I’ve been a long time advocator of the Pebble Smartwatch and have carried one for several years. For the price and what its worth, it’s a good entry level smartwatch. The Pebble Time has a nice ring to it too — Pebble took what they did best, and added new features to it. On the other side of the fence, the Apple Watch is Apple’s first smartwatch. So why choose one over the other?
The Pebble has long been praised for its outstanding battery life. Seriously, the battery can withstand anywhere between 5-7 days on a single charge. The battery charges from 0-100% in less than an hour. Plus it’s the first device where a 20% warning means, “Meh, it’ll last the rest of the day, maybe even tomorrow too.”
The watch is also water proof with a water resistance rating of 5 ATM. According to this document, the Pebble should be able to withstand “Surface swimming, shallow snorkeling and similar activities”. On the surface, this sounds insane considering this is a technology device. But, from my experience, I was able to shower with the Pebble on a daily basis. I also took my Pebble on vacation and was able to take it in the pool for a swim.
The Pebble has a simple interface that uses nothing but 4 buttons. On the left you have a back button. On the right you have 3 buttons, up, enter and down. This made navigating the interface without looking at it possible. The software also has configurable long presses on the three right buttons to serve as a quick launcher.
The built-in watch faces for the Pebble has always been pretty meh for me. They were okay, however, I couldn’t live with them every day. The Pebble App Store stores hundreds if not thousands of different watch faces. Each with its own unique face and it even goes as far as custom settings for each face. For example, some offer weather information, others serve as alarm clocks and if you really want to take the extra mile, a handful of watch faces allow you to display phone, messages, or email counts in addition to your time.
The biggest issue with the Pebble is the display. Yes, the Pebble will last 5-7 days on a single charge but to get that sort of battery life the company had to go with an e-paper display. The pros to the display is that you can see it in direct sunlight, and since the display doesn’t require much battery it’s always on. The drawback? It’s a black and white display that has a less than 10 frames per second refresh rate. Making gaming, high detail watch faces, or pretty much anything that requires a lot of resources, to look good.
The Pebble may offer a variety of watch faces, but it lacks in the third-party applications department. In the time that I used the Pebble, I had only used three features: notifications, music control and paying for Starbucks. It was clear that developers didn’t want to develop apps for the Pebble Smartwatch.
The Pebble may be easy to navigate, but the lack of a touch screen really made me feel like I was in the stone age. That along with a black and white display really made the wearable unattractive in public. Yes, I could use the watch without looking but when people asked me what it could do, people immediately looked away when I had to navigate through the interface with buttons. Some can argue that the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch is a navigation button, however, it’s not the main way of navigation. It acts like a home button and you could optionally use it to scroll through menus. The difference is that the Digital Crown isn’t the main way of navigation. For the Pebble, hardware/physical buttons is required to actually navigate the watch.
The biggest strength for Apple is their developer community. Starting from the iPhone, app support has been on Apple’s side. It then grew to the Mac community, and now the Apple Watch community. At the time of writing, the Apple Watch currently has 4,000 apps to chose from. Even though these are just iPhone apps with a WatchKit extension, it’s still better than the lackluster (at best) app support on the Pebble App Store.
Lets not play games here, the Apple Watch by far has the best smartwatch display on the market, period. The OLED display allows the display to achieve dark blacks and has an overall outstanding color representation. Unlike LCD displays, OLED displays don’t light up black pixels, which can increase battery life.
With the Apple Watch, Apple introduced a new display technology, Force Touch. The display is able to detect not only where you touch, but the depth of your touch. Since the display is so tiny, Force Touch is used as a “more button” in most apps. For example in the Clock app, force touching the display allows you to switch and customize Watch Faces. In the messages app, it allows you to compose a new message, view contact details or send your current location.
Another technology built for the Watch is the Digital Crown. When it was first introduced last September, I thought it was a gimmick. I said, “Why use that when you can use your finger to scroll?” After trying on the Apple Watch, the Digital Crown has a major role in using the device. The Digital Crown is much more precise than using your finger to scroll.
Arriving first on the iPhone, Apple Pay is the best thing since sliced bread (not really, but it’s pretty awesome). On the iPhone, it worked like a charm. Hover your iPhone over the NFC reader, use Touch ID to authenticate and you’re done. Who ever thought it would get any easier? Well, on the Apple Watch it’s dead simple. Unlike the iPhone, the Watch authenticates itself when it’s on a wrist, by way of a passcode. As long as it stays on your wrist, you won’t need to enter that passcode again. This holds true when using Apple Pay. On the Apple Watch, all you need to do is double tap the side button, choose the card you want to use and simply hover your Watch over the NFC reader. Your Watch will give you a light tap letting you know the payment succeeded.
And one last thing, the Apple Watch comes in multiple sizes to accommodate more users, measuring in at 38mm and 42mm.
The most obvious “issue” with the Apple Watch is the battery life. Though it’s not bad in comparison to the majority of smartwatches out there, the Pebble can’t be beat. The Apple Watch can go all day on a full charge, but if you’re planning to go on vacation, plan to bring a charger. A nightly charge isn’t necessarily required as you can go 1.5-2 days on light usage. Personally, I charge my Watch nightly and I usually have between a 50-60% charge left.
Lack of native third-party apps is a big minus for now, even though those are supposed to come later this year. The fact that Apple’s wearable pings your iPhone every time you need to open an app can cause laughable loading times. What’s worse is those apps that require GPS data, load times can go up to 30 seconds. This includes first-party apps like the Weather app or Siri. Watch OS 1.0.1 helped, but the fact of the matter is applications running off the phone will be slow.
While this one is debatable, I think the icon layout works alright. I like it, but at the same time it can be cumbersome to navigate if you don’t know where everything is. On top of that, the icons are a pixel or two too small. Occasionally, I tap on the wrong icon forcing me to jump back and try again.
Both watches have their own use case scenario. The Pebble is built for longevity, sacrificing design, display quality and the lack of apps for a more ‘traditional’ watch experience. The Pebble is built to last 5-7 days and has a always on display. Though it lacks in the third-party app department, the Pebble has a decent selection of third-party watch faces.
On the other hand, the Apple Watch is a beautiful device, there’s no denying that. Though Apple has control in the Watch face department, the company is letting developers jump in (similar to their other products) in the application department. The company has also made it painfully easy to switch out bands. So, it is now possible to make third-party bands for the Watch. Truly making it Apple’s ‘most personal device yet.’ The Watch is capable of getting most users a day, some even two days on a single charge. But that may all change with the upcoming watchOS 2 update.
In the end, it becomes personal preference. I can’t say one is better than the other but at this point, neither of them are a necessity yet. The smartwatch is still a fairly new category and wether you’re Team Pebble or Team Apple Watch, both devices are still a ‘want’ not a ‘need’.