I've known about the Pebble Smartwatch for a very long time.
I followed the coverage on it way back before it's Kickstarter project got funded, and I've followed it loosely since then.
Actually quite a lot has happened since those first Kickstarter models shipped. Pebble SDK 2.0 brought a central app store and last year brought the Pebble Steel: a more premium version of the original Pebble with mostly the same insides.
If this is the first time you're hearing of Pebble, it's essentially the basic realization of what a smartwatch could and should be. It shows you your notifications, controls your music, and tells you the time. It can do so much more than that, but those are the most basic functionalities that it comes with, and it's those things that really make the Pebble so great as a companion device to both you and your phone.
The Pebble has a pretty basic design centering around it's screen, and the four accompanying buttons that you use to control the watch.
You have three buttons used for navigating and selecting on the right side of the device, and a back button on the opposite side along with the contact points for the Pebble's magnetic charger.
The Pebble's design doesn't exactly feel premium, but it doesn't feel cheap either. The tolerances on the seams and buttons are tight and even though the watch's face is made from a glossy plastic it isn't as egregious as other incarnations of glossy plastic that I've seen. The hard plastic on the back is really quite nice, with a subtle matte texture accompanying the debossed Logo and serial information.
The screen really is one of the points of the Pebble that really sets it apart. It's an E-Paper LCD display that can refresh quickly like a normal LCD screen, but still retains a lot of the battery saving benefits that come from an E-Ink screen like you might find on a Kindle. The only real downside to this display other than it's lack of color is the rainbow-sheen distortion that becomes especially visible when displaying a white background on an app or watchface. This is due to the curve of the display and is present on every Pebble. It's not a big deal, but it does make using apps and watchfaces with white backgrounds a little less pleasant.
The strap that comes with the Pebble isn't too bad. It's a 22mm rubber strap with what appears to be a stainless steel clasp. It's not the most high-end of watch band hardware, but it certainly isn't awful, and a benefit of having that standard 22mm size is that you then have access to the thousands and thousands of other watch bands that are made for all kinds of watches. I think I'll eventually pick up a different watchband for mine, but I'm not quite sure what to get yet. I'm considering some natural leather and waxed canvas options for this winter season. We'll see how it goes.
As for how you use the Pebble, the software is just about as simple and tasteful as it can get. It's not the most futuristic of interfaces due to it's button-based interaction, but something about the simplicity of it makes it a prime watch-based UI.
Whenever you get a notification, the Pebble will vibrate lightly on your wrist and display the type of notification you received, and a little bit of content from whatever it was. The message of a text, the headline of an email, the body of an @ reply from Twitter; it's a pretty useful feature. You can also dismiss the notification with a press of the middle button on the side of the Pebble. Which as of iOS 8 dismisses the notification from both the watch and the phone, so you don't end up seeing the same notification twice.
Notifications differ slightly between iOS and Android as to what content is displayed, what types of notifications you get, and how much control over what apps can notify you on your watch. On Android you can pick and choose individually what types of notifications you'd like to receive. On iOS you'll receive all the same notifications you do on your phone, so it's a much less fine-grain style of filtering, but it still works depending on your needs. It works for me, and I don't have any problems with it.
Music control is just as dead-simple as notifications. As long as you have music playing on your phone, you can go to the music app on the Pebble and have access to play/pause controls, next/previous track controls, and volume as well. It's completely simple and intuitive. No extra fluff, just function.
As for telling the time, The Pebble has a selection of built-in watch faces to choose from as well as hundreds more in the Pebble App Store. These can range from minimal and abstract, to classic and skeuomorphic, to digital and information-heavy. There's probably a watch face for just about everyone somewhere on the app store. My personal favorite is this clean and handsome one here called Marked 2. I like it's use of Futura and the clean way it displays the basic information you'd want to know at a glance from your watch.
Hundreds more watch faces and apps are available on Pebble's app store, which can add all kinds of new functionality like giving you turn-by-turn directions, displaying your coupons, or letting you play chess with other people on the internet from you wrist. I actually think that last one's pretty neat, and I've had an enjoyable time playing with my friend in Canada.
This brings us to another of the few downsides the Pebble's minimal specifications and setup lead to, and that's the fact that you can only have 8 3rd party apps or watchfaces installed on the watch at the same time. I personally have never run into the limit as a problem, but I can see how it could be one if you wanted to be able to do a gamut of things all from your watch.
Even with all the applications and watchfaces running on it, the Pebble still manages to get absolutely outstanding battery life. I've never had it last less than four days, and on a good week I've gotten through all seven before having to plug the little device back in again. In this day and age where charging our phones several times a day has become a normality, the stamina of the Pebble stands tall as one of it's best features.
Personally, the best part of the Pebble for me is the few things that it does really well. You can probably hack this little device to do almost anything, but I like it better for the simple things that it does best. Notifications, music, and displaying the time in a nice looking way. The omnipresence of those three things are the coolest part about this little watch for me.
It's always there on my wrist, showing me the time and letting me access little bits of my phone's data unobtrusively while I go on about my life. The battery life ensures that you don't need to worry about it on a daily basis like I've become so accustomed to with my other electronics, and it all adds up into what is a delightful addition to my life. I really enjoy wearing it on a daily basis and it adds value to my life in a couple key ways.I wouldn't go back to a smartwatch-less lifestyle unless I absolutely had to.