Review: The Pebble Smartwatch

Over a year ago, the Kickstarter for the “Pebble” e-paper watch made headlines when it raised over ten million dollars with the promise of a wearable interface for smartphone updates and data. I was one of the many backers on the bandwagon, and I was particularly interested in how I could work this technology into the flow of my day. I decided to go with the white pebble for the full on retro-futurist look, so my Pebble shipped late and arrived just a few weeks ago. I’ve been taking it through new semester madness, and I can definitely see the potential of the smartwatch concept for university life–even if the Pebble itself isn’t quite there yet.

Setting up the Pebble is really easy: it connects via Bluetooth and synced up easily with the iPhone app. It was fairly simple to set up the notifications for text messages and phone calls, but the recently added (to iOS) email notification support took a bit more maneuvering. The e-paper Kindle-esque display is great for reading text, although it feels very retro for everything else. Really customizing the Pebble requires diving head-first into user-created and distributed apps: there are very few options integrated in the official app. My favorite site for browsing is My Pebble Faces, which includes lots of options for crazy watchfaces from steampunk to Star Trek-inspired looks.

Checking text messages and email headlines without pulling out my phone is great for commutes and long meetings, but it’s not quite a revolution. There are a few apps that show the future promise of Pebble and its successors:

  • RunKeeper: Fellow running fans will appreciate the first fitness app to integrate well with Pebble from both iPhone and Android, RunKeeper. Right now, it doesn’t give the user any control over what information from the workout it shows, but there’s hope for future versions. It’s definitely a cheap alternative to a GPS watch and easier than constantly checking the phone.
  • Pebble Rocker: The Android-only Pebble Rocker offers a Facebook, twitter, and photo gallery integrated solution for Android. Viewing photos on the ePaper screen is a strange experience, but the overall accessibility makes the Pebble a great discrete second screen. However, looking at lots of data on the tiny watch screen doesn’t make much sense: it’s better for headlines.
  • WatchNote: Also currently an Android exclusive, WatchNote is perfect for bringing to-do lists from Evernote to Pebble. This is perfect for shopping or reminders before heading out to work every day. Hopefully this type of integration will expand soon.
  • HTTPebble: One of the most promising developments for the entire ecosystem is the HTTPebble app, which allows for Internet communication and real-time updates like live weather–great for quick checks before leaving windowless offices and classrooms. The system is relatively new, so it promises future widget-like functionality for constant data monitoring.

There are a lot more smartwatches on the horizon: the recent successful Kreyos campaign promises voice control and extensive options. I’ll still be watching to see what user-developers come up with to add to the Pebble’s capabilities. Have you tried the Pebble or another smartwatch? Share your experiences in the comments!

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