- Editor Rating
- Rated 3.5 stars
- Very Good
- Pebble 2 Smartwatch
- Reviewed by:
- Published on:
- Last modified:
- Cosmetic AppealEditor: 60%
- Design & Build QualityEditor: 55%
- FeaturesEditor: 70%
- FunctionEditor: 75%
- Value For The PriceEditor: 85%
The Pebble 2 is an affordable, next generation smartwatch that supports Android and iOS.
With the popularity of wearable technology on the rise, many brands have entered the smartwatch though only a few have come out with a successful product. One of these companies is Pebble, who gained attention for their wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns which raised millions of dollars in crowd funding to produce innovative smartwatch products.
Their most recent campaign for the Pebble 2, Pebble Time 2 & Pebble Core sought to raise $1M and ended with 66,673 backers raising an impressive $12,779,843. While that seems like an astronomical amount to raise through Kickstarter, this campaign fell $8M less than their previous campaign for the original Pebble Time which raised a staggering $20,338,986.
As somewhat of a smartwatch enthusiast, I pledged to this recent campaign for the discounted Kickstarter bundle rate of $269 which included a Pebble 2 (retail price of $129) along with their higher-end Pebble Time 2 (retail price of $199). Having previously owned and worn an Apple Watch (first-generation) and the Samsung Galaxy S2 Classic, I was interested in seeing how these new Pebble models held up against the models backed by technology giants.
Having received the Pebble 2 just over a week ago (the Time 2 is due to be released sometime next month), I have been wearing the smartwatch every day and taking note of my experience thus far. In the following article, I will share my opinions on the $129 Pebble 2 smartwatch and how it stacks up to the current competition such as the 2nd generation Apple Watch Series 2 and Samsung’s Gear S3 (due to be released next month).
Design & Build Quality
From a design perspective, the Pebble 2 isn’t as sleek as some of its competitors (especially compared to the Apple Watch), and it would not be my first choice if I were choosing a smartwatch based on cosmetics alone. The benefit of this form-factor is a small size and lightweight construction that makes it easy to wear on the wrist for long periods.
The display is rather small with protection by Corning Gorilla Glass. Unlike most competitors, the screen is not touch-enabled, so you have to utilize the four built-in buttons located on to the sides of the screen (one left, three right). On the back of the Pebble 2’s chassis, you will find the newly added heart rate monitor which I will get into more into in the next sections.
Unlike the Apple Watch Sport Edition, you only receive a single band in the box so you will have to make due if you have overly small or large wrists. The good thing is the band size is a standard 22mm and utilizes a conventional quick-release pin so you can buy an aftermarket bands to swap in place of the stock version should if you so desire.
While I was taken back at the high build quality of the Apple Watch, the Pebble 2 is nowhere near the same level so keep that in mind when determining what aspects matter most to you (form-factor or function). In comparison, the build quality of Galaxy S2/S3 fits nicely in between the Pebble 2 and the Apple Watch. When comparing each model’s quality compared to the price-point, this all makes sense. I am not all that disappointed with the build quality of the Pebble 2 as falls under a “you get what you pay for” situation.
There are several color options available including Charcoal Flame (black/red), White Aqua (white/gray), Black Cloud (black/black), or Charcoal Lime (Black/Green).
Our review unit is in the Charcoal Flame finish which looks nice on the wrist. The red elements are subtle enough to not draw too much attention to the smartwatch while sustaining a clean presentation.
Covering the features of a product like this can become a cumbersome task as smartwatch technology has progressed to a point where there are too many minor features to name. My approach is to cover the most significant aspects that matter to a potential buyer and give a small bit of insight on these notable features.
Bright, Always-On Display
The display is rather small in the Pebble 2 with a resolution 144 by 168 pixels that utilizes an e-Ink that is limited to outputting only black and white. However, this display remains high quality for the price and operates in an “always-on” state. This means that the screen does not turn off when left idle such as with most competitors and will display relevant information 24/7. Visibility is possible in both bright and dim viewing environments thanks to an integrated backlight that toggles on in dark scenarios when one of the buttons are pressed.
A highly sought after feature in the smartwatch market today, Pebble has designed this model to support use in water up to 30 meters. Apple recently added water resistance to their 2nd Generation Apple Watch and this capability is also available in Samsung’s Gear S3 model.
Battery Life & Quick Charging
Marketing materials stat the Pebble 2 lasts for up to 7 days on a single charge which is vastly superior to both Samsung and Apple’s claims. Another advantage is that the Pebble 2 is said to offer up to 24 hours of battery life from a 15-minute charge.
Mobile Companion App
Pebble offers a free companion application for both iOS and Android which is unique as it is the only smartwatch on the market that natively works with both of the leading mobile operating systems.
