Last week I wrote about issues that some Pebble users are having with their Android app, hammering Pebble’s servers and in so doing killing their phone’s battery. Fitbit has promised to support Pebblers only through to the end of 2017, but with their own proper smartwatch on the way it seems inevitable that Pebble servers will one day be powered down.
Fortunately, if you’re an Android user, there’s an app for that: it’s called Gadgetbridge. Available via F-Droid, it also supports Mi Band and Zeblaze fitness trackers. For Pebble it will give your watch 85% of the functionality it had with the companion Pebble app, and zero dependence on Pebble’s servers.
Let’s have a look!
This is the app’s control center, where you’ll see all your connected devices (I just have the one). The grey icons along the bottom row are, from left to right, your watch’s battery level, a screenshot utility, your installed apps and watchfaces, your fitness data (stored locally on your phone) and another utility to buzz your watch if you’ve lost it.
Here’s a list of the watchfaces I have installed on my Pebble. Gadgetbridge has no direct connection to Pebble’s app store, but you can use any web browser to download your desired face (or app) to your phone, and then install it locally from there. Just follow the instructions on the Gadgetbridge wiki here.
So here’s something I didn’t know; the configuration page for watchface settings are actually remote web pages maintained by developers—GitHub in the example above. To protect you from malicious sites Gadgetbridge will show you the URL of the configuration site rather than taking you there directly.
Once you’ve configured your watchface Gadgetbridge will show you a preview of your settings before sending them on to your watch, presumably to protect you from malicious code. I don’t have a problem with this.
Pebble and its community have done a fantastic job of making software available for the now-unsupported hardware. If and when the app store goes offline, no matter; someone on reddit is sharing their entire download of it. Likewise, there’s no need to worry if your Pebble goes down; you can reinstall your watch firmware via Gadgetbridge, and links to the latest versions are available on their wiki.
In terms of functionality it’s easier to tell you what doesn’t work rather than what still does. Switching to Gadgetbridge will basically remove the option of using your voice with your Pebble. You won’t be able to initiate text messages but you can reply to them from your watch with your own canned responses, entered via the phone app. Gadgetbridge is very serious about protecting you, and as a policy will not allow any app or watchface to connect to the Internet directly; as a result apps like TripAdvisor and Yelp will be quite useless. If you use a watchface with a weather complication there is a fairly ugly hack that works for only a few faces, but will at least provide weather data for the native weather app on Pebble OS.
For me the choice was obvious: have the official Pebble Android app continue to murder my phone’s battery or give up some features and use Gadgetbridge instead. I should point out that I also own three Android Wear watches, and yet even with the reduced functionality it’s still the Pebble that most often ends up on my wrist!