Review: Pebble e-paper watch

69k backers. $10m in the can. But now that the Pebble E-paper watch is showing up on our wrists, was it worth it? Brian Easton is unsure.

By Brian Easton at 7:05 am Tue, May 7, 2013

With 68,929 backers pledging more than $10m, the Pebble E-paper watch is the highest-grossing Kickstarter project to date. The pitch, to fund an Android- and iOS-compatible smartwatch, was so successful that the campaign had to be cut short. With a 144 x 168 e-paper display, vibrating motor, 3-axis accelerometer and Bluetooth connectivity, the Pebble promises to let you use your smartphone without it ever leaving your pocket.

Style-wise, the Pebble isn’t going to turn many heads, but it isn’t an eyesore. Sleek but chunky, the rectangular looks are vaguely reminiscent of Casio calculator watch, albeit one from a minimalist future. The comparison is appropriate, since both products are trying to return the wristwatch from fashion-accessory purgatory to a place of utility. If you desire something a little more stylish, the default rubber strap can be replaced with a standard 22mm watch band.

Not to be confused with e-ink, the Pebble’s e-paper display is actually a low-power memory LCD. The high contrast screen is readable, even in direct sunlight, but unlike e-ink it has a 30 fps refresh rate. This quick refresh rate allows for smooth animations in menus and watch faces. The drawback is that continually refreshing the screen drains power fast. Watch faces that feature moving second hands severely impact battery life.

If you don't use a heavily animated watch face, the battery life of the Pebble is quite good; in the month I've owned it, I've averaged at least seven days between charges. However, there have been reports of significantly reduced battery life in Pebbles paired with iOS devices.

The iOS/Android dichotomy carries over into smartphone connectivity, which is presumably the main draw of the product. Aside from being a watch with fancy customizable faces, the Pebble functions as a second screen for your smartphone by connecting to the Pebble application on your iPhone or Android device via Bluetooth. Out of the box, with just the official Pebble app, the iOS version comes out ahead, as it allows you to forward all system-wide notifications to your wrist. The Android app only supports a handful of default applications. Unfortunately for Apple users, this is where the advantages end.

When the Pebble disconnects from an iPhone, you have to go back into the app and re-toggle all of your notification preferences. On Android, third party apps like Pebble Notifier allow you to send notifications from any application to your Pebble. These restrictions are more the result of restrictions Apple has placed on apps and Bluetooth devices than issues with the Pebble itself—jailbreaking your iPhone can offer greater functionality.

Notifications received on the Pebble are simple, if not elegant. The watch gently buzzes on your wrist, a continuing pulse for phone calls and a single buzz for other notifications. Text messages display the name or number of the sender followed by the message, emails are similar in showing the sender and email subject before a snippet of the message. Both of these options allow you to use the top and bottom buttons to scroll through content. With voice calls the name and number of the caller is shown along with the option to outright reject the call with the bottom button. If you do happen to answer a call it will display the call length.

It’s with this kind of functionality that Pebble shines. It serves as a sort of message and notification triage, allowing you to keep your phone in your pocket unless it’s absolutely necessary. The functionality of Pebble serves to augment the functions of your smartphone rather than replace them. The only bi-directional application is the music app using AVRCP.

If you're looking to send messages from a Dick Tracy watch, look elsewhere: that functionality isn’t in the Pebble, at least not yet.

“Not yet” is common phrase when dealing with the Pebble, a 1.0 product with incomplete features. Promised golf range finder functionality has only recently been released, and RunKeeper support only exists in beta software. The full API, promised before launch, isn’t available yet either. Still, if the enthusiasm evident with just the proof of concept watch face API is any indication, many eager developers are waiting to expand functionality.

The result is a lot of ifs. If you have an Android smartphone (or don’t mind the iOS limitations), if you want a supplementary screen for your phone, if you are willing to wait for expanded functionality, and if you are interested in tinkering and general mucking about, then the current Pebble might be for you. If you don’t care to deal with slowly emerging functionality or tinkering, wait for the next iteration or until the watch ecosystem sorts itself out. For now, the Pebble delivers on its premise, but it doesn’t deliver very much. It's an impressive piece of hardware—the software just needs to catch up.

