Mate Hegyhati

Why I love my Pebble

So I got to know Pebble because of RunKeeper thanks to this YouTube video: (If You don't know, what a Pebble is, check out the link, or just trust me, and register it as the best smartwatch available today.)

It was a love at first sight, so I immediately googled reviews, and went to their website. What I found motivated me even more to get my hands on one of them. What made me feel like that can be summarized by some of the headlines from the site:

  • Overpriced trophy watch wasn't on our to-do list. 
  • We made a WATCH we didn't solve global warming. 
  • Why measure battery life in days? 'cuz we can!

Those who know me, know that I am an IT engineer who is rather interested in fitness gadgets, etc. However, the smartwatches of Apple, Samsung, ... did not impress me very much, due to their terrible battery life, and many unnecessary (for me at least) features. I don't want to have a small smartphone on my wrist, I want to have a practical watch that spares me looking at my phone when it is reasonable, and provide a great platform for development, etc.

And Pebble is doing exactly that! Although, it is much cheaper than any of the "big name" products, I still waited for over a year to surprise myself with an original model several months ago. But finally I did, and  regarding tech stuff, that was by far my best investment I believe. As my main problem with smartphones is exactly the same as the aforementioned smartwatches, I'd love to see people at Pebble developing a phone keeping their philosophy. Anyway, I could write a very long list why I love using Pebble, but here I'll only focus on everything from the fitness point of view, so, here we go:

Reason 1: battery life

If You have ever read any reviews on Pebble, this is among the top pros mentioned. If not used extensively, the Pebble can last for 7 days with Bluetooth smart or 4 with Bluetooth 2.0. (And these are not just technical specifications, but my personal measurements.) That's nice, but what is the situation during exercise? Still pretty good I'd say. Of course, the watch would not last for days, if the battery is drained by constantly receiving fitness data from the phone. But here are two recent measurements, just to give You an estimate:

  • Last Saturday I went out for a 130 km cycling which took me around 7 hours (including 1.5 hour rest). I was using AeroTerackerPro, and the battery of the Pebble went down to 80% from a full charge in the morning. 
  • Last month I did my first IronMan, and my Pebble was on my wrist the whole time, and it still had 20% battery life in the end. This includes around 5 hours of regular use (including swimming), and around 13 hours of activity tracking with RunKeeper for the cycling and running.  (Yeah, I know, pretty slow, but I'm happy I can still breathe.) 
It is important to note, however, that I turned off the "auto-backlight on motion" feature in the settings menu. It is somewhat useful in the night, but drains the battery a lot, as Your wrist is nearly always in motion when You run. Just as a comparison, the battery could last only 4 hours with that option turned on. So I decided to turn it off, and just press the down button if I'm running in the night and I can't see the screen well. 

And last but not least, charging the battery takes only 30-60 minutes from a computer, which I have to do every 2-3 days due to my active sport tracking lifestyle. This is something that is really doable I believe, and not annoying, You never need to be afraid, that Your watch will discharge during the day or an exercise. I use the plain and simple Battery Lifetime app to check the battery once in a while, but there are more sophisticated apps available like Battery+, if You are more enthusiastic on analyzing the battery. But to be honest, I personally don't care that much about it, as it still lasts days, so who cares about the details.

Reason 2: comfort

The Pebble (or at least my original model) is really light, I don't even realize it is on my wrist. In the beginning I took it off for the nights, but I don't do that anymore, as I also like to use the built-in alarm feature, which proved to be a  very gentle but efficient wake-up tool. If You are more into sleep tracking, You may be happy to know, that Sleep as Android is also compatible to work with the Pebble, or You can simply just use Morpeuz.

Since the Pebble is waterproof, I don't need to be wary when running in the rain, snowfall, swimming, etc. 

The charger is on the side of the watch, thus I can even charge for that 30 minutes every 3-4 days while sitting in front of the computer and typing. With the watch still on my wrist. 

Reason 3: e-ink display, and buttons

Everything goes back to the fact that Pebble is designed to be a watch not a (really) small phone. I'm really happy for the e-ink (more precisely Sharp memory LCD) display. As I don't want to watch YouTube videos, and other fancy stuff on my wrist. For that I have my computer and my phone. I just need simple information with readable font size. And again, Pebble does exactly that. Moreover, it is very well readable in daylight  without draining the battery extensively.
I am also happy to have the 4 buttons, which is a much more comfortable way of interacting than getting nervous with my comparable large fingertips on a small touchscreen. Imagine doing anything like that while on a bike or running...

Reason 4: hundreds of fitness apps

Fitness app developers were I think among the first people who saw a big potential in Pebble. There are a tons of Pedometer apps available, some of them compatible with Google fit. The most popular option is Misfit nowadays I believe. My experience is, that their accuracy is something still to develop, so I don't use them, but I'll definitely check up on them regularly.

Regarding the GPS tracking apps, RunKeeper has a special support from the beginning, as You don't even need to install anything on the Pebble. When You start the activity, the screen will show You the activity time, the overall distance and the average pace/speed. The only interaction that You can make is to pause/resume the activity with the middle button. Which is definitely not much, and many pointed out their disappointment on that. Personally, I got used to it. I just start the activity, pause immediately, stash away my phone, resume, do the exercise, pause, stretch, and then fetch my phone, stop the track, and add some comment before saving.

On the other hand, I absolutely agree with many people, who would like to see other data like current time, current heart rate, last split pace, etc. instead of the above three. Many of the big gps tracker apps provide a Pebble app as well, like Endomondo, Runtastic or Strava. I haven't really tested them, as I settled with AeroTracker, that is a very lightweight app to do just the basics, and nothing more, but can show many other data, like the ones mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph. The Pro version costs a reasonable price, and syncs well with the RunKeeper database, that is an important requirement for me.

Apart from the big names, there are other promising players appearing. I'm looking forward to see how far Ventoo will go for example. And also, if You need something, which is not there, You are always free to develop it Yourself due to the open SDK available.

My only sadness comes from the lack of good swimming apps for swimming in the pools. There is only a few of them available, and only the application does automatic distance tracking based on the set pool length and the accelerometer data. It is, however, very inaccurate, You need the phone to change the length (but why?), the UI is not the best, syncing with the phone is buggy, and there is no sync option for any big databases like Google Fit or RunKeeper. If anybody knows a good tracking app for swimming, let me know.

Reason +1: the support

Recently, my precious Pebble went kaput :-( I wrote to the support, and provided all the required information immediately. 2 weeks later my replacement arrived, and I'm on the go with my Pebble again. In that two weeks I also realized, how much I got used to having it, and how much more troublesome everything is, including sport tracking without it.

So, in the end, if You have somewhat similar needs like me, I strongly suggest You to buy a Pebble now. I have no experience with the Pebble Steel or Pebble Time. For me, the basic Pebble has nearly everything I need in a watch, so I don't plan to upgrade soon.

Anyway, tell me, if You have an experience with Pebble or other smartwatches, other apps, I'm more than interested to know more about this. And as always, thanks for reading.

Mate Hegyhati

About Mate Hegyhati

Amateur fun runner, geek, hiker.