Pebble was the first smartwatch company to sell more than one million units and remains one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns of all time. In 2012, they helped put wearable technology on the map by raising more than $10 million on Kickstarter to develop their first smartwatch. In 2015, they did it again, only this time they doubled the amount raised to a record $20 million.
With health and fitness in mind, Pebble turned for the third time to Kickstarter in May 2016. This time the company raised funds for three new wearables: Pebble 2 and Time 2 – two affordable, heart rate-enabled smartwatches; and Pebble Core – a hackable, 3G wearable for phone-free running with GPS, music, and Amazon Alexa. As you would expect, once again the campaign was a success attracting over $12 in funds.
Pebble 2 design and features
With Time 2 and Core still in development and set to launch early next year, the company started shipping Pebble 2 to backers a couple of weeks ago. The new wearable is thinner, lighter and more aesthetically appealing than the original Pebble watch. At 31.7 grams, it is also 6.3 grams lighter.
The watch has the same black-and-white e-paper display but with a Corning Gorilla Glass coating instead of the plastic coating and three physical buttons for navigation. The screen, which is slightly smaller than on the predecessor device, is always on and looks sharp, even in the brightest sunlight.
Like many other wearables these days, you can tailor the look to your liking thanks to swappable bands and a choice of black, aqua, white, lime and flame color options. Sporting a slightly retro-style, though, it would be a stretch to say the watch is a looker.
In addition to new fitness tracking hardware which we will get into later, you also get a microphone to input audio. Pebble remains the only non-Apple wearable that can send text and voice replies to incoming iOS Messages. As before, you get notifications—all notifications. Pebble 2 delivers texts, calls, events, Snaps, whatever you want.
The operating system has come a long way since 2012 and is now at version 4.0. The improvements mean that you can choose from over 13,000 Pebble 2 compatible apps. Those include RunKeeper, Uber, Pebble Health and TripAdvisor.
With the new watch, you also get all of the latest Pebble OS features. This includes the Timeline which keeps your calendar, weather, and all important events in one place. You can easily review what’s up next with Quick Views from your watchface or jump to your favorite apps with Quick Launch shortcuts.
The watch has enough battery life to last up to 7 days, depending on use of course. But in this sense, it compares very favorably to the competition, no doubt helped by the monochrome 144 x 168 pixel screen.
Pebble 2 fitness tracking
As mentioned, Pebble has taken note from Fitbit and Apple, and placed a bigger focus on fitness. After all, fitness trackers dominate sales on the list of top watches and wearables. By doing this, Pebble has developed something that sits between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch.
Pebble’s latest wearable has built-in activity and sleep tracking, an optical heart rate tracker that sits on the back, and is water-resistant up to 30 metres. It also comes with a bespoke Health app.
The tracker monitors your steps, heart rate, calories burned, distance and active minutes. It will detect long walks, runs, and naps, dishing out a performance summary when you’re finished. You can dive deeper into your stats on the smartphone app. Everything will be laid out nicely with graphs. Tap and drag on the graph for targeted views of your step and heart rate stats at specific times.
Most activity tracking is automatic. You do, however, need to manually start and stop workouts via the new Workout app on the watch. The app itself is easy to use. It has dedicated Run and Walk settings, plus a generic Workout setting. A couple of presses is all it takes. During your run, the watch will show you your heart rate reading and which of three heart rate zones you are in: Fat Burn, Endurance, or Performance.
The heart rate monitor does a fairly decent job when it comes to your resting heart rate but when running the accuracy will not be as great. To some extent, that’s too be expected, and few wrist based wearables can claim truly accurate heart rate tracking at high intensity activities. Heart rate chest straps are still the way to go if you are serious about heart zone training. But it does seem that Pebble needs to do more work on getting its heart rate alogrithms right.
It is worth noting that the heart monitor tracks your resting heart rate every 10 minutes. It is only when you begin a workout on the watch, or it automatically detects an activity, that it will continuously record your heart rate until you’ve finished.
Unfortunately, there is no workouts section in the current version of the smartphone app. Which unfortunately means you can’t go back and sift through detailed data for logged workouts. Pebble says that tracking workout sessions will be added in November via a firmware update. But right now, the Pebble 2 doesn’t keep track of workouts.
Unlike the Apple Watch with its 1-2 day battery life, Pebble 2 lasts up to seven days. This means that it monitors your activity 24/7 which makes it great for sleep tracking, which again is automatic. You can compare recent sleep and wake times with how you typically do. See how much deep sleep you achieve each night. You can also set a vibrating smart alarm to wake you up in the morning when you’re out of deep sleep to maximize recovery.
As Pebble Health learns your habits in step counts, workouts and sleep, it will start telling you how you’re improving with alerts through the day. Press Up from your watch for Pebble Health’s accountability, encouragement, and insights.
Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets you can buy today
Pebble Health can also be integrated with Google Fit and Apple Health, along with a range of other third-party apps and watch faces. It is likely many developers will take advantage of the new health and fitness tracking features to deliver some interesting apps in the coming months.
Pebble 2 + HR
The Pebble 2 packs in a lot of features for its price-tag. But in terms of fitness tracking the watch still lags behind the big boys and is essentially an entry level fitness device. Having said that, if you don’t mind the retro look, the wearable is still great as a smartwatch. It has a simple focus on time telling and notifications, an always-on display, great battery life and water resistance. And all that at a great price.
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