An Ode to the Pebble, the Underdog Smartwatch

Tech Features Pebble
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An Ode to the Pebble, the Underdog Smartwatch

I can’t lie. I really like my Pebble Watch. It’s a Pebble Time Steel I purchased during Pebble’s second Kickstarter campaign after happily sticking with their original black and white model for almost two years.

That original e-ink screen and boxy shape might not have been sexy, but that first Pebble put the concept of being a watch first. Unlike LCD-based screens, Pebble screens never go off to save battery life and they’re glare free even in full sun. Pebbles are also cross-platform, unlike most of the competition.

Pebble has been busily expanding their line and offers an array of different colors and models, but the core functionality remains pretty much the same. Most people probably don’t want to use their smartwatch to draw little hearts (or, erm, other body parts…), they want a watch that reliably provides subtle notifications with enough information that you don’t have to break out the phone unless you want to.

Naysayers for this technology may scoff, but there’s a distinct freedom in never needing to hear your phone make a noise or vibrate. Working in a crowded office by day, it’s gotten to the point where I hate hearing other people’s phones going off. So, if you’re like me, a smartwatch is a wondrous thing. You can tell a Pebble, through its phone app, exactly what applications you want notifications for and never have to hear a beep, ring, or phone buzz again.

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New Pebble models even let you reply to any messaging program—from SMS to Messenger and beyond—with your voice, thanks to the watch’s built in microphone. Aside from the immensely cool Dick Tracy vibe, this is frequently far more convenient than using your phone. Granted, it’s only as good as the phone’s voice recognition, which is generally excellent except when it’s ragingly inaccurate.

Another reason I love these watches is they are, as far as normal use goes, nearly indestructible. Gorilla glass and amazing water protection mean that you can actually work and play with them, including taking them into the pool. I’ve dunked mine in a Great Lake for hours, had fun with them in fish tanks at the aquarium, and been in pouring rain. Nothing gets through.

Both the original and Time come in somewhat higher priced “steel” editions, which frankly look as good as any of the competition. Ditching the plastic bodies for various colored metals gives them a surprisingly expensive look, without paying anything close to Apple Watch prices.

The Pebble Time uses a different screen technology (e-paper LCD) to allow for a color display. There’s only a slight hit to the contrast in sunlight, but it’s still always readable no matter the light level. When Pebble says they estimate the watch to go 10 days on a charge, they’re not kidding. Depending on usage, I’ve found the Time easily able to go between a week to sometimes past 10 days on a single charge.

They’ve already released the Pebble 2 successor to the original black and white watch. Surprisingly, it’s still without color, but adds the voice controls of the Time, a new heart rate monitor, and the integrated Pebble Health for tracking activity. Battery life is still about a week, which is less than the original e-ink Pebble, but better than any of the competition by a wide margin. It also costs only $99-$129.99, depending on the sale.

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Pebble is soon to release the next watch in their line, the Pebble Time 2, which firms up their new commitment to the fitness tracking craze. On the surface, this new watch is a lot like the current Time, but the black bezel around the screen is smaller allowing for a 50% larger screen with a higher resolution. The Time 2, will also sport the new heart rate monitor and over a week of battery life on a single charge. Best of all, the list price is only $169.

Finally, there’s the Pebble Round ($199.99), the high-end “luxury” model. This is an odd addition to the family, since the sleek, round design was apparently attained by sacrificing much of the battery life. The Round goes for about two days on a charge, but makes up for it with superfast charging. It lacks the heart rate monitor of the new Pebbles, but otherwise has all the features of the Time and is incredibly light.

My favorite thing about the Pebble is the app store, which has a thriving indie developer community. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of downloadable watchfaces and apps to completely customize your watch. I love changing my watch face on the fly and whatever you want, it’s probably in there. Even better, the vast majority of these apps and watch faces are completely free. Even the apps that cost money are generally a couple bucks at most.

Superb battery life, thriving developer support, and a wide range of functionality drew me to the Pebble in the first place. Over three years later, it’s managed to keep me onboard even in the face of some incredibly shiny competition. Pebble makes smartwatches that are watches first. They’re simple to use, convenient, good looking, and a lot cheaper than the competition.