Sunday, June 02, 2013

Pebble Impressions and Update

Thanks to the folks here who voted, I opted to expedite my Pebble experience, eschewing the Grey color I originally chose, and going for the Black. A couple of weeks later, and my wrist was wrapped with a Pebble. Voila! Thank you all for your encouragement; the results were overwhelming in favor of the going for it now. Good job, Internet!

So, now that I finally have the smartwatch I have been waiting for, for a year, what do I think?

I haven't worn a watch for nearly 15 years. I stopped wearing one because I have an innate sense of time (or have carried an electronic device at least that long that has a clock in it), and wearing a watch made me tense. So, I was a bit concerned that the old familiar tension would come back, but I'm happy to report it's not the case. Part of it seems to be that, since it is truly redundant as a timepiece for me, and 15 years of conditioning to look elsewhere for the time, I simply don't consider it as a tireless taskmaster (as I did watches). Another seems to be the whimsical watchfaces seem to distract me. For instance, the use of words to tell time, as you can see on the left, appeals to me on many levels, and usually elicits a smile. 

I was also concerned the watchface would be too large, as is the fashion these days, but it's just right. Screen size is a good balance of length and width, and the buttons are decent sized, though a bit hard to press. I worried the strap would be bothersome, but, despite being completely unremarkable, seems to be just fine. The subtle curve of the body is delightful, and the responsiveness of the backlight when I shake it is a very good balance of sensitivity and alertness.

Ok, enough about the superficial qualities. Being able to receive texts on your wrist with a slight vibration is superb: this is the way they were meant to be interacted with. It means I can see a text while I am stopped at a traffic light without fumbling for buttons, or asking Siri to read me a text message. And with the latest firmware updates, it handles multiple texts elegantly, and easily. Same goes for emails: I actually have turned off notifications in the iOS Notification Center for emails except for the VIP emails; the Pebble picks up just those elegantly.

The display is great. I was a little nonplussed about the e-paper choice when I ordered it, but it's exactly the right interface. Great contrast, power sipping (a week on a charge!). The pairing with the iOS app is absolutely inherent, and even that is designed well, especially when notifying you of firmware updates, as well  as installing them.

And then we get to the best part: Yep, the API is starting to bear fruit, providing almost 500 new watchfaces and apps for your Pebble. Going out for a night on the town? Change your Pebble to a swanky analog watch. Want to impress the Geek Squad? Fire up a binary watch face. Heading to that Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon? Engage the LCARS watch face. Installation is literally a click from your iPhone's web browser: it communicates with the Pebble app, and loads on your Pebble in seconds. Of course, the Android versions get more options (weather, etc.), due to the openness of the Android ecosystem, but that rarely feels like a constraint with so many to choose from. Beware, however: the more animated the display, the more it will suck the Pebble's vaunted battery life. So while that watchface that looks like a sweeping radar screen looks pretty cool, be prepared to charge your Pebble more frequently.

So what don't I like? Well, the buttons, as mentioned, are pretty hard to press. Minor quibble, but still. The UI of the watch itself is pretty bare bones, and makes no use of the iOS app. For instance, setting an alarm on the Pebble requires quite a few button pushes, and the UI makes it nearly impossible to know if it's set (it is, but there's no indicator), if it's repeating (it does; the only way to stop it is delete the set alarm), or even if it's am or pm (apparently, only 24 hour time works). Why not just let me set all of that in the app, and communicate to the Pebble?

Then there's the battery indicator. It only shows up when it's low, and that's only if you go to the inner workings of the Pebble menu on the watch. No battery meter on the main watch face, or ability to query the battery level from the iOS app. Bizarre.

Finally, the Pebble and iPhone sometimes seem to get out of sync, like many Bluetooth devices. The iOS app takes over your whole screen, demanding you enable it again when this happens. It could be more elegant.

Overall, I really am pleased with the Pebble. It does exactly what I wanted: a subtle, professional way to know if a text, call or e-mail is here. I really look forward to the ongoing extensibility of the app, and it's ability to talk to multiple apps (How's about Kinetic, folks?), but I am very pleased with the ongoing awareness it brings me, without any increased tension.

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