I finally succumbed to getting a Pebble Steel (by “succumbed”, I mean that I finally persuaded my wife to let me buy one) and I thought I’d share my initial impressions. I’ve had it for about a week, so I’ve had time for a decent roadtest; here are some observations, in no particular order.
Its basic functionality is solid
At its core, the purpose of the Pebble is to transfer notifications from your phone to your wrist and it does this with no problems. I can receive notifications at work when my phone is on silent, while I’m driving (obviously I can’t respond while driving, but I can see who is trying to get hold of me), when my phone is in another room and I can’t hear it… all good uses of the basic functionality.
I recall that when the original Pebble came out, a lot of the reviews talked about bluetooth issues and the connection dropping out; I have experienced no problems at all with this. When I go out of range (if I’m nipping to the bathroom at work or something), the connection obviously drops, but it has always picked up again without issue upon my return. It took me a couple of days to stop checking my phone anyway and start trusting my Pebble, but this was just a case of dropping old habits… now I happily leave my phone in my bag and only get it out if I need to respond to something.
Its even-more-basic functionality is solid
Obviously, all the notifications in the world are no good if it doesn’t function as a watch… it does. The screen is very readable in the day and the backlight can be activated with a shake of the wrist at night. Most importantly, there’s no timeout on the screen, so no button press is required to view the time. There are downloadable watch faces to suit all preferences (digital vs analogue, for example), but I actually really like the default text-based one.
It’s an attractive timepiece
It’s not a showy watch, so you might not wear it to a black tie event or anything, but it doesn’t look out of place in an office environment. It’s also fairly compact for a smartwatch, so doesn’t look oversized on the wrist (petite ladies might find it a little chunky, I guess).
[Note: From the pictures I’ve seen, the basic Pebble is not quite as attractive as the Pebble Steel, but it’s still not an ugly watch either.]
The basic utility apps are decent
I’ve not had time to fully explore the Pebble app store, but I’ve loaded a couple of very basic ones on there. Having a countdown timer on my wrist is handy, as I used to use the one on my phone a lot; I’ve also started exploring some of the more extensive functionality, such as access my Evernote notes on the pebble. The potential is definitely there for it to do a lot of different things.
It’s not cheap
In the UK, the Pebble Steel costs £259 and the original Pebble costs £129 (both available on Amazon). Prices may come down over time (or a second hand market may emerge), but for now the Pebble is probably not a device for the casual user.
There are some neat tricks with it
I can press a couple of buttons and fire off pre-set SMS messages to my wife (“Leaving now”, that sort of thing), I can make my phone start playing music (to help locate it if it’s on silent), the Pebble vibrates when the phone’s battery is low and also when it reaches full charge. My favourite function is that I’ve set my phone up not to require a password to unlock if it’s connected to the Pebble (i.e. it’s in my possession).
[Note: The functions described above have been set up using Tasker on an Android phone. Similar things might be achievable on iOS, but I couldn’t guarantee it.]
It’s still just a peripheral
It should be noted that, for all the nifty functionality described above, it is still just a peripheral to the smartphone. Tasker allows some limited control of the phone from the watch and there are simple music controls, but for the most part it is a one way street from phone to watch. I suspect that this will change over the next couple of years and smartwatches will become more like independent devices in their own right, but for now it doesn’t really do anything that can’t be done directly on the phone. This is not to put anyone off; just to set realistic expectations of what a smartwatch can currently do.
Overall, I’m really impressed with the Pebble Steel. It’s certainly not for everyone; I suspect that it’s not worth the price tag for anyone not interested/tech savvy enough to set up the extended functionality. However, anyone willing to take the time to explore its full potential (simply Googling “tips for Pebble smartwatch” or something similar will give lots of stuff) should find that it is a useful addition to their wrist/life.