- Charges quickly
- Clean, simple user interface
- Wonderfully slim and lightweight
- Rich watch face and app selection
- Battery life could be better
- Low colour and pixel count
- Small display with thick bezels
- Aesthetic combinations can be hit or miss
Pebble Time Round review: Not only is Pebble’s latest smartwatch round, it’s the thinnest on the market. But are the trade-offs worth it to achieve those looks?
Until now Pebble has produced four distinct smartwatches, all of which pack rectangular displays. By the admission of Pebble CEO, Eric Migicovsky, the Round was born out of trends in the wearable space, with Android Wear spearheading a move to circular screens and the Apple Watch popularising new combinations of body and strap materials and colours.
At 7.5mm the Round is the thinnest smartwatch on the market right now and paired to the 38.5mm diameter face, it offers a feel on the wrist more akin to a traditional timepiece. It’s also the first in the Pebble family to launch with two distinct band diameters, a model with 14mm lugs and one with 22mm lugs, just like the rest of the lineup.
The former (which we tested) will look most at home on more dainty wrists, whilst the larger Round looks better on broader-wristed folk. Migicovsky says that the Round is for those who weren’t drawn to the square-jawed aesthetics of the other Pebble watches and hopes more women will consider his company’s latest creation.
Up close the 18mm band looks a little out of proportion against that large face, but it also comes in the greatest array of colour combinations (six combinations versus four with the 22mm model), with Silver and Stone being the colourway we wore. The white bezel and silver stainless steel body work together well, but despite feeling more comfortable and of a higher quality leather than many rival smartwatches, the light shade of the band attracted dirt easily and soon looked well-worn.
Thankfully you can easily swap out bands thanks to their quick release design and Pebble sells additional leather and steel (link and mesh) options in varying colours and styles for £25 a pop, which isn’t too bad. There’s also scope for bands that add new functionality to the Round down the line, but these haven’t hit prime time just yet.
Despite the traditional watch size, only about two-thirds of the face is actually display, with a surprisingly thick bezel, likely in place to hide the display drivers and other components. We’re not sure why Pebble didn’t simply push the display to the edge of the metal frame, except perhaps as a means to prolong battery life as best as possible within the Round’s slimmed-down body.
The small 1.25-inch 64 colour e-paper display is always visible, making watch face information easily glanceable. In very dark environments, there’s an LED backlight on hand, but you may have to adjust the brightness manually for it to be useful in all conditions. You can wake the backlight with a flick of the wrist too, but compared to its leading rivals, the Pebble Round requires a particularly vigorous gesture that can be hit or miss, pushing you to sometimes perform a two-handed action just to check the time or the latest notification.
Being a Pebble smartwatch, the Round doesn’t feature a touchscreen, with interaction taking place solely using four tactile buttons (just like the company’s other smartwatches). They all offer a nice level of feedback and rather than a limitation versus touch gestures, help keep the user experience clean and simple to navigate.
You can wake the Round’s backlight by tapping the back button (this also doubles as the power button) on the left side of the body, or jump straight into Timeline view by tapping the up and down keys on the right. You can view past or upcoming calendar entries and weather information this way or dive deeper using the select key, letting you drill down on forecasts, mute events and more.
Tapping the central select button from sleep pulls you into the main menu, where you can move between apps and settings. The Round supports notifications for basically any app on your smartphone. It pairs with Android and iOS devices and comes with native tools for music playback, alarms and even messaging, which you can operate using canned responses or with voice dictation thanks to the watch’s integrated microphone, which works well, provided there isn’t too much background noise.
In order to tweak or change the user experience offered up by the Round beyond its defaults, you need to jump to the companion Pebble app on your smartphone. From here you can download new watch faces and apps, with a huge array of both available directly from Pebble and the army of developers committed to Pebble’s software ecosystem. The interface feels a little rough around the edges, but that’s mainly because of the sections designed by third parties.
The biggest new feature is Pebble Health, which launched in December, 2015. It adds support for step and sleep tracking and opens up tools to other developers, with plans to bring fitness reminders and suggestions into Timeline. Right now the experience is fairly shallow, but it has the potential for greater scope, provided developers get onboard and help flesh out new functionality.
Just as with the other Pebble smartwatches, the Round also leverages a distinct interface design, with animated text and icons that squash and stretch. It’s a smooth, slick experience that never appears to stutter, lag or leave you waiting whilst information is pulled from your smartphone over a Bluetooth connection – a major bugbear of the Apple Watch at launch.
General performance may feel tight, but if you’re thinking of moving to the Round from another Pebble timepiece, there are two important compromises to consider. The original Pebble and Pebble Time boast a seven-day battery life, whilst the Steel series pack up to ten days of use-per-charge. This is a huge reason to pick a Pebble over a rival smartwatch, with most of the competition lasting up to two days at best.
With the Pebble Time Round, that attractive thin metal body was only achievable by trimming some fat, and the ‘fat’ in this case was battery capacity. A full charge of the Round will give you up to two days of continuous use (with sleep tracking), which is perfectly fine, mainly because it charges quickly too; but the Round is as good as the competition, as opposed to ‘better than’ with regards to battery life, which is a little disappointing.
There’s also the matter of water resistance, which in the Round takes the form of IPX7 splash resistance. It’s perfectly fine whilst you’re washing your hands, using it in the rain or sweating during a workout, but it’s a far cry from the level of protection enjoyed by its Pebble brethren.
Pebble has made some notable sacrifices to its established smartwatch recipe with the Round. Parts of the Pebble Time Round experience give the impression of an anti-establishment smartwatch. It shuns touchscreens and LCDs in place of buttons and colour e-paper, the user experience is full-featured, but incredibly simple to use too.
It’s not necessarily the perfect remedy to the Apple Watch and Android Wear-kind, but if you want something a little different, perhaps a little closer to a traditional watch without sacrificing on the ‘smart’ elements, the Round has just enough to give you what you’re looking for and the price drop to £179.99 should help you make a decision too.
Read next: Pebble Time Review: In Depth
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|Screen size||1.25-inches (circular)|
|Compatibility||Android 4.3 (or newer), iOS 8 (or newer)|
|Bonus features||IPX7 certified, quick release straps, 2.5D glass, microphone, Android and iOS support, always-on display|