Pebble: Just Smart Enough

I’ve been wielding a Pebble for almost two years now (red Kickstarter edition).  In my circle of friends (even within the area of IT I work in) smart watches are still very rare.  In fact I think the only other I’ve seen in the wild was in a meeting with one of my external vendors (another Pebble).  On my side, the Pebble has become my daily driver.  Between notifications in the office and music control on the tube, I end up looking at the Pebble on a regular basis throughout the day.  Oh, and of course I use it to tell the time.

When people do realise I’m wearing a smart watch I get one of two reactions.  Some dismiss it as another pointless gadget.  These people tend not to be heavy users of smart phones or other connected devices, and as most smart watches are an extension of these I can see why they find no utility in them.  The other response is inquisitiveness tinged with scepticism.  They want to know what I use my Pebble for, but are already somewhat prejudiced from what they’ve read of other smart watches, more often than not the poor battery lives.

My Pebble lasts me a week without a charge.  Let me say that again.  A week without charge.  That’s not idle time either – I have notifications hammering me all day, I control and monitor my music through it for a few hours each day on my commute, and I’ve recently started to use a couple of other apps for fitness tracking.  So the question is, in order to meet that battery performance, do I feel like I’m missing out on functionality?  Is there more I could do with my watch?  I really don’t think there is – I get just the level of information and control I need.  This is where I feel the other smart watches have failed.  By trying to do far more than is necessary, including touch control and colour screens, they munch through their batteries in around a day.  This is not a workable situation, especially for those watches that need bespoke chargers so you can’t find a place to charge your watch where ever you may be.  Until we have a power revolution, I hope that some of the other smart watch manufacturers consider the e-paper route with simpler devices to conserve battery life.

It’s worth noting that some who come the closest to being convinced are still put off by the look of smart watches.  Even the more expensive Android Wear watches don’t quite do it for them, as they want a good looking professional / dress watch.  It’ll be interesting to see whether Apple’s foray into the market will change the perception of smart watches in this regard.  Whether this is achieved through actual change of thought or blind devotion, I care not.

I had originally planned to write this post a while back in response to the rise of Android Wear but my usual problem of not having any free time got in the way.  Now, however, the Pebble guys are back with a new Kickstarter for the Pebble Time.  With two years of positive experiences watching the Pebble team and using the product it was a no brainer for me to back this and upgrade my watch.  It may not be exactly the smart watch I want (kinetic + mechanical + e-paper), but it’s the best of the bunch so far.


Nexus 7: Tablet Of Win?

I wrote a few paragraphs about the Nexus 7 in response to a post on the internal messageaboard at work and so have reproduced this below. Before mine arrives I’ll write up a bit more about why I’m parking my PlayBook in favour of the Nexus.

I got hands on with one of these last week (they kindly brought some along to I/O Extended) and thought I’d share my impressions. TL;DR: I liked it and have pre-ordered.

Physically it’s a very nice device. Since I got my hands on a PlayBook I’ve started to appreciate the 7″ form factor. It’s a good size for use while commuting (easier when standing in a cramped tube). If you’ve got a PlayBook then the Nexus is slightly smaller (same screen size, but no need for the touch sensitive bezel) and about the same thickness. It is, however, considerably lighter. No amount of holding this is going to wear out your wrist. The device is very port light – headphones, micro-USB and four gold points which I’m told are for some sort of Nexus dock thingy. The back of the device grips well so it should be hard to accidentally drop. Sound quality from the speaker was surprisingly good with the test videos I watched. The screen is beautiful, but did seem to have problems rendering blacks without being washed out. This may have been because the brightness settings were all ramped up, but I didn’t get a chance to play with this. A quick side-by-side with a Galaxy Nexus did make it seem a little too light though. One thing that was the source of much debate amongst those present was the lack of a rear facing camera, but most people carry a smartphone that’ll take this role and the consensus was that trying to take photos with a tablet makes you look foolish (no offence intended … but come on).

Onto the software. Jelly Bean is jolly impressive. I was particularly loving the new expandable notifications. It was hard to really test the effectiveness of the new “cards” while just playing at a table in Campus but I think they’ve got potential, especially once they open them up to developers. Context driven layouts seem to be on the increase at the moment with projects like Chameleon so this feature will likely get more and more focus. I can confirm that the interface is indeed smooth as butter (excuse me while I giggle for a few minutes – I just can’t take Project Butter seriously). The vsync / triple buffering combo seems to work well. The various Google apps have also had a bit of a polish, although at time of testing it seems we’re still out of luck in the UK if you want to use Google Music or the new magazines. I’d hope these will come in with time given the whole Play Store emphasis in the keynote seemed like a massive shot across the bows of Amazon and if Google can get out of the US faster than the book people they’ll have a win.

[In response to those pointing out lack of 3G] I have started thinking more and more about the non-connectedness of the device. I’m leaning towards the conclusion that it’s purely my desire to have allthetoys™ that makes me think it needs to have its own 3G connection. I’ve berated the PlayBook in the past for not having 3G, but the difference between that and the Nexus 7 is that I’ve found most Google made apps (and many of the third party ones) to be very offline tolerant, whereas the PlayBook just seems to give up on being useful if it’s not online. I already regularly use gMail and gReader on my DHD when I’m underground, happy in the knowledge that it’ll sync and catch up once I’m back in a connected world. Google do seem to be acknowledging this use case more and more (I believe the offline Google docs editing & syncing was covered in the I/O day 2 keynote). I think, much like the PlayBook with BB Bridge, the pitch here is that this couples with your smartphone so you can tether through that. I find that to be a bit of a cop out as that’s just adding more drain to my phone battery to have the hotspot enabled, but I’m going to try to look past this. I think this device’ll work just fine with wifi as and when I can get it – time will tell.

Other Thoughts:
– Very glad that Google haven’t done a string replace of $ to £
– Any claims about battery life from Google still need to be validated in action with some standard services running in the background
– For all of you who were wondering, I can confirm that Blinkendroid does work on the Nexus 7: