A year ago, rumors were swirling that smartwatch pioneer and Kickstarter success story Pebble was in trouble, doomed by the Apple Watch and Android Wear competition. Pebble responded with new color display models and a more radical departure: the Pebble Time Round.
This latest offering from Pebble is a calculated gamble. It directly attacks the weak points of Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) market-leading Apple Watch with a lower price, sleeker profile and a traditional round form factor.
However, in doing so, the Pebble Time Round significantly cuts into one of Pebble’s traditional strengths, paying a big penalty in battery life.
Has Pebble figured out the combination to stay in the smartwatch game, despite the efforts of consumer electronics giants like Apple and Samsung (SSNLF)?
Read our Pebble Time Round review to find out.
Pebble Time Round Review: Compared to Apple Watch
While Pebble Time smartwatches compete against all other smartwatches, the Pebble Time Round’s primary target is the Apple Watch.
With Apple dominating the industry — the Apple Watch took over half of all sales in 2015 despite only being available starting at the end of April — Pebble had to do something bold to counter the threat.
So the Pebble Time Round takes on the Apple Watch’s sore points.
Pebble bills the Round as “the world’s lightest and thinnest” smartwatch. Compared to my 42mm Apple Watch Sport, the new Pebble is much thinner and significantly lighter. I put the two on the scale and with their respective bands, my Apple Watch was 1.76 ounces, while the Pebble Time Round was just barely over 1 ounce.
One of the biggest complaints about the Apple Watch is its rounded square face. The Pebble Time Round gets its name from the move to a traditional round case. It tends to look more elegant and less flashy in a “hey I’m wearing a computer strapped to my wrist” kind of way.
While battery life has been cut significantly by the svelte form factor, the Pebble Time Round still doubles the Apple Watch battery life. And it will work with an Android smartphone as well as an iPhone.
It’s also priced significantly lower than the Apple Watch. At release, it was $249 (compared to the least expensive Apple Watch Sport 38mm at $349), but Pebble recently dropped that to $199 — which also puts it on a level playing field with Fitbit Inc’s (FIT) new Fitbit Blaze smart fitness watch.
Pebble Time Round Review: Pebble’s Relentless Upgrades
Rather than sit still as the smartwatch market rapidly heats up, Pebble has been releasing hardware and software updates at a frenetic pace.
In the past year alone, the Pebble Time, Pebble Time Steel and Pebble Time Round have been released. The Pebble user interface was completely revamped with the new Timeline UI. Multiple software updates have gone out, including a firmware upgrade that introduced Pebble Health — the platform’s first native health tracking application and Pebble’s effort to take on the fitness tracking capabilities of competing smartwatches.
Pebble has also opened up its hardware to third parties who are releasing “smart straps” that add functionality like mobile payments, a heart rate sensor or a GPS to a Pebble smartwatch.
Besides reduced battery life, the downside to the Pebble Time Round’s unique (among Pebble offerings) form factor is that it can’t run all current Pebble apps. Switching the display from rectangle to circle is a big deal and means that app developers have to modify their software for the Pebble Time Round; not all of them have done so at this point.
Pebble Time Round Review: Specs
- 1-inch color ePaper display at 160 x 160 pixel resolution
- 56 mAh battery rated at 2 days
- Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, compass, gyrometer, pedometer, magnetometer
- Stainless steel case (black, silver or gold finish)
- 0.3-inches thick, weighs 1.06 oz
- Wrist band options include leather and stainless steel
- Microphone, vibration alert, Bluetooth 4.0+
- Splash Proof
- Supports iOS and Android with notifications (alarms, texts, e-mail, incoming call, calendar and app-specific)
- Runs Pebble OS
- MSRP $199.99
Pebble Time Round Review: Conclusion
There’s no doubt that Pebble is succeeding in developing a very attractive smartwatch.
Even after months of wearing it, I am always aware that my Apple Watch is on my wrist. However, the Pebble Time Round is so sleek in comparison that I quickly cease to notice it.
Anyone who is considering a move from a traditional wristwatch to a smartwatch, but has been put off by bulky and expensive wearables, should have a look at the latest Pebble — it’s a great stealth option. It’s also a great tactic for appealing to women — a demographic that has been less enamored by the chunky and heavy smartwatches that currently dominate sales charts.
Furthermore, it helps to eliminate the issue over what smartphone you own. With many of the most popular smartwatches, whether you have an iPhone or an Android smartphone can dictate what smartwatch you can choose. Unfortunately, if you’re a Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Windows fan or one of the BlackBerry Ltd (BBRY) holdouts, even Pebble won’t play nice.
I prefer the Apple Watch display to the Pebble Time Round’s — the big, bright AMOLED screen just shows more and absolutely pops compared to the Pebble’s smaller, color ePaper display, which looks washed out in comparison.
The biggest issue with the Pebble Time Round is the sacrifice made in the name of making it the world’s thinnest and lightest smartwatch. One of the big selling points of Pebble has always been stellar battery life ranging from seven to 10 days. But to shrink, the battery had to get smaller and as a result, the Round only lasts two days on a charge, which means its battery life advantage is dramatically reduced.
Its water resistance also dropped, from something you can wear on 100-foot dives to mere splash resistance.
These sacrifices may not matter to some buyers, but the move has the potential to put off Pebble diehards who might have been considering an upgrade from their older device. Of course they can still buy the other Pebble offerings, but it would be nice to see Pebble’s next release combine the Pebble Time Round’s form factor with improved battery life and better water resistance — even if that meant they had to make it a little larger.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.