Sunday, October 4, 2015

It's Time - Pebble Time Review

Photo from released.com

 

 Background Info

I backed the Pebble Time Kickstarter and got the black watch. I waited a few months to write this review as wearable tech (and phones) often requires more than a week to understand how you actually use it once it loses it's "shiny new toy" status.

Before owning a smartwatch (smartch?) I would wear an analogue watch (A Timex Weekender Central Park specifically)  with off and on regularity.

The Pebble Time is however, my first smart watch. I had debated the original Pebble, but the clunky form factor turned me off and the Moto 360 had mixed reviews at the start. I also didn't watch to spend that much money on a Moto 360 for the first generation and will see what v2 will have to offer.

Several of my friends do have Moto 360s so I have seen them a bit for reference. I have seen an Apple Watch in-person once and heard a lot about them on the podcast I listen to weekly.

As you may know from my other posts I use an Android phone, so this review is based on using the Pebble Time with an HTC One (m7) and I'm not sure how it works with an iPhone.

Use Cases/Wants


There are basically three criteria I require from my smart watch:
1) It should tell me the time (that's a given though). However since it has a screen I'd like to see the time in a more novel way than a typical analogue watch or at least augment the analogue watchface with more information.

2) I want to see notifications from my phone and be able to dismiss them. I like leaving my phone on silent so this still gives me the notifications in a timely fashion without having to pull my phone out constantly. I also want to be able to manage those notifications and not get notified by certain apps.

3) I want to be able to get up at 7am to get ready for work with my watch and still be able to see what time it is at 2am that night.

Hardware

Screen

The Pebble Time has an e-paper screen which helps keep its power consumption very low.
The screen could be a bit larger as there is a large bezel (the black border that can't actually display anything) but the screen fits most short blips of information and it's easy to scroll down if a message is particularly long.

The screen also has a backlight that can be activated with a flick of the wrist, with customizable brightness. The screen looks okay indoors, good enough really. Where it really shines is outside, where other smartwatch screens tend to fail. Its colours are much more vibrant in daylight due to the nature of the e-paper display.

The other benefit of the screen is that it is always on (even if the backlight isn't) which is something I don't care for about other smart watches.

Casing

I purchased the black Pebble Time so the colour descriptions are based on that model.
The back is a matte black plastic and curves ever so slightly around your wrist. The back is also where the charger connects. I haven't noticed any issues with the contacts corroding yet. I do take off my watch and wipe the back on my pants/shirt if I'm feeling sweaty however.

The front of the watch has a black plastic as well with a finish that makes it look like a gun metal gray/black. The screen itself is scratch resistent, but unfortunately the front case seems to scratch fairly easily. After wiping the casing however, the scratches are less apparent. The scratches are off/on noticeable and no longer really bother me unless I take a very close look.

Buttons

The buttons feel much better than the limited experience I had with the original Pebble.
There is one on the left side (back) and three on the right (up/select/down). This simple system makes navigation quite straightforward, but does take longer than a touch screen would when selecting from a long list. Due to the size of the screen I feel it would be very difficult to use touch on it anyways and the UI can have smaller elements since you don't need to be able to poke at them.

With a recent software update a press-and-hold on the left button also quick toggles the "Quiet Mode". This mode simply turns off the vibrate but stills shows the messages.

You can also set hotkeys for the up/down buttons on the right side for when you hold the button. I have set them open a timer/stopwatch app and a calendar (that shows a whole month).

Band

The band is some sort of rubber, but is surprisingly supple. It also has the
Charger

Battery


The battery life on the Pebble Time is fantastic! With a basic watch face (no seconds or weather data) and no background apps I lose about 10% battery per day. With a fancier watch face or background it can go down a bit faster (I don't have the exact number).

Luckily the Pebble notifies you at 20%, which translates to "charge me tonight... or tomorrow if you forget about this notification" and then again at 10% which I interpret as "charge me tonight".

This amount of warning has been sufficient to me. It means I don't have yet another device to charge every night and means my nightstand is a bit less cluttered.


Software

Watchfaces


There are quite a variety of watch faces from simple digital and analogue faces, to information-dense displays, to cool animations, to weather-based skylines.

The battery life is definitely decreased if the watch face gives you the weather or has an animation for seconds.

I typically use the "Bars" face as it looks interesting and when my battery gets low I switch to "Enigma" as it does not have an animation every second. I've also enjoyed the "70's Tech Style" and just started trying out the "Tetris Time" watch faces.

UI


The UI uses neat animations and is easy to undestand. The only issue I have is when I am responding to a message with an emoji that scrolling can take a while. However I understand why this is the case.

Timeline


I am not heavily reliant on my calenda so I find the timeline concept not terribly useful. However I feel the idea could be useful so I am still off/on attempting to add all events to my calendar.

Apps


I have sparingly used apps on the watch, the stopwatch and calendar apps are very useful. I will look for more apps and update this post if I find them notable.

Notifications


Notifications work quite well. The icons for generic apps look good and a default bell icon is used for other apps.

The vibration level is configurable and is easily noticeable. The notifications are easily dismissable with the left button and many apps allow you to reply to messages and set an email to "done" in Inbox.

If an app is annoying you with notifications its easy to have the Pebble no longer receive the notifications. On the other hand, having a smart watch somewhat forces you to prune your phone notifications as over-excited watch notifications are more annoying than their phone counterparts.

Overall


After a number of months of regular use I quite enjoy my Pebble Time. The contacts are holding up, though the band is showing a bit of wear.

The battery is still holding up and the functionality has gotten even better than the first version of the software.

I still enjoy my Pebble enough that I would purchase it over an Android Wear watch.

Feel free to post comments and questions below!

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I appreciate feedback and discussion on these posts! If you post a question I'll try and get back to you soon. Please be kind to others.