A Pebble On My Wrist

When the Pebble watch was offered on Kickstarter, I jumped at it. The thought of my watch and my phone playing well together appealed and, well, I also got swept up in the geeky excitement behind it (as I’m prone to do). Over time, I came to regret the impulse purchase. I’m not much of a watch guy and was starting to have flashbacks to my brother’s VHS remote control watch in the early ’90s. It also took a lot longer than anyone (and this likely includes the team at Pebble) expected it would, but that happens when you sell something like 80,000 units of a watch that didn’t exist yet.

Now that it’ actually a real thing and even though I’ve only had the watch for a day, I have to admit, I’m loving it. Don’t get me wrong, it has some issues (more on what my particular whiny gripes are in a moment), but they are mostly what I would consider 1.0 software issues. There’s nothing critical that I can’t see being fixed in the very near future.

The Look and Feel

I went with the black model. It looks great (even my design savvy co-worker who hates everything thought it looked good), is comfortable to wear and easy to read. If I had to nitpick, I don’t love seeing the contacts on the side of the watch, but I’m already noticing this less. I also wish there was a white backlight instead of a blue one, but again, this is a minor gripe. I’m currently using the “Text Watch” style, but can see myself shaking things up, especially as new watch faces are available. I enjoy wearing it and it will be interesting to see if I actually stick with a watch for a change (I tend not to).

The Integration

The watch was easy to setup. Bluetooth pairing between my iPhone and the watch went smoothly and the Pebble app made it simple to get the watch updated with the current software. While integration with the phone is still limited, the early signs are promising. Text messages get delivered right to the phone, caller ID works relatively fast (you can also answer or ignore calls as well as hang up on an active call, which is great if you hate your headphone remote half as much as I do) and the music integration lets you stop or start your music as well as skip back and forth between tracks (it also plays nicely with podcast apps like Instacast).

There are some issues with multiple text messages (more in a moment) and I’d love to see a call history “app” as we’ll as deeper integration into the Music app if possible (not sure if this lack of time to develop this or a limitation of Apple’s software), but this is a very nice start.

The Functionality

This is where there’s the most room for improvement. At the moment, the watch can only store one notification at a time. So if you receive two text messages in between glances at your watch, you only get a notification for one. It’d be nice if you could dismiss each notification separately or if new notifications continued to be added to one long notification that you could scroll through (they also need to limit scrolling once there’s no additional text, but I’m betting this gets fixed in future versions). This isn’t a huge deal right now as I’m rarely deluged with texts, but I can see this becoming an issue as more applications integrate with the watch.

The biggest “pain point” is switching modes. The actual act of switching is very easy, I just find I have to do it far too often. I’m mostly using the watch face or the music “app”. To shift from one to the other, I have to go to the settings screen and manually scroll past a few watch faces to get from one to the other. This is something I continually forget to do, so I find myself looking for the time, but staring at music I paused a half hour ago.

There are two things I’d like to see change here:

  • A Default Mode: I’d want the watch to return to “watch mode” after a set period of time. My preference would be to set a default watch face and have the watch switch back to this after a predetermined period of time (then again, I see how this could be problematic with some apps in the future, i.e. a running app).
  • Assigning Actions to Buttons: While the button on the left takes you to the navigation screen, all three buttons on the right only serve to activate the backlight (which can also be activated by flicking your wrist). My preference would be to be able to assign each to a feature (one of which could very well be the backlight). It’d be awesome to press one button to go to Music, another to activate the backlight and one more to go back to the last screen (which could be helpful for the “timing out” issue I mentioned above when using certain applications).

Overall, these all feel more like 1.0 issues more than any fundamental flaw with the product. And even though there’s room for improvement, it’s already pretty darn good. The watch is easy to navigate, the Music app is sufficient and works for me. I enjoy using it as is and believe it will only continue to get better as Pebble offers software updates, which they promise to do every two to three weeks.

