Now the hype is in full swing over the Apple Watches, I thought it would be a good time to write about my experiences with a Pebble.
The Pebble smartwatch was born of a wildly successful kickstarter campaign a couple of years ago and has followed on from that kickstarter success by being the first smartwatch to break the 1m units sold barrier. Compare that against Android Wear that has sold circa 720,000 units in total across all the manufacturers, LG, Sony, Samsung, Motorola, et al, and the size of Pebbles success begins to look even more impressive. Of course, much like Apple didn’t really invent the smartphone or the tablet, but refined it and popularised it, many are saying that they will do the same for the smartwatch. Whilst they will no doubt have a significantly popular device that will outsell the rest of the market combined, I have serious doubts about whether they’ll actually be able to improve on the Pebble.
The one thing the Pebble does brilliantly is conserve battery life. Over the last two months I’ve not had to charge my Pebble more than once every 4 days. Mac websites are already writing apologist pieces about why it doesn’t matter if the iWatch needs charging during the day. It’s mind-boggling. I have managed to deal with Lollipop taking a dislike to my Nexus 5 and actually shortening the battery life by carrying a portable battery pack around with me but the idea of watch not being able to tell me it’s 4pm because the battery has died is absurd.
It’s telling that we can miniaturise the technology for wearables but we can’t develop the battery technology to make them viable in the form that most tech companies want to present them in. How then does the Pebble succeed where all others fail? Firstly the Pebble isn’t touchscreen, it uses 4 buttons to navigate you through the menus. Secondly the screen is monochrome and relatively low resolution. This shows there isn’t a magic solution to the battery life problem- you can either have high tech bells and whistles and a full colour touchscreen, or you can have a good battery life but not both.
There are two versions of the Pebble watch available currently available- the Pebble Time is due to ship to the UK by July- the standard (and original) and the Pebble Steel. The innards are both identical, the only difference is the casing. Irritatingly, they don’t use the same magnetic charger though, as I found out when I attempted to borrow a colleagues Steel charger in the office.
The thing about smart watches is peoples views are broadly divided into two camps, those who don’t see the point and those who want the latest tech. Android Wear has struggled to work out the point, and sales have been poor. The fact the Apple smart watch has outsold every Android watch combined in pre orders is testimony to this.
I think the telling thing for me is that I really miss what I get out of my Pebble when I’m not wearing it. To me, that shows it’s a device that works for me. What does it do that I like so much?
- trusted device that allows me to unlock my Nexus 5 without entering the pass code. I need to have a pass code to have MS Exchange email on it, but entering a 4 digit code every single time is deeply irritating;
- specifically defined notifications right to my wrist, meaning I don’t have to take my phone out of my pocket every 5 minutes. This is a god send for me as I get an enormous amount of emails through my personal accounts. The one thing I have to be careful of is checking notifications in meetings- it can look like you’re bored and checking the time if you’re not careful.
Surprised it’s such a short list? You shouldn’t be in a sense because it’s the simple things that make Pebble great. Yes, you can load a SONOS controller onto it, no, there isn’t any point in doing so. This is the case with an awful lot of smart watch apps, if you can do it with your phone, you’re almost better off doing with your phone. I don’t want all the extras; I wear an UP tracker which has a battery life of a week, putting that functionality into my watch would cripple the battery and render it pretty pointless.