Pebble Smart Watch Australian Review: A Beautiful Broken Promise

Never have I waited as long for a gadget as I have for the Pebble e-paper smart watch. Was it worth the wait? Almost...

Editor's note: We've been holding this one for a while. We wanted Pebble to complete the majority of shipping operations to its Kickstarter backers who have been waiting the better part of a year and a half to get their hands on these smart watches.

Today we got word that almost all the black Pebbles have shipped to Kickstarter backers, hence we decided to push our review out. Now anyone who wants a Pebble can head over to getpebble to get their hands (or wrists) on one.

What Is It?

The Pebble is an adorable, customisable smart watch that runs an e-paper display, allows you to customise the watch faces and receive notifications via your smartphone. You can use sports and fitness apps with it — like Runkeeper, for example — and it comes in a range of colours.

It has one button on the top left of the device (for activating the light or going back), and three buttons down the right-hand side (two for scrolling up and down, one for selection).

The watch only weighs 38.2 grams with a polycarbonate shell and hard coated lens on top of the face. The strap is 22-millimetre polyurethane and you can interchange the strap whenever you like with a leather or metal one.

The Pebble app will be supported on Android 2.3.3 and above and it will support any iOS device with iOS 5 or higher (iPhone 3GS and up and iPod Touch 3rd-Generation and up), but it works better with iOS 6 because of the new Bluetooth profiles in the OS for better notifications.

What's Good?

First of all, it's a great watch. Having interchangeable watch features you can muck about with via your iPhone or Android device is awesome. I'd be sold just on that, but there's more.

You'd expect a smart watch that could grab all of your phone notifications to be heavy, clunky and overall, kinda dumb, but that's far from what the Pebble is. It's not exactly sleek and sexy, but you have to admire the craftsmanship that has gone into making such a nifty little device. It's not too thick, not too heavy, and most importantly, not too daggy. It's perfect for the target market: geeks who want a smart watch but don't want to look like huge dorks on purpose.

Notifications are also really well integrated into the device. A little vibration goes off (if you want it to) when you get a call, and email, an SMS or a social interaction, and a little card appears on your screen. If multiple notifications come in at once, you can then scroll through the cards which also have a sense of depth so you know there's more than one you need to check out.

When it's dark, the Pebble has a motion-activated backlight. A quick flick of your wrist sees the light turn on and illuminate your chosen watchface. It's not enough to blind you when you've just woken up, which is nice, but don't expect to use it to help you find your keys or anything.

What's most exciting about the Pebble is the potential. Thousands of developers are in on the Pebble program, making watchfaces, apps and other gizmos we haven't even thought of yet. It's a market that will surely taper off over time, but right now it's exciting to think what we might be able to do with our Pebbles in 12 months time. IFTTT support for iPhone came out overnight, and Pebble has been working with the IFTTT platform to get notifications working. It showed a prototype off at CES. Funny how things come about!

I mean, just look at this. It's Bill F**king Murray on your wrist!

Also, the way Pebble is managing software updates and charging for the Pebble is great. Everything on the Pebble is all fairly frictionless, too. What I mean by that is that it's easy to charge, easy to update and easy to fiddle with. No fumbling around for a charger cover, it's magnetic. No plugging it in for updates, it's over Bluetooth. The Pebble redefines "nifty".

What's Bad?

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the Pebble is the battery. Sure, it lasts a good seven days without having to be charged, but it always dies without warning, and when it boots up, it has forgotten what time it is. Time isn't persistent, it's only updated when you connect it to your phone via Bluetooth again.

Also, the notification integration with iOS leaves a lot to be desired. Only a few notifications are passed through to the Pebble, including call notifications, iMessage and SMS notifications and Mail notifications (sometimes). This is most likely because of the way iOS notifications are designed on the device to work with third-party services. Android is a fairly open platform, however, so you can download a Pebble Notifier app to push all sorts of notifications to your wrist. It sure seems like a good idea at first to push everything to your wrist, but you get tired of it pretty fast. Make sure you keep it at only limited push if you want to stay sane. It's disheartening that it doesn't push everything to your wrist with a sense of magic and whimsey, however. It feels almost like a broken promise to change the future of wearables.

Definitely the most frustrating aspect with the Pebble is the distribution method. Pebble started as a project on Kickstarter, and blitzed its funding to the tune of about $10 million and an unprecedented number of orders. As a result, production became a slow and arduous process. All in all, we waited about a year and a half for the Pebble to be sent out, and some people waiting for white and red pebbles are still waiting, despite the fact that the Pebble is now selling on shelves in US Best Buy outlets.

I know Kickstarter shouldn't be considered an online store of sorts, it should be considered as what it actually is: a marketplace to back new businesses that still need to build their products. Despite that fact, I think a lot of people came to learn this lesson the hard way with the Pebble, which for some was the first project they backed. It would have been nice if it were faster, but what can we accept from a start-up?

