Pebble Time review

The Pebble Time is a dinosaur next to modern Android and Apple Watches

The Pebble Time is waterproof, has a sun-friendly screen, and sports 4-day battery life, but it cannot compete with Android Wear and Apple Watch.
The Pebble Time is waterproof, has a sun-friendly screen, and sports 4-day battery life, but it cannot compete with Android Wear and Apple Watch.
The Pebble Time is waterproof, has a sun-friendly screen, and sports 4-day battery life, but it cannot compete with Android Wear and Apple Watch.

Highs

  • Long battery life
  • Screen visible in sunlight
  • Best-looking Pebble yet
  • Waterproof

Lows

  • Terrible iOS support
  • Childish design
  • No way to brighten screen
  • Confusing interface
  • Too expensive ($200) for what it offers

DT Editors' Rating

Every smartwatch maker owes the Pebble team a beer. The Kickstarter darling made smartwatches a reality before any of the major companies even dreamed of launching a wearable. Pebble’s devoted fan base still believes that the Pebble is the king of smartwatches, and in many ways, it still is. But now that everyone — from Apple and Google, to Samsung and LG — has made a smartwatch, Pebble has some serious competition.

The company’s answer is the Pebble Time, which has similar features, but a completely refreshed appearance and interface.

Updated on 07-10-2015 by Malarie Gokey: Corrected the price of the Pebble Time. Review previously stated $250 was the price, but it’s $200. 

It may look childish, but it’s still the best-looking Pebble

The first Pebble isn’t exactly renowned as the paragon of beauty, and neither is the Pebble Steel, even though it was something of an improvement over the plastic design of the original. The Pebble Time is no stunner either. It may be the most attractive Pebble smartwatch to date, but that’s not saying much.

The Pebble Time has a rounded rectangular face that’s surprisingly small. Unlike most smartwatches (with the sole exception of the 38mm Apple Watch), the Time is actually small enough to sit comfortably on my dainty wrists without looking completely absurd, which is an achievement. The slight curve on the back of the watch matches the curve of the wrist, adding to the feeling of comfort.

This looks like a kid’s watch. I saw a 10-year-old boy wearing something similar. 

It has a wide marine-grade stainless steel bezel with PVD coating around the screen and a sturdy plastic casing. The 22mm strap is made of soft silicon, and can be exchanged for the watchband of your choice. A trio of buttons flanks the right side, while a single button sits on the left. These control every action you make on the Time, because the small color e-paper screen in the center isn’t touch sensitive, which is its first major problem.

Despite Pebble’s best efforts, this looks like a kid’s watch. On the same day that I strapped it on my wrist, I saw a 10-year-old boy wearing something similar on the train. Somehow, I don’t think that’s the vibe Pebble wants to give off. Changing the strap to a more premium one might help dispel the childish look, and the Time might look less like a toy on a larger wrist, but the chunky bezel, plastic build, and dim e-paper screen leave the Pebble Time far behind the curve in smartwatch design. This is especially apparent now that the Apple Watch is out.

Sacrificing form for function

There are benefits to Pebble’s less than glamorous looks, and for the more utilitarian users, those advantages may out-weigh the importance of style. Just like earlier Pebble smartwatches, the Time is water resistant up to 30 meters, its screen is always on and legible in full sunlight, and its battery lasts 4-7 days. No other smartwatch currently boasts these impressive specs. They all have power-hungry, glossy screens that are not only vulnerable to splashes of water, but also difficult to read in full sunlight and impossible to cajole past one day of use before needing a charge.

The Pebble Time looks dim indoors, but a walk outside makes all the difference. The time, notifications, and apps are all clear and easy to read in natural light. If you’re the kind of person who lives at the beach, goes on extended hikes, or just likes to be outdoors all the time, them there’s no other smartwatch that’s as usable and hardy as the Pebble.

However, if you’re more of the indoorsy type who prefers a nice-looking watch that’ll look sleek at a meeting or elegant at a dinner, the Pebble Time’s more rugged, waterproof design and its e-paper screen won’t be useful to you at all.

Timeline interface confuses, but app selection is wide

Pebble took a new look at its smartwatch interface for the Pebble Time. The new UI is called Timeline, and its goal is to bring you the most relevant information you need at any time of the day. You can pin a variety of apps to your timeline, though not all of the watch’s specialty apps work with the new interface. The idea is that your smartwatch will walk you through your entire day, as you scroll through the timeline It’s a nice idea, and it’s useful when you have an action-packed day with lots of events, but if you live a quieter life, the timeline interface may not really serve you very well.

On a rather slow workday with no meetings, the timeline interface had nothing useful to show me at all beyond the weather forecast. To get to the app menu, I had to fiddle around to figure out which buttons would bring me to the right place, and then I had to flip through the long list of apps I have installed, which are presented in a card format, much like what you find on Android Wear. It’s something of a hassle to find the app you’re looking for with this format. One of the most basic things the Apple Watch does well is give you a home screen with all your apps.

That said, Pebble sure does have a robust app store. There are a number of apps that support the new Timeline interface, and many that are now in full color to accommodate the new color screen. The watch faces are fun, super nerdy, and skew male, but so does Pebble’s demographic. It’s great to have a lot of watch face options – They really add more character to the device. I finally found one of an octopus eating ice cream that I liked.

Longtime Pebble users may skip around the buttons like they were born to it, but first timers will struggle.

