Some of the hottest real estate in tech right now is 2 inches above your wrist. Apple, Samsung, Google, FitBit, HTC, (not Microsoft since they decided to ditch their band)—everyone wants colonize and be your go-to solution for notifications and fitness tracking. Pebble dropped into the market a few years back with a solution that was lower in cost than anything else and was also platform-agnostic with a battery life that could be measured in days rather than hours. The Pebble OS has gotten increasingly more sophisticated. The biggest shift was earlier this year when they introduced Pebble Health, which adds step and sleep tracking to the existing hardware. But their most visible competitor, the Apple Watch, still had an advantage over Pebble with its integrated heart rate monitor. The Pebble 2 changes that.
At first glance the Pebble 2, Kickstarted over the summer and shipping to backers now, looks very similar to the original Pebble. It still uses a crisp black and white e-ink screen that doesn’t wash out in bright sunlight. The casing loses some of those chunky retro notes much to the watch’s benefit. Once you look closer, you’ll see that the Pebble 2 is slimmer. It also offers sharp-looking new designs other than black and white (sorry fans of the Red Pebble, that option has been retired). Wearing the Lime Pebble 2 for a week, I’m now on a quest to add neon lime accents to all my black hardware, it looks so sharp. One of my favorite features of the Pebble, the battery life, is still true with the Pebble 2 – even with 24/7 heart-rate monitoring, I was able to get nearly a full week of use off of a single charge. Which brings us to the big sea change for Pebble. Flip over the watch (and admire the new two-tone band that thankfully uses the quick release clasps introduced with the Pebble Time) and you’ll find Pebble’s new integrated heart rate monitoring technology.
Yes, like the Apple Watch, Pebble 2 now has an HRM that it can leverage for its new health apps, and that can be used by Pebble developers. Having just launched last week, the choice of heart-rate enabled watchfaces and apps is a bit light; but Pebble has said they plan to highlight those developers who make use of the new tech so that they will be easier for users to find. Luckily, Pebble’s own Health and Workout apps showcase the Pebble 2’s potential. Health keeps a running record of your sleep, steps, and now heart rate over the last 24 hours. The Workout app gives you the choice of tracking a Run, Walk, or general Workout (I appreciate having a generic option for cross-training days). It logs your time and heart rate over the tracked period, then gives you a summary at the end. In the case of running and walking, it will also use your height and stride to calculate distance and pace. The Workout app does still need some development (Pebble has said updates are coming), my Garmin showed that the measured pace was off by as much as two minutes per mile and currently Workouts aren’t stored after they’re completed. Still, the potential for the Pebble 2 to stand in for my Garmin on occasion is there. I did like the convenience of getting heart rate feedback (the Workouts app lets you know if you’re in a Fat Burn, Endurance, or Performance heart rate zone) without having to fool around with a chest strap.
I’ve loved the Pebble ecosystem since I picked up an original Pebble while waiting for my Apple Watch preorder (which I cancelled after about a day with the Pebble). The software has matured nicely, offering on-wrist voice responses to texts and emails (the only non-Apple smartwatch that offers that for iOS), responsive feedback, and a wide variety of innovative third-party apps and watchfaces. I’m particularly enamoured with the Respire app. It guides you through 2-3 sessions of meditative breathing throughout the day and displays your heart rate at the end of the session (which worked very nicely with the Heart Beat watchface, since I could see what my pulse was doing before and after).
The Pebble 2 is only $129 – less than half the lowest end Apple Watch. If you’re looking for an inexpensive smartwatch that gives you performance that rivals much more expensive offerings, or you’re considering a fitness tracker, you should take a close look at the Pebble 2. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.