Smartwatches are ones to watch for 2014. Claire O’Connell reviews the Pebble 301BL and finds it suits her digital lifestyle rather elegantly.
For years I hadn’t worn a watch. Why would I, when the phone in my bag or the laptop in my gaze for several hours a day tells me the time? Why would I saddle my wrist with yet another time reporter?
That all changed on 25 December when I got a Pebble. You might have heard the back story here (of the Pebble smartwatch itself, not the back story about me dropping hints to get one for Christmas).
The initiative to develop an ‘E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android’ got crowdfunded through Kickstarter to the tune of more than US$10m.
The resulting Pebble is designed to connect with a smartphone and you can set it up to alert you from your wrist about new messages or events. Oh, and it tells the time, too.
Out of the box, the Pebble (model number 301BL, currently selling on Pebble’s website for US$150, excluding shipping) looked sleek and simple. It has a large display face framed by easily pressed buttons and a neat charging point for the accompanying cable.
Easy to start with? Sure: charging is a snap (no plug is supplied, but a standard USB wall charger or a computer will do the trick) and the Pebble watch easily paired via Bluetooth with my phone (an iPhone 5 running iOS 7).
The Pebble app I downloaded onto my phone explained how to set up notifications. Within moments my watch could show me the content of a new text message and it was alerting me to new @tweets and emails.
Compared to some other smartwatches on the market, the Pebble doesn’t have too many bells and whistles. There’s no touchscreen or voice function and the e-paper display and buttons felt a little retro.
The basic Pebble offered few different faces for displaying the time, it allowed me to play and flick through audio tracks on my phone, to decline or accept incoming calls (but not talk on them) and to set alarm times.
I could choose whether I wanted the watch to vibrate when a notification comes through and how the backlight comes on (for example, when you flick your wrist). And if I wanted to I could buy new straps and skins from other retailers to make a bit more of a statement, though I like the simple design I have.
The big potential for customising your Pebble watch face lies with third-party apps. Sites such as mypebblefaces.com and pebblebarn.com already offer an array of displays and other functions, such as trackers and weather updates.
And Pebble has just announced that a centralised Pebble app store will be up and running in late January.
Pebble also links in nicely with some workout-tracking apps, such as Runkeeper and iSmoothRun, meaning that once my phone is somewhere on me I need only glance at my wrist for immediate updates on time, distance and pace as I jog away the festive calories.
Change in behaviour
The real eye-opener for me has been how wearing a smartwatch immediately changed my behaviour. I no longer keep reaching for my phone to check for updates. The FOMO (fear of missing out) is soothed by a buzz on my wrist, and a quick glance tells me whether it is worth reaching for my phone to follow it up, or not.
This has obvious benefits in social situations or in meetings – more time looking at human faces (with the odd glance at a watch face) makes for a more sociable interaction – though I would recommend disabling the buzz during quiet meetings as it can still be a little intrusive.
Plus, because I no longer have my phone in hand as often, I now spend less time mooching about browsing on it. In theory, this should make me more productive. In theory.
I’d love to say the entire Pebble experience has gone without a hitch, but there have been a few moments of frustration. At one point, the watch simply stopped telling me when there were updates clearly coming through on my phone. A lot of tweaking later I resorted to the age-old ‘shut it down and turn it on again‘ approach and we were back in action.
Also, batches of updates sometimes come through in a sudden flurry of urgent buzzes, and some messages seem to be so important that Pebble needs to keep reminding me of them even days later. This doesn’t particularly bother me, and it could even be fixable if I had the time and inclination to fiddle around with it, but it’s worth a mention.
Plus at one point, the battery died in the middle of the day. Had I known it was on its last legs I would have charged it the previous night. A basic notification about the juice running low would be helpful. Again, maybe this is a configurable option but it feels like it should be standard.
Would I miss it?
To gauge whether or not something new is making a difference in my life I usually ask whether I miss it when it’s gone. So far the battery life of the Pebble is living up to its promise of five to seven days, but when it needed a power infusion during the day (see above), I felt the lack of smartwatch because I was suddenly back rummaging in my bag for my phone to keep up to date.
So in short, yes this is something I want on my person. Is it for you? If you are looking for a relatively low-priced wearable for notifications, then why not. And for a little extra you can invest in the new, dressier, Pebble Steel.
Or you could wait and see what the coming months bring in smartwatches. Your wrist is now deemed valuable territory for ‘smart’ technology, so watch this space.
Pebble 301BL works with smartphones running Android 2.3.3 and up, also iPod touch (3rd and 4th generation), iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 running iOS 5 or newer.
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