One Week with the Pebble Smartwatch

I’ve always thought the Pebble looked interesting. A kickstarter sensation in 2012, the original Pebble was the first smartwatch to really catch on. It strikes a great balance between a fully featured smartwatch (like the Apple Watch) and a more basic activity tracker (like a Fitbit). It does notifications and fitness, but also has some basic apps. The E ink display can be on all the time and still allow the battery to last for days. All of this has earned the Pebble a loyal following. Unfortunately, that following is coming to an end. Fitbit has purchased Pebble, and has decided to end the product line. Fitbit had committed to supporting the Pebble through the end of the year, but after that there’s no promises. Fitbit offers its own smartwatch (The Fitbit Blaze), and apparently they weren’t too keen on Pebble’s competition. All of this led to a surprise for me last week.

The Pebble Time Steel

My girlfriend’s dad had a Pebble. After the company was bought, he switched to the Fitbit Blaze. Fortunately, I’m a good boyfriend, and he was kind enough to give his Pebble to me! So as of last week, I am now the owner of a Pebble Time Steel! I really like it. Like I said, it can’t do everything the Apple Watch can, but it doesn’t need to. I’ve had a week to play around with it, and I’ve found my three favorite use cases.

Notifications

The Pebble’s main purpose is to display notifications on your wrist, and it does a great job with this. If I get a text, reminder alert, or GroupMe, I can read the notification right on my wrist, which is seriously useful. The Pebble app lets me customize which notifications come to my watch (read: not Facebook, Twitter, or the like). There is a way to respond to text messages directly from the watch, using either your voice or a selection of pre-written replies. However, since other apps can’t send iMessages on iOS, this can only be done through a third-party service that accesses your phone account and sends SMS messages for you. I’m still not sure how comfortable I am with this, so I haven’t set it up yet.

Fitness

The Pebble also acts as a great activity and sleep tracker. Step counting is especially useful since the watchface I’m using shows my progress directly on the main screen (it’s the green circle in the above photo). More useful than that, however, is the sleep tracking. If you’re not using a smart alarm (an alarm that tracks your sleep cycles and wakes you up when you’re in a period of light sleep), you’re really missing out. There are some great apps that do this using your phone, but the Pebble is so much more convenient because it’s automatic.

“Siri”

By far the most fun I’ve had with the Pebble is attempting to recreate a voice assistant of some kind. All I really wanted to do was dictate reminders, which the Pebble is supposed to be able to do, but it never works for me. I was Googling around for another solution, and I found an amazing app for Pebble called “This Then That.” This app is not officially made by If This Then That, but it does allow the voice engine of the Pebble to connect to IFTTT. This opens up a huge world of possibilities. I’ve currently got two voice triggers set up. Starting a command with the words “Make a note…” sends all subsequent text to my Day One journal. I can also set a reminder by saying “Remind me…” Unfortunately, IFTTT can’t set iCloud reminders directly (without leaving the IFTTT app running), but I’ve rigged it up so that it sends me a text message, which contains a link to the Workflow app, which then sets a reminder. So all I have to do is hit that link next time I pull out my phone. It’s kind of ridiculous, but it does the job, and it’s super convenient.

So those are my thoughts on the Pebble. I wasn’t always a fan of smartwatches, but now I’m sold. A smartwatch can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything a smartphone can, but there are some things that really are easier on your wrist. I love the Pebble. Thanks again to my girlfriend’s dad! ••

Update 3.7.17: Yesterday I enabled the text replies feature and it’s incredibly convenient. Being able to shoot off a pre-written quick reply in just a few seconds, without pulling out my phone, is awesome. Dictating a message is less convenient, especially because the Pebble dictation engine can be finicky. Still, all things considered, it’s a great feature!

Why I Really Don’t Want an Apple Watch

I’m not going to lie, the Apple Watch is pretty cool.  And I can definitely see why it’s useful.  But every time I think about getting one (read: think about getting on in like two years when they’ve improved and I have money), I hit this mental block.  But it’s not just the Apple Watch, it’s really smartwatches in general that I have a problem with.

