It's 2019, is a Pebble watch still a good choice?
June 29, 2019 5:05 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to have a smart (or smart enough) watch again, but my favorite is essentially DOA. What should I do?

I'm leaning towards the Pebble because of three things: getting text notifications on my wrist, custom (or choosable) watch face, and the battery life. The step counter is a plus but not a deal breaker either way. I've had two before and I liked using them.

Price-wise, I'm seeing a range of $70 to $200 on Amazon. Around $150 Series 2 Apple Watches come into the picture via Amazon Renew. Around $200 Series 3 Apple Watches show up via Amazon Renew.

So the big question is, do I stick with Pebble with no official support, but community support via Rebble, or spend a little more and get an earlier model Apple Watch that'll be supported for at least a few more years?

Supplemental question: is Amazon Renew good or dodgy?
posted by gc to Technology (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have an iPhone? Especially for the earlier Apple Watches, I'm pretty sure they have to be paired with an iPhone (not an Android phone) to be useful. If you have an iPhone, I'd say the Apple Watch is well-liked by everyone I know who has one. If you don't have an iPhone, it's probably useless.

Do you like DIY? If so, the Pebble may still be satisfying, but it's dated and yeah you're basically on your own hacking around to make it do what you want.

I've only ever bought stuff for work through Renew (cell phones to test on, etc) but I've had reasonably good luck. Expect that things may have signs of wear. Not, like, busted, but it won't be factory-fresh, maybe some scratches or scuffs. Never bought an Apple Watch, and I'm not sure I would, unless I could be certain the battery had been replaced as part of any reconditioning. Buying a thing with a used battery is probably not ideal because li-ion battery life degrades over time, with use.
posted by Alterscape at 5:13 PM on June 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

$70-200 sounds like way too much money for a Pebble. I've got three of them, but there's no way I'd spend $100 for one now. A lot of the watch faces on the original Pebble store are gone, because they had to be resubmitted to Rebble and the developers are long gone. Many of the faces and apps have missing/broken functionality because they depended on infrastructure (Pebble, Yahoo or something else) which has been decommissioned. This will really only get worse. At some point the app will disappear from the App store, or Apple will make a breaking change that will make Pebble not work at all.

The buttons on the Pebble 2 don't hold up, will break and so far no one has found a good solution. So you're stuck with the Time, which is kind of a polarizing design, and the Time Steel, which is probably going to be at the top of that price range. You could get the Original or the Steel, but those are known to have the connector problem, so you should be comfortable taking them apart. I wouldn't spend anything more than $40 for these.

I had an Apple Watch 2 for a week and returned it, then bought another Pebble. This was before Pebble was a dead company. It's not really in the same category as the Pebble - the AW somehow does so much more than the Pebble but the things that they both do, the AW does them much worse.

I've switched over to a Garmin Fenix, but I'm using its GPS and fitness features a lot. You can get the less featured models for a lot less. The other watch that everyone went to when Pebble went under is the Amazfit Bip.
posted by meowzilla at 6:28 PM on June 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm a former Pebble user and I've moved on to WearOS; after my Fossil Q Founder expired, I went with the Mobvoi Ticwatch E, but there's also its sportier cousin Ticwatch S. You'll install the WearOS app on your smartphone, and the watch needs a google account to run things.

The main things I used pebble for (notifications of messages, phone, email; music player control, step counting, weather), the E does just fine. Brand new it'll run you less than $115. It has a touchscreen; you can download or make faces for it (for free and for pay). It's definitely a better fit for Android phone users than iPhone as far as app synergy between phone and watch, but I doubt iPhone is a bad experience. It does have a microphone which you can use for Google Assistant (aka OK Google), sending voice texts. You can even reply or send texts from the watch by typing, drawing letters with your finger, or even drawing emojis with your finger, after which it does a credible job of guessing what you were trying to draw.

It has Wifi as well as bluetooth, so it has some ability to be autonomous outside of bluetooth range ot your phone. Quite honestly I've never tried using it without my phone nearby, so I don't know what its abilities are in that arena. It does not have mobile data, though; just wifi and bluetooth.

Here's a review of the E from an iPhone user. YMMV.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:31 PM on June 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since it’s come up, I’m in the Apple ecosystem, so yes to having an iPhone, and increasingly wary of Google. I’ll still consider Wear OS devices, but the greater Google app collections isn’t on my radar at all.
posted by gc at 6:42 PM on June 29, 2019

I still use my Pebble Time for what you describe and it works well for that. In a lot of ways I'm in the same boat you are; none of the current smart-watches on the market really grab me, especially when it comes to battery life. That said, I do feel like $70+ is a bit steep for a discontinued device like this, and if you're not slightly technically inclined you might have trouble setting it up, so in your shoes I might gravitate towards an Apple Watch. At the very least, I'd buy the Pebble from a retailer with a return policy that would allow you to send it back if you decided it won't work for you.
posted by Aleyn at 8:54 PM on June 29, 2019

I'm subscribed to /r/pebble, and have been seeing inconsistent reports of notifications not working on the iOS 13 beta. It's just a beta, doesn't break all notifications, and doesn't break for everyone, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Also if you do decide to buy a Pebble, keep battery life in mind, especially for the later Time/Steel/Round models. My 2015 Time is down to ~4 days runtime from the original 7-10, and that's with moderate notifications, minimal watchface animation and a manual backlight. Granted, I was freer with the battery the first few years -- more animated face, shake-activated backlight, etc. -- but over time any usage will inevitably wear it down. A new-in-box watch should in theory have a healthy battery, but approach used ones with caution.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:41 AM on June 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Get a Fitbit Versa? It's almost the spiritual successor to what the Pebble was. I love mine.
posted by deezil at 6:02 AM on June 30, 2019

If you have an iPhone, and are happy in the Apple ecosystem, it's worth getting an Apple Watch instead of trying to make something else work.

