Got me a Pebble smart watch a month ago: it’s a decent watch, plus it displays notifications piped to it via Bluetooth from my iPhone to my wrist. I paid $150, which I “pledged” months ago during Pebble’s kickstarter campaign, which famously proved there’s plenty (understatement) of interest in a product like this. And it certainly is interesting geekery. I haven’t enjoyed a new toy this much in quite a while.
This is also a classic example of a time-will-tell product (as well as a will-tell-time product, yuk yuk). Maybe it’s going to be my new BFF, and maybe it won’t. Will it actually prove useful enough? In a way, this watch is sort of like an app that happens to have mass and live on my wrist, insofar as it does exactly what apps do: gives my phone new powers. And apps are pretty hit-and-miss: once in a while you find one that really works out, but most just seemed like a good idea at the time.
So it will be quite interesting to see how much Pebble’s main trick actually matters to me. Do I really need notifications on my wrist? Maybe. I’ve been taking an iPhone out of my pocket about 500 times a day since 2008, and easily ¾ of those de-pocketings aren’t actually necessary, so this could be quite awesome.
Pebble stuff I like so far
- Looks good. Although it’s cool being able to change watch faces, the default Pebble one is excellent and all I’m ever likely to use.
- Waterproof! Finally, I can get notifications while washing dishes or walking in the rain. Or, um, showering. No, really, I’m actually excited about this!
- Clever little magnetic charging cable, very easy to connect and disconnect. Done just right.
- Tapping or flicking to activate the backlight: great idea.
- Media control via wrist buttons is a revelation. I often listen to podcasts while puttering around the house doing chores. It’s often handy to pause for a moment while I focus on something or can’t hear well enough, but it’s often a pain to get the phone out (or find it).
Pebble things I’m less thrilled with
- Tapping to activate the backlight is cool, but the tap required is just a bit too intense. I really have to bang it! I’d rather have accidental light ups than having to hit it that hard.
- Just slightly too chunky for my tastes, and it does get a bit sweaty and physical annoying pretty regularly. I’m not used to wearing a watch. I’m not sure how much a different type of wrist band might help this.
- iPhone integration is definitely a little disappointing. The “Pebble finger dance” is a just-because series of taps required to restore email notifications on the watch every time it has to reconnect to the phone. Basically you just have to toggle email notifications off and on again — lame and minor, but it does work. This is because of some exasperating issues with half-assed Bluetooth code in iOS 6 (allegedly soon to be upgraded in a big way in iOS 7). Message and phone notifications work fine and have been reliable for me so far — they have special status in iOS 6 — but sending other notifications via Bluetooth is a bit hacky. None of this is Pebble’s fault, of course. Update: confirmed fixed in iOS 7 (for me so far anyway).
- Notification overload! And too many steps to turn them off! There are many times when I am very happy to have my wrist buzzed by notifications, but not when I’m at my desk — many hours a day — where I already have notification overload. But if I turn them off, I will probably to forget to turn them back on when needed. I simply cannot turn them on and off reliably at the right times. So, for now, they stay on and I get annoyed.
- Another bug, and again probably not the Pebble’s fault: but serious conflicts with Siri and dictation are erratic but inevitable. The phone seems to think there’s a Bluetooth mic paired, but I usually can’t even switch the audio input source. This is actually a major pain. I don’t invoke Siri a lot, but I do have a few reliable uses (calls, timers, adding to-do list items), and I use dictation constantly. So even though I don’t blame Pebble, this is a major drag and even a deal-breaker if iOS7 doesn’t solve it. I can’t have this watch virtually destroying important features on the phone. Update: again, seems to be fixed in iOS 7.
Despite the issues, I’m still wearing my Pebble most of the time. And after just a month, I’m already reflexively paying attention to my wrist, and I definitely notice quickly when it’s not there.