Pebble is finally breaking out of its Tamagotchi-like mold with its third smartwatch this year, the Pebble Time Round.
For the first time since the debut of the original Pebble smartwatch, the company's fifth wearable actually looks like a watch. However, by looking more like a regular watch, the Time Round loses some features that actually made it smart.
"Unfortunately, Pebble picked form over function when designing the Pebble Time Round," complains Fortune's Jason Cipriani.
Measuring 38.5mm across and 7.5mm thin, this is Pebble's most svelte product yet. (By comparison, Apple's blocky smartwatch comes as large as 42mm and is nearly twice as thick at 12.6mm while Motorola's second generation Moto 360 blows up to 46mm wide and 11.6mm thick.) Though the new design looks and feels better on the wrist than past Pebbles, the Time Round's more fashionable form affects its battery life, water resistance, viewability and software compatibility.
Where past Pebbles boasted at least a week or more of battery life, the Time Round is rated for only two days of battery life at most. That makes it comparable to other smartwatches, but Pebbles were always in a league of their own when it came to longevity. Not so anymore with the Time Round.
"In my first test, where I used the watch extensively with High brightness, I whittled down the Time Round's battery life to 20 percent in just under 24 hours. The next day, I lowered the brightness to Medium, and it wasn't as bad: only about 50 percent after 24 hours," Engadget's Nicole Lee observed.
To its benefit, the Time Round does charge rather quickly. Plugging it in for just 15 minutes allows the watch to suck in enough juice to last one more day on its own. Pebble calls it a feature, but The Verge's Dan Seifert questions whether or not it's just a result of the device's smaller battery.
At the very least, the Time Round should be ready to go in about the time it takes to finish a shower - just don't take it in the shower. Unlike the previous models, this one isn't waterproof. "It's not waterproof, actually. It's just splashproof, which means you can wear it while you wash your hands but not in the pool or shower. For most people, that won't really matter," David Pierce reports for Wired.
What does matter - maybe even more than battery life - is the Time Round's face. Yes, it is round but it is also unbearably small. There's a thick bezel around the display which only allows for one inch of usable screen real estate, making the screen appear cramped and a chore to look at.
What's worse, the "Pebble Time's e-paper display is also a bummer. It's pretty dim-looking and I had to keep the backlight (accessed by a button press or an irritatingly vigorous wrist twist) on a bright setting in order to see anything on it in even moderately low light," says Rachel Metz of Technology Review.
The Time Round's circular face also limits the number of apps and watchfaces available for it. Despite having thousands of these already available on the Pebble platform, not many of them have been updated to fit Pebble's newest design. Early adopters and Pebble loyalists will just have to wait a little longer for developers to catch up.
With the exception of Apple (which pretty much plays by its own rules), the current smartwatch trend is to go full circle. It's taken Pebble two years to finally catch up with the rest of the industry and release a smartwatch that actually looks like a watch. In doing so, however, Pebble cut too many corners and ended up with a wearable that's more about style than substance.