Monday, August 10, 2015

Pebble Time: My (incomplete) Review

About a month ago I received my Pebble Time. I missed getting in on the Kickstarter campaign but I was able to take advantage of the pre-release ordering through Best Buy. I ordered early enough that I got my Pebble Time the first week of July.

My review of the Pebble Time isn't going to be a standard review. Mostly because I don't think that most people or tech publications really know what a smart watch is supposed to do. Most of the reviews that I read talk about them as if they're gadgets that serve a purpose on their own. I've got some thoughts on that which I plan to publish here in the next couple of weeks.  But at the core I've decided that a smart watch is a companion.

In this post I'm only going to go over what I like about the watch. I'll go over what makes the watch a good companion. Honestly there's not much I don't like about the watch. All it's flaws have been covered elsewhere on the interwebs.

The Watch ... As a Watch

A watch serves two main purposes for me. First, it needs to tell me the time. Second, I need to be able to set an alarm. The Pebble Time, like the Pebble before it, is actually pretty awesome with regards to telling time in that you can install custom watch faces. I've downloaded several different ones and I would say that about every week or so I like that I have the option to use a different watch face. It actually makes the watch feel new for a day or two with a new face.

The Pebble Time also does a good job in the alarm category. In fact it's alarms are better than most watches because of the flexibility. It's similar to the alarm clock on a smart phone in that you can set multiple alarms up and have them set for a single occurrence, every day, weekdays, weekends, or a custom set of days during the week. The alarm vibrates and has been good enough to wake me up in the mornings.


I didn't own the original Pebble so I don't know what the OS (operating system) was like. But the Pebble Time OS is very intuitive. There's four buttons on a Pebble Time; one on the left side and three on the right. The one on the left is the back/home button. The top right button will go up in a list or if you're on the home screen will take you into your timeline starting at the most recent past. The bottom right button will go down in a list or if you're on the home screen will take you into your timeline starting with the most recent current or future events. The middle right button allows you to select something in a list and when pressed on the home screen takes you to the list of apps on your phone.

As of right now I don't have a lot of stuff on my timeline but the stuff that's there is useful. I have my calendar, ESPN and weather on my timeline. The calendar is probably the most helpful as I don't think I realized how often I pull my phone out of my pocket just to look at my calendar. I probably save myself from pulling out my phone one or two dozen times a day. That in and of itself is probably worth the price of the watch.

Voice Responses

The Pebble Time comes with a microphone so that you can respond to emails and text messages right from your watch. This is hands down the feature of the watch I love the most. I HATE making phone calls so I mostly stick with text messaging people. I probably use voice dictation to respond to 20 text messages a day.

There's one huge miss with voice on the watch though. You can only respond to messages with the mic, you can't initiate text messages or emails with it. Email would be more difficult but I don't actually understand why initiating a text isn't there on day one. The functionality to get a list of contacts, get the cell number for a particular selected contact, and then send an SMS on Android and iOS isn't that difficult. So it surprises me that their Pebble app didn't add this functionality so that they could implement it on the watch.

The accuracy of the speech to text translation is scary good sometimes and hilarious at other times. For me, I've found that it has a direct correlation to how loud I'm talking. When in the office I try to whisper and the mic doesn't like that at all.  I've found that if I talk at a normal volume with my normal cadence there are just a handful of words it confuses. For some reason every time I say "and" it thinks I'm saying "end". I'm wondering if there's some Pacific Northwest accent I've got that's throwing it off. At the end of the day it's accurate enough that I still use it 10 - 20 times a day.

The App Store

I'll start by saying that there are a lot of apps for the Pebble. So many in fact that it highlights how awful the Pebble app store app is. The search is truly terrible, often not returning apps that contain the search term in their name. There are only a couple of categories that you can browse and they're not very helpful in my opinion. Most of the apps I use I found by either word of mouth or by spending an hour trolling through the app lists looking for something interesting.

I've found that there are about a dozen apps I've downloaded that I use daily/weekly. Cards for Pebble is a great app because it let's me see stock quotes and weather very easily. Pebble Music is the best music app I've tried so far. It's companion app isn't free but it's worth the money. I can initiate and control music playback entirely from the watch which is awesome as I'm a bike commuter and I often have my phone in my bag and am wearing bluetooth head phones (in one ear of course). Pebble Movies is great for getting movie listings and showtimes. CatchOneBus has been great when I'm riding the bus instead of biking. Other useful apps include Timer+, ESPN, Misfit, and Ventoo Bike Computer.

Battery Life

The battery is awesome. I regularly get 5 days out of a full charge. Which means if I charge it Sunday evening I'm good for the week. When I'm using it for development I get less battery life because I'm using it constantly for hours upon end. A note of caution, some watch faces with heavy animation will kill your battery quicker. I think it's key to find a watch face that looks great but isn't updating every second.

Would I Recommend It?

If you're looking for a companion to your phone that allows you to pull it out of their pocket less often then this is the watch for you. If you're looking to replace your phone with a watch then you're going to be sorely disappointed with every smart watch on the market.

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