Pebble Time v Apple Watch: The iPhone compatible smartwatch fight

Back Pebble or grab the Watch? Read our comparison to find out
Pebble Time v Apple Watch

The Pebble Time Steel launched on Kickstarter just a week before the 9 March Apple Watch event, yet the rivalry between these two smartwatches is set to extend way beyond just timing.

Was it an accident that Pebble's press imagery bore an uncanny resemblance to Apple's own Watch? No chance: it's a clear sign that these two devices are going head to head in 2015 – the year that smartwatches will go mainstream.

Read all about it: Apple Watch review

Until the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel, the Apple Watch's main rivals appeared to be high-end fitness trackers. But now the original cross-platform smartwatch is back with a classier design, re-worked OS, 7-10 day battery life and customisable smart straps.

We've been hands on with both smartwatches, here's how they stack up...

Pebble Time v Apple Watch: Design

Neither of these smartwatches bears much resemblance to any classic wristwatch – a look mimicked by a number of high profile devices such as the Huawei Watch or LG Watch Urbane. With square faced designs, both shun last year's decree that smartwatches should be round in face – yet still pack substantial class.

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Both new Pebble smartwatches feel well made and should withstand a fair amount of wear and tear. The Pebble Time is very light, slim at 9.5mm and looks a little geeky, whereas the Time Steel is slightly bigger, 1mm thicker but feels much more polished. With a stainless steel strap it feels expensive plus the new curved design hugs your wrist and will make it easier to slip under shirt sleeves. Our only concern is those huge bezels which dwarf the screen a little - it looks better with black bezels and a black background but it's still noticeable.

Even sleeker still is the Apple Watch, especially with some of the immensely well-designed (and hugely expensive) straps available. The look completely depends on which model and strap you go for but all include a single crystal sapphire face and Apple's Digital Crown on the right hand edge. The Time Steel's four navigation buttons are textured but Apple's smartwatch is the more perfectly finished of the two.

Google rival: Android Wear v Apple Watch

Both the Pebble and Apple Watch are on the more compact side with two sizes for Apple - 38mm and 42mm. There are no size options for Pebble, but the Time Steel is larger and thicker.

Both are also high on customisation - the Apple Watch has 38 different combinations of bodies and straps including the real gold Watch Edition.

There are three colours to choose from (black, silver and gold finish) when buying a Pebble - and the choice between the Time and Time Steel. Plus the Pebble smartwatches have a quick release mechanism so you can change the colour of your strap in 5-10 seconds.

For now, the Apple Watch wins on design but it's worth noting that both Pebbles look better in person than they do in the press pics.

Pebble Time v Apple Watch: Screen and battery life

Pebble Time v Apple Watch

The two Apple Watch screen sizes are 1.5-inch and 1.65-inch versus the 1.26-inch display on the Pebble Time. And the differences don't stop there.

While the Pebble Time uses a low power, colour e-paper display with a 30fps refresh rate, the Apple Watch, of course, comes with an expensive, touch sensitive AMOLED display made by LG. The Pebble makes do with buttons which it says are more reliable on the go than a touchscreen.

The displays couldn't be more different - the Apple Watch's is bright with rich colours and a 290ppi resolution which is pretty sharp for a screen this small.

The Pebble, on the other hand, makes do with 64 colours, which don't exactly pop out from the screen, but are a nice enhancement over the old monochrome e-paper Pebble watches. Watchfaces, music player widgets and Timeline items will all get a boost.

Plus the Time should be easier to read in direct sunlight - you don't want to be whacking up the brightness on the Apple Watch too much outdoors. Why? Because while the Apple Watch screen might sound mighty appealing, it will sap your battery to the point you need to charge every night. Conversely, that e-paper display means that the Pebble will last up to seven days for the Time and up to ten days for the Time Steel.

When it comes down to it, we think Pebble made a smart move. The watch does the job and the long battery life is a genuine benefit. However, the Apple Watch is a much nicer experience, and looks better on the wrist. Which is more important is a direct personal choice.

