If you have ever looked into smartwatches one name that you will probably come across is Pebble. Not only are they known as being a forefather of the smartwatch industry, they also raised over $10.2 million dollars during their initial Kickstarter campaign, the highest funded product at the time back in 2012. However in 2016 Pebble closed it’s doors following acquisition by FitBit, and now their products can be picked up on the cheap due to their eco-system no longer being supported or developed officially. But are they still worth it, specifically the original Pebble?
Before we begin let’s check out Pebble’s history in a little more detail. Pebble came on to the scene in 2012 with Kickstarter project and to say it it did well is an understatement. Raising over $10.2 million between April 11, 2012, through to May 18, 2012. At the time this was the highest funded project on Kickstarter. With the backers money, they began production.
Jump to 2013 and all the backers had received the units and stores started to sell the Pebble directly. Within 5 days Best Buy had completely sold out all of their units. This thing was doing great! Media outlets gave it positive the reviews, Linus Sebastian from Linus Tech Tips said that with the Pebble he became “less distracted” as well as saying he found that it “enhances life”. It was all rosy!
As the years go on they continued to release products. The Pebble Steel provided a slightly more refined and stylish piece of hardware over the original all plastic build. The Time and Time Steel generations were followed by the Time Round in 2015. However in 2016 Pebble hit hard times and closed its doors.. With the Pebble 2 and Pebble Core being on Kickstarter they shipped some units of the Pebble 2 to backers and refunded the rest, whereas the Core never saw the light of day and all of its backers were refunded.
On the 7th December 2016 Pebble filed for insolvency. Fitbit picked up most of the company’s assets and staff. It didn’t however acquire Pebble’s hardware or debt. The rest of Pebble’s assets, including product inventory and server equipment, were sold off separately.
This brings us up to date and to the present day. The various original Pebble products can be picked up on eBay, Cex and other second hand stores on the cheap. I’m focusing on the original Pebble as that is what I have in my possession. Now I didn’t purchase the unit myself but rather I got it from a family member who had stopped using it and had purchased a Fitbit Charge (irony?). They found that the Fitbit fits them better.
Looking on Cex, you can pick up a Black Pebble in A grade condition for around £40 with a 2 year warranty. Over on eBay you’re looking at about £20. A bargain, costing about the same if not less than the cheap Chinese smartwatches, considerably less than many if not all Android Wear watches and substantially less than the Apple Watch. So let’s dig a little deeper and see what that money buys you and whether it’s acceptable to consumers in 2017.
The Pebble comes with a 1.26 inch 144 x 168 pixel e-display display featuring a backlight. Now it’s not e-ink like the Kindle and other e-readers but rather a monochrome LCD. You don’t get the full 180 degree viewing angle and the screen can sometimes become reflective but I honestly haven’t had to shield the device with my other hand from the sun to make it readable. Almost all smartwatches are still suffering in direct sunlight when it comes to readability, however indoors you’re not likely to see a resolution as low as a Pebble any longer with manufacturers preferring POLED displays with crisper PPI densities.
On the right of the unit you’ll find three buttons used for scrolling and selecting. On the left you find one button up top for going back in menus. There’s also 2 contact points sandwiched between 2 magnets for charging. Between the contacts you’ll find a semi circle cut out. This is so you can only connect the cable in one direction. Around the back you’ll find pieces of certification and safety information. Finally at the top and bottom of the device you’ll find the standard 22mm watch strap mounting points.
In fact this my favourite feature of the Pebble. When I got this unit it had a leather strap on it but it did initially come with the silicon strap. However I have replaced it with a magnetic strap that I paid £9.49 for Amazon (can be found here).
Set up is still as easy it ever was. Plug it, turn it on, download the app and follow the instructions on the app. It will prompt you to create an account as well as letting the app look and read all of your notifications. From there you can go into to the store and download apps and watch faces. This is all still usable in 2017 despite the lack of future development.
Once you have everything set up, notifications will come to your wrist with a haptic buzz from the vibration motor. At first I did find that the haptic buzz was very strong compared to the Sony Smartwatch 3 that I had previously used but after a few hours I had gotten used to it.
It is ridiculously simple to use, still, and I believe that’s why it did so well and why I still enjoy using it. Not to mention the battery life. Pebble claimed at launch that it would do 5-7 days. Personally I have been getting 6 days on average. The beauty of the pebble is it will give a notification when the battery gets to a certain point and tell you how long it has left. Love it or loathe it, the team at Pebble decided that battery life was more important that luscious, high graphical fidelity in the watchface and I think they were proved correct in time as smartwatches found their niche.
Something else I want to quickly touch on is the apps. Looking in the Pebble store there are loads of apps. There are apps for Tesla, Philips Hue, a third party app for Nest, Lyfix as well as many more. How often they are updated though is another story. I haven’t seen a review saying that they don’t work so looking at it there is still usability from the app estate for sure. For how long though is a different question.
Given that the company really doesn’t exist any longer the question of “how long is everything going to work?” is a pertinent one. I would like to think at least for a few years still. Whilst the back end stores and development of third party applications might close down, the ability to tether to your phone will remain so the basic functions that made the Pebble great to begin with will remain even if the bells and whistles that made them disruptive won’t. As long as I can get notifications to my wrist I’ll be happy and truth be told I think that this is what drove many to Pebble to begin with over it’s more illustrious peers.
The e-display and battery life is great. The fact that my work has a no phones policy and the fact that my notifications come to my wrist, and the watch isn’t huge just means that it works for me in my use case. That is what I want from a smartwatch and what I think lots of people want from a watch. Most newer devices are chunky and don’t get anywhere near the amount of days on a single charge that the Pebble does. The forums are still active too meaning that there are other people still rocking a Pebble.
Ultimately it is a shame in my opinion that Pebble had to close it doors. But for as long as my Pebble is functioning I intend to use it.