Why you should care
Because why spend $500 when you can spend $99?
These days, everyone seems to be selling smartwatches. Apple, LG, Samsung, Motorola and even some brands you’ve likely never heard of are all hoping to get you to part with your cash for their fancy wrist-worn gadgets. There’s no question, these devices are smart — but how much smart do you really need? And with prices that start around $220 and proceed rapidly upward, many of these items are now as expensive (or more!) than the smartphones they aim to connect you with. But remember the company that got everyone excited about smartwatches in the first place?
The original Pebble watch — launched in 2013 and now referred to by the company as the Pebble Classic — might no longer be the newest kid on the block, but it’s still the best value. It’s meant to “blend into your life,” Pebble’s head of design, Mark Solomon, tells OZY. It’s lightweight, with an ergonomically curved back and an e-paper screen that you can see well in daylight. In other words, it feels like a regular watch, not a computer. It connects to both iPhones and Android devices — it was the first smartwatch to do so — which makes a handy option for those considering a phone switch in the future.
Touch screens require you to look at them; the Pebble isn’t so vain.
Once paired, the $99 Pebble notifies you of phone calls, emails, text messages and even Facebook updates with a gentle vibration on your wrist and an on-screen message — something that other smartwatches also do, but for a whole lot more cash. It’s so handy that my expensive TAG Heuer now sits idle on my bedside table, all beauty but no brains. Each of the Pebble’s functions can be controlled through its four physical buttons, which can be used “blind.” Touch screens require you to look at them; the Pebble isn’t so vain. And yes, there are apps, from companies such as Fitbit, RunKeeper, Nest and ESPN. But these aren’t the kind of deep, stare-at-your-wrist apps you might find from Apple or Android. Solomon says if you’re going to spend that much time (no pun intended) on your watch, “You might as well go to your phone.” Even the company’s newest model — the $249 Pebble Time Round, set for release in November — sticks firmly to this philosophy with a design that’s even more classically “watchlike” than its predecessors.
Of course, there’s a lot you don’t get for $99. There’s no touch screen. You can’t talk to Siri. The e-paper display ain’t exactly high-res, and it’s only black-and-white (the $199 Pebble Time has a color display). But perhaps more critically, as Tom Emrich, the founder of WeAreWearables.com, points out — there’s no heart rate sensor like you’ll find on the Apple Watch. “It’s the biggest thing the Pebble lacks,” Emrich says, “and it’s a key feature for gathering health data.” He also notes that over time, more developers will align themselves with Apple’s WatchOS, meaning new apps might not be made available for Pebble.
This much is true: No one will ever mistake a Pebble Classic on your wrist for an Apple Watch or even a TAG Heuer, but knowing you paid only $99 to never miss another urgent phone call will probably make you feel pretty smug anyway. I know I do.