I’ve had my Pebble smartwatch for over a week now, so I’m ready to write a few comments about it. First a few caveats. I’m not going to write an exhaustive review for several reasons, including:
1. There are already many fine “feature” reviews out there, including this one from Engadget. Although comprehensive, I don’t care much about reviews like this because they are largely a re-hash of the product’s spec sheet, which I can easily read and don’t need someone to paraphrase for me. If you want that, just go to the Pebble website. It reminds me of going into a store and asking the salesperson about a product, only to stand there in amazement as they proceed to read off the package. Trust me, I can do that myself and don’t think stores should be paying people to read to their customers.
2. “Typical” reviews rarely add enough color commentary, nor do they offer suggestions for improvements. It’s almost like the reviewer really doesn’t understand much about the product domain; they are simply observing the product operate but offering little conclusions, criticisms, accolades, or comments. Again, what’s the point of writing a review like that? Essentially, most reviews are like book reports. Boring.
3. And, last but not least, I simply don’t have the time.
So here goes.
The concept is cool, and after using the Pebble watch for a while I’m even more convinced that, done right, a smartwatch can become an essential component of your daily life. But right now it’s not. Right now it’s merely interesting. That’s because most of the things the Pebble watch is supposed to do either don’t work, don’t work right, or only work some of the time (with some effort).
- You can get text messages on your watch. Seems to work every time and I like it.
- You can scroll up/down to see the whole message even though it’s too big for the display.
- You can dismiss the message and get back to the watch face easily.
- Watch faces are nice, and there are a (small) number of well-designed choices.
- You can skip forward and back in your music playlist. You can pause the music player.
- Initial setup is easy (on iOS). Software updates seem to work well.
- Vibration notification seems dialed in nicely.
- Band is very comfortable.
What doesn’t work
- Email notifications. If you mess around with the iOS notification settings, you can (sometimes) get this to work. My experience is that I get email notifications about 40% of the time. After a week I’ve gotten tired of going back into settings and toggling email notification settings to re-enable this feature several times a day.
- Any other notification besides text messages and email. You should be able to get all sorts of notifications on your watch (why not?), but all I’ve been able to get are text messages (reliably) and emails (unreliably). Yet you should be able to get any notification your phone can generate in the notification center on your watch. You can’t.
- Contact list display. Although the Pebble site says that the watch can display your contact’s name, this only seems to work for me when I get a text message. It should also work when someone calls me, but all I see is the 10-digit phone number. So I still have to take my phone out of my pocket to decide if I want to answer it or not. Totally useless.
What needs improvement
- Music controls. Although I can skip forward/back through my playlist and pause the player, I can’t do the ONE thing everybody wants to do with their music – adjust the volume! I’m amazed that no other reviewer has picked up on this. Proves my point that most of them don’t really use the product much. Volume up/down should be table stakes for music control.
- Phone controls. This is really weak. I really need to see the name of the caller on my watch. This is supposed to work, but I have not been able to figure out how. Further, I need to do the one thing that everybody who talks on the phone for business always does – MUTE the phone! Again I’ve seen no review mention this and again I am appalled. If you spend as much time on conference calls as I do, you can’t live without this feature. It should be there. No excuse.
I put quotes around this because I’m amused how all the other reviewers have a “conclusion” yet most of them never conclude anything! In fact they mostly appear to be straddling a very fine line in order to not upset anybody lest they not get the chance to write any more reviews! “On the one hand…but then on the other hand…” Blah Blah BLAH.
Here’s my conclusion: The Pebble smartwatch represents a great effort by a small startup to create something truly useful, unique, and game-changing. Unfortunately, like so many V1.0 products, reality falls short of the ultimate potential. Does that mean the watch is crap and you should not buy one? Absolutely not. If you are a geek (like me) and love the latest and greatest cool new things, this is the only game in town and you should tolerate all the warts and go get one. But if you expect a product as refined as the iPhone5 and do not want to deal with hiccups, problems, updates, etc., then steer clear until Pebble 2.0 (or Apple comes up with their own!).