Thoughts on the Pebble watch

By , September 11, 2013 7:00 pm

Pebble WatchI do not always make wise purchasing decisions. I don’t mean I buy bad products (although sometimes I do) but rather than I occasionally buy really cool things when I shouldn’t have bought anything at all. The Pebble Watch is an example of one such purchase.

The watch talks to your cellphone via Bluetooth to display when someone sends you an email or text, to control basic functions on your phone, and (with third party apps) to do a bunch of other things. It began as a Kickstarter project last year, and I decided to spend $125 and fund it rather than, y’know, saving money for rent or food. Super responsible decision. A year(ish) after funding it, I received my Pebble watch in the mail. I briefly considered selling it on eBay or Craigslist (again, rent and food are important) but decided to keep my fancy new toy.

I got a black one, and the watch itself is nice, if not mind-blowing: the screen is readable in sunlight, but has some slight shiny effects that show up under bright light, the buttons are satisfying to push, the backlight is neither too week nor too strong, and the magnetic charger (not a standard USB charger, so that the watch is waterproof) clicks in and stays in place. The watch works with both Android and iPhone, but I only have an Android phone so can only speak to that experience. The Android app, which pairs with the Pebble to control settings and watch faces, works…fine. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s functional. It allows you to control some basic features about what’s displayed on the Pebble, to send and delete watch faces, and some other various settings.

But all that is stuff you could find on any review site. How am I using the watch, and what do I love, hate, and want to see changed?

Because obviously

Because obviously

I love the customizability. People have quickly sprung up to make a ton of awesome watch faces, including classy, silly, video-game themed, and more, available at mypebblefaces.com. There are also a bunch of simple apps, including a stopwatch, Tetris, an exercise prompter, and more. Likewise, there are other Android apps that add additional functionality: Pebble Canvas for making custom watch faces, right from your phone. Pebble Notifier to allow other apps to send notifications to the Pebble watch. Pebble Tasker to hook into the (complicated but incredibly powerful) Tasker app. All of this means you can get your watch to do a TON that it can’t do right out of the box.

Fancy watch faceFor me, I currently am using a pretty basic watch face, pictured to the right. I was using Pebble Canvas for a while, which let me me see the date, time, temperature, and unread texts, emails, etc. I stopped using it, though, because it doesn’t work perfectly – if my phone doesn’t have an Internet connection the face goes blank, which is kind of problematic . I’m confident it’ll be improved as time goes on, but I didn’t have the energy to deal with it.

I also love the Runkeeper integration. I can slap the watch on my handlebars and have a timer and odometer. Runkeeper (for reasons I can’t understand) doesn’t have it displaying speed, but rather your average minutes-per-mile for the whole trip. They keep saying they’re gonna update it, but it’s still very useful as-is.

A silly little feature I am surprisingly enjoying is the flick-to-backlight. Rather than pushing a button, you can flick your wrist to light the backlight. You can use the buttons, too, but that makes it easy to check the time if something is in my other hand, or I’m just feeling lazy.

I’m honestly surprised at how much I’m enjoying the functionality of having email/text/IM notifications on my wrist. A few specific situations that stand out:

I was at a street festival. My phone was in my purse, and I couldn’t hear the ringing. But my watch vibrated and let me know that I got a text to meet up with a friend. This had the bonus effect of meaning I wasn’t taking my phone out ever 30 seconds to make sure I didn’t miss a text.

Likewise, I was at a friend’s party, and could toss my purse (phone included) in her room. I was then confident I wouldn’t miss any calls or texts, even without having to lug my phone around while wearing a dress without pockets. The range claims to be ~30 feet, but it obviously depends on what kind of space you’re in.

I’ve also worn it to the beach a few times, and was able to see if I got a text without digging through my bag and getting my phone all sandy. Unfortunately, you can’t reply from the Pebble, although there are apps you can install that let you send pre-written responses. I haven’t played with that, but it would be an easy way to send simple, quick replies.

(┬áThis has nothing to do with Pebble, specifically, but I’ve had many moments where I’ve thought “Oh, how convenient it is to have the time strapped to my wrist!”)

I’ve also heard of people using their Pebble as a ‘trusted bluetooth device‘ on their phone, meaning their phone doesn’t require an unlock screen when connected to the Pebble. That’s absolutely a cool feature.

These are pretty minor examples, and none of them are life changing. I’m somehow both more and less connected to my digital life while wearing this watch, even though I’m less literally connected to my phone. On the one hand, I see emails and texts more constantly. (I have FB notifications turned off, because fuck that shit.) I do make a point to not wear the watch to bed, and to turn off notifications if I’m doing something I want to give my complete focus. On the other hand, I was hanging out with a friend this afternoon and someone sent me a bunch of texts. I was able to glance at my wrist and realize I didn’t want to deal with them, so I ignored them. I can also glance at my wrist while driving to see who is calling or texting.

Should you buy this watch? I honestly don’t know. If you have $150 laying ($125 was a Kickstarter promo) around and are in the market for an awesome, and useful, toy, then go for it. If you got it as a gift, I’d definitely say it’s worth hanging on to. It still requires some TLC to get working, but regular updates are making it better and easier to use. All in all, if you’re the type who checks your phone every two minutes for missed notifications, then it might be perfect for you.

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