Pebble Time review: a smartwatch full of life

A different kind of Apple Watch: Pebble Time’s e-paper display looks great and lets the device last for days. Plenty of retro-looking watchfaces with little regard for copyright is a bonus. Photo: Tim Biggs The facade of the Pebble Time is metal and glass, but the actual body is black, white or red plastic. Those wanting a fully metal body will have to wait for the more expensive Pebble Time Steel later this year. Photo: Pebble

Even without the backlight on, information’s easy to read in a well-lit environment. Unlike other smartwatches, Pebble Time’s screen is never off. Photo: Tim Biggs

The original Pebble was a revelation when it was launched in 2013, and it nailed a lot of smartphone fundamentals that later competitors would overlook — including a decent battery life, always-on screen and a clear, glanceable display. Now, with Pebble Time, it’s even smarter.

The Pebble Time could easily be seen as a cheaper, more watch-like stand-in for an Apple Watch or Android wearable (yes, Time works with both kinds of smartphone), but its smart and useful design, whimsical style and tonnes of free software from a legion of enthusiastic independent software developers means it has plenty to help it stand on its own as well. Plus it still nails those fundamentals. Hardware

The Pebble Time is much less like a miniature smartphone than other smartwatches, and this is certainly not a bad thing.

For starters, the Time does not have a touchscreen. It has a pair of buttons that let you select options and back out of menus, and another pair that let you scroll up and down. It’s weird if you’re used to swiping, but it does keep your glass clean and is nice and precise.

The device also doesn’t have a bright, flashy screen capable of displaying high-resolution images. It has an e-paper display (like a Kindle e-reader) that can display 64 colours. It looks great, and the main functional benefit of e-paper (apart from allowing the battery to last several days on a single charge) is that the screen is always on.

Basically if you’re in an environment well-lit enough to read from a piece of paper, you’ll be able to read the watch’s display easily. If you happen to be in the dark, a shake of your wrist or press of a button will light up the screen for a few seconds.

With a big metal frame and thick black bezel, the Pebble Time has a cool retro-future look about it. Some people won’t like the plastic body, which is a little toy-like, and those people should wait for the Steel edition coming later this year (that body by the way is curved, light and textured, making this by far the comfiest smartwatch I’ve worn).

The Time will accept any standard 22mm watch band, so if you’re not happy with the silicon strap that comes attached you can whip it off and slap on whatever you got from a jewellery store or eBay. I actually found the included strap super comfy, although it does make the whole thing look a bit like a fitness tracker.

Speaking of fitness, the Time does include a basic pedometer, so it’s compatible with the Jawbone or Fitbit phone apps you may already be using for step counting and sleep tracking. There’s no heart monitor or anything advanced like that, but a special port on the watch means “smart straps” that add extra functionality could exist in the future. The device is water resistant to 30 metres, so it’s fine to take for a swim too. How it works

Functionally the latest Pebble sticks very much to the original’s playbook, rejecting the shiny coolness of big tech while prioritising the most important functions of a smartwatch: important information at a glance; readability; handling the more passive functions of your smartphone by proxy.

The watchface serves as the home screen for the Pebble Time, and the information displayed there depends entirely on the face you choose. There are thousands available for free from the Pebble Time smartphone app, and it’s just a matter of browsing through and selecting one to add it instantly to your watch. Many are charmingly amateurish, but there are plenty of professional-grade entries. Some take a utilitarian approach, filling the display with information on weather, battery life, missed messages and activity tracking, whereas others are more artistic. In short there’s a watchface here for you if you’re prepared to dig in and find it, and if you’re anything like me you’ll be rocking a different one every day.

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