As I take off my Pebble Watch and slip on my new Apple Watch, I can’t help but feel like I’m betraying a newer friend to stay loyal to an older one. I remind myself that I need to stay objective – after all, the Pebble Watch has been my go to wrist tech for quite a while now. As far as I’m concerned, they were also first to market with a viable, widely adopted solution for wearable technology. That has to count for something, right? This isn’t a review of the Apple Watch. Think of it as perspective from an avid Pebble user, having owned both the original and the Pebble Steel. I’ll preface this write-up by letting everyone know that the Pebble Time, Pebble’s new offering, is on the horizon. Because it’s in no one’s hands yet, and I haven’t had a chance to use it, I’ll be leaving it out for the purposes of this comparison.
There’s no getting around it. When talking about something semi-permanently strapped to the wrist, we have to gauge its looks. Before putting on my Pebble for the first time, way back in 2012, I didn’t wear a watch or any jewelry for that matter. Looks simply weren’t of concern for me. I was whole heartedly more concerned with what it did than how it looked. We’ll leave the ‘What’ for later in the article and focus on the looks only here.
The Pebble’s looks were bland from the beginning, and nothing has changed there. The Pebble Watch comes in white, black, or red but is bulky and has what most would consider to be a somewhat oversized form factor. However, at $99, this watch isn’t meant to be a visual stunner. It’s meant to deliver the Pebble OS and functionality in an inexpensive form factor. It does a good job in that regard. It remains affordable at the expense of looks.
In 2014, Pebble announced the Pebble Steel. This much more premium version offered a formal option in either Brushed Stainless or Matte Black. It also comes with a leather strap and is decidedly better looking than the original Pebble in every way.
Enter 2015 and the Apple Watch. It would be a wide stretch to say it’s the most beautiful watch ever made. However, it would be hard to argue that it isn’t among the most beautiful smart watches ever made. It looks and feels like it was built with as much thought put into it’s looks as were put into it’s software. But, looks are subjective and of course everyone has their own tastes. Ultimately the would-be purchaser needs to decide which look they like the best, and also how much weight the look alone goes into the overall decision to purchase.
Winner (Looks): Apple Watch
The Pebble Watch and Pebble Steel offer a 144×168 pixel Sharp Memory LCD “e-paper” display. It’s definitely nothing to write home about. Again, it serves to perform the function of displaying information in a readable, semi-formatted layout. At times pixels are noticeable, even from a distance, and if you’re looking for colors, you’ll have to wait for the upcoming Pebble Time line (which will feature a 1.25 inch, color e-Paper display). Because the screen is e-paper, reading under direct sunlight is no problem. The screen is not touch enabled, and therefore is navigated by using 1 of 3 buttons on the right side of the watch. On a brighter note, the e-paper screen offers considerably more battery life than a back-lit solution, such as the Apple Watch’s Retina display – but we’ll get to that in a bit.
The Apple watch offers a 312 x 390 resolution for the 42mm version and a 272 x 340 resolution for the 38mm version. Both are considered Retina resolution by Apple. After only a short time with the watch myself, I can attest that the screen is super high resolution. The blacks are pitch and the colors are vibrant. The screen is also multi-touch and dare I use the term of what will surely become the new standard in touch screens, Force Touch, enabled. A couple things could be improved. First, those deep blacks and vibrant colors suffer under sunlight, worse in direct sunlight. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it’s been commonplace with the iPhone since the beginning. Second, the fingerprints can get a little annoying. In sunlight, they’re worse. One could say, the Apple Watch shines best when not being shined on.
Winner (Screen): Apple Watch
I’m not going to go into a deep dive here. I’m not going into every facet of each watch’s function sets. Rather I’ll provide an overall perspective on how the two watches stack up in the arena of what’s possible. There’s one highly contrasting function of the Pebble Watches vs. the Apple Watch. The Pebble Watch is mostly a consumption only device. It will tell you a lot of things. It can tell you the time, weather, calendar, reminders, notifications, and more. But for the most part, it’s a one-way road. You cannot accept or decline meeting invites. You cannot respond in any way to a text message. You cannot talk to someone through the Pebble. You can play and control your iPhone music or other app playing media. You can decline, accept, or mute an incoming call. You cannot place an outgoing call though.
I like to think I live by a few creeds, and one is in regards to how I prioritize my work both at home and professionally. A general rule I hold myself accountable to is that if I can do it in 5 minutes or less, I do it now. I’ve found the Apple Watch helps me achieve this goal, as unlike the Pebble’s mostly one-way road, it works in two directions. I’m not saying your going to be writing a book or conducting a symphony on your wrist. What I am saying is that it’s delightful to be able to take action directly and immediately on the Apple Watch based on something it’s shown me.
