John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Pebble time mini review

Ah the Pebble … With my recent move to an iPhone I find myself hugely disappointed with how minimally Google have implemented Android wear on iOS. I wonder why they even bothered. For me a smartwatch comes down to a few things. 1) the ability to whimsically change your watchface. Primarily I like the time/date and current weather on it. Android wear on iOS is severely limited in the number of watch faces available. 2) secondary notifications 3) Stopwatch/Timer

Android wear on iOS does not have an activity tracker solution so I have been wearing a Fitbit Charge. I love the battery life on the Charge, love the sleep tracking, but hate how it constantly catches on my shirt sleeves. How many generations of trackers does it take to learn that square edges catch shirt sleeves. Round them off PLEASE. And having multiple devices on my wrists is a little less than ideal. Sleep tracking on my Charge is another thing I quite like. Ideally I would move entirely to the Pebble time and stop using the Fitbit. Fitbit have fantastic integration with things like Endomondo and the like and Fitbit’s portal is excellent as well. I even have a Fitbit scale … Fitbit however have not played nice with Apple so there is no integration with Apple health. There are data bridge apps to fill this gap.

On with the pebble. The original Pebble was more like a childs toy than anything I would be caught dead wearing.

The Pebble steel was a nice move forward. But the original Pebbles didn’t even do activity tracking. Pebble recently added this feature (as well as sleep tracking) but only on the Time models. An indication that support for these older models in spite of still being sold today is waivering. Recently BestBuy had a sale on the Pebble time so I bought one. $149 so kinda hard to pass up.

Let’s look at specs:
3.81x 9.5mm 42.5g
1.25 inch screen at 182 ppi
5-7 days battery life
Android/iOS compatibility (no Blackberry)
Standard 22mm watch band (an excellent decision) with a normal watch clasp. Yay why reinvent the wheel.

To say the screen is diminutive is an understatement. It has a sort of retro look. First there is a plastic bezel around the outside of the display (5mms) and then there is a black bezel surrounding the screen itself (another 3mms). That’s 16mm of bezel on a 20mm screen, so all in all the screen looks to be quite small compared to the size of the watch.

The Time Steel increases the battery size, gives you bettery quality buttons and gives you a metal (rather than plastic) bezel but is identical otherwise. This pic shows the Pebble Time, Pebble Time steel and the now outdated Pebble Steel.

The band is a standard fare rubber band. It’s comfortable enough and easy to do up and undo. The watch for all intense and purposes is hardly noticeable on the wrist. Lots of folks have written that the band is a lint magnet and they are right. It always looks like it needs to be brushed off. I did find I sweated under the band which is unusual for me. The band can be easily removed with quick disconnects on the pins. A welcome new trend in the wearable market. There are lots of bands available for it on Amazon and the like.

The charging port is on the back of the watch and uses a proprietary connector held in place by magnets that then plugs into any USB port. They say charge time is an hour. The magnet isn’t the strongest. Spare cables can be bought inexpensively online should you want a spare or loose yours.

The screen uses color eInk (think of a Kindle) and is nowhere near as bright or vivid as say my Moto 360, it really is in a different league. But then the battery life is also in a different league and the screen has a lot to do with that.

The screen is not a touch screen and navigation is done by buttons on the side of the watch.

Setting the device up is pretty easy, download the Pebble Steel App and go through the prompts. Mine required numerous updates all of which took a while so only start this when you have time (pardon the pun).

Once your up and running you can start to learn the interface. The left hand button turns on the backlight as well as acts as a back button. The backlight can be controlled from settings on the watch to detect ambient light, and wrist flicks to turn it on when needed. You can also control quiet time based on a schedule or manually (by pressing and holding the left button) that are also setup on the watch. In fact none of the settings for the watch with the exception of the watch face are controlled by the phone. I like the way Fitbit allow you to set things up on the phone and back them up to the cloud. You can put the watch into Airplane mode as well as disable bluetooth on the watch (no idea what the difference between these two are). Notifications are calls, all notifications of none. The vibrate is good and strong. Text size in message boxes can be increased (to some extent) for those visually challenged (like me). The buttons on the right of the watch are up, enter and down and are how you navigate and select on the menus. Overall traversing the menus is smooth enough and responsive. Not zippy, but not sluggish either.

