In previous years, many companies have started producing what is now known as a smartwatch. One of the very first to enter the market was the original Pebble smartwatch. It was an e-ink display smartwatch that enabled people to interact with their phone through things like notifications, phone calls and text messages. Many other companies have contributed their own versions of smartwatches including Samsung, Motorola, and Apple. In my opinion, none have been able to hit the perfect balance of what I think a smartwatch should be. They either are far too bulky and ugly, or they are basically mini smart phones on your wrist with a screen the size of a postage stamp.
For my birthday this year, I received what I consider to be the closest to what I think a smartwatch should be. It’s another entry from Pebble, called the Pebble Time Round. Below is my review after using it for a couple weeks.
The Pebble Time Round is the first smartwatch to actually look like a regular watch on your wrist. Every other smartwatch to date has looked like an enormous plastic or metal block on your wrist. Even the Apple Watch looks bulbous compared to the Pebble Time Round. The Time Round is very thin (7.5mm to be exact!). Thinner than some regular digital watches that I have (such as a Timex). My Pebble Time Round is made out of a very light steel with a really nice dark gray matte finish (also comes in a white/gold combo). The watch buttons are also metal from what I can tell and they have a solid click to them when pressed. They don’t feel loose or cheap.
The 20mm band that came with my watch is genuine leather. The entire build of the watch feels lightweight, yet very premium. You can also easily interchange the watch bands to match the watch with whatever you are wearing.
The watch is equipped with a 64 color “e-paper” display that is similar to e-ink, but is actually an LCD screen. It contains a backlight that you can set to varying degrees of brightness to suit your needs. The display is capable of displaying movement/video, however this will drain the battery quickly if used too much.
I mentioned battery life above. The battery can last 2+ days, but in my experience, this number can fluctuate a lot depending on how much activity you experience on your watch as well as which settings you use. For instance, if I have my slack chat notifications set to send me one whenever I get a message (where messages are pinging every few seconds sometimes), the battery will drain pretty quick if I have the notification rumble set to ON and the backlight to come on. It can also be annoying to get a billion notifications on the wrist. Controlling which phone apps give you notifications on the watch is very important. One other thing I find to drain the battery a lot is using a custom watch face with a seconds hand or a lot of animation. This will drain the battery very quickly. I have a really cool Mario Kart watch face where the racers acted as the second hand and would move around the watch. My battery lasted about 5 hours using that face. If I used my other Mario themed watch face where the only movement happened once per minute, the watch face lasted a full 2+ days for me. Ideally, I think making the watch a little thicker to put in a bigger battery would have been a wiser choice as this is pretty much my only major gripe with the watch.
Speaking of the battery life, the Pebble Time Round must be charged in order to run. The charging process itself is pretty impressive. It utilizes a magnetic “latch” that lines up the contacts perfectly and starts charging the device. The super impressive part is the watch can be fully recharged (2+ days of power) in a matter of 15 minutes.
The very responsive and well designed software is what really makes this product shine, in my opinion. The other smartwatches on the market use overly-complex interfaces that try to jam as much functionality from your phone onto the watch as possible. This just makes the entire experience of using these other smartwatches very cumbersome. The Pebble Time Round uses the same software as the Pebble Time (earlier, non-round Pebble). It is a custom designed software made specifically for the Pebble Time called timeline, which displays your calendar events in a timeline format. You can go back in time or forward in time by pressing the top or bottom selection buttons. Very simple.
The Pebble ecosystem also supports custom apps. Pebble apps are usually pretty simple. They often perform one basic function and do it well. Many of the Pebble apps aren’t meant to replace your smartphone’s more complex functionality, but augment some of them. They can also be very simple apps like timers, alarms, pedometer and more. Basically, the types of apps that are a pain to pull your phone out to use. Who wants to pull their phone out just to see the weather? Or set an alarm?
Some of my favorite apps I’ve tried so far are the built in Health app (pedometer and sleep monitor), the Music app (this lets you control the music playback on your phone), notifications (you can manage all the important phone notifications from your wrist), text message voice reply (this let’s you dictate and reply to a text message with your voice into the watch’s microphone) and lastly, the authenticator app (this lets you use 2-factor authentication for your various accounts directly from your wrist).
The physical buttons on the side of the watch can be utilized to “quick-launch” two specified apps by holding them down for a few seconds. This comes in handy when I’m looking to quickly log into my slack account using the authentication app for the 2-factor authentication. I set my lower button to the general notifications page so I can see all notifications at once. Lastly, the left-hand button can be held down to manually turn on “quiet time,” which silences all notifications until you turn it off. Very handy when going into a meeting or a movie.
The actual watch portion of the software is customizable by setting one of hundreds of custom watch faces. This is one of my favorite parts about the watch. There are designs to suit everyone’s style and the watch face developers are not limited to a certain style either. There are plenty of analogue and digital options to go around. Some display the weather, battery life, or date. I, personally, am really into video games so the numerous Super Mario Bros. watch faces are my favorites. There are also some really great Star Wars ones that I downloaded (using the Pebble companion app, which is also incredibly easy to use). There are several other very useful features to the software.
In order to use a large amount of these apps/functionality, you must pair your Pebble Time Round to your smartphone using bluetooth. The pairing process is very easy and it guides you through step-by-step on the Pebble’s companion smartphone app. To see the full list of features, check them out on the Pebble website.
Why I Think it Works
As I’ve stated a few times throughout this article, I believe all the other smartwatches have it wrong. They are far too complicated for a device with a screen the size of a postage stamp. As of now, I think trying to execute every smartphone action through the watch is incredibly unrealistic and the experience should be focused on the most important aspects of your smartphone, like displaying notifications. This allows you to know if you actually need to pull your phone out or not in the first place. The Pebble Time Round does it really well. And for the first time, there is a smartwatch that looks like an actual watch, not a giant hunk of metal/plastic on your wrist.
The Pebble Time Round price comes in at $249.99, which is a respectable price considering what you get, and certainly downright cheap compared to the Apple Watch.
If you’re in the market for a new smartwatch, I’d strongly suggest you take a look at what Pebble has to offer. You can see their full line-up of watches on their website.