Two Months with the Pebble Smartwatch

Back near the beginning of September, I picked up a jet black Pebble smartwatch at a local Best Buy. As an iOS user, options are pretty limited on the smartwatch front but, as it turns out, that isn’t a bad thing. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch has been panned by reviewers and Sony has tried a couple of times to break into the market without success. The Pebble, created by a small company with a few million dollars in Kickstarter funds, has gone toe to toe with offerings from mega corporations that boast huge R&D budgets. And, so far, the Pebble is winning.

How can this be? I believe it’s because the Pebble does a few things and does them well. It doesn’t try to throw the kitchen sink at you by turning your watch into a miniature smartphone. Instead, the Pebble is an extension of your phone only, and its aim is to reduce repetitiveness. Think about the everyday use of your smartphone and why you need to pull it out of your pocket so often: to look at your caller ID, answer/dismiss a call, change a music track, view an alert or message, etc. Those tasks get offloaded onto the Pebble, so you can take a quick peek at your watch and take care of business.

pebbleIn my time with the Pebble — and this is written from the perspective of an iPhone user — I’ve found that I’m not mindlessly pulling my phone out and unlocking it as much. It stays in pocket, only coming out if the Pebble alerts me to something I need to do on the larger screen. And I’ve actually found I can disable the vibration feature of my iPhone while on silent, because any alert I get vibrates the Pebble (which is more quiet). That vibration is less likely to be heard by others — I’m sure you’ve all seen/heard the vibrating smartphone on a conference table — so you can still be alerted to a new call, message or update without disrupting others.

A recent iOS software update and Pebble firmware update brought support for iOS 7; as a result, the Pebble can alert you to any notification you receive in Notification Center. It’s a big step up from where the software was just two months ago, and it makes the watch feel even more like a part of the phone instead of its own device. The way I’ve set my iPhone up, with silent mode on most of the time and vibrations off, everything comes through the Pebble before it gets to me or bothers anyone else. The Pebble essentially becomes Notification Center, and it acts as a sort of gatekeeper for anything other than a second or two of my attention.

I can’t actually tell you if I’m more efficient now, but it feels that way. And I feel less addicted to my phone, too, though what I’ve really done is found a different way to view and interact with it. So I’ve not severed the lifeline, when I look around at folks with their heads down and faces glowing, I feel like I’m on the right track.

Are there some things the Pebble could do better? Absolutely. For starters, the screen seems very easy to beat up. I’ve already put two noticeable scratches on it and, for the life of me, I can’t recall how they got there. I’d also love to see more apps build custom experiences to work with Pebble. RunKeeper is one app that does so already, and more are expected to come, but the options at this point are thin. And lastly, this may seem a little nitpicky, but a stopwatch and an alarm function should come standard on the Pebble. If it comes on a $5 watch from Walmart, it should probably show up on a smartwatch. Just sayin’.

If you own a Pebble, what are your thoughts on it so far? We’d love to hear from you.

About the author

— Shawn Farner

Shawn Farner is a Harrisburg-based tech blogger who has been involved in online media for over eight years. He covers consumer electronics, Web companies, and gaming.

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  1. I spent two months deciding which smart watch or bracelet to buy (student with a teeny-tiny amount of fun money!) and doing research on current smart gear and Kickstarter offerings. I constantly have my phone on silent and miss calls frequently so I thought this might be a good solution. I purchased a jet-black Pebble a little over a week ago and even wore it on a visit to a water park. For me, it being waterproof was a must!

    Quite a few friends asked about my watch and I was happy to demonstrate it for them. I was asked a few times what the real benefit of it was and if I really noticed a difference since purchasing it. I hadn’t missed calls and felt more “free” during the day, if that makes sense, knowing I wouldn’t miss important things without a ringing cell phone. I forgot my charging cable this past weekend during a short trip and it died… I tell ya what, if I didn’t notice a huge difference when I first started wearing it, I noticed one after not having a Pebble for the weekend! I did a bit of reading up on the battery indicator types and hope to prevent this again.

    Things I would love to see incorporated into the Pebble –
    1. an alarm that makes more sense… not the most intuitive set-up at present
    2. an app that works with the Pebble to function like the Jawbone Up to track sleep patterns
    3. an app that allows the user to pre-set times to not receive notifications ie. bedtime without having to turn bluetooth off on iPhone
    Just a few minor things on my wish list! :)

    Katie M
    -Product Design student at the University of MN-

  2. It does have an alarm and stop watch. Maybe you didn’t have the same apps as Android. I have a HTC One, and I love my Pebble! I am a salon owner, and I have recently lost a couple a employees, one moved the other retired. So, Pebble has been a godsend to me. I have vtech bluetooth phones in my salon, and my phone is paired with my Pebble and the vtech phones I don’t have help until the weekend, so knowing who is calling me while I’m shampooing a client is priceless. I still have clients who call on my cell, but to keep looking at your phone while you have a client in the chair is just rude. Now, I can look at my watch and decide whether the call or text is important. I can send the call to voice mail, if I don’t need to answer right away. I don’t have to carry my phone with me in the salon. I can leave it in my desk. It’s great that it is water proof, so I don’t have to take it off while I’m shampooing. I went to a class and a business meeting last week and it was great that I was able to read my texts and emails from my watch and if I got an important call, I could step out and answer it, without anyone arround me knowing my phone rang, or I got a text. I am definitely more productive with my Pebble!

  3. I must be fairly lucky, as I’ve had my Pebble for quite some time now and haven’t scratched it. I’ve worn it while scrambling around rocks in Joshua Tree, working on my car, etc… but I am in general a very careful person, have never broken a device or such before. I’ll probably scratch it eventually…

  4. I can only speak on the android front but there are a ton of cool apps on the play store that allow you to do a lot of cool things with your pebble.

    There is a app that disables your phone lock code when the pebble is connected. As soon as the pebble gets disconnected (Out of bluetooth radius) it enables the lock code again. The lock code is meant for other ppl and not me so this is a very practical app.

    Also there are apps that let you use your watch as a camera button for your phone. You can set timers or just take a picture from your phone by pressing a button on the watch.

    There are a few twitter & fb apps that show you your feed but they still have a long way to go.

    There is a stopwatch and a calculator app almost since pebble was released.

    My favourite app is the barcode app. You can scan barcodes from an app on your smartphone and these can be accessed via the watch. I know have all my loyalty cards (Starbucks, grocery stores etc ) on my wrist and its nice to see ppls reaction when you scan your watch while getting coffee from starbucks.

    This is the best gadget i have bought in a long time. It is very practical and makes everyday life easier .

    – Interactive technology student

  5. Definitely agree with the statement that its doing better than those mega companies with huge R&D. In the time I have had my pebble thus far, I would say it is definitely lacking in the normal watch capability (namely stop watch and timer); that begin said pebble offers a world of other possibilities that a normal watch cant do. (GPS and speed for instance) I cant wait to see where pebble will go….so far its been a blast. (sporting orange hyperfluorescent gadgetwraps :D)
    PS agree with not having to take out my phone and having a glowing face like everyone else!

  6. Hey Shawn, you should check out my company GadgetWraps for those scratches. My brother and I started GadgetWraps in February so that Pebble customers would have options for skins and screen protectors. Our protectors will most likely fill in those scratches.

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