Back to the future: Pebble smartwatch review

With a UK release, price cut to £99 and activity tracking, can the Pebble still cut it?
Pebble smartwatch

In wearable tech years, the Pebble smartwatch is fast heading into old age. Kickstarted back in 2012, the Pebble has enjoyed immense success and huge popularity, and its time isn't up quite yet.

Hands on: Pebble Time Steel review

Wareable launched long after the Pebble was released, but since a proper UK release, an aggressive price cut to just £99 and activity tracking features were all slated in the last month, we felt it was a good time to revisit this wearable legend.

Is it still a sensible purchase for those looking for the best smartwatch? And can it better Android Wear? Read on to find out.

Pebble smartwatch: Features and design

Back when the Pebble was released it looked like a vision of a smartwatch feature, but thanks to the frenetic pace of the wearable tech snowball, it's now looking pretty dated.

Anyone looking for a more professional looking smartwatch should immediately head to our Pebble Steel review, which packs all the same features into a sleek, metallic case.

The release of new Pebble colours this year shows that the older smartwatch still has a market for younger consumers, but we have our doubts whether they'd be impressed.

The build itself is plasticky with four giant buttons protruding from the side. We had the white version, which bordered on looking ostentatious, wheras the black and red version is a little more discreet. The Pebble no longer looks futuristic and interesting, just dated and plasticky, and the industry's concerted efforts to align itself with fashion brands seem to have left the Pebble looking a little dorky.

The screen doesn't help. Like the Pebble Steel, there's an LCD e-paper display that's much kinder on battery life, but resembles a prehistoric Casio, or Game Boy watch, which left some curious friends aghast.

Hardened Pebble fans will point to the impressive battery longevity and that fact that the pared back features simply don't need an OLED screen to be effective, but it's simply not enjoyable to use – whatever the technical benefits.

Finally, the added activity tracking does bring the Pebble up-to-date, however, we did find it a little temperamental. We used the Misfit app, and it perfectly mirrored steps and activity monitored by other trackers, showing that the tech was sound – until it stopped tracking altogether.

We had to reset the device multiple times when tracking froze, which wasn't an ideal experience.

Pebble smartwatch: Usability

One of Pebble's greatest traits is that it doesn't attempt to do too much. Yes there's a host of Pebble apps to choose from, but it's far from a smartphone replacement. It's a wrist-based companion to your phone, and in case you weren't aware, it requires a permanent connection to your handset.

Its main function is to provide an at-a-glance summary of your notifications, and it's compatible with early every communication app we owned. Call, text, Facebook, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger alerts were all shown on the device, and you can look back through correspondence by heading to the notifications menu on the device.

Our only issue was that often we seemed to miss notifications, and it seemed somewhat haphazard. Often the alert wouldn't buzz and we'd later find it displayed on the homepage, and other times we'd get nothing.

Pebble smartwatch: Battery life

If there's one reason to buy the Pebble over the current crop of Android watches it's the battery life. While you'd be lucky to get a couple of days from the LG G Watch R or Moto 360, you should easily manage five or six from the Pebble. It means you don't need to pack your charger for a weekend break, which is handy given that it uses a proprietary connector, like most wearable devices.

Pebble smartwatch: Apps

There's a huge selection of apps, many of which work from the watch directly and others that require a companion app installed on your phone. Many apps don't really do what you'd hope, and the poor display renders others useless.

There are maps as clear as ancient Roman scrolls, a Foursquare check-in app called Swarm that never worked, and the Misfit app that regularly stopped working. It' a hit and miss process, better suited to those who like to get their hands dirty when it comes to tech, rather than people who enjoy that blissful “it just works" mentality.

The Pebble companion app itself is very easy to use, enabling you to search and add apps with extreme easy. There's a limited amount of customization, and you can tinker with the watchfaces (hardly pleasing given the screen quality) but it's not possible to shut off types of notification, for example.

By Pebble
While it’s still a decent entry point into smartwatches for techies, the Pebble is dating hard. Pebble’s excellent battery life and simplicity should be applauded, but the smartwatch world is moving at 100mph and it’s starting to feel extremely irrelevant, and in a straight shoot out with Android Wear, we’d go for the flawed beauty of Google’s OS every time.

  • Great battery life
  • Keeps things simple
  • Good price
  • Early adopter points
  • Screen is horrible
  • Apps fairly rubbish
  • Missed a lot of notifications​
  • Early adopter woes

What do you think?

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