Monday, April 14, 2014

Pebble Watch: First Impressions

So, on a whim, I bought a Pebble Watch this weekend. Only one other time in history have I been an early adopter: the iPad 1st Generation (and that was a good choice).

Reasons I became an early adopter:
  • I have a Fitbit and a Jawbone UP, and like them both, with reservations.
  • I am intrigued by the "applet" concept
  • The Pebble is more attractive for a smaller wrist (which I have)
  • I'm seeking a fitness tracker with a screen-based interface
  • I don't want a device that is specific to a phone brand or model

Here are my first impressions:

The watch is attractive. Its form factor is better than its larger, more masculine competition for a small-framed human. (Though the red version is really the most engaging, I was raised in the South where women are "matchy-matchy", and I don't wear nearly enough red to warrant that one. I bought black.)

These 50-year-old eyes have a hard time reading the screen sometimes, especially in dim light. The best applets let you change the font size.

Buttons are relatively intuitive and easy to access.

Most impressive: I have a small wrist, and I am on the third hole from the smallest on the watch strap. Usually I have to punch extra holes to make things small enough.

I have a Samsung Galaxy SII on Sprint, with Android 4.1.2.

Think of the Pebble Watch as a Bluetooth earpiece on steroids. It doesn't do much on its own without the phone and an active Bluetooth connection.

I had no trouble setting up the connection via Bluetooth.

I've found one defect, which may be a deal breaker for me: In order to send notifications to your Pebble, you must enable Accessibility Options. Once that is done, the phone speaks notifications to me (such as where I am on which page of the Launcher). I can turn down the volume, but then the phone's Navigation won't speak to me. I have tried 1) Pebble notification applets, and they all seem to make the phone behave the same way and announce things I don't want it to. It seems to be a tradeoff. 

Fitness and Activity Tracking
This device does not compete with Jawbone UP or Fitbit for fitness tracking. There are some sleep tracking apps, which I'm testing out now. The free Morpheuz app is very rough and techie (think "open source"), but the minimally-priced "Sleep as Android" app has a bit more potential with its features and tracking. I'm still wearing my Fitbit, as it tracks steps throughout the day and syncs without any user action.
  • Pedometer: You can install this and invoke it when needed, but it doesn't run constantly.
  • Runkeeper (and other apps): You can have the watch display your Runkeeper data while exercising, but you still must carry your phone.
  • Pebble Bike: Haven't tried it, but it looks a lot like Runkeeper. Don't know why I'd use it instead of Runkeeper yet.
  • Pebble My Tracks: Haven't tried it, but if you use MyTracks, this might be a nice integration
I can definitely see the potential here, but there's too much "hands on" for it to replace my fitness trackers at the moment.

Utilities and Other Apps
There are lots of watchfaces. Whoop-de-doo. Okay, they're fun...but for these 50-year-old eyes, I need large displays, so I've tried and ditched about 72 options.

There seem to be three kinds of applications:
  1. "Standalone" applets that you install via the Pebble App Store app. The Pebble App Store is a free smartphone app that manages and installs applets to your Pebble via Bluetooth. An example would be a watchface.
  2. "Companion" applets that you install via smartphone apps. These are phone apps you install that then install and configure their own applets on your Pebble. An example would be Glance- a smartphone app for configuration that contains a function to send the configured Pebble applet to the watch (this is the only way you can install the Pebble applet).
  3. Extension functions that Pebble shows from smartphone apps. These are "display only" functions that are enabled by connecting smartphone apps to your Pebble. (These don't seem to take up a "slot" on your Pebble, like the other applets do.) An example would be Runkeeper, which recognizes the Pebble and will use it as an extended display of workout data while connected.
(The distinction and behavior of these three application types is one reason I think this device is not ready for non-technical users.)

I like this feature a lot (irrespective of the audio bug mentioned above). Unfortunately, most integrations are one-way (from the phone to the watch). I've found only one applet that lets me respond to SMS notifications: Glance. It has canned replies that you can send to SMS messages that are sent to your Pebble from the phone.

The price is about US$150.

The Samsung Gear Fit is the other device I looked at recently because of its form factor, its fitness tracking, and its media buzz. However, I am not sure I'll keep a Samsung phone, and I'm not sure it's fcompatible with my older model. Also, it doesn't have the applets, and it's $50 more.

Fitbit (and Fitbit Flex) does not have a screen-based display, but it does fitness/activity tracking 24/7. It syncs via a Bluetooth dongle on your computer. Nice web-based summary dashboard.

Jawbone UP does not have a screen-based display, but it does fitness/activity tracking 24/7. It syncs to your phone. No web-based summary dashboard, but the smartphone app dashboard is very lovely and usable (except manually logging sleep needs some usability improvements).

My Ideal Smartwatch
  • Ability to delete / archive gmail messages from notifications
  • Ability to receive notifications without my phone invoking its accessibility audio
  • Ability to have activity tracking 24/7 without launching an app
  • Better screen with configurable contrast
  • Not phone-specific
  • A keyboard UI for quick SMS responses
  • Nice smartphone UI (UP) as well as web-based dashboard UI (Fitbit)
  • Can sync data via phone or via computer (USB / Bluetooth dongle)
  • Integrates with fitness tracking software (MyFitnessPal, Runkeeper, Map My Run, Map My Walk, etc.)
  • A form factor for a small wrist.

The Pebble is a fun gadget if you like to tinker and explore possibilities. It's not ready for non-technical people, and it does not have the robust fitness/activity tracking of the leaders in this space. The form is attractive, but the screen can be difficult to read in low light. This is a good first foray into the smartwatch field. Think of this as a Bluetooth extension of your phone. It doesn't do much on its own but attractively show you the time.

These devices are in their infancy, and it's really too early to buy, unless you are an early adopter. There aren't any ideal choices in the space yet, but the potential is booming.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Susan! I have begun to look at some of the options out there, but have yet to narrow it down to any one.