The Problems

This is a very new product and is not without a few issues. There’s some confusion as to which notifications are supposed to come over the Pebble. At the moment Pebble talks about texts, iMessages, calls and emails, but you can send most notifications by manually toggling the individual apps in Notification Center (just switch notifications for an app off and back on again). These break the instant you lose bluetooth connectivity. While The Verge reports this as a limitation of Apple’s software and it seems to frustrate other users, I see it as a feature. I wouldn’t want every single alert from Notification Center to come over to the phone, especially when you consider that the Pebble can not see the “Sound” setting in Notification Center and vibrates with every alert. On the other hand, it would be great if developers started working with Pebble directly. I’d like the ability to get alerts from a weather app like Dark Sky, but would not want to be inundated all day long by the array of notifications that I opt to receive on my phone (with no sounds or vibration, of course).

The Surprising Benefit

It’s still early, but the thing I love most about the Pebble is that I found myself reaching for my phone less. Since I can read texts, see and reject calls, and pause or play music through the watch, I have less reasons to take it out of my my pocket. Now the actual time spent doing all of these things may not add up to much, but they serve as a trigger. A text, call or desire to change the song leads me to grab for my phone, which inevitably sends down one of the infinite time consuming temptations that live there. The best way to avoid this is to negate the need to reach for the phone in the first place and, in many ways, the Pebble helps with that.

The Bottom Line

Time it took from order to receipt was a source of amusement and frustration, but I’m glad the team at Pebble took the time they did. Even though they still have a lot of work to do, they used that time to get a lot of things right. Rather than a novelty watch that I would have enjoyed, but stopped wearing about a week later, I see this as a watch that I can and will continue to wear. I’m sure I’ll come across bugs, there are known issues with bluetooth connectivity and email notifications (although phone and texts seem to work well) as well as Siri (which I don’t use as it’s undependable here in New York), but I’m optimistic that they will be resolved. The Pebble team seem to be on top of things, in fact, their emails are how I learned about the issues, which is always preferable to finding out about them through use.

I’m only a day in. I’m sure there are things I’m missing and will discover. I’m also likely riding the high from seeing what was starting to seem like a Kickstarter fantasy turn into a reality, but something tells me when I look down at my wrist a week, a month or even a year from now, I’m still going to see the Pebble (or something like it if Apple ever decided to enter this space) wrapped around it.

  • http://since1964.co/ Jeff Porter

    Nice write up, but it’s crying out for a picture

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      I’m fairly stubborn about pictures on the site… but you’re probably right.

    • http://www.markwheadon.com/ Mark Wheadon

      I was about to write exactly the same comment. Watches, even a watch like Pebble, are as much about look as function. (Yes, I know what a Pebble looks like, I’m waiting for mine to arrive :-)

    • Brad Mackney

      Here’s a picture for you… plenty of time to take these sort of pictures while I wait for a reply from their support team. Been 9 days now, no reply.

      http://instagram.com/p/WGgO_CSon4/

      http://instagram.com/p/WeMSlLyohA/

      http://instagram.com/p/WeMqpmSohH/

      • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

        That’s disappointing. I fired of a message to the same account that shared the link to this post. Hopefully it nudges them into action. I’m in customer service, 9 days is unacceptable.

  • sparkyb

    I agree with a lot of your review. I do think there are some nice UI improvements they could do to aid with 1.0 software issues. I had a different thought on your “Default Mode” suggestion. Most app I would not want to time out. Even music control. I like that the home screen, music control app, settings, etc all have a teeny clock at the top for when you still need to tell time while in an app. I hope that is a standard that all non-watchface apps have to obey. I do, however, want to set a default watchface. I want the homescreen to time out to this as well being able to press back from the homescreen. That way from any app you just have to press back twice to get to being a watch (once for homescreen and again for default watchface). In fact, I’d even take the watchfaces off of the homescreen. I’d either put them in a submenu or even a settings menu and have just a single homescreen item called “Watch”. As far as being able to assign buttons to things while in a watchface, I’m not sure I want that. They are useless right now in all the existing watchfaces, but I kind of hope that the buttons are available to watchface programmers so that we can get complicated watchfaces that have within them multiple screens you can cycle or something (ooh, or maybe each screen can be a separate buttonless app, i.e. watchface, and you pick a set you want to cycle through at a system level).