With its continuous heart rate monitor, the Pebble 2 is a truly competitive smartwatch.
Reviewed By: Rebecca Paredes on February, 17th 2017
For some, the Pebble 2 might seem like a step back. Pebble’s Time Steel, Time Round, and forthcoming Time 2 are slim, sleek wearables that emanate serious professionalism. Then there’s the Pebble 2, an upgraded (but still geek-chic) version of the plastic-bodied Pebble Classic.
Don’t let its bulky design fool you, though. Created by the Kickstarter-funded company, the Pebble 2 is a well-rounded smartwatch and fitness tracker at an eye-catching price. While it won’t easily blend into the lines of a power suit, the Pebble 2 watch calls back to the retro-tech aesthetics that made Pebble Classic such a cult crowd-pleaser.
Overall, the Pebble operating system and app store help make the Pebble 2 a winning blend of customization, accessibility, and affordability. At $129.99, here’s why this Pebble smartwatch is one of our favorites.
The Pebble 2’s optical heart rate monitor isn’t new technology — it’s the same type of heart rate monitor found in fitness watches like the Fitbit Blaze, the Pebble 2’s closest competitor. Both watches straddle the line between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch, without the high price point of an Apple Watch. But heart rate monitoring firmly places the Pebble 2 in fitness tracker territory, and — more importantly — makes the Pebble 2 an option for shoppers who are considering fitness wearables with smartwatch features.
While you’ll need third-party apps from the Pebble appstore if you want deep details about your workouts, Pebble Health covers the basics. Within the app, you can view the following heart rate zones to measure how hard you pushed during your workout:
My only exercise involves boxing gloves and hand wraps, neither of which work well with most wrist wearables, so I didn’t wear the Pebble 2 while I was working out. However, when I wore it throughout my day, its readings mirrored my experience wearing the Fitbit Charge HR: my average heart rate hovered around 69 BPM.
However, this brings me to my first issue with the Pebble’s 2 design. I have tiny wrists that resemble the wobbly ankles of a freshly birthed gazelle. Optical heart rate monitors need to be worn snugly in order to record the most accurate heart rate estimates, but I could never find the best placement for the device, especially while sleeping. Throughout my day, I usually kept the Pebble 2 in place, but at night — when I loosened the wristband so I could comfortably sleep with the device — it tended to move around my wrist.
I didn’t run into this issue with the Pebble Time Round, which covers less surface area — but the Pebble Time Round doesn’t have a heart rate monitor. So, for the sake of my fellow tiny-wristed gazelles, my hope is that the next generation of Pebble smartwatches features smaller devices with optical heart rate sensors.
Like the Pebble Time series, the Pebble 2 features a built-in microphone for voice replies and note dictation. In practice, I ran into connection issues. If I hadn’t opened the Pebble app on my phone for over a day, the Pebble 2 would need to reconnect in order to actually use the voice reply feature.
I ran into the same problem when I tried to send a text through the smartwatch. When I walked out of range of my phone, I usually had to open the app again to reconnect my watch and use the texting and voice reply features. When voice reply did work, I ran into an irritating realization: messages sent through Pebble didn’t appear as sent messages on my phone. It isn’t a dealbreaker if you’re just sending one-off messages and emojis, but it’s a pain point if you prefer a written record.
Those frustrations were mostly forgiven when I was stuck at a stoplight and got a text from my mom. Like an independent woman of the modern era, I used voice reply while my hand was still on the steering wheel. The experience was seamless. However, until the connection issues are ironed out, it’s usually easier to just reply to messages through your phone.
Pebble 2 tracks your steps, caloric burn, and distance, but its standout feature is true of all Pebble watches: the endless list of apps. For health and fitness aficionados, Pebble is compatible with popular apps like Runkeeper and Misfit. Pebble 2 is also water-resistant to 30 meters, and swim apps like Swim.com automatically record distance swum, lap times, pace, and strokes.
However, the Pebble 2 has its limits. Fitbit’s latest fitness tracking features go into detail, displaying measurements like floors climbed and hourly active minutes. For the same features on your Pebble, you’ll need to download a range of apps. Users who want a powerful fitness tracker that is ready to go out of the box will have to spend some time deciding which fitness tracking features really appeal to them.
But for users who want a more customized experience, Pebble’s wide-open app store is a blessing. While I appreciate having fitness tracking features, they aren’t a priority for me. I care about how many steps I’ve taken, but I don’t need a device that measures my elevation and distance travelled. So, the Pebble 2 works well for me as a smartwatch with fitness tracking functions — but I wouldn’t consider it an all-in-one fitness tracker.
