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Pebble Time review

Barry Collins
10 Jun 2015
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Pebble Time music
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
179
inc VAT

The antithesis of the Apple Watch, there are a few teething problems but the Pebble Time is still a great smartwatch

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Specifications

Pedometer: Yes, Heart-rate monitor: No, Display size: 1.25in, Resolution: 144x168, OS support: Android 4.0+, iOS 7+, Battery life: Around 5 days

Having been announced after the Apple Watch, there was a distinct danger that the Pebble Time would arrive as an anti-climax. It seems nobody told the 78,471 people who backed Pebble’s first colour smartwatch, making it the biggest crowdfunded project in Kickstarter’s history.

In many ways the polar opposite of Apple’s luxury timepiece, the Pebble Time has many unique features that make it stand out from the mushrooming smartwatch crowd, not least its colour E-Paper display, its “week-long” battery life and its willingness to pair with both iOS and Android smartphones. Now it’s finally here, it’s clear all those people who paid in advance for a Pebble Time haven’t wasted their money.

Build quality and design

As with the monochrome Pebble watches that preceded it, the Pebble Time family has two tiers of quality: the plastic Pebble Time that we’re reviewing here, and the metal-clad Pebble Time Steel which will be launched later this year.

Compared to the Apple Watch and some of the smarter Android devices, the Pebble Time does look a tad humdrum. There won’t be shifty-looking teenagers stood outside Tube stations waiting to prize one off commuters’ wrists, and in the four days we’ve been wearing our review unit, nobody’s paid it the least bit of attention.

Pebble Time enigma watch face

That said, it does have an understated charm. The silver bezel works particularly well with the silicone black watch strap, although other, brighter colours are available. The Pebble watch straps have easy-release clasps, which means you can effortlessly swap designs, although the watch will accept any standard 22mm strap. Pebble’s also planning to release so-called Smartstraps, which will include additional features such as GPS radios, extra batteries and NFC chips for cashless payments, although none were available for testing.

As with previous Pebbles, the watch is water resistant, but if you want the watch to survive a swim, don’t be fooled by the little pinhole on the watch’s right-hand flank: that’s not a reset switch, but a microphone. Prick that with a pin and your waterproofing is shot.

Screen

The standout new feature of the Pebble Time is that colour E-Paper screen. We’re not talking about anything as remotely bright or detailed as the battery-sapping LCD screens found on other smartwatches. The 1.25in screen has a resolution of only 144x168, making individual pixels clearly visible. It supports just 64 colours, too, which is a flashback to the days of the 8-bit computers such as the Commodore 64 in terms of colour depth. Photo-realistic it ain’t, although it’s a distinct improvement on the monochrome Pebble displays of the past.

Visibility is the exact opposite of what you would expect from a conventional LCD smartwatch. It excels in bright sunlight, with the Pebble at its most readable in the harshest of rays. In a dimly lit room, however, it’s a struggle to see the display. It’s not a huge problem, as the backlight kicks in every time the watch vibrates to notify you of something, and if you just want to check the time, you can press the left-hand back button or shake your wrist to switch on the backlight manually. (Be wary of that wrist-shaking gesture in public, chaps, it can attract strange looks.) And let’s not forget that most other smartwatches simply turn off the display to conserve battery life, whilst the Pebble Time displays the time (and whatever information is shown on your chosen watchface) permanently, which is a damned sight more convenient in day-to-day use. Especially, if you’re trying to sneakily catch a glimpse of the time in a tiresome meeting.

Battery life

The Pebble Time screen may look dank and low-res compared to the Apple and Android equivalents, but it does make an enormous difference to battery life. Whereas 99% of smartwatches have to be put on charge every night, the Pebble maintains its reputation for longevity despite the colour upgrade.

Pebble claims a battery life of “up to seven days”. We would say that’s a shade optimistic, with the battery depleting to 40% after three days of moderate-to-heavy use. Nevertheless, it’s still better than you can expect from any of its rivals. It means you can go away for a weekend, and not even have to think about dropping the charger into the bag. All you get is the magnetic charge cable, by the way: you’ll either need to repurpose an old smartphone charger or find a spare USB port on a PC to recharge the watch. 

Pebble Time back

We didn’t notice any significant hit in terms of battery life on our test smartphone, an HTC One M7. And, even if the open Bluetooth connection does place a small drain on the battery, that’s easily recouped by the fact that you don’t switch the smartphone screen on anywhere near as often to check text messages, read emails or scan tweets: that’s all done from the Pebble while the phone remains in your pocket.

Controls and interface

In terms of controls, it’s as you were. Pebble’s battery-saving ethos has no room for touchscreens, so the Time is reliant on old-fashioned, pudgy buttons. The Pebble interface is effortless to navigate using the Up and Down buttons on the right flank and the Select button that’s sandwiched between them; the Back button on the left-hand edge rounds off the controls. The buttons on our review model were just the right side of stubborn, requiring a firm press to activate but leaving little risk of being prodded accidentally.

Pebble Time side on

Pebble has introduced a new timeline feature. Press Down from the home screen to get a breakdown of forthcoming events from your diary, interspersed with weather forecasts; press Up to review past events and significant notifications, such as missed calls. It’s a convenient way to get a glance of the day ahead when you first strap on the watch of a morning.

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