So there was a price cut on Amazon, and I realized I have the gadget glee again, and it was either drop $400 on the first generation of a new Apple device or spend $80 of birthday money on an original Pebble watch. And I chose the latter, if nothing else because it’s been around a couple of years and much of the functionality is already polished. Unpaid beta testing was fun and then I turned 40.
So here it is. I got it Thursday evening, plugged it in for a couple of hours and it’s been running ever since. Haven’t had to recharge, take it off, anything. First test passed, something that I don’t think the Apple Watch will be able to match now or maybe ever barring a BIG change in how battery technology works. Doesn’t hurt that I can wear the thing in the shower either. Well done Pebble folks.
Next up: telling time. Well, it does that. It also illuminates the screen when you pop your wrist, which is very handy in the middle of the night. Coupled with being able to set a different “watch face” such that the time is spelled out in big letters, it should be easier for me to tell what time it is when I wake up at 5 AM and can’t fall back asleep, dammit. Core functionality as, you know, A Watch: sorted.
Now, the smart stuff. So far I’ve only tested with my work iPhone, not with the personal Moto X or with the iPad (which it will also work with, unlike the Apple Watch so far as I currently know – the Apple Watch app didn’t get put on the iPad by the iOS 8.2 update at least). Although the prospect of the Apple Watch on the iPad is intriguing…of which more later. Anyway. The principal advantage of the Pebble on iOS is that it has a neat little API hook straight into the Notifications framework. So the app developer doesn’t have to do anything extra. Text message, AmEx card charge, score update from Yahoo Sports or the official Warriors app, Duo Mobile authentication request, doesn’t matter: if it shows up at the top of the phone, it vibrates on my arm and shows on the little e-paper screen. And if I hit the delete button on the watch, it deletes the notification off the phone. This right here is damn near enough to justify the device; no more pulling out the phone to clear all that cruft out every time.
The vibrate on the arm is key as well, not least because of the number of times I’ve missed a call (or much more likely a text) that I was waiting for because I had the phone in my jacket in a reasonably loud setting. That won’t be happening now, to the point that I’ve turned off the vibrate function on the phone to save a little extra juice. Anything the phone would alert me for by buzz or ding has been staffed out to my wrist. It can buzz and I can glance and read and dismiss in pretty much the time it would take me to pull out my phone, never mind unlock and swipe and delete. So that’s handy.
The jury is out on the fitness tracking – it seems to be tracking steps for the most part, thanks to the Misfit app, and is notionally doing sleep tracking (to the surprise of no one, less than half my sleep registers as “deep sleep” and I need to go back and look at the charts after a couple of days to see what’s doing). I’ll find out sooner than later whether I’m getting enough steps at work, although the Pebble and Misfit apps do seem to be feeding back into the Health app via the HealthKit API. Unfortunately the watch will only allow one fitness-tracking piece to be run, so you have to decide if you want Up or Misfit or MorpheuZ or what have you, and I’m still not absolutely committed one way or the other.
As for the other apps: don’t know yet. I installed the ESPN app and just as quickly uninstalled it, because it’s just blunt-force scores for an entire sports league at once and granular notifications are much better. I have a Caltrain schedule app which could be of use on some days when I’m not on the usual commute or when I’m going from a different station, but that hasn’t come up yet and probably wouldn’t for a while. There’s an even more complex app for other transit sources but it’s apparently keyed to showing what’s doing at specific stops selected in advance, and at that point I’d be pulling out the phone anyway. The ability to glance, or make one click or so and be done, is the whole point; if you’re drilling down five layers deep and trying to punch stuff in, there’s no point having it on the watch.
So here we go. The first cut at “Wearables” and like my tablet life, it starts with a black and white e-ink screen and the most basic functions. Four-plus years later, the Kindle is still a regular viable part of my life. Time to see if the Pebble folks have crafted the same sort of staying power.