Pebble smart watch review

First Look
Published 
9 Jan 2013
Pebble

CES 2013 sees the official launch and first demonstration of the Pebble smart watch

It's the Kickstarter project that attracted $10m worth of pledges and even more hype, but now the Pebble smart watch is ready and will start shipping to backers from 23rd January 2013. Following this, the watch will then be shipped to anyone that ordered online at getpebble.com.

At the CES 2013 launch Eric Migicovsky unveiled the smart watch for the first time, demonstrating how it could be used as second screen for your smartphone, displaying notifications and messages, and even letting you control your music.

Migicovsky said that mass production of the Pebble had started and 15,000 watches were being manufactured per week. At this rate, it should take six to eight weeks to clear the initial backlog.

While news that the phone is now ready is brilliant, particularly as the Pebble was originally due to ship in September 2012, the event was also a time for the company to show off the watch for the first time.

HARDWARE

For the watch's 1.26in screen, Pebble has chosen an sunlight-readable black and white e-paper display with a resolution of 144x168 pixels. It's not an E Ink screen, as used in the Amazon Kindle, but a Sharp memory LCD. This has low power requirements, but a refresh rate of 30fps, making it far faster than an E Ink screen.

In front of the display is a polycarbonate lens with an anti-scratch coating to protect the watch. The Pebble has been waterproofed to withstand five atmospheres of pressure, making it suitable for running in the rain or swimming.

Sealing the phone introduced some design challenges, such as how to charge the battery, which should last seven days. In the end it was decided to go for a magnetic charging cable, which has a standard USB connector on one end and the proprietary cable on the other.

Pebble wanted to future-proof the watch, allowing it to add extra features in the future. So, there's a Bluetooth 4.0 receiver inside, although it's only currently using Bluetooth 2.1. There's also a magnetometer, which is the core sensor for compass-like applications, although this is currently not enabled.

We were told that the Bluetooth connection drains roughly five to 10 per cent of your smartphone's battery per day. Depending on your device, you should be able to pair your phone to the Pebble and other devices, say a hands-free kit in your car.

SOFTWARE

The Pebble smart watch has its own operating system, which is built on a FreeRTOS core, with added features on top. Alongside the operating system for the phone, there are also the core smartphone apps, which support Android 2.3.3+ and iOS 5. However, iOS 6 is better as Apple has provided a Bluetooth map profile, which lets the Pebble show lock-screen and Notification bar notifications.

Currently, there's the Pebble Android Intent API, which will let Android developers push notifications to their watch. Apple is more restrictive in this regard, and Pebble isn't ready to go public with its solution at the moment.

The company is also working on its cloud features, letting people login to compatible websites with their Pebble details, so that notifications can be sent directly to their phone.

Finally, there will be an SDK for the watch, letting developers write applications that run on the watch. At the start this will be for watch faces only, allowing developers to program their own watch face, which can be uploaded to the Pebble.

UI

The Pebble watch is designed to be really simple to use, with just a few buttons on it to control everything. We were first shown the different watch faces, which change how the Pebble shows the current time.

Pebble watch face

Customisable watch faces let you see the time the way you want it

These range from an analogue watch to Fuzzy Time, which shows a rough time in text. New watch faces can be downloaded and added via the smartphone app, so you can completely customise how your watch looks. Of course, there's a geeky binary watch face for anyone that likes staring at the watch for ages trying to work out the time.

As the Pebble is designed as a connected device, its interaction with your smartphone is the key thing. At the moment, the watch can be used to remote control your music, letting you skip tracks and play/pause, while the screen displays the current track information. While useful on the move, the Pebble also serves as a useful remote control if you've got your phone in a music dock, as you can change music from across the room.

Pebble music

Remote control of your music is just one of the connected features the Pebble has

Incoming notifications are displayed on the screen and can show you when you've got an SMS (and iMessage on iPhone) or email. Cleverly, you can read messages on your Pebble, so it doesn't look like you're being rude when you read an SMS when out with friends.

Incoming calls, complete with caller ID are displayed on the phone, and the Pebble vibrates to notify you of the call. You can choose to hang up directly from your watch if you don't have time to take the call.

Web integration currently comes from If This Then That. This web app lets you build recipes from supporting sites and send the notifications to your Pebble. For example, we were shown a demo that set up a weather alert, sending a warning to the watch if it was due to snow.

The integrated accelerometer is currently used for turning the backlight on. You can either tap the watch or just give a quick flick of the wrist to see what's going on.

Updates have been promised every two-to-three weeks, until the company has fulfilled every feature it promised on the original Kickstarter page. After that it will be new features, as the watch was designed to be expandable and customisable.

CONCLUSION

The Pebble looks fantastic. Everything from the build quality down to the way it displays the time and notifications feels well made and perfectly designed for modern smartphone usage. We can't wait to get our hands on a production model to test.

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