Review: Pebble 2 Smartwatch

Due to its both meaningful and fun features, the Pebble 2 is a smartwatch that shouldn’t be overlooked.

When it comes to smartwatches it’s easy to discount some of the options out on the market, especially with the growing range of Android Wear options, as well as choices from Samsung and Apple. Smartwatches from Pebble shouldn’t be forgotten, though, and the Pebble 2 is a big reason why. The Pebble 2, which was initially funded through Kickstarter, recently launched for $99, and $129. Both models are pretty much the same, except the slightly higher-priced $129 model comes with a heart rate sensor on the back so it can track your heart rate while you wear it, which not only incorporates more fitness-related functionality, but gives a more fitness-focused approach than previous Pebble watches. It also adds to the overall usefulness of the Pebble 2 as a viable smartwatch option in a sea of other potential choices. Due to its both meaningful and fun features, the Pebble 2 is a smartwatch that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s also a watch which has some versatility in that it can be connected to either an Android or iOS device just like past Pebble offerings which is definitely something to consider. By all accounts, the Pebble 2 seems to come out of the gate strong with offering mostly anything you could want in a smartwatch, but how does it hold up in day to day use? Let's find out.

In The Box

There’s not a whole lot to find inside the box for the Pebble 2, but then again there is never a lot to find in the box of any smartwatch. We’ve been spending time with the $129 model which comes with the watch itself embedded with the heart rate sensor on the back, the watch strap, the USB charging cable, and a set of brief instructions that walk you through connecting and setting up the device. It’s simple and easy packaging and doesn’t mess with extras.

Specs

While the Pebble 2 certainly is a decent smartwatch, the specifications on offer are fairly basic, consisting of an LED backlit, 1.26-inch ePaper LCD display with a resolution of 144 x 168, a built-in mic that allows you to take voice notes and make quick replies to messages, a waterproof rating that makes it resistant up to 30 meters, an optical heart rate sensor on the back, corning gorilla glass to protect the display, 8MB of storage, a battery life that Pebble is boasting up to 7 days with, an ambient light sensor, Bluetooth connectivity, a vibration motor inside for incoming notifications, and a magnetic charging port that easily connects and disconnects. It’s also relatively thin at 9.8mm.

Design and Build

Pebble has kept the design of the Pebble 2 close to the design of the original, although they have certainly refined its style while adding in some new hardware. The Pebble is just 9.8mm thin, and while the watch case that surrounds the display is made of a harder matte polycarbonate, the buttons are soft touch, and the band is also made of a soft touch silicone that is actually really comfortable against your skin for a longer duration making it possible to wear all day and not get annoyed with the fit. This of course will vary from person to person as everyone has their own personal tastes, but I found the Pebble 2 to be extremely comfortable, so long as I didn’t fasten it to my wrist too tight, which I admittedly did on more than one occasion during my time with it.

Like most smartwatches out there these days the Pebble 2 makes it easy to swap out the bands, which are designed with a quick release latch. The band that comes with the watch is a 22mm and can be adjusted to fit various wrist sizes so it should be a great fit for just about anyone. While you can swap the bands out quickly and painlessly (after you get used to the latch, which can be a little bit finicky at first), Pebble does not currently sell any extra bands for the Pebble 2 on their own website. They do allow you to use other 22mm bands, though, so long as you also pick up a 22mm collapsible spring pin to go with it, which is what the quick release latch is. That makes swapping out the bands a little less simple from the start, but as time goes on and the watch has been out a little longer this should change, and getting new bands to swap should be easier.

In addition to being able to swap out the bands, the Pebble 2 also comes from the factory in five different colors which include Black, White, Charcoal/Flame, Aqua/White, and Charcoal/Lime which is the model that we have here. With multiple color options available from the shop, it gets customers started with a little bit of customization so they can have at least some choice in how their watch looks, which is nice to see. This gives even more customization options when looking at swapping out the bands, as you can pick the best watch color/band combination that suits your tastes, provided you find a different band to swap out that you actually like. Being that there is more of a fitness focus here, it also shouldn't be surprising to see that Pebble has designed the Pebble 2 to be waterproof, and they make sure that it's well-known that you can wear this watch regardless of the activity, so whether you're swimming, hiking, biking, or running in the rain or even just taking a shower, you don't have to worry about taking it off. For the most part, the only time you should really have to take it off is when it needs a charge, or if you're doing something else in which the watch might get dirty. For all intents and purposes, the Pebble 2 is a "wear it all the time" watch.