Should You Buy It?

Maybe we over-hyped the abilities of the Pebble? Perhaps it was a 1.0 product we told ourselves would reshape how we saw wearable technology? We put too much on the shoulders of one device and paid the price in our disappointment. Isn't that what we do with every technology, though? Don't we sit watching every Apple product announcement and wonder why the latest device doesn't launch rockets or deploy smokescreens? Don't we get our hands on a Microsoft operating system and become disappointed it doesn't read our minds or something? As gadget fanboys, we always overhype the stuff we're excited about.

So we re-evaluated. We threw out the unachievable yardstick we had built ourselves to measure the Pebble against and we considered what it was really like to use. How does it work as a watch? How does it work with notifications? What is the future potential? By these measures, the Pebble performs beautifully.

It's a stellar digital watch with interchangeable faces that adds more than your Casio ever could by getting push notifications from either your Android or iOS devices. Notifications could be better, but the developer push behind the Pebble ensures that we'll get there over time. Right now they're perfect for anyone embarrassed by their ringtone like I am (it's still Nyan Cat and I haven't had time to change it).

I love my Pebble, just as I knew that I would. It doesn't revolutionise wearables, but it's the best damn smart watch that has ever come across my desk.


Comments

    Have had mine since April, and it has been getting better and better as time goes on. The community is great and there is almost no end to what people are making their pebbles do!!

      People still wear watches?

        Yes.

    It was pretty hard going through Singapore airport in April and seeing a massive stack of Pebble boxes knowing that I was still waiting on mine to be shipped (and I only got the email saying mine had been shipped yesterday). Still, if it looks nice and I can customize the face while syncing it with my phone, then I'll be happy.

    Terrible headline for this article.
    How can you give it this title and then follow up with "I love my Pebble, just as I knew that I would. It doesn’t revolutionise wearables, but it’s the best damn smart watch that has ever come across my desk."???

    Overall the watch is pretty good. I Haven't played around with it too much yet, but it seems stable, reliable and I have found it overall useful.

    I'd don't think it's fair to judge such a massively popular kickstarter on delays and distribution problems. They received 100x the response they were expecting. That's quite a big requirement for distribution and manufacture.
    I'd much rather delays for a few months than getting a half-arsed rushed product.

    The potential is awesome. The battery life hasn't worried me at all. If I had to charge it overnight, that would be bad. But once a week is no problem at all. It takes about 2 hours to get to full charge. As for forgetting the time... it's supposed to be connected to your phone... it will sync the time straight away. I don't see the problem here either.

    They've already released something like 11 firmware updates since launch, and are constantly improving. The ultimate test of whether this will be successful or not will be how much the community and developers get on board.

    Sure it's a gimmicky gadget, but if you're after a smart watch, for $150, it's pretty awesome.

    Last edited 12/07/13 9:37 am

      Yeh i agree, the title is misleading and initially made me think the device was a fail until I read the whole article. What promise does it break? It sounds like it does everything it intends to do.

      Last edited 12/07/13 9:53 am

        I think he meant that the "promise" was supposed to be that it would "revolutionise wearable technology"

    I don't own the watch so maybe I don't understand but I feel this review is weirdly negative. Having read it, there's 2 major downsides
    1) "Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the Pebble is the battery."
    Sure seven days isn't much for a watch but as a user of FitBit, it's nothing that tedious. Just plug it in every (say) saturday and you're done. But I will say the lack of low battery notification is a design oversight.
    2) "Definitely the most frustrating aspect with the Pebble is the distribution method."
    So the most frustrating part of the watch, has nothing to do with the watch. Awesome.

    I dunno, maybe it's just my read of it but this article is weirdly negative without supplying good reasons. The last paragraph is almost a lament by the author on his own crushed ideas about the project. Again, I don't own the watch so I don't know if it actually failed to deliver any of it's promises, but if it did, it's certainly not reflected very well in this article.

    Last edited 12/07/13 9:43 am

      I sure hope this negative article isn't about creating a buzz about a rumoured Apple product.

      There actually is a low-battery notification, but it's easy to miss. A small icon appears in the corner, about 12 hours before it dies in my experience, but the catch is that it only shows up on notifications and the menu screen, not the watch-face. So if you don't do anything or get any notifications, you might miss it. I do think it should appear on the watch-face as well - I usually see it, but my wife often misses hers.

      That said, I think it's awesome. I have mine set up (on Android) to silence and unlock my phone whenever it's in range, the remote music control is often handy, and not having to pull my phone out to check every random notification is a blessing.