Pebble Time v Apple Watch: Interface

Pebble Time v Apple Watch

Apps take centre stage on the Apple Watch and while early offerings have largely been lacklustre, we're expecting plenty of exciting nuggets of wearable tech software from developers in the next few months.

Before we get on to those, Jony Ive and co have designed a whole new Watch OS. Like your phone, there's a homescreen which is used to launch apps. You can customise what you see on the homescreen and the colours of certain details of the interface and download live wallpapers. The Digital Crown is used as a home button and can be twisted to scroll or zoom around the OS doing away with some, if not all, of the tapping and swiping we now associate with Android Wear.

It's not as user-friendly and intuitive as we tend to think Apple products should be, and it's very much about you, the user, going to find information via apps – rather than have it presented to you, as with Android Wear. Of course, we don't mean notifications – rather travel info, disruption, weather, location aware information and more.

Pebble has gone in a completely new direction. It's turned its interface into a Timeline - a list of alerts, calendar items and notifications that's constantly updated by apps pushing bits of information to it. You can look back 24 hours to see what you've missed or forward 48 hours to see what's coming up - and anyone can make data sources such as web apps, available on Timeline without building Pebble apps.

Again, there two approaches are chalk and cheese. The Apple Watch replaces many of the micro-interactions we use our smartphones for, saving you time, and developers will make it an incredibly powerful gadget.

However, Pebble's actively reorganises your life in a way your smartphone can't, but it will never be as functional. Personal preference will again rule here, but there's no doubt that Pebble wins out in beautiful simplicity, while the Apple Watch is a more exciting proposition, which will attract different users for different reasons.

Pebble Time v Apple Watch: Tracking

If you're looking to buy a smartwatch that can help you with health or fitness goals, the Apple Watch is your best bet. At least for now.

It has a built-in heart rate sensor, dedicated Workout app and it hooks up to Apple Health on the iPhone where you can link food or exercise tracking with other services and wearables. One thing to mention - it doesn't actually have GPS so you won't be able to track runs accurately without also taking your iPhone out with you. This could be a dealbreaker for some with so many solid GPS watch options, some of which now handle smartphone notifications too.

Pebble is no fitness watch, it's primarily a companion device for your smartphone. And to keep the price low and the design slim and light, there's no fitness specific sensors at all - no GPS, no heart rate tracking - all it can really handle is basic step counting and distance via apps like Misfit.

But don't despair. Pebble has announced its open Smartstraps platform so that hardware devs and makers can build straps to connect to its accessory port on the inside of the watch. However, there's no ETA on when fitness ready Smartstraps might become available.

Pebble Time v Apple Watch: Apps

Pebble Time v Apple Watch

It's too early to tell but it's safe to assume Apple will win this particular battle hands down. Pebble doesn't have the big name partnerships that Apple does and indie devs, and there's over 3,000 apps on the App Store already.

The list of apps is extensive, but the quality isn't yet there – as we highlighted in our Apple Watch review.

The question, of course, is do you want apps on your smartwatch at all? That's what Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky is asking. Pebble has a store of 6,500+ 'apps', but the majority of those are watchfaces, a lot of the apps simply bundle together notification features.

Instead, Migicovsky wants the world to open up 'data sources' for the Pebble's new Timeline. We're not sure there's as much incentive for developers to get involved here. But we can see brands and services jumping on this as a way to push relevant, timely information into users' smartwatch streams - once you opt in or out to each one via the Pebble store, of course.

Again, the emphasis from Apple is new experiences for the wrist enabled by third party apps. Pebble is a simplification, and apps add to the noise.

Pebble Time v Apple Watch: Price

Pebble Time v Apple WatchWe probably should have stuck this section at the top as price is a big factor when comparing Apple and Pebble smartwatches. Yet it almost goes without saying that the Apple Watch is vastly more expensive than the Pebble.

The Apple Watch Sport, which is made of cheaper materials and straps, starts at $349 for a 38mm, and $399 for the larger 42mm (which most men will want). Then increase that to in excess of $599 for the main Apple Watch (not including changing up straps) and you have a seriously pricey proposition.

