Pebble, the E-Paper Smartwatch

Pebble with text watch face
Turns out digital watches are a pretty neat idea after all…

Another Kickstarter project that I backed early last year was the Pebble E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android, it was phenomenally successful, raising an amazing $10 million even though it only had a goal of $100,000. It has been over 10 years since I’ve worn a watch but I knew as soon as I saw the Pebble that I had to have one. It has been a long time coming though, I backed it on 24th April 2012 and at the time the estimated delivery date was  September 2012 but I didn’t actually get it in my hands until the 4th of April 2013, almost 12 months on from backing it.

The Pebble Android app runs on my HTC One X which connects to the Pebble over Bluetooth, as standard it relays emails, text messages and the caller ID of incoming calls to the Pebble’s e-paper screen accompanied by a vibration to alert me.  The built in music control app allows you to play/pause tracks playing on the phone as well as skip backwards and forwards with a display of the artist and track name, there is also a facility for alarms independent of the connected phone. The screen is easily readable even in very bright daylight thanks to that e-paper screen and when it’s too dark tapping the watch or flicking your wrist turns the backlight on for a few seconds.

To control it there are four buttons, a back button on the left and up, down and select on the right, below the back button is the charging connection which uses a neat magnetic connection to the USB charge lead so it just pops on, using this proprietary connector instead of a standard micro USB socket does mean you need the specific cable for it (and spares aren’t yet available so look after it) but it does allow Pebble to be waterproof. Battery life is said to be 5-7 days, I’m currently 5 days in and it’s still going strong so that seems accurate, it’s had a lot of use as you’d expect as well. They say you can expect a 5-10% hit on your phone battery life due to having the Bluetooth connected all the time but in my case it seems to have been more than compensated for by less screen on time on my phone.

Oh, and it tells the time too, it comes with three different watch faces preloaded and more are available in the Pebble app, you can then switch between them by using the up and down buttons. I like the one that tells you the time in nice big words like “three fifty nine” as shown in the picture above.

You can see what makes Pebble tick in this iFixit teardown.

Extending Functionality

Augmented SmartWatch Pro menus to control Tasker
Augmented SmartWatch Pro menus to control Tasker and turn some LED strips on/off via my home automation system.

There are some good apps in Google Play to extend the functionality of the Pebble. One must have is Pebble Notifier which allows you to select other Android notifications to the Pebble. More advanced is Augmented SmartWatch Pro which is capable of a huge number of things, one of the most useful of which is a clever subversion of the Pebble music app to turn it into a menu system that can be used to display information on demand, see a list of previous notifications or trigger Tasker events.

Triggering Tasker from the Pebble opens up a whole range of possibilities, the first tasks I’ve set up are options to load the relevant URLs on my home automation system so that I can turn various lights and appliances on and off from Pebble. Very cool.

An easy way to send notifications of your own to the Pebble is by using the Notify My Android API and Android app and either Pebble Notifier or Augmented SmartWatch Pro to forward the notification to the Pebble. Notify My Android gives you a quota of 5 notifications per day for free and can upgrade to a Premium Account for unlimited notifications for a one time fee of around £3.

Integrating NMA into your own web apps is as simple as calling a URL like this (replacing xxxxxxxxxxxxx with your NMA API key):

https://www.notifymyandroid.com/publicapi/notify?apikey=xxxxxxxxxxxxx&application=YOUR%20APP%20NAME&event=Test%20Event&description=This%20is%20a%20test

or with curl:

curl -k “https://www.notifymyandroid.com/publicapi/notify” -d apikey=”xxxxxxxxxxxxx” -d application=”YOUR APP NAME” -d event=”Test Event”-d description=”This is a test”

Notify My Android also gives you an email address that can be used to send notifications which makes integrating Pebble with other web apps like IFTTT a breeze, it’s not quite as instant as using the API but still very good.

Something else that I’ve not tried yet is libpebble, a Python library to allow a Bluetooth equipped PC to interact directly with Pebble.


Some more pictures:

Analogue Watch Face
Analogue Watch Face

An incoming email
An incoming email

Weather conditions
Weather conditions

Traffic delays
Traffic delays

Verdict

Having emails and other useful notifications on  your wrist is really convenient and like a smartphone these days is less about being something you speak to people on and more about having the internet and all its information in your pocket (that’s how it is for me at least), a Pebble is less about telling the time and more about having useful information only a glance away. Since I got it I have been likened to Joe 90 and called a geek and a git but none of these are new or necessarily untrue!

The current firmware and the Android app are still fairly basic and the SDK still hasn’t been released (and the initial release will be for watchfaces only) but these things should all improve given time and what is there works well for the most part. The biggest shortcoming is probably that there is no way to scroll back through previous notifications so multiple notifications arriving in quick succession will overwrite the previous ones but this is something that can be worked around with the previously mentioned Augmented SmartWatch Pro. The battery status could also do with improving, as it currently stands it only tells you when it is fully charged, if there are less than ~ 12 – 20 hours left or it is empty, I’d like a way to see the current level at any time.

Hardware wise it is pretty good, very light but maybe a little on the large side if you have small wrists. There is an oddity with the screen showing an oily rainbow type effect in certain lighting conditions, it has been suggested that this is due to the anti-glare layer or the way the plastic is bonded to the screen, it seems that they all do this to varying degrees and Pebble say it is normal and not a defect. Whether it is a design flaw is another matter but it hasn’t bothered me.

Pebble gets a big thumbs up from me!  You can pre-order now at getpebble.com

 

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