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Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 03:00 am PT (06:00 am ET)

Review: Pebble smart watch is worth the hype

Pebble, the famed Kickstarter smart watch project that raised well over $10 million, has been enjoying a huge amount of media hype thanks in no small part to its tens of thousands of backers. The buzz is well-founded; Pebble is good and getting better by the minute.

Pebble


Hardware



First, the watch: The Pebble may not be elegant in the way that traditional wristwatches can be, but it's well-designed, minimalist and waterproof down to 165 feet. Available in black, white, red, orange, and gray colorways, the watch's plastic casing includes 22mm lugs so users can replace the included strap with any 22mm band or bracelet.

The screen is an easy-to-read 1.26-inch backlit e-paper display with a resolution of 144-by-168 pixels. Despite the relatively low pixel density, the screen had no trouble displaying details like an envelope message indicator or small status bar icons like musical notes. Unlike displays in other portable devices, the panel on the Pebble is easy to read in sunlight, while the backlight can be activated in dark environments with a flick of the wrist thanks to the built-in accelerometer. The angle-of-view is very wide, making it perfect for glancing at casually while driving, or performing quick message checks without fumbling for the connected phone.

Pebble Menu


In order to make the most out of the watch face-sized screen, text is drawn at a reasonable height for notifications, meaning users don't have to squint to read incoming messages and alerts. Rather than shrinking the text of longer messages to fit on the display, Pebble has chosen to make the text height larger which requires scrolling. This is a smart choice.

Pebble Message


The Pebble connects to the iPhone using Bluetooth. It appears from hardware teardowns that it has Bluetooth Smart (aka Bluetooth Low Energy, aka Bluetooth 4.0) but does not appear to be using BTLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) at this time. Even so, the unit can go for about 5 or 6 days on a charge.

The charging system is akin to Apple's MacBook Pro, with a magnetic charging cable attaching to contacts on the left side of the watch. Any USB adapter can charge the device, but the specialized cable is a necessity.

Pebble Charger

Pebble's proprietary charging cable.