Before You Buy a Pebble Smartwatch, Read This

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Pebble watch three colors

I’m on record dissing the Pebble smartwatch, calling it ugly, clunky and overpriced for a device with a non-color non-touchscreen.

Surely, I thought back in January 2013, when I saw the Pebble demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show, a flood of better products will soon arrive to beat this wrist-size PalmPilot at its own game.

Yet here we are, 18 months later, and the Pebble remains the smartwatch to beat. The standard-wearer. The just-announced LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, both based on the new Android Wear platform, have met with mixed reviews. Only the forthcoming super-sexy Moto 360 stands any chance of knocking the Pebble off its throne — and it’s an Android-only device, so there’s arguably room for two atop that pedestal.

As for Apple… still anybody’s guess. We’ll have to wait a couple more months to see if anything is up — make that down — Apple’s sleeve.

In the meantime, here sits my wrist, naked, waiting for the ultimate timepiece to not only tell time, but also notify me of calls, appointments and messages.

My Dabble with Pebble

About a month ago, I spotted the Pebble on sale for $119 — tantalizingly close to what I consider the magic price point for smartwatches: $99. I snapped it up to see if it felt ugly, clunky and overpriced on my wrist.

Before reporting on it, I wanted to wait until I’d had several weeks to really “live into” the device; to see if it came to feel like, well, my left arm — since my iPhone is already my right one.

The very day I strapped it on, I accidentally brushed against a painted wooden loft. When I glanced down at my wrist, I saw noticeable white scuffs on the Pebble’s plastic face. No amount of buffing would remove them — the marks were permanent.

Not cool. A watch should be scuff proof. This one is not. Thankfully, Amazon was willing to replace it for me, so a week later I started over. Apparently this occurrence is not unusual, as Amazon also sells a variety of protective Pebble “wraps” like this one.)

I was considerably more careful with Pebble number 2, but was dismayed when its battery died after just 24 hours. Twice. It’s supposed to last at least four to five days, and the previous one (before I shipped it back) did exactly that. Pebble’s tech support walked me through some troubleshooting steps, but ultimately it was the release of a firmware update that solved the problem. Now I can go a good four days between trips to the charger.

Speaking of that, though, the watch relies on a proprietary, magnetic clip-on plug. No like. What’s wrong with microUSB? Now it’s one more cord to take on trips. And if I lose it, I’m hosed.

Pebble Steel three versions

Other problems have cropped up as well. Sometimes notifications that appear on my phone don’t reach the Pebble. And on occasion the phone will ask me to allow pairing, even though it’s already paired. Plus, keeping the Pebble connected causes a dip in iPhone battery life.

When It’s Good, It’s Great

If all this sounds like I hate the Pebble, I don’t — I actually like it a lot. Not because of all the silly watchfaces (I only need one), but because it’s the best at linking with my iPhone.

Specifically, I can read the full contents of a text message, and I don’t have to rely on a tiny ticker like on the Martian Notifier. I can see at a glance who’s calling and dismiss the call with the press of a button.

I especially like the way the Pebble automatically pairs with RunKeeper, showing me my time, distance and pace in large, easy-to-read numbers. I didn’t have to set anything up; it’s one of those “it just works” features.

Third-party apps that extend the watch’s capabilities abound, though I find most of them chintzy or superfluous. But there’s no harm in having them (unless they prove damaging to battery life, which some definitely do).

Before you buy a Pebble, here’s what you should know:

  • The face can easily get scuffed or scratched.
  • Don’t expect more than four to five days between trips to the charger.
  • It’s a pretty homely piece of plastic, unless you splurge for the Pebble Steel. My private name for it: “Woman repellent.” (And if you’re a woman, I can’t imagine you’d want to sport one of these on your wrist.)
  • If you want instant, at-a-glance notifications from some or all of your apps, there’s no better smartwatch currently available.
  • If you can score one for $119, by all means do so. It may be out of date or outclassed within the next 12 months, but you’ll be a happier camper during that time.

Oh, and if you think you’ll be able to buy a Moto 360 or Apple iWatch for anywhere near $119, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Kansas you should consider.

The Pebble may not be perfect, but for now, it’s the best we’ve got.

Photo credit: Pebble

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