Hands-on review: UPDATED: Pebble Time

Hands-on review: UPDATED: Pebble Time

Update: We’ve finally got our Pebble Time in and will include a full review of the smartwatch once all the firmware has been installed, and after spending more time with it. In the meantime, here’s a few quick first impressions.

Upon first opening the box, I felt pretty underwhelmed. Editor Matt Swider took the reins for the hands on in Barcelona so this was my first time seeing the Time in person. The new square design of the watch body doesn’t look as appealing as the older Pebble, especially with so much bezel surrounding the display.

I’ve also had a hell of a time pairing the Pebble Time with my phone – not only would the wearable refuse to sync up, the firmware has been updated at least 10 times and remains stuck on the Pebble SOS screen.

It’s been a slow and frustrating process that I didn’t have with the previous Pebble or the Pebble Steel. Here’s hoping the watch is less tedious once – or if – it gets up and running.

Pebble Time

Original hands on below …

There were plenty of new wearables at MWC 2015, but it’s the Pebble Time that’s been the most convincing among Barcelona’s sea of smartwatches.

It has already been funded by more than 53,000 enthusiastic backers and raised in excess of $10 million, the same amount the startup raised during the entire duration of the original Pebble campaign.

More than anything, though, Pebble has a track record of developing one of the best smartwatches in terms of performance, and it’s one that works with both iOS 8 and Android.

No, it’s not the premium Apple Watch, and it’s not one of the many, many Android Wear smartwatches. It’s simply a better-looking, better-functioning version of the original Pebble with the same goal: being a watch first and a smartwatch second.

Design

As someone who wears the Pebble Steel, I was a bit skeptical the new Pebble Time’s plastic design. Was this watch enough of an upgrade to ditch my all-metal version?

Pebble Time review

Luckily, after trying it on, I can report that it doesn’t feel or look as much like the toy-like original Pebble. The wrist-hugging lugs at the top and bottom have been reduced significantly.

Yes, there’s still quite a bit of outer bezel, but it’s not as large as before, and at least it’s made out of stainless steel with rounded off corners and has an overall thinner frame.

Pebble Time, in a lot of ways, actually looks like a mostly plastic Apple Watch, as if Apple decided to unapologetically create an iPhone 5C version of its upcoming smartwatch.

There aren’t as many colors for early adopters with three case choices at launch: black, white and red, and each have a specific silicon strap and stainless steel bezel colors. Like past Pebbles, more variety is likely to be introduced at a later date.

There’s an all-black version that sports a black case, stainless steel black bezel and rubber-feeling black strap. The white case mixes things up with a white band, but silver bezel.

Pebble Time review

Pebble injects some color into the mix with its red model. It consists of a red watch case and silicone strap and a stainless steel black bezel.

Backers haven’t been asked to decide on straps just yet. That will likely happen closer to May. But, of course, all will be interchangeable just like with the original Pebble and Pebble Steel.

Pebble Time supports 22mm straps, the standard common among wristwatches and they’re just as easy to pull apart and change up. With a quick-release pin in back, they can be changed in about 10 seconds.

The overall design doesn’t match the jewelry-level Steel, but it sits better on my wrist than any of the bulky Android Wear watches I have tested and it feels like something I could wear daily, at least during on casual occasions. Proper attire may have me reverting back to the Pebble Steel.

Display

Looking at the Pebble Time watch screen in person, I was able to see notifications even better than before for one reason: the new color e-paper display that rests behind scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.

Pebble Time review

My demo at the Pebble booth began with a barebones watch face. It was nothing special at first. That changed when I began clicking the three buttons on the right side of the watch face.

All of a sudden, I saw animations spring into place. A cheery sun face greeted me with the weather and a mail icon zipped about when a message was sent.

The color screen makes it easier to recognize what you’re seeing on the small watch face, which is great for quick glances. Moreover, it should be easier for readability in direct sunlight.

Pebble Time supports up to 64 colors and pushes 30 frames per second. It doesn’t have a bright and color-rich AMOLED or P-OLED used by Samsung and LG, but there’s a healthy color palette ready for app and game developers alike.

Pebble Time review

Battery life

Sticking with e-paper, Pebble Time achieves another stunning battery life victory: seven days on one charge. Yes, you can use a color smartwatch for a full week without taking it off.

That really contrasts with almost every other color smartwatch out today. At best, Android Wear watches last a day and a half, but more often than not it’s drained by the end of a day.

There are no official specs on the Apple Watch battery capacity, but Apple CEO Tim Cook did suggest that it’ll require "daily charging." That’s a deal-breaking for a whole bunch of people.

While I’ll have to wear the Pebble Time for an extended period of time before I can confirm its battery performance, it’s e-paper display seems to be a good trade-off for the convenience of 7:1 battery life.

Smartstraps

Smartwatches are often coupled with sensors to track everything from users’ heart rates to their runs via GPS. Pebble had none of these, and that was fairly excusable in 2013.

Today’s backers, however, have been wondering where these fitness-focused must-haves are on the Pebble Time. It turns out, they’re coming after all in the form of accessories.

Pebble Time smartstraps

The plan is to have "Smartstraps," as Pebble calls them, hook into a special port on the back of the watch, one that I thought was just a normal smartwatch charging port. Nope.

Smartstrap possibilities including embedding a battering-hogging GPS chip only when it really matters or a heart-rate sensor when you decide to monitor your real-time beats per minute.

Pebble even floated the idea of adding even more battery life to the the already-long-lasting Pebble Time. "Want four weeks between charges?," it teased.

Right now the Smartstraps concept is open to developers and hackers who want to tinker with the idea of helping craft the future of Pebble Time. The company figures, its dedicated community has done it before with apps, so why not add customizable hardware too?

Pebble says it’ll make some straps on its own too, but which and when remains to be seen. Right now, it’s asking partners to contact the company with a vague timeline of "later this year." That appointment is going to remain in my "future" menu on my Pebble’s Timeline for quite a while.

Is Pebble Time Steel a better choice?

A week shy of its Kickstarter launch, the smartwatch-focused startup added a premium version of the new Pebble to its already-funded campaign.

Pebble Time Steel vs Pebble Time

In shape, size and Smartstrap compatibility, the Pebble Time Steel is more like an all-metal version of the plastic Pebble Time rather anything that resembles the oddly-shaped Pebble Steel.

The big differences? It’s built from machined stainless steel, is just 1mm thicker than the plastic version and, instead of 7 days, has a whopping 10 days of battery life – the most of any modern smartwatch.

Pebble Time Steel does come at a higher retail price of $299 (it’s available on Kickstarter for $250 with the bonus of two straps) and more distant release date of July.

Early verdict

Pebble Time is the true sequel to the original Pebble, and its color e-paper display is the most obvious hardware perk. It’s easier to see what’s on the screen in an instant.

It looks and feels better than the first Pebble, though it’s not going to fool anyone into thinking you’re wearing a real watch like the jewelry-level Pebble Time Steel.

Pebble Time review

That’s okay if you want an inexpensive smartwatch that’s about half the price of an Apple Watch. Pebble Time will be $199 (about £129, AU$256) at retail, but it’s still available for $179 (about £116, AU$229) on Kickstarter

The true test for Pebble Time is going to come with daily use. It works with iOS and Android and has fun animations broken up into past, present and future menus. That could end up being its biggest selling point if it’s laid out just right. Time will tell.

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