Pebble Time review: One smartwatch to outlast them all
Back to buttons
The Pebble Time is not a touchscreen device. Instead, the device is controlled by four buttons: the home/back button on the left of the fascia, and the up/select/down buttons on the right. It sounds clunky compared to a touchscreen, but it’s a system that performs remarkably well.
Pressing the down button activates the new timeline feature, which gives you a potted breakdown of your next 48 hours: appointments, reminders and weather forecasts. Press up and you can rewind time to review previous calendar items and important notifications, such as missed calls. If you’re not bothered by the timeline, the up and down buttons can be assigned to apps, allowing you to open, say, the music controller or TripAdvisor with a single press.
Beneath the down button is a tiny pinhole, which you might easily confuse for a hard reset facility. That is, in fact, the microphone, which allows you to dictate replies to SMS or WhatsApp messages – trust me, buddy, speaking to your watch like Hasselhoff in Knight Rider will never make you feel more alive.
Transcription accuracy was more than respectable in our tests, but you have only six seconds to dictate your reply, time for nothing more than a soundbite. Alas, the Pebble Time displayed an error message every time I dictated an SMS reply via my HTC One M8 phone, even though the reply had been sent.
Abundant supply of apps
Before you’ve even ventured into the app store, the Pebble Time will mirror all the notifications that are delivered to your smartphone, gently vibrating on your wrist to warn you about new emails, Twitter alerts, text messages and breaking news. That instinctive impulse to whip out your phone from your pocket every time it tings disappears immediately, saving precious battery life. Calls can be declined, music tracks skipped and text messages replied to from templates, all without touching the phone.
Since this is the second-generation Pebble, the store is already well stocked with apps and watchfaces, although many were designed for the monochrome display of the past and don’t yet support colour. There are plenty of big-name apps in the store, with the fitness fraternity particularly well represented: RunKeeper, Runtastic and Strava are among the names with their own Pebble apps.
However, I found a few of the apps to be unreliable. An app that promised to relay instructions from Google Maps to the smartwatch kept complaining about a lost connection to the smartphone, although the connection was perfectly solid. Others failed to install properly. These might be teething problems with old apps being exposed to new APIs, but it’s a disappointingly disjointed experience.
In better news, the eight-app limit of the first-generation Pebbles has been scrapped. There’s no officially published limit any more, and I’ve installed more than 20 apps on my Pebble Time without complaint. There’s a healthy library of watchfaces to pick from, too, and even those faces that constantly force the screen to refresh – to display a second hand or show the number of steps you’ve walked that day – don’t do tremendous damage to the Pebble Time’s battery life.
The Pebble Time undoubtedly has its shortcomings: the screen is unspectacular, the design is functional, and there are more glitches than you’d expect from a polished end product. This isn’t a smartwatch for those who want to be noticed for what they’re wearing on their wrist.
Not being locked into a smartphone ecosystem because of your choice of watch is equally compelling
Yet, it has unique strengths. Barely having to worry about putting another device on charge every night or think about packing the charge cable on a weekend away is a blessing. Not being locked into a smartphone ecosystem because of your choice of watch is equally compelling. And for the most part, the Pebble Time just works: right from the moment you’ve finished the setup it delivers notifications with minimum fuss.
The clincher is the price: £179 is a fraction of the price of the Apple Watch and competitive with many of the Android Wear devices available today. I can confirm Kickstarter backer #5508 is very satisfied with his purchase.