Sorry Apple, Pebble Has Already Won The Smartwatch Wars

Pebble with Mac OS Watchface

Trust me, this is the Apple Watch you want.

To really understand the hype that’s hitting the web right now you need to take a few steps back, hopefully clear of Apple’s reality distortion field, and consider exactly what’s being said—like Ryan Whitwam of Android Police did with The Verge’s Apple Watch review:

“The Apple Watch … is kind of slow.”

“Sometimes apps take forever to load, and sometimes third-party apps never really load at all. Sometimes it’s just unresponsive for a few seconds while it thinks and then it comes back.”

“It’s also surprisingly heavy.”

“[The] side button is extraordinarily confusing.”

“In the first of many moments where the Watch felt underpowered, I found that the screen lit up a couple of ticks too slowly: I’d raise my wrist, wait a beat, and then the screen would turn on.”

“Having a screen that constantly flips on and off is definitely behind the curve.”

“There’s no particularly great digital face, and there’s no ability to load up your own watch faces or buy new ones from the store.”

“There’s no master switch to turn all notifications on and off, which is a huge pain.”

“By the end of each day, I was hyper-aware of how low the Apple Watch battery had gotten.”

“You only get a charging cable, which is lame. For $700, you should a nice charging stand, like you get with the $249 Moto 360.”

“There’s virtually nothing I can’t do faster or better with access to a laptop or a phone except perhaps check the time.”

“There’s no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today.”

Wut?

As an Android user I’ve some obvious bias here, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: Android Wear is nothing to write home about, either.

Who knew that the diminutive Pebble—not even Pebble Time, but the one you can buy right now—would be the one smartwatch platform to rule them all?

The Problem with Android Wear

Smarter people than me have summed up Android Wear as Google Now on your wrist; I’d say that’s accurate. My big issue with the platform boils down to this: Google would have us all living in a world where it’s perfectly acceptable to yell stuff at your phone and/or watch, even when you’re out in public. I don’t know that such a world exists—and if it does, I don’t particularly want to live there.

I will say that I’m impressed by how much restraint has gone into Android Wear’s UI; I just don’t think that a mostly voice-driven watch OS is the way to go.

The Problem with the Apple Watch

I’ve zero doubts that the Apple watch will be well-served by early adopters—aka the rabid fans who’ll line up to get one, no questions asked. More importantly, I think the digital crown is honestly a neat way to navigate the thing, which is good because there are just way too many things on it to navigate. If Android Wear shows restraint then Apple Watch seems weighed down by geegaws.

And about the price, you know that you’d spend less on a pair of unlocked Moto G smartphones than you would on the entry-level Apple Watch, right? For a phone accessory that has yet to prove itself, that’s just nuts.

Let me put it another way: Just about everything that I’d want a smartwatch to do, Pebble already does.

Why Pebble Wins

I could talk about the Pebble’s amazing battery life—a full seven days between charges—or about the superb (albeit currently monochrome) display that’s crisp and clear under any and all lighting conditions. But for me, what puts Pebble above the rest can be summed up in a single word: fun.

Using a Pebble in 2015 reminds me a lot of using a Palm OS PDA in the late 1990s. Both platforms have obvious limitations—in the case of Pebble it’s the eight available slots for apps and watchfaces. And yet Pebble, just like Palm back in the day, continues to surprise and delight. It helps that the apps are all free; it also helps that so many of them are unexpectedly good.

The surprise killer app for me is kind of a game, but more a take on Bitcoin mining, reimagined as a more enjoyable experience. Pixel Miner does exactly what you’d think—an animated character mines pixels on your screen in search of buried treasure. If that sounds pointless it absolutely is, yet here I am checking my Pebble at least once an hour to see if I’ve mined enough pixels to power up and mine them faster.

There’s lots of utility, too. Out of the box Pebble supports PocketCasts (at least for Android). I’ve selected it as my default music player for my leisurely walks; now when I’m out I can skip ahead and/or rewind any podcast I’m listening to without pulling out my phone and exposing it to the elements—unlike Apple Watch, the Pebble is waterproof. Fitness tracking is likewise well-supported. The folks at RunKeeper have thoughtfully designed their app to work with Pebble, without requiring one of the available app slots. Just start the app on your phone and tracking info will magically appear on your Pebble’s screen. Sweet!

