I decided to wait a couple of weeks before writing a review of my Pebble watch and passing any sort of judgement as I felt that would allow the dust to settle a bit. So now those weeks are up here are my thoughts.
The Pebble, for those that have missed it, is a “smart watch” that is connected to your phone. iPhone in my case but it is also compatible with Android. Pebble was a project on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter where it set out to raise $10,000 to fund its project and ended up raising $10,000,000. This meant making 85,000 watches when they would have been perhaps expecting to make less than 1,000.
One important thing to note about Kickstarter and other crowd funding sites is that you are not buying an off the shelf product but an idea and that idea might not come to fruition. It is similar to being an investor in an early stage business in that you might get something out of it or you might lose your money. In practice I have pledged on a number of Kickstarter projects and all have been ok but it is worth keeping that in mind. But that mindset is important for the Pebble, I think, as you will see.
There was much excitement when the Pebble finally landed on my doorstep this February given that the project completed it’s funding on 19th May 2012, that’s a long time to wait. The packaging is well designed and minimalist. I was glad to see that there wasn’t any instruction book there, most people don’t read them anyway. In its place was just a web address to go to to get started. You are then directed to download the companion app.
Setup was quick and painless and included a software update for the watch itself. This is important to note as while the hardware obviously cannot be updated the software can and new releases pushed out for bug fixes and enhancements. One of the reasons the project itself was delayed was because the Pebble team wanted to get the hardware right knowing that once shipped that was it.
Out of the box the Pebble can do a number of things: control your music, display text and other notifications, display call information and all call screening. Oh and it can also show the time with a number of different watch “faces” being available. I like this aspect of it as if I get bored I can just change the watch face at the click of a button. It is also possible to download new faces to the Pebble and an SDK is available to all new faces to be created. I suspect that ultimately there will be a marketplace for them.
While the music player support works well the other parts work only intermittently or if at all. For example text messages do seem to be reliably sent to the watch but I have only once had a notification from any other app. Similarly the call identification only works some of the time leaving you still having to guess who is calling as you only see the number and not the contact name. I suspect that these are software issues that can be solved with an update.
There is one issue that is very troubling though and that is the regular message saying that the Pebble app would like to communicate with the watch. This seems to be happening when the app is sent into the background due to lack of memory and as such is something that Pebble have very little control over. They say that they are working with Apple to resolve the issue but Apple do not have a great record of being flexible with issues such as this. If it cannot be resolved then that is a deal breaker for me and others too I suspect. Time will tell.
When the Pebble was first introduced almost a year ago one of the selling points was third party app support including the ability to see speed and distance while riding your bike and a golf tie-in. Rather disappointingly no third party apps are currently available.
Battery life for a watch is not something that I have ever had to consider before, in fact my last watch was self winding so I never had an issue with that at all but it did keep poor time! Pebble quoted a charge cycle of about seven days but I am finding that I only get three days of battery life before it needs charging again. That doesn’t particularly bother me as I have to charge my phone every night and to charge the watch every few days is no big deal. The only problem is that I only have one charge cable, which is non-standard, but I understand that additional cables will be on sale soon and will be an essential purchase for me.
So in conclusion it is a great concept, the watch itself is very well made and clearly a lot of thought has gone into the hardware. My suspicion is that not as much time has been spent on the software and that gives the whole thing an air of a beta product and that’s probably being on the generous side. My hope is that the quality of the software can now be lifted to match that of the hardware.
However, remember what I said at the start of this piece about Kickstarter projects? To see this as a fully rounded product would be wrong. It is a work in progress and, hopefully, with a few software updates it will become a great product. The issue is, in my opinion, that the project was simply too successful. With 68,929 backers many would be expecting a level of quality out of the box that you would get from a watch bought at your local store, a view confirmed by some of the comments on the forums. That’s just not how a crowd funded project is supposed to be. It is supposed to be at the bleeding edge with some risk associated with it and it could fail to deliver completely.
Fortunately, Pebble have delivered and have delivered a thoughtfully designed timepiece which, if they can get the software right and quickly, will become an essential accessory to my phone at the very least.