An example interaction with the Pebble Watch went something like this. Receive notification, check/read/dismiss, decide whether to take iPhone out to take an action. That was fine with me for a long time. I really never even thought about how cool or convenient it would be to take action directly on the watch. I figured that’s what my iPhone existed to accomplish. Then I received and started to use the Apple Watch. Here, the interactions are more like this. Receive notification, check/read, dismiss OR take an action immediately and be done. Of course some things will still require the trusty iPhone, but for the things that require only a short interactions, it’s bliss to just get it out of the way immediately. In general the Apple Watch can do more than the Pebble Watch’s. I would go as far as to say a lot more. You can talk on the phone (works great), react directly and immediately to notifications, and at some point, you will be able to download any number of useful apps.
Winner (Functionality): Apple Watch
You can download any number of apps for the Apple Watch today, but the useful ones are limited and countable on a hand or two. Even if they aren’t especially helpful or useful, the sheer volume of Apple Watch apps already available, combined with the fact that many of the larger companies are already providing Apple Watch support, means the ecosystem is primed for glory.
The apps are generally shiny and initially engaging. Most, in their current form, become quickly novel and negligible. Not all Apple Watch apps fall in this category. A few have figured it out and gotten it right. Uber along with most of the native apps have it right. That allows me to hold on to a glimmer of hope that these initial offerings are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Pebble has an App Store of it’s own which allows downloading of many, many watch-faces as well as watch apps. While Pebble has many more Watch faces available than Apple, they still live in a black and white prison. The weather apps are among the nicest you’re going to see, and black and white clouds can only get you so excited. In general, the watch faces on Pebble aren’t very engaging or great to look at. Watch faces between the Apple Watch and Pebble Watch’s are a classic case of quantity vs. quality. I root for quality every time, and the Apple Watch faces are brimming with quality. In the app department, you’ll find fitness tracking offerings from multiple companies alongside apps like Evernote for notes, Paypal, and few others of note. I wouldn’t argue they make any more of a case for apps on watches than the current offerings from Apple, and I’d bet on the Apple Watch apps becoming useful first.
Winner (Apps): Apple Watch
Pebble claims it’s watch’s batteries last up to 7 days, and I have consistently had around 6-7 days of battery life with both the Pebble Watch and Pebble Steel. There were a few times where I believe the watch may have gotten stuck in a Bluetooth disconnect/connect loop where the battery was dead within a day. That’s definitely the exception and not the rule. The battery is charged via a convenient magnet side-clip on both the Pebble Watch and Pebble Steel, although each has it’s own design and the chargers for each model are not interchangeable. The Pebble Steel also offers a light on the front of the watch when charging to let you know the magnet is lined up. However, the Pebble Watch only lets you know it’s charging via a tiny lighting bolt on the watch face.
There was much debate and discussion around the battery life of the Apple Watch. Mainly, the concern was whether it would last a full day; a minimum requirement for a smart watch. After all, what good is a smart watch that provides its benefit to you for only a portion of the day. With the amount of functionality in the watch, and limited space to work with, Apple hardware and software engineers came up with a some ingenious designs and software enablers that, in combination, allow the Apple Watch to exceed a day of battery. One such enabler is that the screen only comes on when looked at. This helps to curb the power consumption of the Apple Watch. As an aside, charging daily was never a bother for me as I did it with my Pebbles even though it wasn’t necessary. After all, its no skin off my back whether I only place the watch on my nightstand when I go to sleep vs. placing the watch on my nightstand and pulling a magnetic cable over to it. I think I can manage with the additional two second effort.
Winner (Battery): Pebble
Pebbles are cheaper than the Apple Watch. Even the least expensive Apple Watch at $349 is still $149 more than the Pebble Steel is today. The comparison between the two, as you can see above, is not apples to apples. When thinking about price, you also have to think about the total functionality and material from which the device is made. The Apple Watch is closer to a time-piece than the Pebble or Pebble Steel. Though the Pebble Steel is close behind. After my time with the Apple Watch, I believe it’s clearly over-priced, even at the $349 mark. The cost-benefit just isn’t there…yet. At $99 for the Pebble Watch and $200 for the Pebble Steel, your getting your money’s worth. I believe those are priced fairly and would love to see the Apple Watch come down to $249 as an entry price point for the 38mm, with the 42mm priced at $300.
Winner (Price): Pebble
Apple is just getting started with the Apple Watch. It’s very reminiscent of the feeling in the air immediately following the release of the original iPhone. Many people ask me about the Apple Watch throughout the day. There is, quite literally, an audible buzz about the new gadget. I’ve had more inquiries about my Apple Watch in the last 7 days than I’ve had with the combined queries in regards to my Pebble and Pebble Steel over the long time I wore them. However, like most new devices, there are many kinks to work out and much room for improvement. The excitement is still palpable, and though I don’t spend very much time actually using the Apple Watch throughout my day, I look forward to putting it on in the morning and enjoy each time it proves itself to be useful. It is supplemental, fading into the background of my day. It occasionally steps into the spotlight, like when I used to purchase my morning coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts this morning (through my Dunkin’ Passbook card). It’s those moments that solidify my belief that the Apple Watch is the next generation of smart watches, and I’m excited to see where the thousands of developers take the technology.