Smartwatches are one of the big items right now for many companies. The problem is that they have not really caught on with consumers. Much of this has to do with the cost and short battery life. Pebble was one of the first companies to produce a smartwatch and is seen as an outsider compared to may of the big name brands but they are actually one of the more successful companies because their watch works with both Android and iOS smartphones. The one drawback has been the display of the watch is just black and white. That is set to change with the new Pebble Time which has turned into one of the . So what is so exciting about this over all the other recently announced smartwatches?
Smaller and Thinner
One of the big problem of many of the smartwatches on the market has been their size. The space required for the batteries, processor and display generally make them quite bulky compared to a standard watch. With the Pebble Time, the company is moving towards a more compact design. It is 20% thinner than the original Pebble. In additional to the thinner profile, the watch has also been contoured to fit on the wrist better then the flat design of the original and most other smartwatches on the market. Mind you, this is still large compared to most traditional watches but probably not much more than my self-winding watch.
In terms of the design, the Pebble Time is a mix of materials including a polycarbonate body with a faceplate that mixes stainless steel with gorilla glass. It is initially going to be available in three colors: black, red and white. The recently announced Pebble Time Steel is slightly thicker (1mm) than the Pebble Time but comes with an all steel construction rather than a mix of polycarbonate and steel. Colors will be available in silver, black or gold. One other big change is that the Steel will come with two bands, one steel and one leather.
New Color e-Ink Display
Of course the big feature of the Pebble Time and Time Steel is the new color display. Rather than using LED or OLED displays that tend to use a fair amount of power and restrict the running time, Pebble is sticking with e-ink. Color e-ink has not been popular with devices because of its limited performance. Admittedly, the display does not have the resolution or clarity of say the Apple Watch but for many people, it will work just fine. The display does have the ability to display up to 30 frames per second animation so it does not have the big delay of many previous e-ink displays. You probably will not be watching video off it though. E-ink also has the advantage of not requiring a backlight when used in sunlighht once again reducing power consumption.
A big addition to the Pebble Time is a new microphone. This allows one to either respond with voice messages or dictate short notes via the watch interface. Don’t worry, the microphone is not always on and listening in case you are worried about privacy. It should be noted that right now most of the voice features are only really working with the Android devices it is linked to. iOS support is currently limited to GMail notifications but they hope to expand those capabilities for Apple users.
Smart Band Capable
Another feature recently discussed at the Mobile World Conference 2015 is the ability of the new Pebble Time to have smart bands. Pebble is not developing these themselves but announcing a software developer kit and information for third parties to produce specialized bands that can connector to a special connector on the back of the Pebble Time watches for use with bands that could theoretically track your heart rate, add GPS tracking or other features. It should be interesting to see what some people come up for these smart watch bands.
While I have talked a lot about the new designs, the software is also receiving a major overhaul for the Pebble Time watches. The software is called Timeline and sort of moves away from specific apps and instead presents data from all the different apps in a chronological manner. It is kind of hard to explain but the idea is a user can quickly scan for information based on the past, present or future by simply moving back and forth along the timeline. Of course the applications are still there and backwards compatible with the previous Pebble. They are just accessed differently than most other devices.
Still 7 days of Battery Life
As mentioned several times, battery life has been a major problem for smartwatches. The typical watch will generally only last a single day, maybe two. The original Pebble had up to 7 days of battery life. With the Pebble Time, they are shooting for the same 7 days of battery life. If this is the case, it is going to be a huge lead over all of the other smart watches on the market. The best part is the recently announced Pebble Time Steel has even more battery life with up to ten days of running time.
Back in late 2013, I wrote an editorial asking if we really needed smartwatches. Back then I did not see much use for them. I did mention that out of all of them, the Pebble was the one I would most likely purchase. I still do not have a smartwatch but the new Pebble Time watches are extremely tempting, especially the Time Steel. Backers of the kickstarter campaign could get the Pebble Time for $159 but that has moved up to $179 while the Pebble Time Steel is at $250. Retail prices for the watches when they are released will be $199 and $299 respectively. The Time models should arrive in May while the Pebble Steel will arrive later in July. Of course, Apple will be announcing more about their watches next week which could sway me to them especially if they have corrected the reported battery life problems.