18 days of hottish Pebble love


— 11:50 AM on March 22, 2013

It's true. I have in my possession the mildly mythological Pebble watch. More useful than a unicorn and less Pantene-intensive than a centaur, this fabled timepiece can now be said to exist somewhere outside a Kickstarter video or a Chinese factory. Namely, it exists upon my dainty, girlish wrist. (The left wrist, if you must know, even though I'm left-handed. I'm counter-culture like that.)

And lo, it does not stink up the joint. But more on that in a moment.

Unless you've been living under a tech rock ("Is that 'Tech Rock,' man?" "Yeah, man!" "Well, turn it up, man!"), you're probably aware of both the Pebble and its gestational issues. If not, the short form is thusly this: a small group of guys (or possibly just Eric Migicovsky) who'd already developed one smartwatch, the inPulse, wanted to improve that model's limited functionality, develop a new version and, I'm assuming, get stupid rich by eventually selling to Microsoft because they'll buy anything. So the team behind the Pebble, as the inPulse 2.0 was rechristened, launched a Kickstarter campaign in April 2012, seeking $100,000 in backing. They ended up with over $10 million and 68,040 backers. Okay, it was really 68,928, but no processor by that number ever powered an Amiga.

Fast-forward to September 2012, when the first Pebbles were to ship to backers and, well, no Pebble did. Not surprising for a Kickstarter project. Even less surprising for one that was shooting for $100,000 and got $10 million. Naturally, trolls emerged almost immediately and demanded explanations as to why their "orders" weren't shipping. Forum slap-fights ensued. Angry Emojis exchanged.

Skip in a manly fashion (good luck) ahead to CES 2013. The Pebble team announced the first watches would begin shipping on January 23. A graph showing production numbers and shipping numbers was published. Explanations of how it would all work vis-à-vis color Pebbles and whatnot were disseminated. Naturally, again, slap fights ensued.

Then, a few weeks later, mine showed up:

And here are my impressions.

Watch case: it's plastic. It feels like plastic. In no way does it feel like the luxury item many watches are and most others (that I own) at least pretend to mimic. Obviously, the plastic case is a function of both cost and, um, function. I'd rather have a reliable Bluetooth connection in a plastic case than not. Fortunately, the case looks nicer than it feels. I doubt I'll rotate it out for my Brightling or Romex editions very often.

Band: simple. Black. Rubber. I switched it out for a clasp-style band almost immediately. And then switched it back within two days. It's thick, and the hardware is good. More importantly, my twig wrist doesn't catch it out mid-hole. Your results may vary, Sasquatch.

Lens: on dumb, stupid, ignorant watches, this bit is referred to as the crystal, because it's often made of scratch-resistant sapphire (on nicer pieces, at least). The Pebble's lens is—wait for it—plastic. And it's currently adorned with a screen protector that is actually air bubble-free. Who knew such technology existed in real life?

Screen: the Pebble screen is the anti-Retina. Sporting a 144x168-pixel black-and-white e-paper display, the Pebble screen gives me a serious jones for Pong. But the e-paper gives the watch a respectable battery life and, undoubtedly, a lower cost. Are you getting the feeling that the Pebble is for cheap early adopters?

Functionality: Here is where, for the moment (hopefully), the Pebble falls down a bit. As of this writing, the SDK still has not been released. So you're left with a few watch faces (luckily, I really like Textwatch) and notifications. Some folks have been having issues with notifications working as they should in iOS. I have not, possibly because I'm not attempting to be notified of every single thing possible. I get messages/texts, Words with Friends harassment, and a couple Twitter- and weather-based updates that I've set up using IFTTT and the iOS app Pushover. The music control works as it should. I can reject or accept calls easily, although the caller ID lists the number and not the contact name (firmware update, please). It all works quite nicely, and, frankly, for the $115 I paid as a backer, I'd be fairly happy if that's all it ever did.

Of course, it's supposed to do more. A bunch of people are waiting for integration with Runkeeper. Almost every backer is hoping some cool stuff will emerge once the SDK is let loose upon the nerd horde. Oh, and then there's the Bluetooth implementation. Even though the installed BT chip is capable of using low-energy BT 4.0, the Pebble currently uses standard BT 2.1+EDR. The battery on my iPhone 5 takes a noticeable hit throughout the day. Not so much as to be truly annoying, but I'll welcome the firmware update that switches on BT 4.0. And the accelerometer. And the lasers.

Battery: I manage six to seven days between charges if I turn the Pebble off at night (about seven hours). To keep the watch water-resistant, the Pebble uses a proprietary magnetic charging cable similar to Apple's MagSafe. And it'd be really nice if you could order an extra one.

So, should you buy a Pebble? I could paraphrase Squints Zellweger in "Jerry Maguire" about loving it for the watch it is and the watch it could be, but I prefer not having to self-immolate as penance. At the $150 post-Kickstarter price, I think it's still a pretty good deal—assuming you like watches, which I do. If you're one of those people who flung your Armitron into the abyss ten seconds after you bought your first smartphone, the Pebble is probably not for you. Yes, Apple is rumored to be working its own smartwatch. Samsung has actually confirmed it's developing one. But it's doubtful those devices will be as cheap as the Pebble. That doesn't mean I won't buy one if they're all that and a bag of Tostitos, but their potential existence won't prevent me from enjoying my Pebble in the here and now.

But best of all, it didn't crash my Hackintosh.

Later,

Fox

   
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