Overall, the Pebble 2 has a simple and satisfying design, from the water resistant build to the soft touch buttons and band, and not only is it comfortable to wear but it’s also easy to put on and take off, and perhaps one of the more understated parts of the build quality that may be overlooked is how easy it is to press the buttons. You don’t to have press too hard and yet, they’re also not extremely easy to press either, which means you shouldn’t be accidentally pressing buttons when you don’t want to or pressing the wrong one.

Comfort/Fit

There isn’t a whole lot to go over that may not have already been said, but knowing how the watch fits as well as how comfortable it is to wear is an important factor in choosing a watch. With the Pebble 2, much of the comfort is attributed to the soft touch silicone material that was used to make the straps. This feels nice against the skin and doesn’t irritate it in any way unless you have the watch fastened too tight. In this particular case the watch can end up feeling harsh after around an hour or so, at least that was the case for me personally. While everyone’s taste in the fit will be different in regards to how tight or how loose to wear the Pebble 2, I found that wearing the watch one notch looser than where it fits nice and snug is optimal. Again though, this was my personal taste and others may feel differently. Overall, the point is that the Pebble 2 is a comfortable watch, and as much should be expected given that Pebble is focusing a lot more on fitness with this model compared to previous watches, and comfort is just as important if not more so when you're being more active.

Software

While the Pebble 2 doesn’t run Android Wear, it still has a lot to offer and is capable of delivering a decent smartwatch experience, and the software is a big part of this. The software is easy enough to navigate and it helps that it isn’t packed with too many menus. Naturally, aside from the easily navigable user interface on the watch, the apps are another big piece of what makes the Pebble 2 a great option. There are already a number of apps pre-installed on the watch, but opening up the Pebble companion app on your smartphone and hitting the “apps” tab, then the “+” FAB button, reveals just how many apps for Pebble there are actually are. In short, there is too many to count, but it’s clear that apps is not an area where Pebble is lacking.

You’ll find anything from actual apps to games in the library of offerings, with options like Tiny Bird (a Flappy Bird clone) and MiniDungeon for games, as well as apps like Bar Finder, Light Switch, and Music Boss for apps. Moving back to the software on the watch, Pebble has a really enjoyable user interface that builds on the easy navigation with enjoyable animations strewn throughout the different menus. This subtle attention to detail made it a joy for me to move around the menus and work with various features, and really puts into perspective that a lot of times, it’s the little things that matter. Something as simple as watching the animations for deleting a notification or clearing a calendar event were the highlight of interacting with the watch some days, and not because the watch itself is boring in other areas, but simply because the animations felt like fun little visual gifts.

As far as actually getting around the different watch menus, the three buttons on the right hand side are where you’ll spend most of the time interacting with the device. The top button will cycle through a few different screens, such as your current heart rate, as well as a screen that has details about your calories burned and how much of a distance you’ve walked. The middle button has a dual function, and acts mainly as the button you’ll use to select stuff, but from the main watch screen it acts as the button to get into the main menu where you’ll find options like settings, calendar, and more. The bottom button from the main watch screen will take you through the weather forecast for various days, and of course, the top and bottom buttons work for direction navigation through the menus. The button on the left side of the watch is primarily used as a back button, but it can also be used to bring up the LED backlighting from the main screen when the display is dim. Other than various apps, weather, games, and activity tracking functions, Pebble has also incorporated a way to send text messages to contacts from the watch, and you can also use it set alarms, track your runs, walks, or workouts, and act as a music controller. There’s a fair bit the watch can do out of the box, but the real meta for the software functionality comes from any installed apps, of which there are many as previously stated.

Heart Rate Sensor

One of the new features on the Pebble 2 that you won’t find on the original Pebble watch is the heart rate sensor, and this can be a boon for those who really loved the Pebble but also wanted something that was capable of tracking their heart rate throughout the day for casual use, or for during more intense workouts or exercise. While it is nice to have the heart rate sensor on hand, I personally found it to be more inconsistent than I would hope. While it was mostly on point during my time of use, there were times where it would record my heart rate as high as 198 beats per minute, and this was during times when I was simply sitting down. It’s not the most accurate heart rate sensor of any wearable, but it’s still a nice touch and a feature that is good to have. You probably won't be interacting much with the heart rate data from the watch as often as you will the companion app, but it certainly is possible to do, and you can also initiate the watch to track your heart rate on command which can be useful if you're curious to know at any given moment. That being said, you will find that the heart rate information within the Pebble app is much more robust and you will get more information there.

