After raising over $10 million on Kickstarter, Pebble released the E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android that went on to inspire an entirely new category of products we now know as smartwatches. But how does the original Pebble stand up to the test of time?
Let’s start off with looks. Right off the bat, let me state that the Pebble does not look like an expensive or high quality watch. Nevertheless, it’s light, utilitarian, and minimalistic. I have no problem wearing this watch on a daily basis. It isn’t intrusive all, so it really just ends up blending in with my life. The main watch piece is made of plastic, with a comfortable rubber strap attached to it. Despite its age, skins are still available from dbrand and SlickWraps. There is one large button on the left which acts as a back and backlight button and three buttons on the right to select items on-screen.
There are many watch faces available through the Pebble app. I chose a convenient watch face called Clean and Smart, because it shows me everything I need to see, including the time, date, weather, and battery in a well thought out way. One nice feature is that the watch is waterproof up to 5 ATM of pressure which is around 165 feet. This means you can do virtually everything from showering to swimming with the Pebble, which is certainly a notable feature.
One interesting design element on this watch is the charging plug. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with the way this watch charges. It comes with a proprietary magnetic cable that clips on nicely, but can come off a little too easily. No need to worry about any damage sustained by yanking on a micro USB cable, though, which is great. However, if you forget or lose the cable Pebble provides, you’ll have to buy another one from the internet.
The display isn’t on the same playing field as something like an Apple Watch, but it gets the job done. It’s a 1.26-inch 144-by-168-pixel e-paper display. To clarify, e-paper and e-ink are not the same thing. This isn’t the same type of display you would find in a Kindle. The Pebble Classic’s display is more of a monochrome LCD. It isn’t the easiest to read in broad daylight, but the backlight definitely helps. One issue I have with the display is that it sometimes artifacts and becomes unusable for a moment. Fortunately, this problem is easily fixed in most cases by pressing the buttons a few times.
Let’s talk about the Pebble experience when you couple it with an iOS or Android phone. A few years back, this device was limited by the software, but by now it has no glaring issues. Setup is really easy, with the watch connecting to an iPhone or Android via Bluetooth. After the intuitive setup process, the main purpose of the Pebble is to receive notifications from your phone. I find this incredibly useful, as I can choose which app notifications get sent to my Pebble and then view them quickly without pulling out my phone.
One other great feature is the ability to control music playback directly from the watch. Playback has to be initiated from the phone, but after that, music can be paused, played, and skipped, and volume can also be adjusted, all on the watch. The notification and music control elements alone justified, for me, the purchase of this first generation device.
Apps are also a really big part of this smartwatch. There are some built in apps such as Calendar, Weather, Alarm, Stopwatch, Timer, and Notifications, but third party apps are really where the Pebble shines. Not long after release, the Pebble API was released to developers, and you can now download thousands of third party apps on the Pebble App Store. Not all of them are useful. In fact, some are just plain stupid. But this is something to be expected with any platform. Those apps aside, there are some really great games you can get. My two personal favorites are Pixel Miner and 2048 for Pebble. They are both time burners, but they are easy and fun to play without having to put out my phone. There are also other interesting apps such as fitness trackers and even a ping pong score counter.
The last thing I want to touch on is battery life. Purchased new, the battery life is advertised to last 5 to 7 days with heavy and light usage respectively. However, for me, the results were more like 2 to 4 days. That’s still not bad at all and beats most other smartwatches. It’s great knowing that if you forget to plug the Pebble Classic in one night, you won’t be watch-less for the next day. Also, if you happen to drain the power past zero percent, the watch enters low power mode which just displays the time. This can be sustained for around another day.
Now for the wrap up. I purchased the original Pebble smartwatch mainly because I could. It was cheap, and I don’t regret it at all. The ability to receive text messages, emails, and other notifications alone makes this watch great for me. The ability to control music and install third party apps is all icing on the cake, and although Pebble was recently acquired by Fitbit, the team rolled out an update that allows watch use to be continued. I’m not saying the device doesn’t have its issues. It does. Both Zach and I notice the artifacting problem relatively often, but for the price, I’m willing to turn a blind eye. So if anything about this smartwatch sounds enticing, maybe a used Pebble Classic is something to consider.