Within this app, you will be able to view a full overview of your health-related information including activity, heart rate and sleep monitoring. It is also where you will be able to configure important settings like customizing watch faces, browsing Pebble apps, and enabling/disabling notification options.
Since your health and fitness information is stored here, the Pebble app will also sync this data with your operating system’s native health app. On an iPhone, this is Apple Health, and on Android, this is Google Fit.
Since the battery lasts so long, the Pebble 2 supports sleep tracking to identify the duration of your sleep, what time you fell asleep/woke up and the amount of “deep sleep” achieved during this period.
With the addition of the heart rate sensor, Pebble has now incorporated health tracking features. It will automatically calculate heart rate, distance traveled, calories burned and time spent active throughout your day. You can enable a manual workout through the watch, and this will showcase your current heart rate and a timer showing the duration of the current workout session.
The Pebble OS offers “smart notifications” which update you on important activities and events that happen on your smartphone. These notifications can be enabled or disabled on an individual basis including text messages, phone calls, emails and notifications for many popular mobile apps like Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, etc.
Connecting with your smartphone’s calendar application, you can keep note of upcoming appointments and events to stay on schedule.
SMS Voice Reply
Much like the Apple Watch, you can respond to incoming text message notifications with pre-set text replies or utilize a built-in speaker to answer SMS via voice-to-text.
Control of your smartphone’s music playback is possible including the ability to pause/play and toggle between the next and previous song choice. This includes support for music natively stored on your smartphone (iTunes, Google Play Music) as well from streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify or Google Play Music.
Choose from a small assortment of stock watch faces or purchase a third-party version that can display your most relevant information or fit a particular aesthetic. Customization of individual data on watch faces varies from option to option, but most of the third-party choices offer the ability to tweak nearly all of their display elements although these typically cost a few bucks to purchase.
Performance & Function
As I stated earlier, I have been wearing the Pebble 2 for over a week now and have put it through its paces for real world use. There are many things I love about this smartwatch especially compared to top competitors that I have tested, but there are also some downsides of which I will get into below.
Comfort & Ergonomics
Since the watch only comes with the single band, it is not as ideal as the Apple Watch which seeks to ensure a precise fit as it includes both a small and large band option. In the case of my wrist, the stock band’s isn’t the best as one setting is too loose and the next setting a bit too tight for my liking.
I ran the tight setting for the first day, but it started to bother my wrist and the material caused a slight irritation with my skin. After loosening it a notch, I have gotten used to the looser feel, and it does not sway much if I wear it slightly higher than I would with a traditional watch since there is more of my arm to grab hold of.
Regarding size and weight, the Pebble 2 is small and light enough not to get in my way through my daily routine. I have worked out with it for both cardio and weight lifting, and it has been a comfortable experience.
What does worry me with the cheaper build quality is I have a tendency to be a bit clumsy. I have hit it against corners of tables, doors, and fixtures fearing that I may have broken the screen or dented the chassis yet it seems to have held up well with no visible damage as of yet.
I do not view the lack of a touchscreen as a negative aspect. The Pebble OS is optimized well to use the physical buttons, and the screen is just too small for a functional touchscreen as your fingers would block the majority of it during use. Coupled with the high amount of fingerprints/smudges that are expected with a modern touchscreen and I don’t think this feature would positively add to the experience in this type of product.
The Pebble 2‘s waterproof capabilities have performed as expected as I haven’t removed the device when showering or washing my hands. Putting the watch directly under the water spout has no affect on the device.
Compared to the competition, the potential to customize your Pebble 2 experience is mediocre mainly due to the limitations of the display and operating system. However, I searched through the third-party app store and found a third-party watch face that I think looks aesthetically pleasing while displaying the most practical information for my needs.
It is called ‘Business Time’ and after enabling it, I was given a trial of a few days before I was prompted to pay $0.99 to continue use. Since I was able to configure it to show the most relevant information for me (battery life, temperature, today’s day/date, current city/town, BPM and calories burned) I did not mind paying the small fee to be able to utilize it on a permanent basis.
Speed & Performance
The performance with the Pebble 2 is rather peppy with a short delay between button presses and the corresponding on-screen actions. I would say that the Apple Watch is slightly faster from my experience, but the different is negligible in a real-world scenario. For the price and types of tasks that most users will want it for, the performance/speed is more than acceptable.
I tested the voice-to-text feature in my car to send text message replies from incoming messages. The Pebble 2’s built-in mic picked up my voice accurately despite notable road noise, and the experience has been smoother than I expected. While I am someone who would rather wait to type out a message when I have arrived at my destination, the voice-to-text feature is a good alternative while driving or any tasks where your hands are occupied to respond in a more traditional manner.
