Can Pebble Time compete with the Apple Watch and Android Wear?

Before the Apple Watch and Android Wear, there was Pebble.

One of the earliest players in the smartwatch space, the company transitioned from Kickstarter success story to shipping over 1 million devices in just under three years.

In February, Pebble officially announced its latest smartwatch, the Pebble Time. As with its first campaign, Pebble returned to Kickstarter and managed to raise a stunning $20.3 million from nearly 79,000 backers, becoming the biggest Kickstarter of all time in the process.

The Pebble Time — along with the Pebble Time Steel — represent the latest generation of Pebble smartwatches.

The first crop of Pebble Time smartwatches are on their way out to Kickstarter backers today. Pebble was kind enough to let us have early access to the Pebble Time — as well as its beta software — and I’ve had a few days to use it.

The interesting thing about the Pebble Time is just how much has changed in the smartwatch landscape since its announcement in February. The Apple Watch is out and shipping to customers (though retail store availability remains non-existent) and tons of new Android Weardevices are shipping.

Retailing for $199, is a color e-paper display and all-day battery life enough to let Pebble stand out?

Look and feel

The Pebble Time has a much more refined look than the original Pebble smartwatch.

The model I tested is white with a silver-ish bezel and a white rubber strap. The Pebble Time is also available with a darker colored bezel and red or black hardware.

Like the original Pebble, you can swap out watch straps, but this time, Pebble has made it easy to get straps off with a clever pin mechanism at the corners of the strap. This isn’t as seamless as Apple’s mechanism for the Apple Watch, but it’s fast and easy,

The watch itself is a bit more square, compared to the original Pebble. It looks and feels more like a traditional sports watch. This is a good thing.

It’s lightweight but feels quality. The color e-paper display is always-on, but you can choose whether to activate the backlight automatically or turn it off.

There are four buttons on the Pebble Time. One on the left side of the watch and three on the right.

The rubber sports band Pebble sent us for review felt good on my hand and like something I’d like to work out with.

The screen

The 1.25-inch color e-paper display is LED backlit and can display 64 colors. Although text is very readable and the colors are nice, this display can’t compete with the likes of the Apple Watch or many Android Wear devices.

The trade-off, of course, is that the Pebble Time promises a battery life of closer to a week — rather than “a day” with Android Wear and the Apple Watch,

Still, the screen is serviceable and very usable both in bright light and in darkness.

The Timeline interface

Because there is no touchscreen on the Pebble Time, you navigate through apps and notifications using buttons.

Pressing on the left button acts as back. The buttons on the right side act as up, down and select.

The idea behind Timeline is to take data from both your Pebble apps and from your calendar and show you what is happening nearby and around you.

Pebble apps can now have Timeline compatibility — meaning that information from those apps shows up on a running timeline of what is happening. This can be anything from when your favorite TV show airs, to what time the sun is going to set to when your flight is scheduled to arrive.

In addition to Timeline, you can also launch apps independently — though Pebble has gotten rid of the old limit for watchfaces and apps. Now you can load your Pebble with basically as many apps as you want.

Pebble will intelligently load the apps from the companion app installed on iOS or Android, based on its own memory resources.

Pebble Time has a new colorful, animated interface. There are fun animations and the style is whimsical. Deleting an app or clearing a notification cache shows a fun shredder animation.

Charging has a fun animation of a coffee cup being filled up.

These animations — which also go along with the notifications — add some visual pizzaz to the interface.

All about notifications

As with the original Pebble, the best part of the Pebble Time is its notification support.

Pebble Time works with both iOS and Android — though I only tested it with iOS. In my testing, notifications from my phone showed up on the Pebble basically at the same time those notifications would go to my Apple Watch.

Pebble has a helpful help page about getting the most out of iOS notifications. The long and short of it is that you need to expect to see every notification from your phone on your wrist.

For certain notifications — Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Google Hangouts and iMessage — Pebble has its own style of notification and animations.

These are fun and immediately connote what app is sending you a notification. This is helpful because it helps you visually know what app is sending a message and thus, you have a better chance at triaging what is important to look at and what isn’t.

On Android, you can do voice replies to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SMS, Hangouts and Gmail. Voice replies to Gmail are coming to iOS in a future update and Pebble says it is working on expanding voice reply support for iOS moving forward.

Apps and watchfaces

Pebble has long developed a strong third-party ecosystem of app and watchface developers.

A number of apps were ready for Timeline and colorized for the Pebble Time — but the Pebble Time is also backward compatible with most other Pebble apps and watchfaces.

Pebble is building out a good ecosystem — and the companion app iOS and Android that includes the integrated app store is very slick.

Some of the apps work by themselves — others as companion apps to an app on your Android or iOS device. The experience of using the apps largely depends on who developed it and what it needs to do.

Pebble has teamed up with some big names, including ESPN, Evernote, GoPro, Jawbone and TripAdvisor to bring more and better apps to its platform.

Its third-party ecosystem is strong too. Still, I must confess that I was a little saddened with the number of Pebble apps I wanted to install that hadn’t been updated since May or June of 2014.

Look, maybe the apps don’t need updates — and in truth, the first Pebble Time devices are just now starting to trickle out — but I worry, as a user, about how committed developers will remain to this platform. The smartwatch wars will be won or lost based on apps the smartwatch wars will be won or lost based on apps. Historically, Pebble has had a big advantage, thanks to its strong developer relations, its easy and open APIs and its status as an enthusiast device.

This isn’t a problem exclusive to Pebble; Android Wear and Apple Watch will face this too. But given the way those companies budgets dwarf Pebble’s marketcap, it’s especially important that Pebble keep its community active and building cool stuff.

Stacking it up to the competition

Before using the Pebble Time, I’ve been using an Apple Watch for about three weeks.

In a perfect world, I’d like to compare the Pebble Time to the original Pebble and only that. But the reality is that we are now in a very different place than we were even a 6 months ago.

At $199, the Pebble Time is considerably less expensive than the Apple Watch (I paid $161 for the Pebble Time I got off of Kickstarter; I paid almost $800 with tax for my Apple Watch) and still cheaper compared to many Android Wear devices.

But whether you should buy the Pebble Time over an Apple Watch or Android Wear device is almost a separate question.

For users who like both iOS and Android, the cross-platform nature of Pebble Time gives it an advantage. It’s also an excellent device for runners, swimmers and workout gurus — thanks to its waterproofness, ability to be in various climates and plastic durability.

But if you’re looking for a piece of jewelry or a more high-end watch experience, the Pebble Time isn’t that. (Although personally I find it to be better looking than the LG Urbane. And infinitely more comfortable.)

If you want to go for classy looks, Apple Watch and maybe Huawei are still the best games in town.

Still, I like the Pebble Time. It’s a solid upgrade over everything that made the original Pebble great.

Whether it will be good enough to steal people away from the shiner-looking competition, I don’t know.

Source: Mashable