Pebble Smartwatch - My first wearable

The year 2014 kicked off with the gadget that won the award for being the Game Changer of 2013 — Pebble Smartwatch, not to forget that the latest model of Pebble Steel won the award for being the Best Smartwatch at CES 2014.

I came across Pebble through the kickstarter project early 2013 and waited the whole of the year to see where the product goes. Pebble focused more on usability than features from the very beginning. The competition for Pebble were devices rich in features like a touch screen, color display, camera and video calling etc. basically shrinking my smartphone and adding bulk on my wrist. This is where Pebble won my heart by being a watch which was lightweight, size of a regular watch, e-paper display and not to forget no speaker or beeper to disturb everyone around, which were also the features that compelled me to spend my money on Pebble.

While the Pebble is considered to be a watch which does nothing extra ordinary other than show time, play music and do notifications out of the box; be ready to be blown away. Within just few days of having Pebble I have been able to achieve the following tasks combining 3rd party apps like Tasker, PebbleTasker, Canvas for Pebble and Pebble Notifier:

  1. Managing Profiles — Silent & Normal
  2. Toggle Sync
  3. Popup a menu with canned SMS on getting a Missed Call notification
  4. Popup a menu of canned SMS to revert to the last SMS received
  5. Toggle WiFi Tethering
  6. Locate my Phone
  7. Launch & Kill frequently used apps
  8. Setup about 20 additional watch dials than the restricted 8 watch dials/apps

Hardware

I have own a few formal watches from Esprit, Giordano and a Tokyo Flash (Kisai — Rogue Touch)

After using my Red Pebble for few hours, it felt nice to see a gadget which was not mimicking my smartphone but acted as an enhanced accessory to work during situations when you cannot pull out the phone for every new notification beep for emails, sms/mms, hangouts, twitter mentions or even whatsapp and incoming calls. All these features are packed in a light frame made of shiny plastic case which has the waterproof rating of 5 ATM, so the watch can be submerged in water up to 40m (please try at your own risk though) and can be worn while diving, swimming or doing household work etc.

The weight of the watch is almost negligible and I keep it on throughout the day and night. The dial or the screen is a little large but the flexible straps makes it fit well on the wrist. The material for the straps has been very carefully chosen and has a soft touch to it and can be worn for long hours without making the wrists sweat.

Navigation of menu is controlled via three buttons laid out on the right of the watch with default actions of scrolling and the middle one for making a selection. The left side has a single button set for back action, with charging connectors located below the button.

The first thing I wanted to test was the battery backup on Pebble since it requires connection with Bluetooth to act like a smartwatch with the phone. The first charge along with the consecutive charges made it last for 5 days all the time, all thanks to the e-paper display which kept the drain to the minimum considering that I have been playing with it day in and day out. The watch comes with it’s own proprietary magnetic USB charger, similar to the Magsafe charger for MacBook from Apple. The magnetic charger ensures that the device does not fall after accidentally tripping or pulling off the charging cable as it quickly unsnaps from the connectors on sudden pull away.

The package does not include the wall charger but just the USB cable. Now that almost all phones in the market charge off the USB, wall plugs are available everywhere. However using one for Pebble does help charge the device faster but the battery is also depleted faster from 100% to 80% almost immediately in the span for couple of hours. On the other side if the charging was done through the USB ports on the laptop the discharge rate was as slow as 10% in almost 12 hours.

This needs to be mostly connected to the smartphone and works well with iPhone and Android for now, while the Blackberry and Windows support is currently being tested. The watch interfaces with the phone for dynamic information updates like connection to internet for weather updates and notification alerts for applications, but it does includes few sensors built in like — magnetometer, ambient light sensors and a three-axis accelerometer. The inbuilt accelerometer helps activating the backlight via flicking of the wrist, thereby taking away the use of other hand to press a button take the same action.

Software

Pebble needs to communicate with your smartphone over Bluetooth and needs the Pebble application as a medium to control the actions on the watch. The app can be downloaded from the Play Store for Android and App Store for the iPhone. The setup is easy with first pairing of the Bluetooth between Pebble and phone, thereafter using the Pebble App to connect with the watch. The app itself features a Settings menu allowing to set up almost all the basic notifications for Gmail, Email, SMS/MMS, Google Hangouts, Incoming Calls, Music application to play your favorite music on the phone along with managing the apps and watchfaces (various clock screens) on your Pebble. Pebble comes preloaded with three watchfaces and the limited memory allows only 8 more slots to install user required watchfaces or apps on the watch.

The menu layout is very simple to understand for what it does:

  • Music: Access your media on your phone. Skip tracks as well as play/pause.
  • Notifications: Here you can scroll through and view your most recent alerts.
  • Alarms: Add one or more alarms. Set custom time as well as Snooze Delay time.
  • Watchfaces: Browse and choose the installed watch faces
    Settings — Access to Bluetooth, Notification settings (On/Off, Do Not Disturb, vibration, font size), Date & Time settings, Display Settings, About, Shut Down, Factory Reset.

The mobile app also features a limited App Store with very few watchfaces and applications for the smartwatch. Pebble recently also announced that it would be launching a full fledged store by end of January 2014. This is really a great news for Pebble users since the watchfaces are scattered all over the internet. Few sites to download the watchfaces are http://www.mypebblefaces.com/ & http://pebblebarn.com/

3rd Party Apps

Doing a quick search on Play Store for Pebble resulted in few hundred applications, but I installed only 4-5 of that were useful to me. Few applications on Android include:

Canvas for Pebble allows creating custom watchfaces directly on the phone and install on pebble. You can also share your watchfaces with others or installed the ones other have shared from within the application.

Pebble Notifier allows to set up notifications for more applications than offered by the default Pebble App.

PebbleDialer to have better control over the phonebook, calls log and making/incoming calls through the smartwatch

Becoming a Power user

Pebble offers a platform making it easier for the developers to make more useful apps. This strategy also helped Pebble to work with other power apps already available on Play Store harnessing it’s true potential. Few apps like Tasker along with a bridging app PebbleTasker allows users to customize actions/task based on event, time, location etc. Though both the applications are paid but are totally worth the price considering the price of Pebble is fairly at $150 when compared to others in the same category.

Conclusion

Pebble Smartwatch is one of the best gadgets in the wearable category setting up high benchmarks for competition by allowing the user have a gadget which is lightweight, non-intrusive, readable display, long battery life and still acting like a watch with dials styles to match your mood or the people you are hanging out with. Pebble turns formal during business meetings and wears a sports look when you want a break from work, all this while keeping you updated and notified to avoid missing anything urgent that needs to your attention.

I am totally satisfied with spending on Pebble even though 2014 promises to be the year of wearable technology.

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