he smartwatch landscape has changed drastically since the original Pebble racked up over $10.2 million on Kickstarter three years ago. Since then, Samsung has released a number of smartwatches that have mostly been flops, Google unleashed Android Wear with a handful of partners making sleek smartwatches, and Apple has launched its Apple Watch.
With assaults from all sides, Pebble had to take the offense. The Pebble Time, with its refined design and new color e-paper screen and Timeline UI, is a fine smartwatch, but it’s nowhere near as versatile as the Apple Watch or many of the Android Wear smartwatches that are available.
When we asked Pebble’s CEO Eric Migicovsky about the competition, he said that “there is no beating around the bush, Apple has had a major impact on the smartwatch market. I think it’s both good and bad for us, but good because there’s an immense amount of attention on this space and our sales have actually seen an uptick since the Apple Watch launched.”
Ultra-thin, ultra-light and waterproof
With sales up, Migicovsky believes now is the right moment for more design variety. That’s why the company introduced the Pebble Time Round, the startup’s first ultra-thin and ultra-light round-shaped smartwatch. It’ll launch in three stainless steel colors: rose gold, silver and black. The smartwatch works with iOS and Android devices.
The Pebble Time Round has a 38 mm (diameter) case and the screen is a color e-paper display. Like the Pebble Time, it has four buttons: a “back” button on the left and three buttons on the right that serve as up, down and select, respectively. It’s also water-resistant and has a built-in microphone for voice replies.
“One of the things I realized when we were coming up with the original Pebble, Pebble Time, Pebble Time Steel, is that there are different wrists out there,” Migicovsky said. “Different shapes and different sizes. As we came up with some these options, we still felt like we hadn’t hit all the wrists — we knew there were some wrists that were just not within our reach — physically.”
More than anything, the Pebble Time Round is designed to appeal to smaller wrists and particularly women. The smartwatch will come in two different watchband sizes: 20 mm and 14 mm. The 14 mm is the narrowest smartwatch band available out there.
“The 14 mm is what we believe is the first smartwatch that will actually look and feel appropriate on women’s wrists,” Migicovsky excitedly told me. It’s thin, for sure, and the five different colored leather bands are easy to swap in and out. Metal bands will be available later. It’s a handsome smartwatch, but we couldn’t help but notice its thick bezel. Don’t get us wrong, the Pebble Time Round looks great and feels even better on the wrist, but the screen felt a little too small.
Two-day battery life and quick charge
Pebble smartwatches are beloved, not just for the thousands of watch faces that can be installed on it from the Pebble Store, but also for their phenomenal battery life. Pebble Watches are advertised with up to seven days of battery life before needing to be recharged. An Apple Watch or Android Wear smartwatch, in comparison, typically needs to be recharged every night.
But to make the Pebble Time Round so thin, the company had to compromise on battery life.The Pebble Time Round only gets up to two days of battery life. Why two days? Migicovsky said it’s twice that of the competition, which is still a win on a spec comparison chart. “This is like a real two-days — 48 hours, not like 18 hours.”
Longer battery life is always more desirable, but Migicovsky recognizes the fact that we’re all accustomed to charging our devices on a nightly basis. He reasoned that it’s unlikely that a person wouldn’t have a USB cable nearby for charging, and so the engineers were more willing to take a battery hit for the sake of a more stylish and ergonomic design. And if you really need to be reassured the lower battery life likely won’t be an issue, the Pebble Time Round charges up really fast. A 15-minute charge will give you a full day of battery.
A round display, while more traditional-looking, usually comes with a new set of headaches, such as how will apps adapt to it? Will developers need to redesign their apps specifically for the round display? Migicvosky assuaged those fears, explaining that any existing Timeline pin that was working on the Pebble Time works right out of the box on the Pebble Time Round.
You’ll be able to preorder the new smartwatch directly from Pebble (no Kickstarter campaign needed this time around,) Best Buy and Target starting on Nov. 8 for $249.99.