A Few Days With The Pebble Time Round

I’ve never worn a Pebble smartwatch for an extended period of time before. In fact, I’ve never really worn a modern smartwatch for an extended period of time, either. So when my colleague Drew Olanoff asked me to give the Pebble Time Round a whirl, I was of course skeptical of my need for a smartwatch.

The Pebble watches have been some of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time, with the original Pebble raising more than $10 million and the Pebble Time raising an impressive $20 million in its Kickstarter campaign. The Pebble Time Round starts at $249.

For testing purposes, I wore the $249, 20mm band version with a black band and black bezel. I tried on the Pebble Time and the regular Pebble for a few minutes prior to slapping on the Time Round, and it is indeed a much more comfortable watch. In fact, it actually feels like a real watch. And that was really the theme of the few days I had wearing the Time Round.

And, it does what you’d expect from a watch: tell time. In fact, that why I was primarily using the Time Round. I had forgotten how efficient it is to simply keep track of the time on your wrist, compared to pulling my phone out of my pocket every time I wanted to check on the time. I do usually have a pretty good sense of time, but it’s undeniable how actually useful the whole process was.

So let’s talk about the design for a little bit. It’s light — very light, actually — and almost forgettable at times when I was wearing it on my wrist. I felt like that was a pretty good thing, because the last thing I wanted was a distraction on my wrist while I would be taking meetings or trying to type on a keyboard. The watch face has a little bit of a nice sheen to it and it feels like a premium product, though of course it’s not an Omega or Tag Heuer.

The band is comfortable, though it took a little bit of wrangling initially. I wore a leather band on the watch, and it basically helped the whole watch become forgettable on my wrist.  Again, this was pretty important to me, and I think it contributes to the overall relatively minimalist packaging of the Time Round, compared to the Time and the original Pebble.

The battery life was decent — in the few days that I used it, I only hard to charge it once, and I was able to do that at work without having to take the watch off at night while sleeping. It turned out, again, to be comfortable enough to basically not notice while sleeping. There’s a big opportunity for a sleep tracker here, I think, and there was an app on the Pebble Time app store — though I didn’t try it for this review.

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The notifications were helpful, though not exactly game-changing. But I do keep my work iPhone 6 Plus in my bag, generally, and it was very useful to get notifications like ones from Slack when editors or other writers were trying to get my attention. The screen looks okay, and while I found myself trying to swipe a few times, I got used to the navigation for the watch after a day or so. It’s a little counterintuitive at first, but it’s easy to get the hang of it.

The app selection is still limited — I couldn’t find a name-brand activity tracker, like Misfit, though it’s practically certain that those apps are going to be ported over to the Time Round. These apps exist on the Pebble Time and Pebble, but those are built for a square screen — so they have to be rebuilt for a round screen, and it’s not guaranteed that they’ll get ported over. That’s a bit of a bummer, because in a smartwatch I was hoping to get my hands on a better activity tracker than simply the step counter in my phone. I check my activity pretty religiously.

Still, there are some interesting apps, and they show the potential of a device like the Time Round. The Uber app is pretty novel — you can summon a car from your watch — and while I don’t use Swarm account, it does seem like that app does an interesting job of unlocking location-driven activity. The ability to change watch faces was definitely a nice touch, though I found that the stock watch face was really all that was necessary. It’s well-designed, and feels minimalist, like the rest of the watch.

There was one useful case I found: navigating music while my phone was in my bag. I typically wear bluetooth headphones when walking about the city, and I have a trial of Apple Music on my work iPhone. The music navigation was quite useful, because it meant not having to carry an iPhone 6 Plus around in my pocket, which can be pretty uncomfortable. I think that shows the potential of something like the Time Round — it offers an opportunity, particularly for people with larger phones, to not have to deal with the hassle of having those phones in immediate grabbable distance.

All these are important counterpoints to the Apple Watch. To me, it seems like the Time Round isn’t trying to do it all. It’s just trying to be a watch with some extra oomph in its guts, and it does that pretty well. It has a longer battery life and doesn’t need to be charged, feels nice and sleek. In fact, CEO Eric Migicovsky said that the Apple Watch wasn’t having a “material impact” on the sales on its watches in an interview with CNBC.

In all, there isn’t that much to say other than it’s a nice watch with some added features on top of it. I’ve spoken with CEO Eric Migicovsky a couple times about Pebble and got the sense that the device, indeed, is designed to be a watch first and have some smarts under the hood. I think it accomplishes what it was setting out to do, but I didn’t find my life all that mind-blowingly different wearing the Time Round in lieu of a normal watch. In the end, it felt a little weird to take the watch off.

But, it still might be nice thing to have, and if you aren’t interested in a high-powered smartwatch like an Apple Watch or something powered by Android Wear, this could be a watch to consider.