles shipping in March, then May, and then simply stopped updating, not being able to meet these dates. It was then, when all seemed lost, that they decided to make the most controversial decision of all: make the black Pebble available for everyone on Best Buy. If disappointed Kickstarter backers and pre-order customers were mad at this move, they were furious when the Pebbles at Best Buy promptly sold out, bought mostly by people who did not support the company in its first steps.
Personally, I pre-ordered the red Pebble in October 2012, which then had a shipping estimation of March 2013. I paid for my order in January 2013, but March came and went and nothing happened. The shipping date then changed to May, which also came and went. At that point Pebble started sending out sporadic emails without ever setting a new date, which made me believe that pre-orders for black and red Pebbles will ship soon. Luckily, I chose red in my pre-order, not knowing this was the right choice at the time, so I finally received my Pebble in July.
So where does this stand today? Nowhere too positive. The Pebble Forum is still filled with backers and customers who have not received the watch, Best Buy is out of stock, and there seems to be nothing to do but keep waiting, or if you pre-ordered and haven’t paid yet, cancel the order and wait for the watch to be available in Best Buy again.
If you backed the Pebble or pre-ordered one, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. And now, let’s leave politics behind us and focus on the true purpose of this review: the Pebble smartwatch!
Getting To Know The Pebble
When I was handed the Pebble box for the first time I thought there must be some mistake. I was supposed to receive a watch, not a keyboard!
After waiting for over 6 months, I was not ready for mistakes. Luckily, it says “meet pebble” on the box, so it must be the right one after all. I opened the box to find lots of plastic packaging, along with a Pebble watch and a USB cable. Not the most efficient packaging in the world, but it wins on looks.
I knew exactly what to expect of the Pebble in terms of appearance, so the biggest surprise upon opening the box was how dusty and dirty the Pebble was before I even attempted to touch it. This is apparent in some of the photos below, as I was not aware of just how dirty it was when I first took it out.
As you’ve probably noticed, this is not your regular USB cable, but a proprietary magnetic connector. This means there’s no jack to make the watch vulnerable to water, but it also means that if you lose the cable or if something happens to it, you won’t be able to use just any old cable lying around the house. Considering how hard to come by these Pebbles currently are, I’m not sure I want to try getting my hands on a replacement cable.
Looking at the Pebble itself, I found the magnetic charging port and an additional button on the left side and three more button on the right side. Again, you may notice how dirty the watch is in these shots. It was like this out of the box, so I’m not sure where it’s been before it got to me.
If you have sharp eyes, you may have noticed something peculiar written on the back side of the Pebble. Yes, my Pebble says “Kickstarter Edition” on the back, even though I was never a Kickstarter backer, and even though some Kickstarter backers have yet to receive their watches.
Setting Up The Pebble
If you thought you would take the Pebble out of the box, turn it on and start using it, you’re in for a bitter surprise. It took me all of an hour to get the Pebble to show me the time, much of which was spent waiting in vain for things to happen the way they’re described in the instructions. Don’t worry, I got it to work eventually.
If you recall, the box said to go to go.getpebble.com to get started, and so I did. Turning on the Pebble itself only served to show the message you see above, so obviously some setting up was in order. The website sent me to the Play Store to install the Pebble mobile app (there’s an iOS version too, of course). It then told me to make sure Bluetooth was turned on on my phone, and tap the gear icon in the Pebble app to pair them.
The Pebble app had other plans, though. Before I even had access to any cog icon, the Pebble app asked me if I wanted to Get Started or Learn More. When I chose Get Started, it simply started looking for Pebbles by itself.
I won’t bore you with details, but from here on nothing was like the instructions, and top it off, my phone and Pebble would not pair. Every time I tried backing out of this to try to find the cog icon mentioned in the instructions, I was asked ominously if I wanted to “Skip setup”, which of course I thought I didn’t (turns out I did).
I got stuck on the screens you see below, which do look promising, but not when the Pebble itself is completely oblivious to any and all pairing efforts done in this way.
Finally, the app announced that it had paired with the Pebble, and the Pebble was now updating. Problem is, the Pebble was still not showing any signs of doing anything, and kept on showing the “Install & Run Pebble App” message. Thinking it’s just taking time, I left it “updating” for about 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, when nothing was happening, I got tired of it all and backed out of the process. This means I chose to “skip setup”, which apparently was what I needed to do in the first place. I could then finally tap the elusive cog icon and pair the devices manually, at which point my Pebble truly did update, and looked like this:
Once that was done, I could finally start using my Pebble!
What Can The Pebble Do?
The Pebble is a pretty good-looking watch, and does sport an e-ink screen, but what can this watch do for you that a regular watch can’t? A short answer would be “a lot”. A longer answer would be “depends on how you use it”.
