Pebble Time

Pebble Time is the latest and greatest watch made by Pebble, Inc. In almost every way, it’s a completely different watch compared to the previous versions, the Pebble and Pebble Steel.

In the announcement video on kickstarter, Eric Migicovsky pitched the Pebble Time as a watch with an always-on color display. It has a new ergonomic design. It acts as a great activity companion, can send voice replies or record voice notes, and has seven days of battery life. It also uses a new timeline interface to show past and future notifications.

I’m happy to say that Pebble delivered on all of their promises[footnote]the voice note feature is coming soon, though[/footnote]. I’m even happier to report that a lot of great features weren’t even talked about.

The Watch

As I opened the simple packaging, I noticed that the photos for the Pebble Time don’t capture the amount of class the watch offers. The edges of the face seem to be a highly polished metal. The front glass is crystal clear and appears to have an anti-reflection coating like what I’ve seen on my camera lenses. iFixit reports this glass is gorilla glass, too. I had seen the first renderings and pre-mass production units. Nothing captured how nice this watch looks. I know product photography is difficult, especially for a device that has a mixture of finishes and material types. I suppose it’s better to be happier when opening the box than to be let down.

The bezel is somewhat velvety to the touch but looks like anodized aluminum, even though it is stainless steel. The feel is like my MacBook Pro’s aluminum shell. The body is polycarbonate and has a nice textured finish. The watch feels lightweight. After a few days I had forgotten I was wearing it, even when running on a treadmill.

The charging port has moved from the side to the back, a welcomed change in my opinion. In earlier models, the charging port was on the left side, which always seemed like it could have been done better. Now that the port is on the back, all that’s seen is a beautiful design with no hints towards the need for charging at all.

The buttons feel firm, but allow a little pressure before activating with a solid stoppage of movement. The area between the buttons in the right three-button cluster have gotten tighter. My finger nail barely fits between the buttons. The microphone is just below the right three-button cluster, and the opening is small. I noticed that water does seem to be able to go into the microphone’s opening, but is completely waterproofed.

The contoured back of the watch fits well on my wrist. The face is also smaller in width and height compared to the original Pebble[footnote]All I have is the original Pebble, so I feel the most comfortable comparing the new Pebble Time to this version.[/footnote].

The included silicone strap is comfortable and feels much nicer than my original Pebble’s strap. It does seem to collect a little more dust than the older version, but it’s easy to clean off. The strap is simple to remove by using the quick-release pins, and I expect I will buy a few different straps to go with my Pebble Time, like this leather strap I found on Etsy. The promise of smartstraps is exciting, too. Smartstraps have made Pebble a very interesting platform to integrate with.

Pebble Time is waterproof up to 30 meters. The original Pebble is waterproof up to 50 meters, by comparison. I feel it’s safe to assume this difference in waterproof rating for the Pebble Time is because of the addition of the microphone. I’ve worn my Pebble and Pebble Time while swimming and in the shower. Both resist water enough to not be a problem for me. I have noticed that the new glass on the Pebble Time shows soap or water residue more than my original Pebble. It’s easy to remove the residue, though.

The Color Display

The first thing I noticed when I turned on the Pebble Time is the new color display. Pebble calls this an e paper display, but that term left me a little confused. I’ve read other’s reports that the display technology is LCD and/or e ink. I’m sure lots of people don’t care what technology the screen uses, but what Pebble decided to use for their screen has a great impact on the product. Most of my confusion comes from the difference between e paper and e ink. E ink is what the kindle uses to make a sharp, readable display that uses a low amount of power, especially when compared to a lcd screen that needs a back light to be readable. E ink is notorious for having a refresh period that would make a changing watch face unpleasant, so I’m glad Pebble went with a readable, but well performing e paper solution.

I carefully inspected this image from iFixit and looked around with a bright flashlight past the front piece of glass. It appears that there are extra, unused pixels on the display that fall behind the black part of the bezel, mostly near the top and bottom edge of the screen. A component sheet lists a resolution of 205 x 148, while the Pebble Time only uses 168 x 144.

In direct sunlight, the screen is readable, has vibrant colors, and has great contrast. In diffused, indoor light, the screen is still readable, but the vibrancy of the colors starts to decrease just a bit. In near darkness, the backlight illuminates the screen, but further decreases the vibrancy of the colors. The lighter the color, the more difficult it is to tell exactly what hue I am looking at. Still, I can tell what color it’s supposed to be. It just takes a bit of work to distinguish some colors.

Pebble Time looks great with polarized sunglasses on. The original Pebble was a bit trickier to read as it showed rainbow artifacts when I looked at it through polarized sunglasses. Below I’ve captured how they both look. It’s easy to see the improvement with Pebble Time.