There are times where I have to question the accuracy of the heart rate monitor. I have seen it randomly spike during idle states where I’m relaxing on the couch or show abnormally low values while I am in the middle of an intense workout. This is likely some software glitch (that I would assume could be fixed by a firmware update) as it seems to match my Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor (within 7 BPM) when I tested them side-by-side.
Notifications & App Support
This is where the Pebble 2 will likely fall the shortest against its competitors especially when compared to the Apple Watch. The support for notifications is rather vast, and most of the apps I have on my phone can push notifications to my Pebble 2. Keep in mind, the watch face is covered by incoming notifications until you manually dismiss them which can be a bit of a pain although it ensures all notifications are seen.
However, the actual support for third-party iOS and Android apps is rather limited. The only app extension I am using from my iPhone is ‘The Weather Channel’ app which only displays basic weather information and not nearly as much as you would get from the full iOS version (as expected).
Browsing through the available Pebble app store, most of the major applications you would find on an Apple Watch are missing including most social, news and health related platforms. I am not someone to rely or desire standalone apps on my smartwatch, as my purpose of wearing one is to receive important notifications and information at a glance, so this has not a huge downfall for me, personally.
With Apple harnessing 47% of the smartwatch market share in 2016, there is much less incentive to develop apps for the Pebble platform. Since their products are so affordable, it falls more in line with a frugal consumer as most owners will not be shelling out additional money for new apps or watch faces compared to the type of user who chooses the more high-end Apple Watch option.
Real-World Battery Life
One of the biggest things that drew me into the Pebble 2 was the impressive battery life claims. The single biggest downfall of the Apple Watch is the poor battery life, and while Samsung’s offerings are a significant improvement, I sought a model that I’d only have to charge once or twice a week.
During my testing period, I was unable to get the smartwatch to last the full seven days although I was able to reach a five day period before having to plug it in for a recharge. Compared to the competition, this is an impressive feat especially since the screen is displaying information all the time and continuously tracking your heart rate even when you sleep.
I acknowledge that I fall under a “power user” and receive many notifications throughout the day and utilize it for tracking workouts at daily so the more of these actions that occur, it has an adverse effect on the battery life. For someone who is not using the smartwatch as often as me, a full seven days of battery life is likely a possible feat although I would say it is more like 4-6 days through real-world use.
A few months back, I started making significant changes in my daily routine to become more healthy, and one of these changes includes seeing a personal trainer three days a week. Due to this, I sought after the ability to better track my fitness progress via wearing a smartwatch.
While the Pebble 2 does offer basic health tracking, it is rather limited in this regard. The stock fitness tracking features within the Pebble app will only show basic statistics with the ability to view them in a graph form on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.
I am also disappointed with the overall experience when triggering a ‘workout’ from the Pebble 2. This function seems poorly executed as it only has sub-categories for walking, running or a general workout (all perform the same) and the information displayed on the watch face is minimal without any customization options. When the workout is over, you are not given a clear summary of the session like I would expect.
There are not many third-party integrations with popular fitness apps. The only notable health and fitness service that is officially supported by Pebble is Runkeeper in the case that it offers a companion app to the iOS/Android version.
One thing I would have loved would have been supported use with MyFitnessPal (my go-to fitness/health related app). After some research, I found it is possible to sync your Pebble 2 information within Apple’s Health app then have MyFitnessPal sync the information from Apple Health, so this is a marginal workaround, for now.
Sleep tracking is an attractive feature that the competition simply can’t compete due to battery limitations. As someone who has always had poor sleeping habits, I found this element intriguing and it has been an eye-opening experience to be able to get a clear look at my sleep schedule showed in a graph form.
As someone who rarely gets more than 6 hours of sleep per night on average, monitoring my sleep patterns has helped me to make smarter sleep-related decisions and find ways to improve my habits to achieve longer durations of deep sleep.
Looking through the third-party apps, I found a free and popular option called ‘Morpheuz’ which provides a more detailed sleep analysis (also less appealing) as well as an improved alarm system which will wake you up at the best moment within a set time interval to have you feel the most rested (this is possible within the Pebble OS, but I prefer Morpheuz’s implementation).
The Pebble 2 is a great smartwatch all-around and has no feasible competition in the sub-$150 price-point. While it has several positive elements that set it apart from the competition including battery life and compatibility with both iOS and Android, it still falls short in advanced features as well as integrations with popular mobile apps and services.
If you only seek a smartwatch as a useful extension of your phone for at a glance notifications and basic tasks or simply want the best budget smartwatch on the market, then the Pebble 2 might be an excellent choice for you. If you seek an elegant design, require a rugged build quality, desire all the bells and whistles with lots of third-party app support or want extensive customization then a more high-end, competing model like the Apple Watch or Samsung Gear S3 (due to release next month) is probably better suited for you.