Smartwatches are subjected to many metaphors: “Smartphones on your wrist.” Mmm, not quite. Maybe in a few more years. “A wearable computer.” Depends on your definition of “computer”. Better keep looking. “An extension of your smartphone.” Now, that’s an idea – one that Pebble has perfected with the Pebble Time Round.
While Android Wear and Apple Watch push to be that futuristic smartphone on your wrist, the Pebble Time Round is happy being the best for those living in the here and now.
What is It?
The Round is a £230 smartwatch running Pebble OS, Pebble’s homegrown operating system. It’s the fifth watch in the Pebble family (following the Pebble, Pebble Steel, Pebble Time, and Pebble Time Steel), and it’s the first one to be, as the name suggests, round.
The Round is supposed to be The Pretty One, the watch that ditches some of its nerd credentials (like being waterproof and having long battery life) to be a more fashionable timepiece. It’s best to think of it as a watch that happens to have cool extras rather than a semi-powerful wristputer that does all kinds of stuff and also tells the time if you want.
Who’s it For?
People who don’t really like smartwatches, mainly because the Pebble Time Round doesn’t have the usual “smartwatch” caveats, such as being incredibly bulky and dying all the time. The Time Round is one of the thinnest and lightest smartwatches ever made, and the best part is it looks like a watch.
But will the Round appeal to the legions of folks who’ve loved Pebble hardware since the company’s Kickstarter days? Well, that may depend on how much they’re willing to forgive Pebble for sacrificing some of its best features.
The Round is very much a direct relative of the Pebble Time Steel, with the biggest difference being its circular shape and extreme thinness. It keeps the same stainless steel casing and, unfortunately, those unsightly bezels.
But where those thick bezels on the Time Steel conveyed a “this is a computer watch” aesthetic, the bezels here flow a little more naturally with the watch’s overall look. When I first strapped on the Round, I hated those bezels. But eventually they just bled away until I barely noticed them anymore.
The watch ships with a genuine leather band that’s really comfortable when wearing, but after only a week of use, it’s already showing signs of wear and tear. Luckily, the band has a simple push-and-release system so they’re easy to replace.
The buttons are satisfying to use and a real step up from the original Pebble Time. And this thing is so lightweight, I forgot it was there until the occasional notification buzz came along to remind me.
So, I’m coming to the Pebble Time Round being primarily an Android Wear user. I’ve poked around on the original Pebble quite a bit and have kept abreast of the different iterations' developments since. But after fully embracing the bright LCD and AMOLED of most smartwatches, I admit to having looked down on what I felt was a lacking e-paper display of the Pebble.
Then, reality sank in.
Android Wear out of the gate simply wasn’t good, and while the software has improved since then, battery life certainly hasn’t. When using the second generation Moto 360 for example, I was stuck charging the thing every night. I already charge my laptop everyday. My smartphone everyday. I really, really, don’t another device needing daily energy attention.
So suddenly, a week-long battery with an e-paper display seemed ideal. But battery life is one of the big pieces of bad news with the new Pebble Time Round: it will only get you through about two-and-a-half days. To my Android Wear mind, that’s amazing! But the Round is a mere shadow of what the Time Steel could squeeze out AND it also loses waterproof powers. Functional sacrifice in the name of design – a tale as old as time.
Knowing I wasn’t getting near the normal amount of battery on the Round, I did the next best real-world test I could think of – could I get through a weekend? I popped my smartwatch off the charger at about 1:30pm at work, and then I went out and used my watch for notifications, calling Ubers, and reading notifications mostly for the next two days. When I got back to the office at 9am Monday, I was at 5 per cent. This means that I could leave the watch charger at work always and never run into the situation of needing more juice.
It’s a sacrifice, and not one taken lightly since it doesn’t come with an equal price cut, but the Round's battery longevity is still far more than most wearables right now.
Over my time spent with it, the Pebble Time Round became a £230 notification ticker and daily calendar strapped to my wrist...and not much else. These things do of course find their true uses over more time. That simple elegance, foolproof setup, easy navigation, all wrapped in a sexy frame, makes it a strong candidate for your wrist – whatever its function.
- It’s actually a watch. Not a “smartwatch you’ll feel like wearing” or a wearable that “puts the watch back in smartwatch”. No, it looks just like a normal watch that happens to have awesome computer brains under an e-paper display.
- Simplicity. From setup, to customising, to actual usability. It’s easy to use. Always.
- Battery life. It may be worse than past Pebbles, but it still makes other wearables’ daily longevity a joke.
- It lacks feature distinction. Pebble’s primary appeal was that it could do what other wearables can’t – mainly, it worked on iOS and Android, had stunningly long battery life, and was also waterproof. Now, with Android Wear being available on both OSes (though somewhat limited through iOS) and battery life taking a significant hit, the Pebble Time Round is less of a standout in the wearable crowd. And it’s more crowded than ever.
- The bezels. I wish they were slightly less gargantuan. Not so much that it affects use in a big way, but it will be a big enough visual deterrent for people to try out the Round.
- App selection. Tapping one button to check into a bar on Swarm is infinitely awesome, but the Pebble OS selection compared to WatchOS and Android Wear just isn’t even comparable. Add to the fact that these apps need to be optimised for the Round’s new corner-less form factor, and it’s even worse.
The Smartwatch For You?
It all depends on why you want a smartwatch. For me, a humble blogger, it's a no-bullshit watch that gives me notifications from my smartphone, has a few apps that make my life easier, keeps my daily schedule organised, and can last over the weekend. Sounds great.
But if you’re looking for bright screens, touch displays, HR monitors, multitudes of apps, solid voice recognition (the Round’s isn’t so great), and a chunky piece of tech to strap to your wrist? Move along. Similarly, if you love Pebble’s old battery life promise, you might consider the Pebble Time Steel before pulling the trigger on this guy.
Pebble Time Round Specs
- OS: Pebble OS (Compatible with iPhone 4s/iOS 8 and later and Android 4.3)
- Display: Colour e-paper
- Bands: 14mm and 20mm
- Resolution: 180x180
- Battery: 2+ days (56 mAh)
- Thickness: 7.5mm
- Weight: 28 grams
- Wireless Charging: No, uses pin charger (like every Pebble before it)
- Wifi: No
- Microphone: Yes
- Waterproof: No
- Price: £230