Battery Life

As a person who has cared for good battery life on my iPhone and other battery-dependent devices, I loved how long I could go between charges on my original Pebble. The Pebble Time has performed at least as good as it’s predecessor. Using Battery+ to check my battery usage, I’ve seen a consistent battery life of 5.5 days. I also logged the battery data myself without Battery+ and I recorded a full charge lasting 6.5 days in three instances. The longest I went between charges was around 7 days, but I had turned off the motion enabled back light and didn’t use the watch a lot during that time. A warning notification will appear at 20% and 10% battery life. Once the battery life reaches 0%, Pebble Time goes into time only mode and will last for a few more hours.

The Interface

Watchfaces are the most used functionality of the watch, and they work a little differently than in the past. On the original Pebble, I would use my iPhone to send the watchface to the watch. Once it was sent to the phone, it lived there. Only 8 watchfaces or apps were allowed on a Pebble at a time. Now I select what watchface I’d like to add to my Pebble Time, and the iPhone app says it has been added, but the watch is still fetching the app and shows a progress bar until the watchface is loaded. This is not a big difference when I’m adding a single watchface once the watch is setup. When I was first setting up my Pebble Time, I was coming from an older Pebble and had a few watchfaces in my locker. It might appear that they are all ready to go on the new Pebble Time. This is not the case, though. I needed to use the watchface first when my phone was in Bluetooth range, or else an error appeared. Switching between watchfaces works a little differently, too. I can select the desired face through the watchfaces menu item, by checking the top right corner of the watchface on the iPhone app, or by selecting a watchface on the iPhone app and choosing “Set as active watchface.” I can also reorder the watchfaces and apps with the iPhone app, but not on the watch itself.

Navigating the interface is done using the four buttons.

Pebble Time Interface

(modified from xndrtech.com)

Pressing the top right button brings up the timeline for the past, with the most recent events towards the bottom. Pressing the bottom right button brings up the timeline for the future, with the most immediate events towards the top. The middle right button shows the watch’s setting and any apps that have been added to the Pebble Time. With the previous version the top and bottom right buttons would switch between watchfaces. While this feature was cool, the new timeline is much more practical and useful. The interface in the settings menu does a nice job of showing what’s below or above the current item while keeping the wasted space to a minimum. If an event on the future timeline is coming up within the next hour, a quick animation will appear showing how much time in minutes there are before the next event starts. If I am at the most recent past event and press the down button, the interface jumps back to the watchface. The same thing happens if I am on the first future event and I press the up button. If I navigate to either the settings menu, past or future events and I don’t do anything for 30 seconds, the interface jumps back to the watchface, too. The back button acts as the power button when held down for an extended period of time. Hard rebooting the Pebble requires the back, up, and select button to be pressed until the Pebble logo appears. Since physical buttons are used to navigate the Pebble’s menu, I can pause my music without looking at the screen. I can also dismiss a notification, or ignore a call without looking. I understand that a touchscreen would allow more versatility, but I like being able to ignore a call almost unnoticeably. It comes in handy during a meeting and allows me to stay focused on what’s important.

Notifications are much improved with Pebble Time. Short, color coded animations precede the notifications I’ve grown accustomed to. If I’m in a hurry, pressing a button quickly a second time usually speeds through the animation. When I get a text message notification, for example, I can either press the back button to leave the notification on my iPhone, or I can press the select button twice to dismiss the notification. The message is still unread on my iPhone, but the notification is not on my lock screen. Certain apps get customized visuals for their notifications, too. Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Gmail, Facebook, Google Hangouts, Telegram, Google Inbox, Mailbox, Outlook, Instagram, Blackberry Messenger, Line, WeChat, Viber, Skype, and Yahoo Mail notifications have appropriate colors and icons to correspond with their branding. See all of the icons on Pebble’s developer guide. One of my concerns was that the animations would delay me in checking things quickly on my Pebble Time, but I can skip most animations with another button press. If I keep the down button pressed when scrolling down through the settings menu, for example, I don’t see any animations.

The Timeline is a simple and powerful way to see past and upcoming events. Weather forecasts, calendar events, sports scores, alarms, and more can show up in the timeline. Apps and services can also add items to the timeline as well. I use ESPN to keep up to date with the teams I follow. I also use Battery+ to make sure I know when to charge my Pebble Time. One benefit to the model Pebble has chosen is I can have as few as 5 or as many as 50 items in my timeline, and everything runs smoothly. The ability to scale in both directions makes Pebble’s choice flexible enough for everyone, no matter how busy or free their schedules are.

There have been a couple times where I’ve needed to toggle Bluetooth on my iPhone to get my Pebble Time connected again. I haven’t had any other issues, though.

In case you’re wondering, my favorite watchfaces are Love Weather (my default face), TH3, and the soon to be released color attmm collection.

Wish List

  • I wish I could read a notification on my Pebble Time and the app would know it was read.
  • I hope that smartstraps gain traction and we see some battery boosters or heart rate monitors.

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