It has been around for a while now. And in tech terms is almost a dinosaur (more than a year old without any major hardware updates? Ugh!), but Pebble’s smartwatch (including the Steel version) still is the wearable to buy. We explain why.
1. The design
I cannot stress how important this is – the Pebble just blends in. It is the first smartwatch that I have worn without people asking me if I was wearing a smartwatch. The reason is simple: it looks more like a watch and less like a smartphone masquerading as a watch than its competition does. Its strap is a normal one and can be swapped easily, and the watch itself is as light as a regular watch at around 47 grammes, which is significantly lower than the weight of the Galaxy Gears (which weigh in around 70 grammes), the Qualcomm Toq (around 90 grammes) and the Sony Smartwatch 2 (a very healthy 120-odd grammes). Some might wonder what a few grammes here or there might do, but on wrists accustomed to a light-ish wristwatch (as most are!), they matter a whole lot.
2. Not locked to ‘certain’ devices/platforms
In terms of functions and features, there is no doubting that Samsung’s Galaxy Gear range is a significant step ahead of the competition. The problem is that those worthies are locked in to Samsung’s galaxy range of devices (and not all of them at that). That pretty much means that you not only need to invest in a watch but also in a device that can work with your watch – pretty restrictive. Other Android wearables are more liberal in this regard, but the Pebble is the only notable watch that works with equal ease with an Android phone and an iPhone. You can actually think of switching phones without being restricted by your choice of platform – the Pebble even works with BlackBerry devices, although Windows Phone is a massive gap (that said, none of the major players seems to have made wearables that work with Windows Phone!). In passing, it is interesting to note that two of the best smartwatches we have seen – the Pebble and the Qualcomm Toq come from manufacturers who do not make phones, and therefore are free of the temptation to “lock” them with certain devices!
3. Battery life
How often do you recharge your regular wristwatch? Right, that’s why battery life counts when it comes to smartwatches. And in this category, Qualcomm’s Toq is the only one that even comes close to matching the Pebble’s five-days-to-a-week battery life. Samsung’s and Sony’s watches do more but end up needing a charge every other day. And while the smartbands do last close to five days on a charge, they have much more limited functionality. The Pebble gets through with one charge a week, which is staggeringly good in this day and age.
4. The presence of buttons, the absence of a touchscreen
We love them on our phones and tablets, but honestly, I am not a big fan of touchscreens on my smartwatch. One has much lesser area to ensure accurate touches, and to make matters worse, one is always smearing the display with one’s fingerprints as one has to always touch the display to make things work. Of course having your finger on the display also partially obscures it (it is small enough as it is!), which is why the button-driven interface of the Pebble struck a chord with me. Buttons and watches, they go together well anyway.
5. The apps
When it comes to the app department, in most smartwatches, you are pretty much stuck with what comes on the watch. There are a number of commitments made by manufacturers about encouraging third party applications for their “smartwatch platform” but at the end of the day, not too many make it to app stores. Pebble now, has an app store of its own, complete with hundreds of apps. All of which install smoothly on to it, with a good many not even needing a ‘companion app’ on the phone. If you are one that likes playing around with apps on your wearable, the Pebble is your best option. Period.
6. The software updates
There’s no getting around it – the folks at Pebble seem to be the ones that are most obsessed about keeping the software side of their device ticking over regularly. We have seen the addition of an app store and a number of updates that improve performance. And judging by the company’s policy so far, that is going to continue as even the Pebble Steel has basically the same innards as the original Pebble. A software platform that gets updates regularly is so important from the perspective of both performance and security.
7. The price
It may not scream its specs out loud, but USD 149 for the base model makes the Pebble still the best value for money, with no other recent smartwatch from a major brand coming within USD 50 of it. Factor in its performance, and the Pebble emerges as staggeringly good value for money. Sure, it does not have some of the bells and whistles that other smartwatches have (camera, colour display, etc.), but hey, it is one of the few wearables that does a lot and still does not cost as much as a mid-segment phone.