Although many of the apps in the Pebble store seem like weird things hacked together by hobbyists with no regard for design or style, there are many apps from big-name developers like Misfit, Phillips, TripAdvisor, PayPal, Morpheuz, and so on. Pebble also recommends specific apps for the new color screen and the Timeline, so you don’t have to sort through the endless app options in the store.

The lack of touchscreen support feels odd and outdated, but that’s the sacrifice Pebble makes to keep its smartwatch ticking for multiple days on a charge. It can be confusing having four buttons to navigate with, and I found myself tapping on the dead screen more than once. Touch-based interfaces are everywhere now, and it’s an adjustment to go back to buttons. Longtime Pebble users may skip around the buttons like they were born to it, but first timers will struggle, partially because the buttons can be hard to press due to how well the Pebble Time curves to fit the wrist.

No built-in fitness or sleep tracking

Every other smartwatch on the market has native activity tracking built in, and the vast majority include a heart rate monitor to ensure that fitness measurements are even more accurate. Although many smartwatches don’t exactly do sleep tracking because of battery constraints, Pebble has absolutely no excuse for leaving out built-in sleep and fitness tracking from the Pebble Time. Sure, you can download an app to track both of the metrics for you, but why do you have to do that? It’s great to have your choice of fitness app in case you don’t like the built-in option, but it seems awfully short sighted not to include activity tracking. Notifications are nice and all, but one of the main draws of wearables is their ability to keep tabs on your wellness.

Pebble Time
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

The Pebble Time would be ideal for fitness freaks if it it had a heart rate monitor and native tracking. Imagine – you could use your Pebble to track your workout in the pouring rain, while swimming, or scaling a mountain. And, since it has better battery life than any other smartwatch, it would last through your whole camping trip in the wilderness where outlets are scarce. It’s a missed opportunity, to say the least.

The average customer who walks into Best Buy is going to see Android Wear smartwatches for the same price or $50 more with heart rate monitors, built-in fitness tracking, and better designs – and they’re going to pass over the Pebble Time.

Android support is okay, but iOS support is terrible

One of the perks of owning a Pebble is that it works with both iOS and Android, so if you switch operating systems, you can still use your watch. The Pebble Time may support both mobile OSs, but its iOS support is terrible.

If you walk into Best Buy, you’re going to see Android Wear smartwatches for the same price.

You cannot respond to any notification you get on your wrist with the Pebble Time if it’s paired to an iPhone; You can’t send canned replies to texts, emails, or other notifications; You can’t respond to any messages with your voice, either. In other words, every single notification you get loudly buzzes on your wrist until you dismiss it, and there’s nothing you can do once you get it. The vibration is not subtle at all, either. The Pebble Time’s vibration is too rough and noisy, especially in comparison with the Apple Watch’s gentle nudges and taps.

If you have an iPhone, do not buy the Pebble Time until there’s better iOS support.

Admittedly, Apple hasn’t buddied up to Pebble since the Apple Watch came out, and there was some talk that Apple had even delayed or attempted to sabotage the Pebble Time companion app for iOS.

The good news is that Android offers much more interaction and control to Pebble Time users. You can reply to messages with your voice or use canned replies, and Pebble hopes to add email reply support, too. Although you can’t reply to all notifications with your voice, some support is better than none. Android also gives you more control over the Pebble Time settings, though you still can’t adjust the brightness of the screen, among other things.

If you have an Android phone, the Pebble is still a contender for you, but you should take a long hard look at Android Wear alternatives, or wait for next-generation smartwatches. Once Android Wear catches up to Pebble on battery life, Pebble’s going to have a hard time justifying its many sacrifices.

Four-day battery life is great

Pebble is still the uncontested champion of battery life. Although the company says the Pebble Time will last a whole week on a charge, that’s not the case. The longest it lasted was four days, but it also made it through just 3 days once. Regardless, Pebble has the best battery life of any smartwatch on the market. Few other watches make it beyond a day without a recharge.

Conclusion

Pebble is the grandfather of the modern smartwatch, and it’s starting to spout gray hairs. Long battery life, water resistance, and a display that you can read in the sunlight may be have been great selling points years ago, but Android Wear and the Apple Watch have put more on the table. Style, a smooth user interface, sharp screens, and heart rate monitors put other smartwatches on a different level. Pebble has been left behind.

Pebble needed to innovate; instead, it’s stagnated. The Pebble Time may be its most attractive smartwatch to date, it may have the longest lasting battery in town, and it may be waterproof and outdoor-friendly, but that doesn’t matter when you look at what you’re getting for the price.

For $200, you’re getting a plastic smartwatch with a silicon band that looks like a toy. It won’t track your activity or sleep unless you install an app, it doesn’t have a heart rate monitor, and you can’t really interact with most notifications – even on Android. The LG G Watch R has a ton of features the Pebble does not for the exact same price, and it looks better (on men, at least). Considering current rumors that next-generation Android Wear devices will have NFC, more heart rate monitors, and longer battery life, you should consider waiting for new Android Wear watches instead of springing for the Pebble.

Finally, if you have an iPhone and want a smartwatch, the Pebble Time is not a viable option. The Apple Watch is just $150 more, offers built-in fitness tracking with a heart rate monitor built in, a bright screen that’s surprisingly legible on sunny days, and a much better design.

If the Pebble Time did more or cost less, it would be a great option – but it’s too expensive for what it offers. We cannot recommend it.

Highs

  • Long battery life
  • Screen visible in sunlight
  • Best-looking Pebble yet
  • Waterproof

Lows

  • Terrible iOS support
  • Childish design
  • No way to brighten screen
  • Confusing interface
  • Too expensive ($200) for what it offers
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