It's about time Pebble added color to its smartwatches. The startup has sold over 1 million wristpieces in the last 1.5 years, but its grayscale watches look old-fashioned next to competitors'. Enter the Pebble Time, a new smartwatch with a color ePaper display, a built-in microphone and a new version of the Pebble OS.
Announced today, the Time is available for pre-order exclusively on Kickstarter.com with an introductory price of $159, which will rise to $199 when the product ships in May.
Design: Thinner in Three Colors
Pebble says that the Time is 20 percent thinner than the original, so it should feel less bulky on your wrist than the Pebble Steel. The new watch still features a stainless steel bezel and comes in three colors: black, white and red. It uses a standard 22mm band that wearers can easily replace themselves using a quick-release pin.
Like the original Pebble and the Pebble Steel, the Time will have three buttons on the right side and one on the left side in lieu of a touch screen. CEO Eric Migicovsky told Tom's Guide that the company believes having physical buttons provides a tactile feel users need to operate their watches more effectively, even if the screen is wet or they aren't looking directly at it.
"There's something extraordinarily useful about being able to quickly and easily, without even looking at your watch, pick up a call or cancel a call or pause the track that you're playing or dismiss a notification," Migicovsky said. "You can feel it, and that's extremely powerful."
As with its predecessors, the Pebble Time is water proof enough for swimming and features a built-in accelerometer so you can run with it while leaving your watch at home. However, you’ll still need your phone to get GPS data like distance and pace.
Color ePaper Screen: Battery Life Friendly
The Pebble Time's ePaper display is the real star of the show, displaying up to 64 colors and remaining visible at all times, even in direct sunlight. While most other smartwatches use full-color LED touchscreens, Pebble employs ePaper because of its low power consumption and strong outdoor viewability.
Migicovsky said that the company is targeting 7 days of battery life per charge, far better than the typical Android Wear watch's 1 to 2 day time frame.
Microphone Built In: Limited Functionality
The new watch is Pebble's first timepiece to include a built-in microphone, which will allow users to issue quick responses to messaging alerts. Android users will be able to use voice to send short replies to Facebook, What's App, SMS and a slew of other apps that allow you to reply directly to notifications. On iOS, at first, only Gmail will be supported.
The software does not connect directly with your phone's voice assistant (Siri or Google Now). And because there’s no speaker, you also won’t be able to use the Pebble Time to make voice calls. However, developers will be able to use the mic in their applications.
New OS: All About Timelines
Where today's Pebble software usually makes you go into your apps to see your data, the new operating system's interface shows a timeline of your data with calendar events and other important information like the weather.
"We designed our new operating system around the concept of time" Migicovsky explained. "With one click, you can see what's coming up next." Content is organized into past, present and future with accomplished tasks such as step count in the past view, upcoming events in the future view and the app launcher in the present view.
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The device will still be compatible with Pebble's ecosystem with 6,500 apps and watch faces. However, it will be able to store more apps -- Migicovsky said up to 70 -- by keeping more data in the cloud. (Previously, Pebble watches could store just 8 apps at once.)
Current Pebble owners shouldn't feel left out, though. Migicovsky said that existing watches will get an update to the new operating system sometime after launch. The first-generation watch, which has a grayscal screen and no microphone, now sells for a very-affordable $99.
Overall, the Pebble Time looks like a fresh take on smartwatch interfaces, and the color ePaper screen seems to provide a good compromise between image quality and long battery life. However, while we can do without touch, we wish you could do more with your voice out of the box than just respond to messages. We’ll have to see how developers leverage the microphone.
So why choose to launch the new Pebble Time on Kickstarter when the company has already broken through with Best Buy? Migicovsky told us that it’s because he wants early adopters to feel like they have a greater stake in the product. Other retail partners could come later, though. One thing’s for sure: between a rash of Android Wear watches and the Apple Watch, there’s certainly a lot at stake with this launch.