Every time I so much as think about putting an Apple Watch on my wrist, I tense up.  I’m already so addicted to my phone, and the thought of being even more connected just gives me anxiety.  At least when my phone’s in my pocket, I can (do my best to) ignore it when it buzzes.  But when it’s on my wrist, the amount of self control it would take to not just glance down at it seems ridiculous.  I don’t want to see every little message I get right there, instantly.  I’m sure it’d be nice in certain situations, especially if Apple would add a VIP list for iMessage.  That way, if someone in my family texts me, I can just glance down at it real quick and see what they said.  But it wouldn’t work that way.  Instead, I’d get all kinds of notifications, and it would make it even harder to ignore my digital life even for a moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think smartwatches are evil.  And I don’t think anyone who gets one is necessarily a pathetic techo-addict.  Depending on how many alerts you have coming in, and how important they are (if your job requires lots of prompt digital communication, for instance), it would be really nice to not have to pull your phone out of your pocket every time it goes off.  And Siri would be nice too – for things like setting reminders or texting someone.  But there are lots of things that I pull my phone out for that really aren’t important – things where I would probably do better to just let the impulse slide.  And that becomes so much harder to do when the screen is right there in your field of view, without its protective denim shield.

So that’s my opinion right now.  I’m a big fan of smartphones; I think they provide more than enough utility to outweigh their drawbacks.  But I don’t think smartwatches are over that hump yet.  I’m guessing they’ll get there eventually though.  Some people would say we’ll never find anything worth doing on that small of a screen, but didn’t we say that about the iPhone too?  ••

Why I Love My LifeTrak Watch

About a month and a half ago, I purchased a LifeTrak Move watch.  I bought this product primarily as a step counter.  I had tried using an iOS app for this, but it drained my battery and it was a pain to have to always have my iPod in my pocket.  I had looked at the FitBit, but I didn’t have a good reason to spend $100 (or more) on a tracking device.  The Move, on the other hand, gave me many good reasons to purchase it.

The first reason is simple.  LifeTrak is a lesser known brand than say, FitBit or Nike, so I was able to get a good deal on eBay.  Obviously, the more popular and well known a product is, the more demand, and the higher the cost (even when purchasing on eBay and not retail).

The second reason is the main thing I love about the Move.  Almost all wristband activity trackers are just that, wristbands.  They have screens, but you usually have to press a button to turn the screen on.  The Move’s screen is different in that instead of being an OLED screen like many trackers have, it’s a small black LCD (like most cheap digital watches have) that’s only backlit when you press a button.  As a person who already wore a watch, I did not want to wear another device.  On the other hand (no pun intended), a device that required me to press a button to see the time was hardly a watch replacement.  The Move’s simple display is always on, so I still have the ability to glance at it and see the time.

This display is the reason behind another strength: battery.  Many activity trackers have rechargeable batteries; the Move uses a simple cell battery.  Supposedly, this battery will last for up to 14 months.  The cost and trouble of replacing the battery less than once a year is well below the trouble of having to charge it.

Of course, so far I’ve talked only of the design.  As far as functionality goes, it seems to count steps accurately enough (I’ve done short counting tests, but I certainly haven’t counted a whole day’s steps to compare!).  The watch gives steps, distance, and calories.  A bar at the top of the screen shows progress towards your goal.  The calorie counter is well thought out, as it adds in your basal caloric burn rate throughout the day, meaning the number on the watch is not just exercise-based calories, but a real-time total.  The watch keeps a 7 day history of all this data.  There is also a “workout” mode – think of it as a trip odometer as opposed to an odometer.

There’s also a few other features that I don’t use much.  The watch can take your heart rate – you just hold the button and it reads the rate from your finger and wrist.  This works OK, sometimes it can’t seem to get a reading.  The instruction manual says it works better if your wrist is slightly wet, after washing your hands, for instance (LifeTrak says the Move is waterproof up to 90ft.), and this seems to be true.  The watch also has Bluetooth, and will sync with the Argus App (another product I’d recommend).

My only complaints are that the watch doesn’t have an alarm (vibrate or otherwise), and that it seems to shortchange me on distance.  Even though the step count seems pretty accurate, when I walk around the block the distance is shorter than what Google says it is.

All in all, I love the watch.  It’s unobtrusive, looks pretty good, and does what it says it will.  Now if only every gadget I had did that…  ••

 

Love this watch! Definitely recommended.