Pebble App

The Pebble application that you install on your phone is no different really than what you might find with the Android Wear app or any other wearable companion app. It has pages dedicated to displaying certain stats that were captured by your watch, such as the heart rate, exercise, and sleep activity that it’s capable of tracking, and it displays that information by day, week, or month to give you a nice overview of the detail. This is also where you’ll find the tabs for apps that you have installed, as well as apps that you’re allowing Pebble to receive notifications from, and which watch faces you have installed as well. If you want more apps or watch faces, the Pebble app is your window to these items and the lists of content seem to be pretty well organized. Just like with Android Wear, you’ll need the Pebble app installed to connect the watch to your phone.

Watch Faces

Where to begin. There are tons, and tons of watch faces available for the Pebble 2, and not just the Pebble 2 but other Pebble watches as well. By navigating to the Watch Face tab in the Pebble companion app, you can tap the FAB button to enter the watch face market of sorts, where it seems like the lists of options are literally endless. You can find more simple and contemporary options that look and feel more classic and professional, or you can dive into the hyper targeted options like the Mario watch face I have chosen. I even found options for watch faces based on the popular anime Naruto, as well as Blizzard Entertainment’s latest game Overwatch. Some of the watch faces are even animated. For example, the Mario watch is stationary most of the time, but if you guessed (or hoped) that he might jump up and hit those little blocks on the display, you’d be right, as he jumps up and hits the blocks whenever the time changes. It’s a something small, but again, the animations throughout the menus, and on the watch faces is a delightful thing to have. Pebble has made it easy to find the watch faces that you like and want to install as they have things listed out in categories, but you can also search directly for a specific watch face and if there are any that contain the keyword you use they’ll pop right up. Watch faces also transfer over to the watch rather quickly, and when you transfer them they immediately change to the new watch face as well. You can of course go back to the installed watch faces that you have and switch whichever face you want as the active one at any time. This can either be done from the companion app or directly on the watch itself depending on which you prefer.

Battery Life

There’s no point in mincing words here. The battery life on the Pebble 2 is awesome, and is probably one of its most defining characteristics, as well as one of its biggest strengths. Pebble boasts that you can get about 7 days of battery life on a single charge with this watch, and I found that to be mostly accurate while getting about a day less, but that’s likely because I was fiddling with it quite often and probably more than most people would on average. How long the battery life lasts will as always depend on the user, but this was one of the best parts for me with the Pebble 2. I could constantly just take it off my wrist and set it on the desk most of the week, then charge it by the end of the week to make sure that it was through the following week. Try that with any Android Wear smartwatch and you’d be running into a dead battery pretty quickly. When it comes down to it, if you want a smartwatch which offers up great battery life, the Pebble 2 should be your choice, or at least be considered seriously as an option, because you simply won’t find better in this particular area right now.

Conclusion

As smartwatches go, the Pebble 2 should be considered up there with the best of them. It isn't running Android Wear so admittedly it won't really do as much, or at least it won't integrate as seamlessly with Android devices as an Android Wear smartwatch would, but this shouldn't deter you from at least checking the device out. It's much more affordable than many of the other smartwatch options out there, has a great battery life, and it's comfortable. That isn't to say that the Pebble 2 isn't without its faults, as it seems to have a less than stellar heart rate sensor on the back that is perhaps too inconsistent to rely on all of the time, but heart rate sensor aside the Pebble 2 features an easy to use interface with great software, and a wealth of both apps and watch faces to help make your Pebble 2 unique from everyone else's.

Should you buy the Pebble 2?

That all depends on what you're looking for in a smartwatch. If you want the seamless Android integration with Google Now features, and everything that has been offered with Android Wear since the beginning, then you may want to consider something that does run Android Wear. However, if you're not particularly set on Android Wear as the platform, the Pebble 2 won't disappoint with all that's on offer. The design may be a little more sporty than some care for, but it's still a nice design and the buttons function properly and they're easy to press, something which hasn't been the case with all smartwatches. One other thing to consider is the cost, at $129 for the model with the heart rate sensor, you can't really beat the Pebble 2. The watch works and it works well. It's a more simplistic approach that focuses on putting the most important things in front of you, like messages and the actual time (something a watch should focus on), instead of a plethora of extra actions and capabilities. it isn't too complex, and it isn't too basic. Pebble has found a nice middle ground with the Pebble 2 and it's definitely a smartwatch worth your attention.

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About the Author
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Justin Diaz

Head Editor
Lover of food, craft beer, movies, travel, and all things tech. Video games have always been a passion of his due to their ability to tell incredible stories, and home automation tech is the next big interest, in large part because of the Philips Hue integration with Razer Chroma. Current Device: Google Pixel.
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