• Pebble Steel SmartWatch Review

    While doing research for this review, I discovered a whole other universe where the limits of precision are still being pursued and a community of fans that have no limits of how much they would spend on time pieces. It's truly incredible that watches have not become obsolete considering it would take you longer (relatively speaking) to glance at your wrist to tell the time than what's displayed on your screen right now. I haven't worn a watch for decades. The day I picked up my Nokia Fido phone was when I didn't see the point of adding mass to my left wrist.





    But in a twist of irony that puzzles me is how much more valuable and costly mechanical watches have become. You would think that when quartz was available on mass, nobody would be interested in manual wind up watches. Could this be a storyline for smartphones? Hmmm...








    Whether you wear a watch for practical or fashionable reasons, I now appreciate the evaluative criteria that is used to pick what you wear. And if you don't have or wear a watch regularly like me, you just might end up diving deeper into this universe.








    Bottom line: The Pebble Steel SmartWatch is an epic failure. It's not remotely competitive in the designer watch industry or the smartphone accessory market. I don't applaud Pebble's intention to be pioneers in connecting your watch to your phone and I can't recommend it on any level.





    Start Time…
    At first I thought that the Pebble Watch is one-of-a-kind and you just can't compare it to anything. All of the ideas in my head kept causing a roadblock in that there isn't a benchmark to start from; the Pebble Watch is the genesis. It took me a while to return to earth and realize that you have to start with it's primary reason for existence: time. (yes I realize that on the other side of the fence is profit but what isn't?) This piece of hardware is meant to communicate the time to the user. And thus we come to failure point 1.



    The resolution of the display is too sparse. Edges of text and graphics is like my original Epson dot matrix printer. It's monochrome because of the ePaper display and there's some backlighting but not nearly enough contrast making it difficult to read at a glance. So, the user cannot quickly tell the time despite having the option to install watch faces, of which the time told in text is my favourite (e.g. 9:12 is 'nine twelve'). It's an interesting idea to be able to customize the watch face which you simply cannot do on a traditional watch. But of all the watch faces available (not all are free), I could not find any that were eye catching or pleasingly attractive. Failure point 2.



    I have a couple friends that have a thing for watches and I had no idea what they would allow me to take photos of. The first thing I noticed was how gorgeous and amazing the faces were. Sure it's in the eye of the beholder but for someone who could care less about watches, looking closely at the designs gave me a little zing of 'wow'. The Pebble Steel SmartWatch doesn't have any of that even though I think it could. Whether or not there was a design decision to use a low resolution display for a scalable business case, it's really stupid when you consider your target audience.





    The Pebble leadership team didn't do their market research because the profit potential is huge. Can you guess which of the watches in this review costs more than $1000? Do you think any of these retails for more than $15,000? And are you wondering what kind of person would pay more than $1999.99 for a watch? Who would pay up to $300,000 or more? (I'll bet you're curious… go ahead and take a break to google it but exclude "Rolex" from your search results)

    Lunch Time…
    I tried to wear this watch for a full day and by lunch I didn't like the weight on my wrist. That's not because it's Pebble but I'm just not used to it. What I've grown largely intolerant of is a buggy device which is a product of Apple's clever engineering (to be reliable or appear functional). Unfortunately, the Pebble Steel SmartWatch I had for reviewing has some software or hardware problems because each time I clicked a button on the watch, the display would go all wonky and pixelated such that it was just crap. Even toggling between watch faces, it is a painful user experience to have things mess up. And this wasn't intermittent - it was consistent. Give it maybe 30 seconds and the display would clear up on its own so I'm leaning towards a hardware problem.




    There are 4 buttons in total on the watch: a "back" button on the left side, "up", "select/forward", and "down" buttons on the right. There is a learning curve of about 1 - it's super simple and intuitive. You can consider the watch face the home screen. Up or down will toggle the watch faces. To move into the settings, you push the middle button on the right side and you are presented with a simple menu.



    From here, you can control the music player on your phone by playing/pausing, next and previous song. My personal opinion is that this is redundant as my set of headphones has all those controls and more (i.e. volume, mute, snap a photo, activate Siri, etc.) - and I'm not being sarcastic when I say its a waste of space.

    You also have notifications available to you to scroll through messages. Again, it's a waste of space and frankly a function that I could not imagine anybody making practical use out of. The experience of reading a text message or email is best on the smartphone itself.

