Pebble 2 review

Fitness gives the classic Pebble a second lease of life, but will it be enough?
Pebble 2

When Pebble showed up on the scene in 2012, there wasn't really a scene at all. The smartwatch market was barely nascent, before exploding into the huge industry it is today. Yet Pebble's open, OS-agnostic approach has helped it keep its status as a bit of a wearable cult hero.

While we've seen a handful of new Pebbles from the company since it debuted on Kickstarter, the Pebble 2 is the first true "sequel" to the original, and given how much Pebble has iterated since with its Time range you might wonder why it's reviving the blocky, monochrome e-paper display. We've been wondering the same.

But there is some method in the madness. With the $130 Pebble 2, the company isn't chasing the same audience as most other premium smartwatch makers, instead taking aim at the likes of Fitbit and other entry-level fitness trackers. The question is, is there space for the Pebble 2 in 2016?

Pebble 2: Design

Pebble 2

Design will probably be the most divisive element of the Pebble 2. By the standard of today's mob of smartwatches and fitness trackers, it's not a looker, with a rectangular shape, monochrome 144 x 168 pixel screen and plasticky feel that doesn't scream style unless you're all about "geek chic". Its 22mm silicone strap comes with a quick-release mechanism, and the Pebble 2 now comes with a Gorilla Glass 3 display in place of the original's plastic one, making it more durable. However, that screen also protrudes a tad.

Pebble 2

But as mentioned, Pebble isn't targeting the same market Apple, Samsung or other high-end manufacturers are crowding in on; if you want something to complement your Sunday best you're better off waiting for the Time 2, which costs a little more at $199, but might be worth forking out for.

Pebble 2

It's just a shame that, after using the Pebble Time for some while, the 2 is such a noticeable step back in design. It does look better than the first – thinner and slightly better shaped at the edges – and it's comfortable to wear, with a range of colours to choose from: black, white, aqua, "flame" and lime.

But there's almost as much bezel as screen here. It's also not the most inconspicuous thing I've ever worn: at a recent party I had three people ask me what was on my wrist. The Pebble Time 2, while pegged as the 'premium' of the two new watches, is much more of a looker and crams in the new heart rate monitor, with a longer battery to boot.

Pebble 2: Features and apps

Pebble 2

The Pebble operating system has come a long way since the days of the cherry red smartwatch, now sitting at Pebble OS 4.0 with thousands more apps under its belt. We'll get onto software in a bit, but first let's talk new hardware features.

The major new addition here is the optical heart rate monitor, which complements the Pebble Health platform that's been tracking steps and sleep since it was introduced last year. Pebble Health can also be integrated with Google Fit and Apple Health, along with a range of other third-party apps. Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky told me he sees Fitbit as the company's main rival to the Pebble 2, and indeed with all of the fitness stuff now tied together, the watch is more of a competitor to something like the Fitbit Blaze.

Read next: A beginner's guide to Pebble Health

The heart rate monitor isn't just for workouts – it has a 24/7 mode as default where it will take a reading about every 10 minutes and draw up a graph in Pebble Health showing your fluctuations throughout the day and night. You'll be able to keep this going and still benefit from the watch's week-long battery life. Pebble's also stuck in 30M water resistance, so you can take it for a swim.

Finally, there's a microphone on the right side of the watch, a feature that's been brought over from the Time and lets you send voice responses to messages (without impeding on the waterproofing).

Pebble 2

When it comes to apps, Pebble still rules the roost by a long way. Developers have continued to build and build, with some great watch faces and applications available. Many of the big names like Uber and Runkeeper have Pebble apps, but there are plenty of other unfamiliars to discover too.

Already Pebble has a section of its store to showcase Pebble 2-focused software, including some apps making use of the HR monitor, and we'd recommend Pebble 2 owners start there. Many apps and faces still require you to download the companion app from the Play Store, but Android Wear users will be used to that (until Android Wear 2.0 rolls around), and with some it makes sense. We did some running with Endomondo, and installing the Pebble app meant we could choose, via the phone, which stats would show up on the watch in real-time.

You'll also be getting all of the latest Pebble OS features, including Timeline which lets you quickly see what's happening (or has already happened), with information pulled from apps of your choosing – calendar, weather forecasts etc. It's one of Pebble's strongest features, and a good example of how far the watch has come along.

But at its core, it's still the simplicity of interactions that I think is the Pebble 2's biggest charm. When I feel the buzz of an incoming message, it's on the display instantly, with no fancy animations harking a notification's arrival. Every button push is instant, each command instantaneous; every time I select an app it's open in a flash.

So far I've had a few small software hiccups, including the Pebble struggling to pair with my phone at times, and occasional delays in some of the health notifications appearing, but these have been rare and will no doubt be ironed out with firmware updates. That aside, the Pebble 2 is incredibly responsive, which earns it a big gold star.

Pebble 2: Health and fitness

Pebble 2

As already mentioned, health is the big focus of the Pebble 2, with a built-in heart rate monitor, sleep and step tracking, and connectivity to Apple Health, Google Fit and other fitness platforms.