Pebble E-Paper Watch [Amazon]

Published 7:05 am Tue, May 7, 2013

About the Author

Freelance writer, author, and all-around unemployed creative guy.

49 Responses to “Review: Pebble e-paper watch”

  1. dr.hypercube says:

    I’m a Pebble/Android user. Triage, for me, is Pebble’s reason for being. That being said, the one inPulse (Pebble precursor – yes, I’m a repeat offender) feature I miss is review-able notification history. But that’s one of the beauties of the Pebble, too. I expect that one of these days I’ll blow a firmware update into the watch and hey! presto! And thumbs-up for the Revolution watch face. 

  2. Fantome_NR says:

    meh.

  3. Darcy Casselman says:

    I love my pebble!

    One of the best aspects of it, I find, is the social aspect.  If you can rely on your watch letting you know if something is demanding our attention, you don’t need to pull your phone out to check anymore.  It’s far more acceptable to glance down at your watch when you’re having a conversation than to pull out your phone.  So even if you get a text or call, you can glance at your watch, decide you don’t want to take it and dismiss it without the serious social faux pas of pulling out your phone, unlocking, checking it and putting it away. 

    I look forward to better app support and more to do on it than play a snake game, but it’s well worth the Kickstarter price I paid.

    • Boundegar says:

      Is it true that if you try to remove it, it delivers a painful shock? And whispers orders in your ear at night?

  4. AwesomeRobot says:

    Definitely love my Pebble in its current form, but I admit that I’m pretty disappointed with how slow the roll-out has been for the full SDK. Here’s to hoping that this means the end delivery will be a solid non-buggy implementation, but I have a feeling their software development team just doesn’t have the manpower.

    • eselqueso says:

      I want to love mine but I am frustrated by the constant dis and re-connecting to my iPhone, and the almost complete lack of feature support promised at launch. And the plastic on the face scratches if you look at it funny.

      Despite all the delays for refinement, this still feels like a 0.1 release.

      • er0ck says:

        i don’t believe it’s been launched yet?  it’s the pre-release period for kickstarters.  my pre-order is in…

        • AwesomeRobot says:

          The Kickstarter backers ordered with a promise of a final production piece, not an alpha or beta test hardware – so I can understand the frustration. As much as I enjoy the end-product at the moment, the initial talk and the final delivery still aren’t lining up. 

  5. mccrum says:

    Is this where we come to watch everyone talk about how watches are passe and their phone does all the same things?

    http://boingboing.net/2013/05/03/casio-pathfinder-solar-atomic.html

  6. blkhawk says:

    I would like to love my Pebble – sadly due to a customs and regulation snafu pebble managed to get all imports of pebbles into the EU banned (at least in theory until the other countries are informed its only banned in Germany).

    The German user community tried everything short of going to pebble HQ and smacking sense into the people there in trying to get them to react to the problems. Up and including translating documentation and correspondences with customs and the regulating agency.

    Pebble did two things wrong when preparing the shipments: a badly done on-box invoice that “only” caused a month long delay for the shipments that made it through customs in the beginning and they did not put a ID in their CE declaration thats actually on the Product (its like a FCC ID). So the watch is TESTED and there is Documentation but the regulators here sampled the shipments and have now banned all imports because the documentation does not match the markings on the watch. This was noted about 2 months ago and pointed out to pebble.

    Pebble assumed that the regulators would notify them before ordering the watch banned and causing them to be send back / destroyed (the receiving party here usually has that choice). well as was pointed out to pebble the regulators here do not contact the sending party. 

    the last info I got is that the remaining pebbles in limbo have been send back to china. I have zero confidence in pebbles ability to solve this problem quickly even with the “help” they hired in Germany. This could have been easily solved months ago if they had accepted the help of the community.

  7. Daneel says:

    I don’t want a smart watch. I want an automatic smart phone.

    Only having to charge your watch every 7 days? Wow, that’s amazing. I never have to charge my watch.

    • TheOven says:

       This is the deal killer for me too. Having to remember to plug in my watch is not something I’m likely to pick up. And how annoying would it be to be out and have your watch die, never mind the smart aspects of the device. This seems like a dress up watch, only to be worn on special occasions.