    There's an alarm function that'll cause the watch to vibrate at the selected time. Thinking about it, why would that be useful when it's quicker and easier to set an alarm on my smartphone? Now, just so you know there is no "syncing" of an alarm set on the smartphone and the Pebble - but wouldn't that be neat? You would see the alarm notification message on the watch as you would with all notifications setup on the phone.



    Pairing the watch to a phone is super easy and painless. There is a free app to install on the phone that administers watch faces and other applications. This is perhaps the feature that I most despise (yet understand) because there are thousands of Pebble apps that standalone on the watch. The "good" ones require a companion app installed on the smartphone, and they are not free even though they should be. I understand that developers need to make a living and I'm griping about something that costs less than my lunch meal. But come on now… has anybody spent 5min with what Samsung puts on your wrist?

    Break Time…
    I was surprised to discover the bluetooth pairing didn't mess up things with my car. I'm so far behind on new bluetooth standards that I didn't know my iPhone could pair to both my car and the watch. But with my wife's 2009 vehicle simply didn't pair. The moral of the story is that should you have the Pebble Steel SmartWatch, you are required to purchase a new vehicle. That's a good deal, right?



    The irony in my sharing this has to do with the recent media attention in Ontario with distracted driver fines. You could get a ticket for looking at your phone that's resting in a cupholder or on your lap. At what point will cops determine your level of distraction when looking at your watch? I'll just wait till there some class action against Pebble for not blanking the screen when a user is driving. Sounds ridiculous but if you haven't guessed, my review reflects the impracticality and orphaning of the Pebble Steel SmartWatch. Put this watch against anything wrist-worthy to realize why it just doesn't make sense.



    Take for example a watch that you have to plug in. Pebble claims once a week but it really depends. My experience has been a solid 3 days before needing a charge and this, in my opinion, is good considering I get notified of everything and I would be moving in and out of range frequently. But the magnetic, proprietary charging cable causes me frustration especially considering I have to pay $30 for Apple's Lightning cable. Why couldn't we all use one standard and see the light? The reason is profit and I get that. And I come full circle to questioning Pebble's business model because watches have incredible margin potential.

    And one last thing I have to complain loudly about was the watch band. It's not using the standard 2-pin design such that you can pick one from the store and attach it. It's tough to explain in words so just check the photos to see how utterly moronic it is for Pebble to do such a thing... but I get it, anything to keep the customer in your own store.



    Home Time…
    By now it should be clear that I'm simply not a fan of the Pebble Steel SmartWatch for so many reasons. The best way I can communicate this is through the attached photos. Functionally, it's a watch that can tell time so it did marginally pass the test. The core hardware provides a display that lacks resolution and contrast which doesn't make sense for something that the user actually needs to look at. In our world of "retina" and 4k, the collective standard is high definition and the Pebble either needs to wait for Samsung or Xerox to release better ePaper or just 'kickstart' their own. Battery performance is acceptable but I already use both of my power outlets for my phone and tablet; I don't want to have to worry about charging up my watch.




    Form-wise, the design attempts to position itself as high-end but fails due to its lack of quality in materials and precision. Words can't do this justice. It just doesn't have the look to cause someone to trade in their 23yr old Casio for the Pebble, nor the style appeal to add it to a collection of great time pieces. I'm not critiquing Kickstarter but I feel obligated to review this gadget as a watch and compare it appropriately. My gut tells me that Pebble's competitive research may have focused too much on this: (it's an iPod on a $20 plastic band)



    The Pebble Steel SmartWatch is priced at $229 USD and is currently backordered.






    It was so difficult to give the Pebble Steel SmartWatch a rating as a watch or nifty accessory like headsets so here's the deal: 0.01am out of 5 Howies (If you're saying 'That doesn't make sense!' then you fully understand this review).

    PROS:
    1. It can save you up to 3sec of time compared to pulling out the datasource (aka Smartphone) - and time is money, which means you'll be a fraction of a bitcoin richer.
    2. Wearing it will raise your sophistication appearance up a level.
    3. The added dead weight will even out the muscle mass between your arms.
    4. Being waterproof, you could finally fulfill your lifelong goal of reading a tweet from inside any fishtank.
    5. This watch will bring you that much closer to actually being Michael Knight.


