I have a confession to make. I’m an early adopter. I had an iPad in my hands the second day after they hit the markets. I was the first at seminary to own a Kindle – back when they were $300 a pop. I had an Android phone when most people were still trying to figure out what an iPhone was. And when the Pebble Watch made its way onto Kickstarter last Spring, I didn’t think twice about signing up.
Well, my watch came in the mail this week, so a review is obviously in order. Being an early adopter, I know to expect a few bugs along the way. Technology is meant to be improved upon, and version 1.0 of anything these days is always looked back upon in hindsight with that “how did we stand for that?” mentality. All that being said, I’ve always been excited by new technology, and the cool factor has always made up for the imperfections. But this may change my mind.
The Pebble Watch
I have to admit, I more than a little underwhelmed. When you spend well over $100 on a watch (they will retail for $150 later this year), you expect it to either be durable or full of useful features or both. But the Pebble – as it stands right now – is neither. Consisting of a simple band made of rubber and a plastic watch face with a total of four push buttons, the watch looks somewhat large and clunky. But it’s not the watch materials that make a Pebble a Pebble.
What makes the Pebble Watch unique is its ability to stay in touch with your iPhone over Bluetooth. In case you missed my article on it when it was still in the dreamy concept stage, here’s a video showing how cool it is:
When it came in the mail, it was in a cardboard box not dissimilar from the box a Kindle ships in. In pure Apple style, it came with no instructions – just a watch and a USB charging cord. Noticing it was already charged up I synced it up with my phone using the Pebble app from the app store. That was fairly straight forward. It requires going through a series of steps in your iPhone settings to get it working, but the Pebble app is helpful in guiding you along the process. After a few minutes, I had loaded my first watch face on it. It ships with 3 watch faces installed, and you can select from 6 more using the app. The choices aren’t terribly exciting, though, and I’ve stuck with the standard “text watch” face that comes pre-installed.
The main function of the watch is receiving notifications from your phone. If someone sends you an email or a text message, your wrist will buzz and you can read up to 5 lines of text without fumbling for your phone. It was not easy to get that basic functionality working, though. First I learned you have to upgrade to the latest operating system (I was still on iOS 5.1) for it to work. Then you have to jailbreak the phone and download a fix from the Cydia store. Apprently this fix was made by a developer who got his hands on a Pebble and had the same problem I did. There’s been no acknowledgment from the creators of Pebble about the problem, and no word as to whether you will always need a jailbroken phone to make the Pebble work.
The Pebble SDK was promised to ship back in September, prior to the release of the watch. The watch got delayed until just recently, and there has been no word in months about the SDK. So, as of yet there are no apps for the Pebble. You get a few basic watch faces to choose from and the ability to see email on your watch – and that’s it.
The Pebble ships with a USB charging cable, which I was fully expecting. I was disappointed to not have a wall adapter included with it, but I have enough of those lying around I didn’t lose sleep over it. But the disappointing factor is how long the battery lasts. I receive a fair number of emails throughout the day, but probably not more than anyone else. Last night I charged the watch up before going to bed (and then left it unplugged on my bedside table), and it was completely dead by 3:30pm today. Not even 24 hours.
You have very few options in customizing the Pebble. You can either turn notifications on or off. If you want to customize individual notifications, that must be done through your iPhone by turning the notifications on or off in your settings. So, if you don’t want to receive emails on the watch, you have to stop your phone from notifying anything (including the lock screen) about emails. If a notification is on, it will send a small vibration to your wrist – there’s no way to turn that off. So every with every spam you will receive a buzz, which can be very annoying when the watch is on your bedside table overnight.
The watch comes with four simple buttons. On the left is a “back” button, and on the right are up, down and select buttons. Those are used for navigating the watch menu, which acts like a very simple iPhone app menu. There is currently no way of communicating back to your phone via the watch, though. So don’t expect to reply to that text message from your wrist. It can be used to receive messages, and that’s about it.
The hope is that software updates make the watch better in the future. But the lack of communication regarding current bugs or an SDK has me wondering. The forums have grumblings from people that tried contacting the company about problems, only to go weeks without a reply. Blog posts about progress updates have come in once every few months, and have contained more pictures from the factory floor than anything else. For a company that raised $10 million on Kickstarter, I would have expected a full-time communications person to be hired to address some of these issues.
Am I happy with my purchase? Well it does have a certain cool factor. But for the first time, I’m having some buyer’s regrets over being an early adopter. I believe smart watches have a place in the market. But given the recent rumors that Apple will be entering the arena, I would hold off on placing your order for a Pebble just yet.