The Pebble is a big and sturdy watch. It comes with a 1.26-inch screen (144×168 pixels), and a very wide strap to match. It has a backlight, a vibrating motor (but no speaker or microphone), light sensors, and an accelerometer. It’s also 5 ATM water resistant, at least on paper, which means it should withstand being submerged up to 165 feet (50 meters). You can pair it with any iOS device running iOS 5 and up, and with any Android device running Android 2.3 and up.
When you first start using the Pebble, you’ll find three different watch faces to choose from which you can switch between using the top and bottom buttons on the right. The middle button opens up the menu, where you’ll find the music controller, the alarm, and the settings.
In the settings, you’ll find such things as a list of paired devices, date and time controls, display controls, and notification controls. The display controls let you choose how and when you want the backlight to turn on, and if you want it to turn on when you flick your wrist.
Speaking of notifications, while you can turn these on and off through the watch, you have to use the app on your phone to determine which notifications are sent to the Pebble. The Pebble can alert you of incoming calls, text and WhatsApp messages, new emails, Google Talk and Google Voice messages and Facebook messages. At this time, email alerts work only with the default email client on iOS 6 (will not work on iOS 5), and with the default email app or Gmail on Android.
Alerts are manifested as short vibrating patterns, along with on-screen text alerts and summaries of the new message. Apparently, these notifications differ slightly depending on your mobile platform. For example, with iOS, the Pebble lets you accept calls through the watch, while with Android it only lets you reject them.
Email alerts include the first few sentences of the email (400-500 characters), while text messages usually include the whole message, if it’s not super long. WhatsApp messages only include the name of the sender. In general, these notifications exist mainly for you to be aware that you’ve received a new message/email than for you actually read them on the Pebble. Reading emails on the Pebble, even if short, is rather inconvenient, and I only ever received notifications for new emails in my inbox, when in fact most of my new email skips the inbox in favor of labels.
Oh, and if you speak languages that don’t use regular Latin script, expect your emails and texts to look like this:
You must be curious about the music controller I mentioned above. What can this do? To make it clearer, I prepared a video that demonstrates how it works.
On iOS, the music app works with Music, Pandora, Spotify, and “any other music app that implements default music controls”. On Android, things are not as advanced, and the app is said to control only the default music app and Google Play Music. In reality, I could also control Earbits — my go-to mobile music player — so you never know. The built-in Pebble music app is very basic, and doesn’t even let you navigate between artists or albums, only control the music currently playing.
This is not everything the Pebble can do, however. Not by a long shot. While these are all the functionalities you’ll find on the Pebble out of the box, the Web is full of additional watch faces, apps and functionalities you can add to your Pebble. You can access some additional watch faces and apps through the mobile app, and dozens of others on The Pebble forum and other websites.
The easiest way to download these watch faces and apps from the Web is to scan a QR code. This automatically installs the app on your watch through your phone. The Pebble cannot access the Internet for such things as weather information which appears on many watch faces. In order to do this, you’ll need to install an additional third-party app called httpebble (Android/iOS).
Pebble apps range from alternative music controls and RSS readers to Super Mario watch faces and cycling apps. All these apps and watch faces are created by third-party developers, so don’t expect to find the same things for Android and iOS.
Living With The Pebble Smartwatch
Disclaimer: I don’t like heavy and bulky watches. This might be because I’m a woman, or just because I am who I am, but my normal watch is almost non-existent next to the Pebble. For me, the Pebble was extremely uncomfortable to wear. The combination of the huge watch face and the very wide strap made it feel like I was wearing an extra smartphone on my wrist. Even my gadget-loving husband, who normally sports a much bigger watch than I do, said the Pebble was not very comfortable to wear.
That aside, the Pebble is a fun little toy to play with, and the endless amount of watch faces and apps make it extremely customizable. Did I find it useful in my everyday life? Not really. But that might be due to the fact that I rarely leave the house, and when I do, I don’t need constant email alerts on my wrist.
I can definitely see how the Pebble would be useful in times when your phone is tucked away somewhere out of reach, but at the end of the day, you’re still going to need the actual phone to complete most actions.
When push comes to shove, the Pebble’s most appealing feature is the endless amount of watch faces, making it possible to wear a different and original watch every day, and its e-ink display.
Should You Buy The Pebble Smartwatch?
This is kind of a moot question, as there’s currently no way to actually buy the Pebble. You can pre-order it, but in the current state of things you may want to wait until everything blows over.
In general, the Pebble is a nice gimmick, and one which gadget lovers would love to play with, but at the end of the day, I can’t see too many situations in which it would really be necessary. Then again, that can be said of most smartwatches out there. As a regular watch, the Pebble packs endless watches in one $150 watch, which is nice.
How do I win the Pebble Smartwatch?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, August 16th. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email.
Congratulations, Daniel Hershcovich! You would have received an email from email@example.com. Please respond before September 12 to claim your prize. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.