Picture of Pebble Time Steel with Make Me Smile watch face

My current favourite watch face – Make Me Smile

In this post I want to discuss my first impressions of Pebble Time OS and how its been living with the Pebble Time software over the few weeks I’ve had my watch.

First impressions count

Getting started was all fine, the watch tells you to download the Pebble Time app from the Google Play or iOS app store. The app on your phone walks you through initial set up. It’s once you have this set up done that for me things could have been better. As someone who’s used a lot of devices and software it wasn’t immediately apparent what I should do next. Was that it? What do I do next?

One very confusing issue is with Android Wear. In order to get the ability to reply to notifications you need to install Android Wear however that’s all you need do. It’s not made clear there is no need to run the app or set anything up and you’re left feeling confused why Android Wear won’t find your Pebble. This certainly could have been handled better.Make no mistake, it is essential you install Android Wear.

This is the main app screen on android once you’ve finished installation of both Pebble Time and Android Wear ( except the only watch face you’d see is the default TicToc )

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Some people might look at that and know what to do instantly. I didn’t and had to look at each tab to figure out what each does. Across the top the first icon shows you which watch faces you have installed. The tick tells you which you are currently using. Tapping on the watch face allows you to delete it, ‘heart’ it or contact the developer. There is also a settings tab but this there is also a shortcut for this as the familiar greyed out wheel on the main screen. Once installed swapping between faces is very quick.

The next tab along is…apps! I hope I’m not the only one that finds the icon confusing but it looks too much like the copy icon from android to me.

Timeline and apps tab - who'd have guessed it?

Timeline and apps tab – who’d have guessed it?

The hamburger allows you to re-order the apps on the screen but this is actually what changes the order on your watch as well. I only discovered this after looking in vain to work out how to re-order them on the watch. You can’t but there is no way you’d ever know that as a first time user. There is also a settings icon for some and not for others. Confusingly not all of these appear on your watch when you scroll up and down with the buttons. This is because these are Timeline features and you’ll see them when you scroll through your Timeline. I don’t see why the weather app couldn’t have been its own standalone app really with extra info provided. If you want that currently you’ll need a separate app.

Last is Notifications which you’ll get familiar with quickly in the first few weeks as you re-evaluate your choices of what notifications you want on your wrist. Currently I have Twitter and Google+ on but there are times I need to mute them from the watch as it gets too distracting. I have one game giving me notifications. It lets me know my gold mines are full and need emptying. In doing so I’m collecting more and optimising in game profit and progress. These are the sorts of judgements only you can make but its always easy to go back and toggle if you change your mind.

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Tapping on the three dots in the upper right corner takes you into another menu where you can Manage Pebble, access further settings and contact support. These settings are things like languages, bluetooth and notification settings. Personally I don’t see why Pebble didn’t just make a fourth tab for these on the home screen or at least make them more obvious.

The Pebble App store

This is where the Pebble experience really hit a brick wall for me for a while. You’ll have noticed on the Watchface and Timeline screen there is a large + in the bottom right corner. Pressing on this takes you to the Pebble App Store. Or at least it should. For the first 24 hours I had my watch the store was inaccessible to me. I believe the store was down at the time but it was a really a disappointing start.

Once there I found a few watch faces to try as well as apps. Some apps run on the watch alone, others need the companion phone app. One that I was interested in trying was Strava to see what functionality it offered. Sadly that wouldn’t work for me either as the Pebble app refused to see that Strava was already installed. Uninstalling and installing via the Pebble app link made no difference. Pebble says its nothing to do with them and I need to contact Strava’s devs. Sigh.

On the flip side one interesting thing I noticed was there was no cost with any of the apps I was installing. Maybe just what I’ve picked but during set up Pebble don’t ask you for bank card details to use in the store so it looks as if Pebble have no way to pay developers. This means you either left with large corporate apps who can shoulder the cost of app development with no reward or keen enthusiasts. Some include a link to Paypal to donate to the developer. I can’t say I’m confident to click on these links and that I’m not being taken to some rogue website that looks like Paypal. I can’t see how this is going to draw in developers in the long run and although the app store has many apps many are of questionable quality.

Picture of Pebble App store

Pebble app store – free apps but not without problems

Currently as a result of the app store problems and not being able to find anything of quality that I want to use the only non stock app I have installed is Pebbos. This is great little app that gives basic control over my Sonos system. It’s fast, simple and well done. That in itself is kind of disappointing. Perhaps if I led a more cosmopolitan lifestyle hailing Uber taxis everywhere I go and sharing my every move on social media I might be getting more from it. I’m happy to give it more time to see if I find more useful apps in the coming weeks and months.

Navigation

Getting around the watch menus uses the buttons and buttons only. The screen is not touch sensitive. Thankfully this works extremely well. Button presses are tactile and definite on the Pebble Time Steel. Pressing and holding the up or down button allows you to scroll smoothly through menus.The buttons are designed so well that I never make accidental button presses.

Picture of Pebble Time Steel showing buttons

The buttons on the Pebble Time Steel are excellent

There is one button on the left side and three on the right. In time you start to use these by feel alone without needing to look at the watch. This can make interactions with the watch very quick. The left button on the watch face activates the back light and with a recent update a long press activates Quiet Mode to quickly stop disruptions if you need to without digging into menus. In menus the left button takes you back a level. The three right keys are up, enter and down. Pressing up and down from the watch face puts you into your timeline so you can see what is coming up in your day and also what you have missed. Pressing the middle takes you into the ‘app draw’ for want of a better way of thinking of it. Here you can adjust settings for the watch, view battery life and access downloaded apps. There are nice but simple built-in stopwatch, timer and alarm apps.

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Watching the bubbles rise to the top of the display is hypnotic

Under Notifications you can see notifications you may have missed as well as delete them all with a fun shredder animation.

The animations throughout the OS definitely give the Pebble some character. They are kind of fun but they are also quick enough not to be in the way or slow up what you’re doing.

Responding to messages has been variable so far. You get the option to add your own short responses to the ones Pebble has already given you.

My very British quick responses!

My very British quick responses!

In the response menu you also get the option to send a voice reply to SMS messages. This works pretty well. I’d say it’s about as good as Siri or Google in terms of correct interpretation but less reliable. I’ve had several error messages and been asked to try again. It didn’t appear to be due to weak phone reception as its occurred on LTE a few times. It’s that double-edged sword of voice commands, when they work they are slick and fast. If they don’t it takes you as long or longer than if you’d just typed it in the first place.

With many notifications you also have the option to open them on your phone which saves a little bit time although I tend to forget to do this.

So far, so good

Overall the software is good, fast and helps you deal with notifications quickly but there is still lots of room for improvement with overall performance.I’m confident now that the production is up and running Pebble will be spending more time looking at problems coming in and we’ll see some more updates and fixes.

With its muted colours and display it’s not going to blow you or others away with bright punchy colours like recent Wear devices or the Apple Watch. Nor will its lack of built-in GPS or heart rate monitor. Yet its truly comfortable, tactile and responsive and that feeling of being free from the nightly charging tyranny makes you that much fonder of it.

I was almost ready to immediately sell on my Pebble Time Steel before I got it but its done enough find its place on my wrist every day and for me to stick with it.

It feels like owning a Pebble is going to be a slow and steady relationship rather than love at first sight so stick around and keep checking back for more updates.