Like recent Fitbits, the Pebble 2 automatically tracks your sleep, and the app displays both total sleep time and how much of that time was dedicated to deep sleep. If you just care about hours slept, Pebble’s app covers the basics. But if you want more details, download a sleep tracking app. Morpheuz is a solid choice — it displays sleep movement charts, provides an email export of basic sleep data, and integrates with Philips Hue lights so you can gently light your room when the alarm goes off.
Within Pebble’s app, you can set up to 10 silent alarms, and Pebble offers both basic and smart alarms. Basic alarms simply vibrate at the designated time, while smart alarms will wake you up at the most optimal point within 30 minutes of your designated wake-up time. I’ve always been a fan of silent alarms, and Pebble’s is no exception — the vibration is gentle enough to remain silent, and persistent enough to catch my attention in the middle of a deep snooze.
Ignoring a vibrating watch is also infinitely more difficult than snoozing a phone alarm. I have to physically press one of the side buttons on my Pebble 2 in order to either cancel the alarm or snooze it, and that’s usually enough to wake me up and get out of bed.
With the Pebble 2, you can receive notifications from your phone for a range of alerts. I expected the basics — texts, calls, emails, and calendar alerts — but was also pleasantly surprised by the range of other alerts that display on my watch. Apple News, Slack, and Twitter mentions were clearly readable on my watch, and the alerts offered enough of a preview that I was able to quickly decide whether to dismiss the notification or grab my phone.
The main screen of the Pebble app displays your daily activity, heart rate, and sleep. You can also download additional apps and watchfaces, and customize your notifications and settings. I ran into difficulties when I opened the Pebble app after ignoring it for a day or more — it takes a few seconds for the app to sync with the smartwatch, and on a few occasions, the app completely crashed while it was updating.
Within the app, you can drag your finger over the heart rate screen to view your heart rate at different times throughout the day, and you can drag the slider over the activity screen to view your steps. But the sleep screen lacked the same feature, which felt like a design flaw — I kept expecting to be able to interact with the sleep charts beyond just looking at historical data.
Pebble’s Timeline interface pairs well with the Pebble 2’s large screen. When you want to view upcoming events, everything is neatly displayed on the Pebble’s black-and-white e-paper screen. The quick launch buttons are also handy — I set mine to quickly bring up notifications and music control features using the up and down buttons.If you prefer, these buttons can also let you quickly access your favorite downloaded apps.
When your Pebble 2 is paired via Bluetooth with your phone, you can control the volume, tracks, and play/pause features directly through your watch. It’s a convenient feature that I truly appreciated when I listened to podcasts in my car — I was able to sit in the driver’s seat, start playback from my phone with my Pebble 2, and begin my commute without fiddling with my phone’s home screen.
The Pebble 2 is advertised as lasting up to seven days, and I regularly got six to seven days of use. While I love the Pebble Time Round, I felt spoiled not having to charge my smartwatch every other day — I just wore it and forgot about it like a proper watch.
Of course, the battery life varies depending on how you use your Pebble. If you’re constantly checking the screen and using tons of apps, your battery might last closer to a still-respectable five days.
I’m hardly the first person to describe the Pebble 2 as “geek-chic”, but that truly seems like the most apt way to capture its design. It’s bulky, yet slim. It’s toy-like, yet tech-forward. Of the five available color combinations, I opted for the white version, and I loved how it stood out against my regular wardrobe. I’d likely choose a different smartwatch altogether if I wanted something that looked more professional (like the Pebble Time Round), but for the price, it’s a great everyday smartwatch.
The silicone wristband was comfortable and flexible, and the watch itself has ergonomically curved edges that usually helped the watch rest securely on my wrist. The buckle enclosure is secure, and the loops keep the wristband securely in place. Even though I wore my Pebble 2 nearly 24/7, I never developed the skin rash that some Fitbit users have experienced.
The Pebble 2 probably isn’t going to complement a tux or a little black dress. But it will catch the eye of fellow tech lovers throughout your your day — just be prepared to field “what’s that on your wrist?” questions. To borrow Apple’s word, the Pebble 2’s blocky design is a courageous statement in a market of slowly shrinking wearables.
Bonus: a wider range of wristbands are available from Gadgetwraps, a third party website that sells wristbands specifically for Pebble watches. If you want to upgrade your device with sleeker colors and even luxe outer skins, their products are reasonably priced.
Our takeaway? If you want straightforward, customizable smartwatch with fitness tracking features, don’t drop $199.95 on a Fitbit Blaze or $369 on an Apple Watch Series 2. At $129.99, Pebble 2 covers all the bases, and further establishes that the little Kickstarter that could is here to stay.
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