Pebble Time Round – Lots to like, but not the price

Charming style should attract the Swatch set. In the ultra-competitive entry level smartwatch market, that $249 starting price seems steep.

Pebble Time Round

Pebble today took the wraps off its latest, e-paper based wearable. Pebble Time Round, as the name suggests, eschews the rectangular shapes seen on other smartwatches (notably the Apple Watch) in favor of a slick — if not European — round design.

There’s a lot to like: it features an always-on display, looks sort of cutesy cool in a Swatch kind of way, and runs the latest version of Pebble OS with the handy scrolling Timeline. But, there’s still no touch, and its biggest obstacle could very well be…

… that price.


(note: the Pebble Time Round pre-order page is up at Amazon, with a release date of November 10, 2015)

That might be tough to swallow for those pricing out the new Pebble against the competition.

Pebble Time Round
Chunky Android Wear watches be gone! Behold Pebble Time Round, the thinnest and lightest smartwatch on the market.

Second-gen Android Wear watches are hitting the market, including some nifty looking choices from Huawei. Samsung showed of its updated Gear S2 which features a trick, rotating bezel — and Tizen looks quite impressive. And, of course, the Apple Watch has quickly become the early leader.

Here are a few alternatives to the Pebble Time Round:

— for $100 more you can get the Apple Watch Sport, with a gorgeous OLED color display, premium build, and tonnes of apps (including the well conceived Apple Pay)

— for $100 less you can get the still impressive original Moto 360

— you could pick up a Pebble Classic for just $99 (or less at Amazon and other retailers) — sure, it doesn’t have all the latest and greatest, but it still has a highly legible display, epic battery life, and does everything a modern day smartwatch should do (okay, aside from looking stylish)

My heart tells me Pebble should’ve priced this stylish watch at $149.

Regardless, I still like it. Here’s a quick run down on the specs:

Silicon Valley Tech, News, ReviewsPEBBLE TIME ROUND

Pebble Time Round

  • Round watch face
  • 7.5mm thick (Pebble says it’s the thinnest smartwatch in the world)
  • 28 grams
  • Band sizes: 20mm or 14mm
  • Finishes: Black, Silver, Rose Gold
  • Two-day battery life (a 15 minute charge will get you through a day according to the announcement)
  • Band: leather, with metal options coming later in the year
  • Starting at $249
  • Availability: November (US and Canada), Q4 2015 (UK) and 2016 (EU)

Pricing aside, Pebble has made a smart choice in opting for a round smartwatch offering. Many in the market prefer a classic looking wearable. Pebble Time Round definitely fits the bill, and could draw new buyers to the brand.

You’ll note that battery life takes a hit. Whereas the Pebble Time is rated at 7 days (I get about 3-4 days which is still plenty fine for me) the Round is rated at just 2 days. I’m not so sure that’s a big deal as topping off the battery is fast. Some, though, might not like the idea of having to pack a charger when headed on the road for an extended period.

Personalization Trend Continues

Offering multiple band sizes, colors, and face styles continues this personalization trend we’re seeing in the smarwatch market. This makes sense, given most of us see watches as a part of our wardrobe, and a reflection of our personality and sense of style.

Apple Watch, Moto 360 2, Huawei Watch, and the upcoming Samsung Gear S2 all offer extensive choice — with colors and styles that should appeal to both men and women.

What would the world be if all of us wore the same ugly plastic black bricks on our wrists?

The idea of personalization is exactly that. It gives us the opportunity to carve out some uniqueness, to personalize the product. Just as we don’t want to see someone else at an event in the exact same suit, dress, or jacket, the same I suspect holds true for fashion accessories. What would the world be if all of us wore the same ugly plastic black bricks on our wrists?

Grading the Pebble Time Round Announcement

Grade: B+

Based on specs, and what I’ve seen on the (again, cute) Pebble web site, I think this model will find buyers. I am concerned about that price. $149 would be far more palatable for something that looks like a Swatch. Then again, I realize this is small start-up and developing wearables is not an inexpensive endeavor.

Those Bezels?

Yes, they’re quite prevalent. Looking now at my Pebble Time I notice them too. But in day-to-day use it doesn’t seem like a big deal. I have to say, though, when I switch over to a Wear watch, like the ZenWatch or Moto 360, I do appreciate the extra screen size — and more functional watch faces.

Here’s how the Pebble smartwatch line-up looks heading into Q4 2015:

I’d also give founder and CEO Eric Migicovsky and his team kudos for offering up an olive branch to Time Steel Kickstarter backers. Given that shipments are being fulfilled, some may be frustrated that there’s a new product already. Pebble, taking a page it would seem out of Tesla’s customer service playback, is offering a discount and even a trial plan for the Round Watch. Classy move. Read more about that on the Pebble Blog (scroll to the bottom).

Things I’d like to see in a future Pebble model:

  • larger screen
  • smaller bezels
  • some sort of rotating crown or other way to quickly scroll long lists (pushing the buttons, though, makes for a good finger workout!)
  • better contrast
  • deeper colors (okay, yes, I’m flat out getting greedy)

Pebble’s Future?

Pebble Time Round
Can a smartwatch start-up ultimately survive in a world of Googles, Apples, and Samsungs?

What about this Palo Alto start-up’s future?

It really is a tough call. No easy answer.

I think there is room at the entry level for Pebble. Apple, Huawei and others seem to be content positioning as luxury offerings with prices to match. Pebble meantime has the opportunity to be the mass market Swatch-like product. I still feel, however, their pricing isn’t quite low enough to achieve that objective.