    • . says:

       You used to have to wind a watch every day or so, so no big deal. That being said, my old Casio G-Shock runs for better than 5 years on 1 cell.

    • Keith Tyler says:

      Yeah, this is why I stopped using the aforementioned LiveView. Had to recharge it every couple of days, and in order to recharge it, I had to pop it off of the wristband. That’s partially a case design issue as much as anything else… aside from some high-motion apps, ePaper would provide a much better battery life. It would also allow the time to be displayed constantly instead of having to press a button for it. What I don’t get is why the Pebble costs six times what the LiveView does when the only difference is ultimately the use of ePaper versus LCD.

  8. How does this work with pairing for multiple devices?  For instance – I would like to pair this with my phone, but would want my phone to automaticaly pair with my car instead when that device is visible.  Is that possible, or would I find myself manually forcing a new pairing every time I enter or exit my vehicle?

    • dr.hypercube says:

      The/Pebble/ will only pair w/ one device. Your /phone/ is a different story. I have a Galaxy Nexus – YMMV – but the phone stays paired w/ the Pebble, pairs and unpairs with the Bluetooth OBD-II dongle in my car, moves files to & from my desktop (slowly), etc. Pairing can be set up to be persistent & the phone will connect as requested (by an application).

  9. retepslluerb says:

    I still don’t get the triage thingie.   Even an iPhone can be told only to make a sound when people from a certain group try to contact you. Everything else is by definition not important. 

    And if your mother’s calling you, Pebble wont tell you because it’s because she wants to remind you to write a Thank-You-Note or because your father’s in the hospital.

    • dr.hypercube says:

      I can glance at my wrist a lot more easily that I can keep all the various permutations of people/notifications current. I have ringtones assigned to key people, but (AFAIK) there’s only one chime for incoming text messages, I may be waiting for an email from Alice when normally she’d be in the ‘deal w/ it in the fullness of time’ category, etc. Basically, my brain still categorizes most accurately. When I don’t care at all – at a friend’s b-day party recently, for example – I turn the phone off and wear a diff watch.

      My mom is always calling me to remind me to write a thank-you note. If my dad is in the hospital she will leave a message.

    • TheOven says:

      If you have your boss and your mother on your important people contact list, you have to answer either way. But if it’s the weekend, you only have to answer if it’s your mother. Check your watch or check your phone. They’re saying it’s easier to just check your watch.

      • retepslluerb says:

        Why would I have my boss’ number on my private phone? 

        Why would I want to allow my boss to call me outside business hours at all? 

        Actually, why would my bosses have my private phone number at all? 

        He and she can and do send an e-mail  to my corporate account, which I will read first thing after checking in at about 222 mornings each year.

        • TheOven says:

          How the hell would I know why your boss would have your private number? Maybe you’re Archer? Maybe he’s also your Dad? The point is he does and he’s calling you. What are you going to do; Interrupt the guerrillas who you’re trying to sell arms to  – or ask them to hold on a sec while you check your phone? A quick glance at your watch and you can make a mental note to tear into your boss later – while paying full attention to the guys with the guns bar in front of you.

          Your boss is an asshat to call you on your personal phone like that but luckily you had a Pebble E-paper watch.

          Problem solved. Next.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?list=RD02YriUTQjcED8&feature=player_detailpage&v=9x6KApzgtjU#t=101s

        • dr.hypercube says:

          People/modes of communication vary in importance faster than I can be arsed to reprogram the signalling system on my phone. Thus, a glance at the wrist.

          • retepslluerb says:

            I go by „important“ and „not important“, including training my clients to use appropriate ways of communication.  No much need to reprogram any signalling system.  

        • Jonathan Badger says:

          Because it’s your *only* phone? The days of work providing a special mobile phone are kind of over in most places, and yet the desire for people from work to contact you isn’t.

        • twianto says:

          First of all, your boss has your phone number because you gave it to him when you applied for the job (how else do you schedule interviews?). Doesn’t mean he should use it for work-related stuff.