    CONS:

    1. You'll have to clear space in your closet for this watch next to your HD DVD player and talking fish.
    2. Your electricity provider will be glad you're increasing their profits and adding one more load to that already overloaded outlet by your bed.
    3. This will decrease the quantity of time your significant other holds your hand, even if your significant other is yourself.
    4. It will become very clear to you who really benefitted from this Kickstarter.
    5. South Koreans have another reason to laugh at you.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Pebble Steel SmartWatch Review started by serenaray View original post
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. jnusaputra's Avatar
      jnusaputra -
      any day of the week, i rather have a real watch than a smart watch.

      i firmly believe it will take about 5 years to be good, even then i will wear my eco watch (no batteries required)
    1. SnowyWhite's Avatar
      SnowyWhite -
      I'll stick with my Tag Heuer.
      And leave this toy to folks who enjoy gimmicky playthings.

      Sent from my Fantastic Galaxy S2
    1. smasho's Avatar
      smasho -
      Worst review ever!

      I do not find the Pebble, in it's current state, appealing but why on earth would you publish a review of a smart watch by someone who finds watches in general to be useless?
    1. billdehaan's Avatar
      billdehaan -
      Quote Originally Posted by smasho View Post
      Worst review ever!

      I do not find the Pebble, in it's current state, appealing but why on earth would you publish a review of a smart watch by someone who finds watches in general to be useless?
      Presumably for the same reason that the would publish a review by someone who is "so far behind" on Bluetooth that he's shocked by what it does.

      And for the same reason that a review of a digital watch would start off with no less than 16 pictures of analog watches.

      If I saw a reviews of an iPhones that started off with a dozen photos of Motorola and Nokia smartphones, I would assume that the writer was trying to explain the concept of a smartphone to the audience. So assume that the writer and/or the audience of the original review is unfamiliar with wristwatches.

      For anyone interested in a review of a Pebble (not a Steel) by someone who doesn't consider the idea of a wristwatch as unnatural, I have one. Unlike the reviewer, I've worn watches (both analog and digital) on my wrist for going on 50 years, so I don't have to struggle with the concept, and the weight doesn't intimidate me.

      I haven't seen any of the software glitches he complains about. It could be that they are specific to the Pebble Steel, or he could have had a unit that's dud. But in terms of software, my unit pretty much does what it says on the box.

      My Pebble is paired with a Moto G. As always, YMMV; I can't say how my experience would compare to the iPhone experience, for example. There are home brew apps for Windows Phone and Blackberry, as well, but they aren't supported by Pebble.

      The major reason I got the thing was to solve a problem I have of not hearing my phone in crowded areas. Often, when I'm in a noisy environment (which is often), I will get an unexpected call or SMS, and not hear it, or feel the vibration on my hip. It's annoying to look at your watch at 12:30 and see someone texted you at 11:45 asking if you wanted to join them for lunch. The Pebble solves that problem. There's no tone, only vibration, but it's been sufficient to alert me to every SMS and phone call that comes in.

      I read somewhere that the typical smartphone user looks at their phone 150 times a day. I probably look at my phone closer to 10-15 times a day, if that. Unless I get a notification, or I need to use an application, it stays in its' holster. In contrast, I probably look at my watch several times an hour.

      The effort to look at my phone requires opening a holster, pulling the phone out, entering a PIN code, re-opening the holster, and re-inserting the phone. The effort to look at my watch requires, well, looking at my watch.

      The wrist alert has been particularly useful when I've been in a movie theater or a meeting, where phones have to be on silent. A quick glance at your wrist is sufficient to determine whether whether this latest message can be deferred, or whether it must be addressed immediately.

      With respect to the content of SMS, a simple two line message is perfectly readable. Likewise, the phone call id shows the caller's name from your phonebook, or the phone number if it's unknown. Emails are kind of silly to try to read on a display this small, but you can easily tell from the subject line whether the message needs your immediate attention or not.

      As for the music player, I thought it would be a useless gimmick. I still think it's a gimmick, but I actually found a use for it. I can't use my phone as an MP3 player in my car without looking at it, so I couldn't use it. But since I can play/pause and change tracks with the watch, I've found I can actually use it to control my audio book while on my daily commute without taking my hands off the wheel.

      As for battery life, although I plug mine in every night (I normally take my watch off at night anyway, so it's not a change in habit for me), so I can't really say. I did let it go 48 hours without a charge, and the battery showed 60%. Assuming a linear discharge rate, it should get 4-5 days.

