Saturday, December 27, 2014

Pebble Smartwatch Review

I toyed with buying a Pebble for several months before I actually pulled the trigger. I bought it to solve a specific problem, and then discovered it solved some other problems I had not actively been working on a solution for. It also has a few drawbacks. Here's what I've learned after using it for a couple months.

I keep my phone silenced at work, so that it does not interrupt meetings. However, I sometime miss the silent alerts - I just don't feel the vibration when a call or text comes in. Pretty much the only people who call or text me during the work day are family, and if they do, they need to reach me. Even when I do feel the alert, I consider it bad form to fish my phone out of my pocket to see what it is - it's not very polite at best, and can give the impression you are ignoring a boss or customer at worst.

I knew the Pebble could alert me to incoming texts and phone calls. That, alone, was worth the gamble. The price dropped to $99 after the Android Wear watches came out, and I decided it was time to give it a shot. I spoke with a couple people who had the Android Wear watches, and although they are impressive technology, I was put off by the high price and very short battery life. A coworker indicated they don't even last a full day, and I didn't want that. So I bought the standard Pebble.

The good...

  • The battery life is outstanding. It will run for an entire week, the way I use it.
  • The alerting works very well. The watch vibrates against your wrist and it's hard to miss. It's quiet and subtle.
  • You can configure which alerts you want. I have mine set to only alert on texts and phone calls, but not things like Facebook notifications. That way, if my phone buzzes but the watch does not, I know it can be ignored until a convenient time.
  • It's waterproof.
  • The application on the phone is a convenient way to load apps and watch faces. 

The not so good...

  • The display driver appears to have some bugs. Sometimes it will start to have distortion or speckles across the display that range from annoying to completely obscuring the content. A restart normally fixes it and it doesn't come back for a while. UPDATE: This is a known hardware issue, caused by intermittent connection between the LCD and mainboard. A search on "pebble screen tearing" brings up lots of results that indicate the fix is to contact support and RMA the watch. I intend to do this.

  • The display darkens significantly in cold air, less than 30 deg F. 
  • The stock wrist band on the low end version is made of some sort of rubber, and it is clammy against the skin if it gets damp. It can easily be replaced, but it stands out against the rest of the device.
  • The pedometer function is wildly optimistic. If I zero it and then hop in the car and drive for 45 minutes, I will have logged 2000 steps by the time I get out of the car. I compared it to an actual pedometer and it was about 50% high by the end of the day.
  • Instead of pulling out your phone, which makes you appear distracted, you now tend to glance at your watch, giving the impression you are in a hurry.

The completely unexpectedly useful....

  • Having a silent alarm clock that wakes you by gently pulsing your wrist is extremely handy if you want to wake at a different time than your partner.
  • The app Sleep As Android integrates seamlessly with the Pebble and tracks your sleep by tracking your movements. If you tell it when you need to be up, along with an acceptable time window, it will watch your sleep and nudge you awake when you are in the shallowest part of your sleep cycle. I find I awake more refreshed and alert. 

  • Additionally, I really like being able to see who is calling and texting if I can't easily get to my phone. Examples are cold weather, or with the phone in a dry box while kayaking.
  • The ability to show different data on the watchface, including time zones or weather, is pretty handy.
  • The music playback controls are pretty cool, and work well with Google Music. It does not appear to work with Amazon Music.

It's not as dramatic a change as, say, the laptop or smartphone, but it's inexpensive and handy. I never miss important calls or text any more, and the sleep tracking and data displays are modest time savers. Overall, I am quite pleased with it.  

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