          Also, many people use their work-supplied cell phone as their only phone, especially in the Land of Crazy Expensive Cell Phone Plans. Happens in Europe, too, perhaps less frequently so, but still. Would never do it myself, though.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            First of all, your boss has your phone number because you gave it to him when you applied for the job (how else do you schedule interviews?).

            Most people are hired by HR departments now.

          • twianto says:

            There is a role for HR to be sure (and they can be enormously helpful if they’re good). Often they handle all communication, which can also be helpful.

            I’ve never been hired for any job by HR alone though, be it at the world’s largest industrial conglomerate or a really small company. At the very least my future bosses always had a copy of my CV (with contact data) and were involved in the hiring process at some point.

          • TheOven says:

             Really, most? I’d be surprised if that were actually true.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          Why would I have my boss’ number on my private phone? Why would I want to allow my boss to call me outside business hours at all? Actually, why would my bosses have my private phone number at all?

          The person who gives me money every month goes to the head of my list. Not that any of the Boingers have ever called me.

  10. Rico_sosa says:

    it doesnt affect your other bluetooth pairings. i can have my iphone connect to my car bluetooth (automagically) and still be connected to the pebble.

  11. Fantome_NR says:

    I wonder why my “meh” comment was deleted. Seems to me like a valid statement regarding this device. The coolest thing about it is that it looks like the monitor of an Apple Macintosh from the early 80’s.

  12. Dave Cross says:

    “RunKeeper support only exists in beta software!”
    Actually, the latest version of Runkeeper (released today for Android and iOS) has built-in support for the Pebble. I’ll be trying it out tonight.

  13. Keith Tyler says:

    Too bad it’s a bazillion dollars. Meanwhile the Sony Ericsson LiveView bluetooth watch can be had for under $50.  What’s up, Pebble? Aiming for the techno-yuppie-dink market with inflated price, perhaps?

  14. embryoconcepts says:

    I jumped on early, and really wanted to love it, but it was just more trouble than it was worth, for me.  The constant connection problems, short battery life (it NEVER made it 7 days) and the physical shape were annoying enough to sell it within a week.  By physical shape, I mean that I have smallish wrists, and the design is such that it’s actually painful to wear.  Hopefully, in time, this will be resolved.

  15. oldtaku says:

    One big advantage I don’t see mentioned much is that Pebble alerts are
    /unmissable/ (the buzz on your wrist) and damn near silent, unless it’s
    so quiet in the room that you can hear the buzz. Plus, the wrist buzz is guaranteed to wake me up – when paired with alert filtering, so email at 2AM doesn’t wake you up.

    So you can turn off those alert beeps and whistles that you have set to full volume and piss off everyone around you (I know some people use phone vibration, but you are a minority in this neck of the woods). My phone runs in full quiet mode, then I can just glance at my wrist and see how to handle this call, email, or message.

    Downside: Takes pets a few days not to freak the f@#$ out when it goes off near their head.

    • er0ck says:

       interesting.  i wonder how well the watch can tell it’s on your wrist.  accelerometer i guess.
      that way you could tell the phone when to turn back on its alert vibe/chimes

  16. Glenn Loos-Austin says:

    Some good points, and a reasonable review. I think do it’s a shame that the article dwells so briefly on the downloadable watchfaces and apps. I have always wanted a watch I could put custom watchfaces on, and would have paid for that alone, even if it had zero phone connectivity.

    My Pebble Faces:
    http://www.mypebblefaces.com/?rated=desc&generated=0
    Literally hundreds of watchfaces, and more being added every day. Sure, some are just made using the generator (see below) but there are still bunches and bunches with fun design and interesting features. This is good now, and only going to get better.

    Watchface Generator
    http://www.watchface-generator.de/
    A website for non-programmers to design their own watchface with an image they supply.

  17. eselqueso says:

    Another frustrating issue I forgot to mention is how much the Pebble app interferes with calls and Siri, bc it seems to be registered as a BT audio device. I end up having to turn off BT and reboot my phone before I can use Siri way more than I’d like.

  18. Manuel McLure says:

    I really want to love my Pebble, but I’m very disappointed with it. It constantly disconnects from my phone (iPhone 4S) even when I’m wearing the Pebble and have the phone in my pocket, I rarely get notifications (I don’t use SMS/iMessage which seem to be the only consistently working notifications) and during my first run with the new Pebble-enabled RunKeeper version it worked for the first 18 minutes or so and then RunKeeper crashed.

    On the good side, it’s a pretty nice watch, with some very readable watchfaces. But that’s not worth the price.

    I’m really hoping that the iOS connection/notification problems get resolved quickly. I am sure some of the problems are in iOS, but right now I don’t have the functionality that was promised.

  19. GadgetGav says:

    I hate my Pebble. I so wanted to love it as I’m a gadget freak and early adopter, but it’s just so flawed.
    As mentioned in the comments, it identifies as a Bluetooth audio device, so when placing a call in my car, the phone wants to know if it should direct the call to the car stereo or the watch. There’s not even a beeper on the watch, so why does its profile allow incoming audio? Is that a compromise they made to allow control of music on iOS? If so, it’s a ridiculous choice.
    The biggest pain for me was the *constant* modal dialog boxes that keep popping up on iOS asking if the Pebble App can communicate with the watch. The only choices are ‘Ignore’ and ‘Allow’, there’s no ‘Always Allow’ option. The dialog is modal so it takes over what ever else you were trying to do with your smartphone, forcing you to choose one or the other response. This is a direct result of iOS memory management. When the OS needs the memory, it unloads background apps. You might be reading an email with an attachment, trying to take a photo, surfing the web… Who knows when the Pebble App will make an appearance and stop you doing what you want to do.
    They have released two firmware updates that have not solved the issue  as well as updates to the App but they can’t solve it without Apple’s help. That doesn’t stop Support from telling you to try a particular update as a troubleshooting step. I don’t see what’s in it for Apple to change their memory management routines and let Pebble stay in memory all the time. Even if they do, what effect will that have on the other apps that were reclaiming that memory space for their temporary use? Either way, the smart watch ruins the user experience of the smart phone. To me that’s unacceptable, but Pebble sits on their hands and refuses to RMA the watch for this reason. My $125 is in that $10,000,000 and I’ll never see it again, but nor do I expect to ever be using a functional Pebble watch.

    • er0ck says:

      that’s too bad that pebble had such a hard time creating a decent experience on ios. as an android and ios developer, i’m not at all surprised.
       i’m sorry to say that all i hear is that you want an android phone.  ios memory management and annoying dialogs were why i ditched (along with the typical apple-knows-best problems)
      you could almost certainly sell your $125 pebble on ebay for a profit right now.  if it’s black i’ll give you $125 for it today.

      • GadgetGav says:

        You’re probably right that it would work much better under Android. I assumed that because these guys had developed an Android smart watch before Pebble, that that would give them a leg up in the design of the Pebble. I was right on the hardware side – it’s nicely made, but I was wrong on the software side. My guess is that they only tested their app, not using an iPhone for real-world usage with their app running.

        Anyway, it is a black Pebble (I think that’s all they’ve shipped so far) and it’s in mint condition with the box and everything. If you’re serious about buying from me, drop me a line at this username (all lower case) at gmail and we can discuss.

  20. Chipsa says:

    I don’t know why you’re directing people to Amazon when it isn’t sold on Amazon. It’s sold off of http://getpebble.com

  21. The only thing the Pebble has going for it is the e-paper feature, which I hope is more readable than most other digital watches.  But, I don’t care about any connections with my smartphone. If I need to use the phone, I’ll use the phone.  For a wrist watch, I expect to see other more useful functions, which the Pebble doesn’t have, such as: Altimeter, Thermometer, Compass.  And the Pebble has no waterproofness. Also, the constant need for recharging makes this watch useless if you find yourself marooned on a deserted island.  Solar power is the only way to go for a watch. What I need is a Casio Pathfinder with an e-ink or e-paper display.

    • Brian Easton says:

      I didn’t mention it in the review but the Pebble is water resistant to 5 atmospheres. No watch is waterproof and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

      Obviously you are looking for a survival or sports watch rather than a smartwatch.

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