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Hands on: Pebble rocks!
I have to confess that I didn't back the Pebble smart watch in the original kickstarter offering, however I've been given a 'second chance' via someone selling their effectively brand new watch a few miles away from me, which I duly bought. I'm seriously impressed.
I've always had something of a love affair with Smartwatches. I think i've owned or considered buying just about all of them at some point, I still have a MotoACTV (good but huge) and I so nearly bought a G-Shock until I realised it probably wouldn't work with my device.
On the whole, they've been disappointments all round. Too ugly. Too big. Awful battery. Too limited. Poor user experience. While some have got pretty close to being worth having, they've all failed to keep me using them for more than a couple of weeks - but I think the Pebble is different.
First of all - design. The Pebble isn't huge and it isn't ugly. It comes in a variety of colours, although only black and red have shipped in significant volume due to manufacturing issues - mine is a black model. It has an 'e-paper' screen (really a regular LCD) with a pretty big bezel, but it has a good curve on it, is glossy and smart and has chunky buttons on the sides to operate. It ships with a rubber strap which itself isn't bad, but it takes standard 22mm watch bands too. I've swapped mine out for a nice black leather item with orange stitching from Amazon. It's a smart watch that doesn't look too much like a smart watch (unlike, say, the MotoACTV) which is definitely a good thing!
Secondly, specs. As mentioned, the screen is backlit monochrome e-paper and runs at a a decidedly low 144 x 168 resolution. It has a scratch and shatter resistant lens with an anti-glare optical coating. Actually, the screen is arguably the weakest point of the device, but it's not so bad as to cause a big problem. Bluetooth 2.1 and Bluetooth 4.0 LE are both on board, however to date only Bluetooth 2.1 is used. When 4.0 LE becomes ubiquitous on Android (with Android 4.3) I'm hopeful that Pebble will turn on the functionality to save battery. There are 4 buttons, a vibrating motor, a 3 axis accelerometer with gesture detection and the whole thing is rated to 5 ATM, "tested for both fresh and saltwater. You can swim, go for a run in the rain or wash dishes with your Pebble". The battery should give you 7+ days runtime. The waterproofing means that a regular microUSB charging port is not really viable and so the Pebble has a power connector that's reminiscent of an Apple Magsafe connector. It lines up and snaps on easily.
Thirdly, software. The Pebble software is officially supported on iOS and Android and the provided app is pretty decent. BUT.. it's extensible with watchfaces and apps from third party developers via the Pebble SDK, which gives the device huge potential.
So what has my experience been like with the device? How am I using it?
Hardware wise, as mentioned above I replaced the strap. Although the watch is said to be scratch resistant, I got a bit paranoid about it getting damaged (after seeing some posts online) so I ordered a GadgetWrap for the Pebble, which arrived a few days ago. It's a wet install... i'm usually the WORST at applying screen protectors, but this one went on fine and it's virtually invisible (as you can see in the image right at the top of this article). Highly recommended.
Even if you install additional apps for the Pebble, you need to keep the main Pebble app installed. One of the biggest complaints i've had about previous smart watches is reliability of the connection. I'm amazed to say that I haven't had the watch lose it's connection with the phone even once... it's rock solid, which is really excellent.
I started by adding a couple of watch faces from MyPebbleFaces. My 2 favourites are Revolution and Noms. Installing the watchfaces is easy - you click on the link to a .pbw file on your phone, which is then downloaded and automatically opened by the Pebble app, which installs the watch face on your Pebble. Installing apps works the same way.
The next app I installed was on my phone, in the form of Pebble Notifier. When installed and activated via the accessibility settings of your device, Pebble Notifier can intercept and forward ANY notification to your Pebble (even 'toast' notifications)! Notifications can be configured on an 'opt in' basis (only selected apps are included) or an 'opt out' basis (only selected apps are excluded). It's very powerful and works very well. Oh, and the icing on the cake? The application also works as a Tasker plugin to let you send notifications directly to your watch using that application if you wish.
Talking of Tasker... I also installed PebbleTasker. Whereas Pebble Notifier handles phone to watch Tasker communications, PebbleTasker works the other way. It installs an application on your watch that when launched presents 3 buttons. These buttons can launch Tasker tasks of your choice. For example, you could configure a button to take a picture on your phone. You could configure a button to download something from a website and then send it to your watch as a notification. It's incredibly versatile and the possibilities are endless!
The latest application i've discovered (and the third one i'm using at the moment) is Pebble Glance. Pebble Glance works like a watch face (i.e. it shows the time), but it's actually a Pebble app. The main view shows the time and date as well as weather for your current location pulled from your phone. The 3 buttons on the watch can be configured to run a Tasker task, send a predefined SMS to a contact, show more detailed weather or show upcoming calendar entries. The application is in Beta but it already works very well.
In my current real-world use scenario (with a ton of notifications and a lot of use!) i'm getting battery life of about 5 days, which is prefectly acceptable to me. If you're not hammering it quite so much then you'll probaby get quite a lot more. I use the backlight a fair bit too, which is activated by flicking your wrist.
I'm finding that the Pebble allows me to get my device out of my pocket a lot less. I don't need to check it for notifications so often and when notifications do come in, I get a vibration on my wrist and I can check to see if it's something I want to deal with straight away or not. It's really cool to screen incoming calls too. I find myself using this a lot when i'm sitting at my PC strangely! Interestingly the change in the way i'm using my device probably means that i'm offsetting the extra phone battery used by the Bluetooth connection.
I still feel like i'm discovering how to get the most from the Pebble, but I love it already. In fact, I think everyone is discovering how to get the most from it - new apps and ideas are appearing all the time and it will just go from strength to strength.
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