      The only real problem I've found is a problem with the Android app. If the phone and watch disconnect the BlueTooth connection, it has to be manually reconnected. If you leave your phone in one room and walk into another room that's three or four walls away, I've discovered, that will be enough to disconnect it. Unfortunately, there's no indication on the watch of the loss of connection, unless you go into the settings and look for it.

      The programmable watchfaces provide enough flexibility that there should be one to anyone's taste.

      There are also a lot of applications for the Pebble with respect to fitness trackers and GPS and the like; I've never really used any of those. To me, the Pebble replaces my existing watch features (tells time + configurable alarm) and adds configurable announcements from my cellphone for SMS and phone calls, and for that, it does very well.

      I didn't bother with the Steel, because I though that $150 was already pretty steep for this. I picked it up on sale a while back for about $120, so I can't really complain, but I certainly wasn't about to spend another $100 just for a metal face. The Gorilla Glass would be nice though, this thing is a dust magnet. On the other hand, the standard Pebble allows stock watchbands to be used, unlike the Steel, and my watches frequently outlive their watchbands by a ratio of 2-3 watchbands per watch over the years.

      One distraction I did find is that if you're wearing polarized sunglasses, you won't be able to read the display. Not a killer problem, but irritating, nonetheless.

      Pros:

      - Cuts distraction by allowing filtering of texts/calls/emails that can be delayed

      - Music player makes hands-free MP3 player in car useful again

      - Time syncs from phone, so you never have to manually set the time

      Cons:

      - Expensive for what you get - No notification of loss of BlueTooth connection


      Basically, if you're currently a watch user, and you don't think $150 is too much for the features offered by the Pebble, I'd recommend it. If, like the original reviewer, you hold watches in contempt, don't bother. The advertising is pretty accurate; it does what it claims to do.
    1. Yarrenbool's Avatar
      Yarrenbool -
      As stated by others, a very poorly written review. And all those photos of non-Pebble watches? Just what was supposed to be the point of them?


      I own and wear the original Pebble. My main reason for buying it was the on-wrist vibration notifications. I take part in activities that absolutely require all sounds from smart phones be turned off. My problem was that I often forget to turn the phone sounds back on, and vibrations from the phone are more often than not missed, so I would miss important, even very important, phone calls and SMS messages that arrived hours after I should have turned my phone sounds back on but forgot to do so.


      The Pebble 100% solves this problem!


      A quick glance at my Pebble when it vibrates (impossible for anyone else to notice) let's me know if it's a phone call, SMS, email, or some other type of notification. I then discretely glance at my watch and decide, without having to struggle to get my phone, whether to deal with it right then or later.


      Depending on the face(s) you choose to install other information is available at a glance such as the Pebble's battery level, its Bluetooth status, the current temperature, the format of the time and date, whether the day of week is shown, etc. the choice is up to YOU!


      No, the Pebble is not for everyone; yes, it has some faults. I'm skipping the Pebble Steel but I'm hoping there will be a future version with more features, and some of the bugs fixed.


      The reviewer commented on the non-standard charging cable. It's a pity he was too lazy to do some background research to find out why! This cable was chosen and designed so that the Pebble is waterproof. I forget to what extent but I believe you can swim wearing your Pebble. This could NOT be done if they had used a USB cable!


      The current problems for me are the plastic watch glass, occasionally (not often) loosing its Bluetooth connection with the phone, and 3-day battery life. Battery life isn't really a problem as I plug it and my phone into charging each night as I go to bed.


      It really is a pity, and a disservice to his readers, that the author of this article did such a poor job in reviewing the Pebble.
    1. Protonus's Avatar
      Protonus -
      I appreciate you taking the time to take some beautiful pictures of steel next to some other lovely watches, and to write a well written review.

      However your review content itself could not be farther off the mark. You've missed the point of Pebble entirely and it's pretty obvious you went into this biased and never gave it a chance.
    1. EdgarFletcher's Avatar
      EdgarFletcher -
      Pics looks great, but not too much smartwatch can be find there. I'd like to see more information about smart one.
    1. billdehaan's Avatar
      billdehaan -
      As a followup, my complaint about there being no notification of the loss of BlueTooth has been addressed. Recent updates to the Pebble app on Android have improved (or in my case, added) automatic reconnection. I've also discovered the "Modern" watch face, which can be configured to vibrate and show an alarm when the BlueTooth disconnects. I'd prefer to have that functionality in the core Pebble OS, rather than in a particular watch face app, but it does work. So, outside of the annoyance of polarized sunglasses blocking the watch face, I really don't have any complaints about the thing.