I also think that Pebble handles notifications the right way. A notification will take over your display, stay there for a bit, then go away. If you think you’ve missed something you can easily navigate through a list of past alerts. I think this is a far better solution than having to deal with a backlog of notifications every time you want to interact with your watch.

It further helps that the Pebble itself is so affordable. It’s current $99 CAD / $89 USD price tag might not qualify as an impulse purchase per se, but in my opinion the value you get per dollar is definitely there. And if you want something a bit more elegant then Pebble Steel has got you covered.

The forthcoming second-gen Pebble Time has been pegged at a slightly higher starting price of $199 USD—that’s still half the price of entry for an Apple Watch. And as an added bonus you get a wearable UI that actually makes sense.

Perhaps the highest praise that I can bestow upon Pebble is this: For the first time in almost two decades I’m actually wearing a watch… and loving it!

18 comments:

  1. Could not have said it better! I have the Kickstarter Pebble, and will be getting the Pebble Time next month. The Pebble is well thought out, and does what a smart watch should do. I considered the Apple Watch, but the battery life is bad, and most of the additional functions it has over the Pebble are gimmicks not overly useful.

  2. The pebble might be the right watch for android, but has an annoying limitation on iPhone.
    You can’t connect to more than one iOS app at time. And the pebble can’t start an iOS app.

    1. Doesn’t sound like a limitation of the pebble watch then.

      Sounds like your iPhone is limited, or its limiting your choice (which is worse).

  3. Vector is what Pebble Time should have been.
    1. Less toy looking
    2. Longer battery life
    3. Black and White Screen

    Pebble Original is a sweet watch because it focus’s on function. Microphones and color screens don’t help with that.

    Simple is better… at least for now…

  4. I was excited to have the Pebble, but it had that scrambled/garbled screen issue. I would have got a replacement, but it seems like a common issue.

    I went back to using my beat up Sony smart watch 2. It gets the gob done; it has made me feel silly for attempting to switch.

  5. I’m sorry Pebble, Samsung beat you in your own court. Even though it can only be used (technically) with a Galaxy phone, the Gear lineup running the Tizen OS is irrefutably the highest selling smartwatch available today. Of course this may, and I emphasize ‘may’, change in couple weeks. With over one million units sold, it beats the 700k-800k Pebbles and the surprisingly inconsequential Android Wear consortium. Including the idiot child Gear Live.

  6. With regard to the Vector, I just looked at their web site and while it is a nice looking watch there is no real indication on what it can do.

    Vector’s ‘watch first’ philosophy is all very well, but that isn’t what Pebble should have been – or any smart watch in my opinion. A smart watch, same as a smart phone, should be extensible to suit the users needs – I’m just not seeing that with the Vector.

  7. I went thru miband, nabu , fuelband n some other prototypes. I also think pebble is the best. Sleep tracking is important for me, how to use it when apple watch n android wear can only last 10+ hours?
    I did some simple programming on my pebble to create a special futsal game timer I want, it is fun and fully customised.

  8. I have an LG G Watch R (Android Wear) and while it does have voice-driven ability, it functions just as well when you select from the menu (by actually tapping the screen). With the multitude of watchfaces with almost endless metrics to display, the ability to store and play music/podcasts without needing the phone, fitness tracking, water/dust resistance, and the durable build quality, I find it to be THE example of what a current smartwatch should be.
    Just my 2¢.

  9. Oh, and I forgot to mention. Apart from being locked away from civilization for a week or two at a time (Military), I take off my watch nightly…so placing it on a cradle instead of directly on a desk isn’t an issue. The battery lasts a bit under a day with moderate use (a lot of text/calendar notifications, some music for an hour run) so there aren’t any complaints for battery life on my end.

  10. Where Pebble really shines is customization. I’m all about Android and I love what my watch can do. Only 8 apps on the phone? That is the noob setting. I’ve customized my watch to use as many apps as can fit in the locker. Along with Tasker and other Autoapps, I can nearly do anything that others smartwatches do and more. Want to start recording your favorite show, while simultaneously posting your workouts to social media? Simple. Did I mention that I could do this while holding my breath underwater at the deep end of my lap pool? How about Chromecasting that incredibly embarrassing video of your frenemy as soon as you walk in their house without even touching your phone, leaving them to wonder in shame who did it as they bask in your powerful phone Code-Fu? It can be done on the Pebble. I love my smartwatch.

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