Similarly you can not see anything about the watch from the phone. Not battery status, not version number nada. Hopefully something they will add.

The Pebble ecosystem includes the ability to add watch faces as well as apps. There are a good number of free watch faces, many more than on the Fitbit Surge for example. Given the size and brightness of the screen getting anything that is too busy or too ornate is just a waste. Installing new watch faces (or apps) is done via the Pebble time app on the phone. Once loaded the watch faces can be selected from the watch or the phone. Apps appear on what Pebble call the timelines. This is actually well done.

Apps are similarly loaded. Endomondo has written a pebble app and it is well done and integrates well with the phone app. You can customize what you see on the screen. The workout can be started, paused and stopped from the watch. Very well done. Sadly there is no integration between pebble health and Endomondo.

Pebble have been quite bright in that even apps written for the first ever Pebble will run on todays Pebbles. This means there is a good selection of Pebble apps out there.

Powering off the watch completely can be found in the settings menu, so not exactly convenient.

The recently added Pebble health brings about the much needed activity tracking to the Pebble. It includes Steps, Distance , time active, Sleep, amount of deep sleep, and charts (it does not track floors climbed). All this can then feed Apple Health on iOS. One of the few that have bothered integrating with Apple Health. But here is the BIG catch, all this data is ONLY available on the watch. There is no phone app to view the data (unless you allow Pebble to update Apple health on iPhone or Google fit on Android), there is no portal, and the data does not seem to be backed up anywhere either. This seems to be a pretty big gap. But given Pebble only thought of adding activity tracking maybe this is to come. Even if you Sync to Apple health that data is only available on the phone. Loose or damage or replace your phone/watch and the data is gone (on an iPhone a backup/restore would preserve the data). And the watch can only store so much historical data (no idea how much that might be). Given this data is only on the watch (or phone) don’t expect much in terms of data analysis, trends and the like. And don’t look for a data export either. As usual data rich, information poor.

Almost every wearable at one point or another goes missing. Falls off, you forget where you left it etc. There are no apps for find your watch (or find your phone) with the pebble. And no checkins by the pebble so you know where it was last seen. Definitely some room for improvement here.

Voice wise Pebble recently introduced the ability to reply to an SMS through voice on the watch but I couldn’t figure out how this worked. There are no Voice commands as yet (Android wear has them).

The timer app works fine, something I use quite a bit when cooking. But the lack of voice commands means I’m more likely to do this on the iPhone with Siri.

On day one the step counter on the Pebble was 9411 on my Fitbit Charge was 9680 so well within reasonable numbers.

Sleep tracking is also in line with my Charge. There are two challenges with sleeping with the Pebble time. First is keeping it quiet. This is resolved by manually putting it into silent mode or by programming a scheduled quiet time. The second is keeping it from turning the backlight on. Why Pebble didn’t link these two is beyond me. The best way to achieve this is to turn off motion in the display settings. The watch is plenty comfy to sleep with.

Battery life on this watch is an interesting discussion. Standby battery is so low that when you do things with the watch it has profound effects. On day one I futzed with it a bunch, loading new watch faces and the like for quite a bit. Next thing I know battery was at 60% in day one for a battery life of a couple of days. eInk displays draw power when they change. So choose a watch face that is active and you will see a decrease in battery life. Do you really need to have an animated watch face? Well then you made a choice … The next day I chose an inactive watch face and left the watch alone and it projected out to 4 days, much closer to the 5-7 days they project. By the way good luck in finding the specific battery status outside of some watch faces that include it. I found an article on best apps for Pebble time and one of the apps they mention is called Battery+ which works to solve exactly that issue.

All in all the pebble is an interesting device but what is missing is that gee wow I gotta have it. It’s like a toaster, you need one, but is this the one to have? It’s definitely more of an engineer’s toy than a mass market appeal. For me it would replace neither my Moto 360 (not even in the same league), nor my Fitbit charge (lack of data export/portal/inter connectivity).

March 5, 2016 - Posted by | Activity Trackers

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