The Pebble Time went on sale in three colours (Black/Black, White/Silver and Red/Black) for just $159 via Kickstarter earlier this year and is now shipping to campaign backers.

The Time will sell for $199 later on in the year at and in stores, with pre-orders opening on 22 June.

The Time Steel was selling for $250 on Kickstarter, but will set you back $299 when it goes on general release.

There's no indication yet on how much smart straps might cost, probably because no-one has built any yet.

Pebble Time v Apple Watch: Early verdict

Pebble Time v Apple Watch

While we have to withhold definitive verdicts until we get the Pebble Time on our wrists for a longer period of time, there's some obvious conclusions about each device that make them chalk and cheese for buyers.

The Apple Watch is more fun, looks better, and has the potential for experiences through apps that genuinely excite – but now it comes with serious compromises in terms of battery life and usability.

The Pebble feels more mature and grown up. It does less, and tries less hard, and with its battery life, it works for you. But you'll never feel proud to show it off to friends.

What's more important? That's for you to decide.


  • vtlozano says:

    Why even try to eke out a comparison of two products that haven't been released?

    Fluff.  The need to fill space.  Your readers are smarter than that.

    • s.charara says:

      There's a lot we know about the features, design and battery life of these two devices so we think this comparison is useful. And we very clearly state that we have had hands on time with both but not fully tested them. Rest assured, this piece will be updated once we have. The fact is people will want advice on which of these to buy and for the Kickstarter Pebble prices, you only have until the end of this month. 

    • tjskywasher says:

      The Apple Watch has been released.

  • iChadman says:

    The reviewers statement: "But you'll never feel proud to show it off to friends." I find inaccurate. I have an original pebble and people I talk to are very impressed for what it does for the price point. To say with the pebble time that you wouldn't be proud to show it off to your friends is silly since it's better in every way to the original pebble. 

    • mistasteve says:

      I have had the same experience. It helps that I'm so happy with the Pebble that I feel like I want to tell people about it. I'm a life-long Apple user but I don't really like what I've seen of their watch. Looks nice but the user interface (crown etc) doesn't look appealing. And battery life is a must.

    • Silverface says:

      agreed. I must have 4-5 people a day ask " is that an Apple watch?"...many knowing I'm a hard-core Apple guy.  Then I explain it's a Pebble Steel and its price/advantages (plus how idiotic it is to send "touches" or "heartbeats" another Apple watch wearer, IF you can find one (I know several Pebble users, and exactly one Apple watch user - an Apple employee!).  Based on what I've seen, I'm proud to own/show a Pebble, and would be embarrassed to admit to having an Apple watch.  Messaging is the only apparent advantage to the Apple, and jail breaking your iPhone solves that for now (and contrary to policy, to my knowledge Apple "Genius Bar" workers have never refused a warranty service due to jail breaking!).  I'm a very proud Pebble owner!

  • jez says:

    I agree with iChadman - my original pebble generates interest and I've had zero folks after seeing it say they wouldn't want one.

    On the other hand, "showing off" an Apple watch currently would speak more about the size of your wallet than the reliability of your decision making.

    • shoobe01 says:

      Also agree with Jez and iChadman. We have experience wearing these devices, and I get plenty of people asking why my watch blinks (or now, "Is that an Apple Watch?") and them I explain for 20 seconds. No one has been dismissive because it's plastic and grayscale. Some write down the name or go on their phone at that moment to research, maybe buy one. 

  • mistasteve says:

    Actually I'd feel sheepish about showing off an Apple watch. Equally likely to be perceived as either douchey or as somebody who can't think for myself :)

  • Pebblesucks says:

    Pebble products are overpriced and obsolete.

    Especially with the Apple Watch Sport now costing $249.

    The pebble is nothing but a Tamagotchi on a wrist strap.

    Their products would be good if it was 2008 or if the products were half their current price.

    Their products are produced in China. You can get a comparable blue tooth watch for 35.00 on eBay.

    The company has no chance unless they change their business strategy and run their business as a b-corporation (Tom’s Shoes).

    Their customer is service is horrible.

    Their marketing campaigns are insulting.

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