Gadgets

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.

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