Technology Review: The Pebble Smart Watch

Austin Allen

The Pebble smart watch ($150 to pre-order) garnered about a record-breaking $10.3 million over a year ago on the crowd funding website KickStarter. As the one of the most successful KickStarter campaigns to date, Pebble faced high expectations to live up to. But even with the delays and over a year of waiting, I was so excited to get this thing on my wrist.

One of the issues with other smart watches, like the Sony Smart Watch, has been their battery life. Pebble claims a five to seven day battery life, which it achieves largely to its ePaper display (similar to a Kindle). I can say that I charged the Pebble once just out of habit during my week with it and I never had a low battery warning. This truly made me feel that I was wearing a “real” watch because I never worried about battery life once. The watch comes with three different watch faces: the time in text, in analog and an approximate time (it’ll display “five after four” when it is 4:07). As of this writing, there are nine other watch faces you can download from the Pebble app; more will be coming with the public Software Development Kit (SDK), so everyone can develop and submit their ideas for watch faces. It comes in three different colors: red, white and black. The white version comes with a matching white band and all of the silicone bands can be easily taken off and replaced with a band of your choice (I got a black leather strap for my black Pebble). The watch, which originally was supposed to be waterproof for swimming, is now only water resistant. Still, it’s reassuring to know that getting it wet while washing your hands, sweating during a run or just wearing when it’s raining outside won’t break the watch.

The Pebble watch connects to your iPhone or Android phone through Bluetooth and alerts you of incoming notifications, such as emails, texts, phone calls and Facebook messages, with a short vibration to your wrist. For iPhone users, you choose to receive phone calls, texts, emails, Google Talk chats, Google Voice messages, Facebook messages and WhatsApp messages. You can also control your music. For Android, you can get messages from those apps; however, due to the openness of Android, you can download an app called Pebble Notifier that allows you to receive notifications from any app you have installed. My go-to notification app called LightFLow, which allows you to set custom vibrations, ringtones and notification light colors for certain apps, also claims to have Pebble support, but I couldn’t get it to work. When you receive a notification, the Pebble’s screen shows you what app the notification is from and first three to five of the message. During the week I used this Pebble, I found myself not glued to my smart phone like I usually am. On my flight back to California, I could change and pause the song from my wrist without having to take out my phone from my pocket. For example, I was at a dinner for my brother’s birthday and only took out my phone to respond to a text from my girlfriend to tell her I’d text her later. Usually, I’ll see the notification light, feel a vibration or check my phone periodically when it’s on silent to see if I get anything important while I’m at dinner, a meeting, in class, etc. Being able to get a quick preview of what I am receiving instead of completely disengaging from the current conversation, take out my phone, turn on the screen, check the notification, deem its importance and then choose a form of response feels really refreshing.

The Pebble doesn’t do a lot of things. It’s simple and what it does, it does well. With time, it will gain more features, like the promised integration with fitness RunKeeper, and completely relegate dedicated fitness bracelets like the Nike FuelBand obsolete. I really liked the Pebble, however, when I powered down the Pebble and charged it for the second time for my flight back to Colgate, it wouldn’t turn on the next morning. I understand that there will be kinks with a product when you are one of the first people to receive it, but I was crushed. The company took over a year to perfect their product, but I’m not the only person to have this problem. They have said they are going to address this issue soon and have been sending out replacement Pebbles to people effected with this issue. If you are interested in purchasing one, I’d give them your money now since you are actually pre-ordering it as they are sending out the first batches to KickStarter backers. By the time you actually receive one, the kinks will be worked out. In my opinion, purchasing a Pebble smart watch is a great investment.