Pebble: The First Great Smartwatch

The $150 Pebble isn’t the first smartwatch, but it’s the first really good smartwatch. The category isn’t new: Microsoft had its Spot Watch, which could read sports scores, news, and other info over a data radio; Fossil had the Wrist PDA, which was essentially a Palm Pilot with a wrist strap; and there were even wrist straps to convert Apple’s iPod Mini into a big and awkward watch. All of these solutions had issues: price, size, functionality, a lack of style, etc.


The Pebble succeeds because it doesn’t try to somehow fit a full-function, color computing device on your wrist. Instead, it pairs via Bluetooth with your iOS or Android smartphone and acts as an accessory for it. It can display incoming text messages, caller ID, and notifications from applications like Facebook on its battery-friendly, Kindle-like, e-paper screen. You can also use it as a remote control for music playback, pausing or skipping songs.


Along with displaying caller ID when your phone rings, the watch itself can vibrate as well to alert you to the incoming call. This is a very welcome feature for those of us who sometimes don’t feel the phone vibrating when it’s silenced.

The watch itself is just slightly thicker than a typical digital watch. It uses a standard 22mm watchband, so you can replace it if you want something more stylish than the black plastic strap it comes with. The 1.26-inch, 144×168 pixel monochrome e-paper display is crisp, if not particularly high-res. It’s very visible in bright sunlight, unlike the color displays used on some smartwatches. It also has a backlight which can be activated using a button, or just by flicking your wrist.

There’s a trio of built-in watchfaces, with new ones appearing on a daily basis in the Pebble forums and on the MyPebbleFaces website. Here’s my initial collection:

PebbleWatchfacesAlong with the custom watchfaces, there’s the promise of custom applications. Right now there are a few that have been created using the watch face development kit: stopwatches, Tetris, and so on. Once the full software development kit is available, there’s the promise of more sophisticated applications. The one I’m hoping for is an exercise tracker that will use the accelerometer in the watch to duplicate the functionality of the Nike+ Fuelband I’ve relegated to my right wrist, so I can stop dual-wielding devices. Pebble’s a small company, though, and the watch they projected delivering to me in September, 2012 didn’t arrive until April, 2013, so I won’t be surprised if the SDK takes a while to fully gel.

The watch comes with a magnetic USB charging cable. Battery life is rated at about a week; I just throw it on the charging cable next to my bed at night occasionally. The Pebble is rated as waterproof down to 165 feet, so no worries wearing it while showering, swimming, or snorkeling.

You can’t go out and buy a Pebble watch right now. Its development was funded using (I paid for the one I just received a few days after it was launched, in mid-2012), and as of April 2013 the company was finally almost finished shipping units to the early investors. Right now you can preorder a Pebble with planned shipping in Spring 2013. (If you really want one, you can buy one now on Amazon, but sellers are making a significant profit as of this writing.)

Some people stopped wearing watches with the advent of smartphones, because they could just look at the phone to see the time. But for the same reason I continue to wear a watch — it’s far more convenient to just glance down at your wrist than to pull out your phone and turn it on — Pebble makes info on your wrist even more attractive. It lets you keep the phone in your pocket even more often. If you get a text during a meeting, just glance at your wrist to read it. Call during the movie? Look down and see if it’s an emergency call from the babysitter or something less important.

And it even tells time.

— Denny Atkin

Oblivion: A Movie for Science Fiction Fans

Went to see Oblivion today and I was really surprised at how much I loved it. As in, one of my favorite science fiction movies in recent years.

This really felt like a much faster-paced version of an early 70s (2001 era) SF film. The clean, utopian machines and architecture, the lack of aliens lurking in the ductwork or old-west style shootouts with lasers… It’s not perfect, but science fiction fans should really dig it.

My neighbor mentioned that some of the more negative reviews he’d read cited sequences as derivative or reminiscent of other films. Perhaps, but this isn’t some sort of Frankenstein focus-group assemblage of popular sequences. With 111 years of science fiction films behind us now, it’s a bit hard to craft a completely original experience. The story is interesting, original, and not predictable.

My 10-year-old son, who would be asleep in the first 15 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, loved it as well. Halfway through he asked “Are all real science-fiction movies this good?”

I’d suggest NOT reading reviews, and avoiding trailers if you haven’t seen them, as there are some moments in the movie that are much more enjoyable if you see them unfold, without expectations as to what will happen. Just go see it. If you’ve ever enjoyed a science fiction book, I think you’ll like Oblivion.

Caveat: If you’re looking for a more typical Tom Cruise action flick, this might not be the movie for you. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol this ain’t.