Pebble Time

Pebble TimePebble is one of the success stories of Kickstarter, the website where consumers pay in advance to help inventors develop new products. Having sold over a million smartwatches, starting years before Apple, the company now has more than enough money from Silicon Valley investors to make whatever it wants. Even so, it returned to Kickstarter to launch its third model, currently being shipped out to backers and available soon to everyone else.

The Pebble Time is about the same size as the larger of the Apple Watch’s two cases, and less chunky than many rivals. Its rounded shape is a change from the earlier Pebble Steel, which seemed designed more for ninja combat than comfort. Even with three buttons at the right and one at the left, it feels uncluttered, although the plastic case and flat steel bezel lack a little class. If you want an all-metal watch like Apple’s, you’ll have to wait for the pricier Pebble Time Steel. Your choice of straps, however, is unlimited: any standard 22mm band will fit.The Apple Watch is rated IPX7, which means it’s fine in the rain but not recommended for swimming. The Pebble Time meets the roughly similar ‘30 metres’ standard. We wouldn’t go scuba diving in it, but an occasional dunking won’t hurt it.Once charged, your Pebble Time will run for five to seven days. The Apple Watch, by comparison, needs charging every night. Yet the Time’s screen is permanently on, rather than just when you raise your wrist. The trick is in its ‘e-paper’ display technology. The trade-off is that the face looks much duller, with large pixels and limited colours. It’s also quite small, with a big empty border inside the bezel. While LCDs can be hard to read in bright light, e-paper relies on it; in the dark, you’ll need to press the left button, or shake your wrist, to activate the backlight, which also comes on whenever you receive a notification.Receiving notifications is really what A smartwatches are designed for. This is especially true of the Time, which I doesn’t even have a touchscreen. Its built-in apps aren’t hard to navigate using the Up and Down buttons, but you wouldn’t want to try anything too complicated. Voice recognition, a new feature for Pebble, lets you dictate messages. This worked well when we tested it, but actually sending the messages from our Android phone was glitchy. This feature isn’t yet supported on iPhones.Plenty more apps are available, although most were created for previous Pebbles, and only work in black-and-white. For us, a few of them didn’t work at all. Apps live on the watch itself, rather than on your phone (something that Apple has avoided for the second version of its Watch software). This means you can do more when you don’t have your phone with you, and the earlier eight-app limit is gone; you’ll have room to install dozens. Apps can use Bluetooth to communicate with other devices, and can access the Time’s built-in pedometer for health and fitness functions. But there’s no heart-rate monitor built in.Pebble’s redesigned user interface presents everything in a timeline. Press Down to see that day’s events, along with the weather forecast; press Up to see what’s already happened, such as missed calls and yesterday’s pedometer reading. Like Apple’s Glances feature, this smacks of a nice idea in search of a purpose. The alert vibrations aren’t as obvious as Apple’s ‘taptics’, and the Time has no speaker, so you may have to rely on a glance at your wrist when you hear your phone.The Pebble Time isn’t perfect, but at half the price of Apple’s cheapest option it’s a distinctively different wrist device with a good reputation.Even if the screen looks like it fell out of the 1980s, this is a solidly functional watch at a much lower price than the Apple Watch.140×168-pixel colour e-paper display • Bluetooth 4.0 • 40.5×37.5×9.5mm (HxWxD) • Two-year warranty • Requires a device with iOS 7 or later or Android 4 or later

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