Pebble Time review: Pebble’s latest e-ink smartwatch boasts all-week battery life and a colourful new screen, but is it the perfect Android and iOS wearable?
Like the original Pebble watch, the Pebble Time has a distinctly old-school feel about it. From the plastic watch face to the rubbery wrist band, it could almost come straight out of the 80’s, and that’s no bad thing in my book.
For a start, it’s refreshing to rock something so thin and light – the Pebble Time weighs a mere 42g and only rises a few millimetres from your wrist. This is one of very few wearables that actually looks good strapped to a feminine arm. Plus, you won’t accidentally knock yourself out when you go to scratch your nose. Amazing.
You can choose from three different coloured straps; red, white and black. My review model was the red effort, which clashed wonderfully with most of my summery t-shirts, but at least stands out from the crowd. If you’re worried about such clashes, the crisp, clean white model also looks very sleek. And as it’s a standard 22mm design, you can swap for any other standard watch band that you fancy.
When I started testing the Pebble Time, I heard a few stories from fellow reviewers of how the Time scratched up all-too easily. I had no such issues myself, despite twatting the thing off various surfaces, so at first I thought it was just the other guys being a little heavy-handed with their test devices. However, after a month of use I finally got my first scratch, along the bezel to the right of the screen. It’s an ugly sucker alright and I’ve got no idea how it got there, so if you do get yourself a Time, be sure to treat it with a lot of respect.
Good news for swimmers, as the Pebble Time is water resistant up to 30 metres – handy if you want to time your strokes, so to speak. Or, if you’re just plain lazy, you don’t have to remove the thing when you take a shower.
The best new feature of the Pebble Time is the coloured screen, an attractive little e-ink number that’s a serious step up from the old model. Now you can choose from a variety of colourful watch faces and the interface is nicely colour-coded – so for instance, past events are orange while future appointments are blue.
If you’re lounging outside or stuck in a brightly lit room, the Time’s screen can be a little tricky to see in standard watch face mode, not helped by the reflective glass panel. Thankfully a quick tap of the back button activates the backlighting so you can clearly see the time, while the backlight also activates whenever you flick through the various menus or open an app. Alternatively, you can have the backlight permanently activated by fiddling in the settings, but this eats up your battery life.
Interface and apps
Pebble’s new timeline interface is a simple affair, separated into past, present and future – each one represented by a button on the right edge of the watch. Tap the top button and you’ll see things that once were, including old calendar entries and missed/placed calls. Truth be told, I’ve never once used this section.
Tap the bottom button and you’ll see future appointments, which is handy if you’ve got a stacked diary and need to plan out your motions. For some reason sunrise and sunset is also included for each day, with no clear way of removing it – although the little sun animation that pops up between each day is pretty damn cute.
Which leaves the middle button, for present. This is basically your notifications as well as your collection of apps, which you can install via the Pebble Time app on your iOS or Android device.
Besides the standard weather, settings and alarms functions, you have a handy music controller (which worked fine with my stock Android music player) pre-installed on the watch. Dive into the Pebble apps store (where everything is reassuringly cost-free) and you’ll find loads more content, including fitness trackers (RunKeeper and Misfit are the most popular), productivity apps and even basic games that use the Pebble Time’s accelerometer. That includes a rip-off of Flappy Bird, of course.
Quite a lot of the apps were of course built for the original Pebble, which means they don’t make use of the Time’s glorious multicolour experience. Still, at least the old apps actually work, giving you a reasonable selection of stuff straight out of the blocks.
You can assign your two favourite apps to the top and bottom buttons on the Time’s side – just long-press them instead of tapping them to jump straight into those apps. I found it was useful to stick notifications on the top button, so I could quickly access recent messages, while the bottom button was my shortcut to the music remote.
One of the only frustrating parts of the Pebble Time is the way your notifications are handled, and although it’s never quite annoying enough to make me want to quit the Time, it does detract from an otherwise solid experience.
For a start, when you get an email and check it out on your watch, the Time will only show you the first hundred words or so. To read the rest, you’ll need to open it on your phone. Secondly, you can’t delete your mails directly through your watch. Again, you’ll need to trash spam through your phone, or else let it linger in your inbox.
Text messages – or rather, long text messages – are also handled in a bizarre manner. If an SMS stretches over more than one message (like pretty much every message I seem to receive these days, with unlimited messaging a common thing in contracts), then the Time separates it into more than one message. Which means you’ll often read the second half of a message before the first, and get really confused.
I found plenty of other irritations too, such as the way you can’t clear just one notification from the Time’s list (you need to clear them all in one go). However, to avoid turning this review into a War & Peace epic, I’ll end now with a simple conclusion: the notifications handling could be an awful lot better.
I did try using a separate app (Awear) to manage notifications instead, which actually gives you greater control. However, I found that Awear sometimes took ages to access my messages and even fell over once or twice on the Time, so I gave up and, with a heavy heart, reverted back to the default notifications app.
Another new feature in the Pebble Time is a built-in mic, which allows you to quickly respond to messages using just your voice – handy if you’re on the move and don’t have a relevant template set up. It’s impressively accurate, even understanding (although sadly censoring) curse words.
To get back to the positive vibes, the Pebble Time’s battery life is the best of any wearable I’ve tested so far. With five days of pretty heavy use, I still have a third of the Time’s juice remaining. That means I’ll easily make it through the week as estimated before I need to dock the watch and power it up again.
Sadly the Time doesn’t use a standard micro USB connection, opting instead for a proprietary connector. That means you’ll need to pack the cable with you when you head on your travels, rather than doubling up with your phone charger.
The Pebble Time is a really good all-purpose smartwatch that has two main advantages over most other wearables. Namely, it can connect to both iOS and Android handsets and it has really good battery life.
That all-colour screen and other new features like the built-in mic make it a worthy upgrade for existing Pebble owners, although the ropey notifications support is a bit of a passion dampener – here’s hoping it can be sorted in a quick update.
The Pebble Time can be pre-ordered right now for £179 on Pebble’s website. It works with iPhone 4s and above, running iOS 8, as well as Android devices running 4.0 and later.