Pebble smart watch: Unboxing and hands-on review

I was an early backer of Pebble on Kickstarter and yesterday my Pebble smart watch actually arrived. Geek heaven.

Pebble E-Paper Watch packaging

The box is small, slim and easy to open. There’s not much in the way of instructions or accessories. Just the watch and the magnetic USB power charger.

Pebble E-Paper Smart Watch in its packaging

Because the watch is waterproof, the power cable can’t be a generic USB connector on the watch end. This has a downside – lose the cable and you need to buy a replacement from Pebble. You can’t use any of the cables you’ve already got to charge your watch.

First impressions of the watch itself: the strap is nicer than I expected. It feels chunky and smooth rather than plasticky and cheap. The watch itself is a bit bigger and the screen a bit smaller than I expected. I have relatively small wrists and it sit across my wrist rather than on it. That said, it’s not heavy or uncomfortable. I expect anyone used to wearing a big watch will not have a problem with the Pebble.

Charging and updating Pebble watch

When I first took it out of its packaging, I was reminded of the first time I ever saw a digital watch back in the late 70s. Although that was metal and this is matte plastic they have the same techno feel to them and – this may be memory playing tricks – they feel about the same size.

Setting up the Pebble is easy too. I have an iPhone 4s and it paired up in a couple of minutes, downloaded the latest watch firmware (Pebble promise a new update every few weeks so this is going to be a regular occurrence) and I was away.

The watch has relatively few functions right now:

  • Telling the time. Obviously. But there are some nice watch faces, including one that just describes the time in human terms (‘Quarter to nine’ rather than ‘08:45’). My favourite is the one that shows the time in words (e.g. ‘eleven thirty five’).
  • Controlling music. You can pause, play, skip forward and backwards from the watch and see the current track. It works very responsively and it would be great when your phone is in your pocket, e.g. when running or standing squashed into the tube.
  • Caller ID. It syncs to your address book and shows you the name (or number) of people when they call. You can answer the call or reject it on the phone. This is useful if you’re using a Bluetooth headset as well. No need to touch the phone to take a call.
  • Text and email. I haven’t enabled the email system because I get too many and it would be annoying but it works really well with SMS – the message appears on the watch face as it comes into your phone.

Pebble promise more apps soon, including one that links to Runkeeper, which will be very cool.

Pebble on my wrist

My feeling is that this has the potential to be a very useful device, working well as part of a personal area network with iPhones, headsets and other devices. It’s easy to imagine all kinds of applications: presentation timers, flight logs for pilots, meditation timers etc., that would be useful and I hope that Pebble encourage a broad ecosystem of developers.

The company has done well to create a device that looks pretty good, works well, delivers a good battery life and has the potential to be genuinely useful. It’s a nice bit of innovation and it’s good to see them live up to their initial Kickstarter promise and vindicate that funding model too. I expect in five years’ time, we’ll look back on this like we look back on the first Kindle or the first iPad: the first of its type and proof point that created a new category.

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