Backerjack is delighted to start off its hands-on reviews with a product that set the Kickstarter record for funding, the Pebble Time.
Review Score: 3 of 5
The original Pebble watch was notable for two reasons. It was one of the first smartwatches to work with both iOS in addition to Android and it was one of the few to have a grayscale e-paper display that offered long battery life and great outdoor readability. Handling smartwatch basics such as phone call notification, step counting and music playback control, the Pebble attracted thousands of watchfaces and apps. However, the watch looked plastic and chunky (a fault somewhat rectified by the Pebble Steel) and its interface often required an extended number of button presses given its lack of a touchscreen.
The Pebble Time addresses some of the shortcomings of the original. it has a sleeker, more attractive two-tone design that drops the body extensions to accommodate the strap. Pebble has also gone with a color e-ink display, one of the first to be used in a consumer product. Pebble has also moved its power connector from the side of the device to the back and seems to have strengthened the magnets; the connection is more secure and Pebble now ships a long flat cable. And while the power connector also supports watch straps that add functionality (a promising one the subject of a recent crowdfunding campaign), they’ve not appeared in the market yet. Like its predecessor, the Pebble Time is water-resistant.
As mentioned, the Pebble has many apps, but the company has focused its user interface on a new timeline feature that allows you to catch up with recent events or see future appointments. It’s a smart approach that Pebble is bringing to its original watch, and a metaphor that more Pebble apps need to take advantage of. The same is true for support of the Pebble Time’s new display. There are relatively few color watchfaces and apps that do so. But watchfaces can be smart. A recently released one shows updated scores of Major League Baseball games (at least for one’s favorite team).
That said, Pebble has spruced up its minimalist visual interface with some fun if occasionally childish animations. Of course, the Pebble Time is still fresh out of the gate, but some of its developer attention may now have migrated to Android Wear and the Apple Watch which has unsurprisingly come to dominate the category in a short time.
One key component separating the Pebble from those devices is its display, which poses visibility challenges that are the opposite of those in LCD-based watches such as the Apple Watch that are easy to see when the environment is dark and tough to see outdoors. While offering battery life that lasts the better part of a week and highly readable in sunlight, the colors on the Pebble Time are muted and low-contrast, which can make text hard to read.
This is not helped by the watch’s low resolution and dim default backlighting, which compare poorly to the Mirasol-based reflective screen in the larger-screened Qualcomm TOQ. Pebble recently released an update that makes the font bigger and turns the backlighting up to a level it humorously but inaccurately calls “blinding.” The fixes help, but there is still light text in the interface that remains hard to catch at a glance.
Pebble Time also lacks a touch screen. The advantage to this is that the watch’s display is always visible when moving around its user interface. But despite improvements, you can still spend a lot of time engaging in almost videogame-like button sequences. A saving grace is the Pebble Time’s shortcut buttons — carried over from the original, that lets you assign two of its buttons to two different favorite apps.
If you’re looking for the ultimate app watch or something tightly integrated with your smartphone OS, the Pebble Time isn’t it and may never be although the Pebble Time does offer interactive notification on Android, which has better support for third-party notification reception. If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive smartwatch that can handle notifications, has great outdoor battery life, and a variety of fun faces, the Pebble Time is a strong contender. But particularly given the limited benefits of its color display, it’s also worth checking out the original Pebble, which is now available for less than $100.