The level of integration is fantastic, and the actual build quality of the watch itself is pretty great. I bought an aluminum one to run with 3 years ago, and even though I'm a pretty serious watch guy -- lots of expensive, spring-driven mechanicals in a safe -- I ended up wearing it all the time because it was SO useful.

I should back up and say I also used to have a Pebble, which I used on the bike (I'm a big cyclist), but it died, so I wanted something that I could also run with, and that could handle the notification-terminal role I used the Pebble for. I tried a low-end Garmin for this, but it was just CRAP. That's how I ended up with that first entry-level Apple watch (S2, I think).

After like 18 months I realized I was wearing it to the exclusion of all my other watches, EXCEPT when I would visit our pals who have a pool. Around that time they released the S3 version with actual waterproofness, and so I splurged on the steel version and sold the S2. I'm VERY happy with it. I wear it on the Milanese loop when I'm being dressy, and on a silicon band when I'm on the bike or otherwise active.

The tl;dr here is that I'm a lifelong gadget person, and I'm still VERY impressed with the Apple Watch. It does a lot that ends up being super useful, that you might not have thought of on your own. Sure, you get notifications, but you can also reply to texts with canned bits or dictation. And it still does things that surprise and delight me. For example, last night we went to have dinner with our friends at their house, and I forgot my phone. No big deal; it's Saturday. But we're there a lot, and so my iPhone knows about their wifi.

We'd been there about an hour, and I got a text, on my watch, even though my phone was miles away (and I don't have the watch activated on a cell network). The watch figured it should join their network, since I obviously trusted it, and as a result I got to reply to a text from a friend who needed a (fun) question answered. That's neat.
posted by uberchet at 10:06 AM on June 30, 2019

I have an old Pebble that I no longer use, if you'd like I can send it on to you for free. Was just thinking I should throw it out so would be delighted if it went to a good home. Just send me a message with your address if you're interested.
I've moved on to a Polar watch which is great, but the Pebble's battery surpassed it.
posted by Fence at 10:52 AM on June 30, 2019

I have issues with iPhone notifications on my Fitbit Ionic, in case you're considering going that route.
posted by hollyholly at 3:24 PM on June 30, 2019

As a long-term Pebble user who switched to an Apple Watch a couple of years ago, I still get annoyed at how often the display fails to turn on when I look at the watch. Unless your hand has been down by your side for a spell, the "wrist raise" feature frequently (sometimes several times a day) fails to trigger and turn the display on. The display won't even turn on when a notification arrives! So if you are like me in wanting something you wear to do what it is supposed to when you want it to, you might look into another style of smartwatch. It gets really annoying to wait for the display to come on, maybe jiggle your wrist a little, and then resort to tapping at the watch with your other hand — especially having come from a Pebble with the always-on display.
posted by exogenous at 6:55 AM on July 1, 2019

(Exogenous, your experience doesn't map to mine AT ALL.)
posted by uberchet at 6:59 AM on July 1, 2019

I think you should at least take a look at a an Amazfit Bip, as a Pebble replacement. I got one a couple months ago and am very happy with it. Battery life is great, like 2-3 weeks, can customize watch faces, gets text notifications, has steps, gps, heart rate, a compass, etc. (I'm using an iPhone 5s, and am deeply enmeshed in the Apple ecosystem... but the Watch, of any vintage, was just too much for my needs.)
posted by Bron at 7:10 AM on July 1, 2019

I recently went back to an old Pebble after I smashed my series 1 Apple watch in a bike fall. I love love love the Pebble Round form, and I had a practically new I've from the THIRD warranty replacement that Pebble did for me after the faces kept peeling off after about 6 months.

Well, I still love the Round, and there are still no comparable options on the market. But it's not a viable long term option without warranty support.

I didn't have time to be techy about it so I just set it up with whatever default actually still worked. It was a pretty ugly watch face and indiscriminate notifications. But it bought me time until I got a good deal on a used Apple Watch 3 from eBay. If you are patient, I bet you can find one for about $150. (I paid $140, but no accessories or strap).

I seriously considered various fitbits but the relative pricing wasn't attractive enough to give up the Apple integration, and I'm already a servant to my device charging 'needs' anyway.

I wish someone would make a true Pebble Round successor. It is so much lighter and smaller and subtler and more comfortable than all others. I looked into the new 'hybrid' styles but they were still expensive, heavier, and less 'smart', and not that much more beautiful.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:23 AM on July 1, 2019

I have a Pebble Time Round still running with rebble's $3 a month subscription. IMHO, no-one has made a better smart watch, so I have no idea what I'll replace it with when it eventually dies. I still don't think I'd buy one now though; no manufacturer support, and the rebble devs have been pretty quiet for a while. Maybe if I could find a really cheap one.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 3:21 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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