Can a smartwatch start-up ultimately survive in a world of Googles, Apples, and Samsungs?

I don’t think an acquisition would work, as I can’t identify a viable suitor. Am I missing someone? The majors all have their own offerings and/or platforms so it would seem snatching up Pebble would be at odds with existing go-to-market strategies.

The market is getting really competitive. I bought the original Pebble. Loved it (Pebble Classic review on Stark Insider). It sold me completely on the value and appeal of a smartwatch. Then I backed the Time. Had a bumpy start with that one (Pebble Time review). Still, when push comes to shove I usually wear it instead of an Android Wear watch. I like that the screen doesn’t “glow” in the dark, and overall it functions more like a regular watch than the others. That could change. Samsung says they have some sort of hybrid/e-paper display on the way. If it eventually ships, that could take away some of Pebble’s differentiation.

And let’s not forget, there are several 800 pound gorillas in this room: Apple, Google, Samsung. For a little player like Pebble that’s got to be somewhat nerve-wracking. Then again, Silicon Valley is all about the feisty upstart, competing on brawn, beating the odds. Pebble has been doing a good job of that so far.

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  • neonix

    Great rundown of this device. I like that you added a lot of valuable insight and contemplation on the product and even the brand as a whole and their other offerings as well as those of their competitors in comparison. It was quite an engaging read even though I already knew pretty much everything that’s been announced about this device.

    I am a Time Steel backer and am very pleased with my gold/red Pebble. It’s actually quite elegant-looking even with the large bezel and it provides some useful functionality without becoming a burden with the chores of daily recharging and managing tons of apps and settings as it seems other smartwatches do.

    I opted in for the Time Round trial and can’t wait to see how it compares. I’m actually much more at ease with the size of the Time Steel than I thought I’d be, but sometimes the weight can feel a bit bothersome. It’ll be nice to compare it to the super thin Time Round. There are only two things I’m not looking forward to. First is the apparently much shorter battery life, but I shall see how that goes and second is something I think could have been included in this preview: how will existing Pebble apps and watch faces look on the round screen? I assume all of them will still run, but will be cut off and most will require the developers to update them to have everything fit nicely on the screen. I feel like some apps and faces may never get updated while others will take a while. But again, we will see. Maybe the screen resolution is actually higher than the square ones and you’ll actually just get blank space on the sides instead of the UI being cropped. I don’t really use that many apps that frequently on my Pebble, so it might not even be a big issue for me.

    What I really do like about the Round is that, although the bezel is obviously due to technological constraints, it actually looks like a design *choice*! I feel like I’ve seen some traditional watches with this style before and it has a very appealing chic style.

    I agree that the price does feel steep—especially considering that its larger battery and fully waterproof brother comes at the exact same price—but I like what Pebble is doing and what they have to offer and the fact that they made a trial offer that I simply can’t argue with made me happy, so I don’t mind supporting them. Maybe one day if and when the company is no longer considered a startup and has the pull and demand to mass produce more watches for less, their devices will cost less to consumers.

    • COTY! Yes, I like what Pebble is doing too. The Round does look pretty sharp. Also wonder if I will miss extra screen space. Already find Time screen small. But even though I like G Watch, Moto 360, I always, always end up coming back to Pebble. (queue violins)

  • Heather

    I decided to buy a Pebble Time Round. I’m pretty sure the price was set because the same guts are used as the Time Steel, except the smaller battery. Even if you’re right about losing customers at $249, they probably couldn’t be profitable at $149.

    I had a Sony Smartwatch 2. It had 2 really bad flaws — 1) looked GIGANTIC on my wrist, people kept asking me if I was wearing a smartwatch, and 2) bad connectivity with my phone caused it to buzz all day letting me know it just reconnected.

    Some people want gadgets just to feel technical and/or nerdy and I get that. I had an early Palm Pilot and was really excited about tiny computers way before iPhones made them for everyone. I don’t want my watch to be a gadget. I tried that with the Sony watch. I did not like it.

    I want a watch that looks like a watch, acts like a watch, and tells me why my pocket just buzzed. If it must be expensive because the technology is still new, then at least make it attractive so it doesn’t feel terribly out of place next to “just watches” that cost hundreds of dollars.

    So while some smart watch reviews out there focus on how the Apple watch does a ton of things (meh), and how the Time Steel gets a week of battery life (I’m pretty sure I can find 15 minutes a day to charge the Round), for me the decision is all about *FINALLY* finding a smart watch that does the watch thing cleanly and efficiently and won’t look like I’ve strapped a miniature phone to my wrist.

    When the Time Steel came out, I read lots of reviews and there was so much positive about the software and the watch experience, I almost bought one but decided not to because it was almost the same size as my Sony watch. I figured I’d wait another 2 years until something smaller came out before I tried again. And then … this announcement came out. The watch is the same size as the Timex Ironman Triathlon (women’s) I’ve been wearing. I think it’s actually thinner. So I know that it won’t feel too big for me this time.

    The point is … there’s a market for this watch. One that wouldn’t buy any other smartwatch out there right now.

    Tech people seem to expect that a smart watch will do ALL KINDS OF THINGS! but in reality … we have our computers, our tablets, our phones to do all that. What I’m after from a smart watch is freedom from my phone. So I can know a little about what’s going on digitally without missing what’s going on around me. And that’s what smart watches should be, and when this industry matures I think it’s what smart watches will be.