Pebble's algorithms, worked on in partnership with Stanford University, have improved over time, and overall the Pebble 2 performs as a solid fitness tracker. I found that the heart rate monitor, on a daily basis, was quite accurate, although it fell down a bit when I took it out for a few runs in the park.

Comparing it with a chest strap, I found the resting heart rate was pretty spot-on between the two, but Pebble 2 had a tendency to read 10 to 15 bpm higher than the strap when I was running. It performed better than some optical trackers we've tried, but still a bit off.

Unlike workouts, sleep tracking happens automatically, detecting when you nod off and giving you a rundown of your sleep quality in the morning. Without proper lab conditions, or more substantial technology, sleep tracking in smartwatches and trackers is very rudimentary, tending to capture movement more than actual sleep data.

Pebble 2
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Amazon

Still, Pebble 2 was pretty good at working out when I had nodded off and woken up. In the Pebble Health section of the app you'll get a graph tracking how you've been sleeping, and you'll be notified of your progress each day with a little alert that will either congratulate you or give you a gentle ticking off for staying up too late. As Pebble Health learns your habits in step counts, workouts and sleep, it will start telling you how you're improving (or not, as the case may be) with alerts through the day.

All of this will be complemented with third-party apps and watch faces, some of which are already on the store, and we're sure we'll be seeing plenty of developers doing interesting things with the Pebble's health and fitness abilities in the near future.

Pebble 2: Battery

Pebble 2

Battery is the other place Pebble dominates the competition, and the Pebble 2 continues to impress. The seven-day battery life was confirmed in my testing, and I can't begin to tell you how great it feels to not have to charge my smartwatch each night.

We test a lot of smartwatches at Wareable, and fumbling with chargers on a daily basis is one of our biggest bugbears, to the point I found myself pleasantly surprised every time I opened the menu and saw a nice big chunky amount of battery left.

This helps the Pebble Health platform capture more comprehensive biometrics. Pebble also gets the upper hand on Apple and other smartwatches that offer sleep-tracking features without the battery to back them. Another big gold star, then.

Pebble 2


Pebble 2
By Pebble
The Pebble 2 packs in a lot for its price, and there's plenty to love, but it's let down by design. If you're after an entry-level fitness tracker and don't care too much about how it looks, this is a solid choice; if it's a smartwatch you want, you may be better waiting and trying the Time 2 first.

Hit
  • Battery life rules
  • Beautifully responsive
  • Cheap
Miss
  • Monochrome display feels outdated
  • Bezel-heavy rectangle is off-putting
  • A few small software bugs

5 Comments

  • MparkH says:

    I purchased the first generation Time Steel recently, taking advantage of sales in preparation for Pebble's 2nd generation releases. I got the software update that puts my watch on par with the new ones, minus h art rate tracking.

    I'd say thus review is right on. I've been very pleased with my Pebble, which is paired with a Verizon iPhone. It's all the smart watch I need and very easy to use. Battery life and the always-on screen are the killer features. There is some occasional software flakiness, but that is improving with each update.

    If you don't like the looks or the black & white screen of the base Pebble, pay a bit more for the Time model with the color screen and classier design. It's still way cheaper than the competing smart watches.

    Kudos to Pebble for staying focused on the watch experience. Most satisfying gadget I've bought since my first iPhone. 

  • SamuelHRMG says:

    With $129 should you buy Pebble 2+HR or aim for another wristwatch instead?

    Pebble 2 might not be as amazing as expected, not so much different than the Pebble Classic. However at the price of $129, it seems to be competitive with other wristwatch and still a good choice.

    Check out my detailed analysis here:

    http://heartratemonitorguides.com/pebble-2-review-...

  • Santosh says:

    Recived pebble 2 from day one not catching pulse highly disappointed, pebble has to work on it ! Complaint not solved ! 

  • b-lee-smi says:

    I recently purchased a pebble 2 and the details of the watch seemed really nice first off to be able to reply to text messages with the watch was a great feature being able to answer and make calls with the watch seem like a great feature pictures of the watch really made the watch look like a quality Style watch when I receive the watch open the package and started playing around with it not only did it feel small cheap and plasticky but the features of replying to text messages making calls answering calls were all not true you can answer a call but to your phone so you still have to go to your phone to actually speak you can't speak from the Pebble watch and then when I tried to reply to text messages and it wasn't working I started trying to troubleshoot the watch to figure out why it wasn't working and found only after I purchase the watch that it only works on one or two different carriers in the US and I'm a Canadian and it does not work with the carrier that I'm with for Apple iOS so as far as I'm concerned there's a lot of misrepresentation going on with this watch and if you're looking for an inexpensive smart watch with lots of functions you're better off spending another hundred bucks and purchasing a different watch completely don't waste your time with the Pebble watch it isn't what you think it is

  • lion88 says:

    I would recommend adjusting this review, seeing as Pebble has discontinued production of any smart watches, Declared bankruptcy, and sold assets to FitBit. All warranties are null and void, and they hosed all of us who preordered and have not received units.

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