    That's very disingenuous of you to say that it was a year and a half late. Leaving aside the fact that some colours are only just being sent out, they started shipping the first pebbles about 9 mths (still very late of course) after the target date of August last year.

    Battery life? If you want (so called) battery life get yourself a cookoo watch. Claimed life of up to a year in standby but total fail as a smartwatch (they can't or won't bother even get android connectivity working and it only provides the most basic notifications). I doubt even apple can squeeze out much more from theirs (if it exists) especially if power hungry displays are used.

    Of course it's a revolution - it's the first of its kind that actually works fairly well at a reasonable price and has kicked off a slew of competitors (just look on kickstarter and indiegogo) with even the big boys getting interested. Ultimately (as apple would say) it;s all about the software - plenty of support from developers with some really good apps out there.

    As far as being a v1 product - yes it is and the maker never claimed otherwise. If you thought that it would do everything at release then you are seriously smoking something. Even IOS didn't' get something as basic as cut and paste for a couple of years.

    I'm glad I didn't wait for this and got a Sony SmartWatch over a year ago. This sounds mildly better but probably not worth the wait.

    It does a good job as a smart watch the battery does last a bit more than a week (8 days) in fact it does warn you the battery is going to run out (about 3 hours before). And only the colours that have been sent to Kickstarter backers are available at best buy. And it works as advertised on Android.

    I've had mine for about 3 weeks and im more than happy. Sure it has some issues but for the price and it being a gen 1 device I'm happy. That said I'm running it on droid and get far more than my mates on ios .. pebble notifier is a god send for customising what u get on the watch.

    I got mine a few weeks ago, and it really is a revolution for me. The buzz / audio on my Galaxy Nexus was rather weak, and in my pocket, I wouldn't notice it, meaning I missed phone calls, important emails and such. With the Pebble, the vibration is strong enough to replace my alarm clock and I haven't missed a call since.

    The screen is tough to read at some angles. Outside, you don't notice it, because the Sharp LCD thingo is amazing, but in semi-dark areas, you need to twist your arm to read it.

    But this watch is best experienced with an Android phone. With Pebble Notifier, I can send any app's notification (and even the popup messages) to my watch, and I can turn it on and off for individual apps.

    With PebbleTasker, you can run Tasker tasks remotely. I have one set up for Google Now (for when I'm driving), SoundHound, one to write my current location to a log (Geotagging) and one for a 15 minute power nap (though I wrote my own Watch app for that).

    I looked at other smartwatches, like Sony's offering, and thought it was overkill. Who needs a watch with a touchscreen? Perhaps a tap to wake or something, but not swiping and such. Plus those aren't waterproof like the Pebble.

    I'll be waiting to see what the competition brings before pulling the trigger on any smart watch.

      Here tis: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/kreyos-the-only-smartwatch-with-voice-gesture-control

        All the features I want, but why make it so ugly? WHYYYY?

    Any updates on software for the Windows Phone 8

      http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/secretlabs/agent-the-worlds-smartest-watch

      AGENT, I backed it and can't wait.

    I have had mine for 3 weeks now, and only charged it twice. Mind you it did go flat at work last night. So the battery is more then sufficient. As for the watch forgetting the time my phone and pebble were in separate rooms and didn't connect when I turned it back on yet it displayed the correct time.

    Pebble from the get go said that message notification on iOS was not even going to happen, they managed to get it working for the most part, so be patient. Was this article written before the 2 most recent PebbleOS updates?

    I love my Pebble. my phone connects to my Bluetooth in my car, and I can control the music with my watch, no need to handle my phone at all while I drive.

    I've had mine for a few months now and it far surpassed my expectations. I never wear watches so I was worried that I wouldn't get used to it, but now it feels weird when I'm not wearing it (when I'm not wearing it and I get a message, my initial reaction is to glance at my wrist).

    Works great as a watch for time, day and date (I use the watchface Divided Reversed, a nice simple face). The music controls and messages are awesome, and phone calls are surprisingly useful particularly if I leave my phone on silent in the next room or my bag.

    Honestly the pebble was great to begin with, but the lack of the communication from the Pebble Team coupled with a slightly dodgy product is really starting to bring the Pebble Community undone. I honestly think the Kreyos Meteor is going to be the next big thing ( http://igg.me/at/kreyos/x/4267198 )....and they even have compared it to the pebble specs :)

    Last edited 07/08/13 5:40 pm

    Hi - am jumping on the bandwagon a bit late, but am wondering: does it have an alarm function?

    They've obviously caught up with their production/delivery problems. I'm putting an order in from Australia. Mates who ordered them had them arrive within a couple of weeks.
    I can't wait for it.

    When you go for a run, do you have to have your phone with you or can you leave it at home?

    Does anyone know who the Pebble agent is in Australia? I have a major complaint with a national reseller.

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