Pebble v Android Wear

Smartwatch showdown as the Kickstarter darling takes on the Big G
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Android Wear may be the new smartwatch platform of the moment, but Pebble has been shipping thousands of units since January 2013 – and on the back of a $10 million Kickstarter campaign.

Does this plucky independent operation have a platform that's perfectly matured or long past its sell-by date? Can it compete against the might of Google and the likes of the Moto 360, LG G Watch R or Asus ZenWatch?

Here's a breakdown of the key areas and how Pebble stacks up.

Android Wear v Pebble: Apps and OS


Pebble OS is a separate, independent operating system: it runs on Pebble watches and is powered by official apps for Android and iOS. Pebble watch apps and watch faces are installed through the main app on your smartphone: there are more than 3,000 apps available, and while there aren't many big names, most of these apps are imaginative and useful. The watch is controlled by buttons down the side, just like a regular timepiece.

Android Wear, meanwhile, is more of an extension of Android than a separate entity, and there's no support for iOS devices. All Android apps support Android Wear on a basic level, while many are now adding extra functionality . You also get touchscreen and voice support for a more intuitive way of working with your watch. Check out our guide to installing Android Wear apps on your new smartwatch.

Android Wear v Pebble: Health


Pebble has been busy adding fitness tracking capabilities in the wake of Android Wear's launch. The firmware now offers better support for activity and sleep tracking so third-party apps can benefit – Fitbit, Jawbone and are three of the apps that Pebble says will be taking full advantage of the new functionality.

Android Wear watches come with a built-in pedometer and all but the LG G Watch have a heart rate monitor as well. You can track your activity and fitness levels straight away, no third-party software required, though you'll probably need to install a separate app if you want to do some serious data crunching.

Android Wear v Pebble: Notifications


The Pebble watches support notifications for everything that happens on your phone, although there isn't quite the same flexibility in terms of replying and interacting right from your wrist as there is on Android Wear. If you're using a Pebble with iOS, you can't control individual app notifications: you have to have them all on or all off. It's frustrating but no so much of a shortcoming when you consider that Android Wear isn't compatible with iOS at all.

Android Wear shows notifications from all smartphone apps by default, though there is the option to mute specific apps you don't want to hear from. Some apps offer extra functions – like remote music control – that are broadly similar to the ones you'll find on Pebble. Android Wear also has Google Now, the intelligent digital assistant that pops up with useful information (like travel times and the weather) when it thinks you need it. Read our comprehensive guide to Android Wear to learn more.

Android Wear v Pebble: Price


Pebble recently knocked down the price of both its original smartwatch and the Pebble Steel. You can now pick up a Pebble for £99 / $99 or a Pebble Steel for £179 / $199. The Pebble comes in eight colours while the Steel is available in a stainless steel or black matte version. That means the budget Pebble model offers a significant saving on the cheapest Android Wear watches, while the more expensive Pebble Steel is in the same kind of bracket as its Google-powered competitors.

The cheapest Android Wear watch you can get right now is the LG G Watch for £159 / $230. The Samsung Gear Live, oddly, is more expensive in the UK but cheaper in the US at £169 / $199. The Moto 360, meanwhile, retails for £200 / $250 and it looks like the LG G Watch R will be more expensive still when it arrives. Essentially, the full-colour touchscreens sported by the Android Wear devices mean you'll be paying a premium over the Pebble models.

Android Wear v Pebble: Verdict


Pebble more than holds its own against Android Wear right now: with a strong range of apps, 5-7 days of battery life (as opposed to just 1-2 days) and of course support for iOS devices, you'd expect the majority of smartwatch buyers to see it as the better deal at the moment, unless a full-colour touchscreen display is particular important.

As Android Wear devices improve on both the hardware and software sides, however, it's going to become a closer fight – they have the advantage of those more capable displays and tighter integration with Android. Pebble's other problem is that it's up against devices from a series of different manufacturers, so it's taking on multiple competitors all the time.

See also: Pebble v Samsung Gear

How we test


David is a freelance tech writer who has been writing about technology, gadgets and gizmos for more than 20 years.

You can find his work on The Guardian, Wired, Gizmodo, PopSci, TechRadar, T3 and many other major publications on the web and in print.

He spends all day, (almost) every day testing out, explaining, and reviewing smartphones, laptops, smart home kit, wearables, and other essential devices.

From iOS to Wear OS, from Samsung to Sony, he's got an intimate knowledge of almost everything going on in the world of technology right now. When it comes to wearables, there aren't many smartwatches, fitness trackers and VR headsets that he hasn't tried and tested – which means he has a wealth of experience to draw on when it comes to talking about something new or the market in general.

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