I have the greatest smartwatch ever made. The key word there, unfortunately, is made.
In 2012, a scrappy little tech startup blew Kickstarter apart with the promise of the first really useful piece of wearable tech. Pebble Inc. would make a watch that was connected to your smartphone, providing you with notifications, the ability to control your music, and count your steps, all using a super-efficient e-paper display that would extend battery life into multiple days and be easy on the eyes. The first few models were big, boxy, black-and-white affairs that didn’t inspire much enthusiasm, but there was something there. Like awkward youth giving way to the unearned cockiness of adolescence, the Pebble was soon upgraded to the Pebble Time, which was… IN COLOUR and had GRAPHICS but was basically still a big clunky grey square on your wrist. However, as teens grow into adults, so too did Pebble.
The Pebble Time Round is the Jaguar of Smartwatches. Understated, simple, clean, with a chocolate brown leather strap, a burnished steel body, and the same animated colour display of its predecessor. The customisable watch faces give you a ton of options and the apps available range from super useful to the stupidly useless.1 Even the wide bezel that surrounds the face, the steadily shrinking tumours of the tech world, is rendered here in a pleasing white and adorned with the numbers of seconds. I wear it everyday and I get complimented on it everyday. It is the zenith of wearable tech, the perfect accessory to my style. The buzzing, long-lasting, wrist-mounted Bernie Sanders to my burgundy-cardigan-over-white-T-shirt Cardi B.
And then the company got bought out by Fitbit and they don’t make them anymore. That’s like Eleven Madison Park being sold to Booster Juice. Have you seen Ratatouille? It’s exactly like Ratatouille.
So, like a dog with arthritis, every time I take my Pebble Time Round outside I’m intensely aware that one day it’s going to die. I know, deep down, there are other smartwatches out there. Surely, the wearable tech industry has progressed to a place where someone has come up with a replacement for the Pebble Time Round, the platonic ideal of smartwatches!
Spoiler: They haven’t.
Apple Watch Series 3
PRICE: $430 to $1,820
PRO: Snappy, responsive action.
CON: Is not the Pebble Time Round.
Take a look at that second number up there. The high-end Apple Watch is almost two thousand dollars and the thing looks exactly like what it is: a tiny, square iPhone on your wrist. The Pebble Round is an accessory to your phone, not another, smaller, crappier phone. Of course the Apple Watch is very well-made: it’s responsive and snappy and the twisting knob you use to control it2 has a satisfying resistance to it. However, Apple seems to have forgotten the major reason to have one of these: the watch part! The watch face section on the website is the second-last thing they advertise, four entries beneath the app that tells you how to breathe.
Samsung Gear S3
PRO: The watch faces are nice and simple.
CON: Thicker than a slice of ham on a bowl of oatmeal in January. Also, is not the Pebble Time Round.
Samsung tries very, very hard not to photograph the Gear from the side. You’ll always see it straight on or slightly angled. They do this to hide the fact that the damn thing is taller than LeBron on a trampoline. Wearing the Gear feels like you’ve got the weight of five hundred bucks just sitting there on your arm. The one thing I did like was the use of the big bezel: you can twist it to interface with the watch and the UI is designed to be used this way, as opposed to the Apple which has two control surfaces. That’s the biggest issue with the Gear: it’s designed to compete with the Apple Watch, not the Pebble, the greatest piece of wearable tech since the Predator’s shoulder cannon.
PRO: You can tell people your watch is an Armani.
CON: The screen is like trying to play a Game Gear on the beach. Despite appearances from a distance, not the Pebble Time Round.
Best Buy has a few smartwatches made by fashion companies. Other than the outer design, they’re all pretty much the same. They’re thick like the Gear but the screens are much lower quality. They reminded me of those fireplace or aquarium channels—you’re very aware that you’re looking at a tiny screen and not a watch. They do seem to be focusing on being a watch replacement, with handsome faces that stick to their brands’ designs, though none match the understated elegance of my amazingly lightweight Pebble.
Fossil Q Commuter Hybrid
PRO: Looks like a real watch, because it is one.
CON: Truly huge, considering how limited its function is. You know what else looks like a real watch? The Pebble Time Round.
Hybrids have become more and more popular, though many fall into the men’s watch design trap, which I call “steampunk race car dashboard.” You don’t read your messages on the watch itself, instead program your favourite contacts to a number. When Contact #1 texts you, the minute hand will move to 1:00 to let you know who’s texted you, making the Hybrid temporarily useless as both a watch and a way to read your messages.
Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again. Looking now at my Pebble Time Round, coiled in its well-worn leather strap on my desk, I’m hesitant to take it outside. “What if the strap breaks while it’s in your pocket and you take your hand out of your pocket and your watch falls on the road and you lose it?” my dad asked, imagining a complex series of unlikely events that would make Christopher Nolan proud. What if? The real question underneath my seemingly fruitless quest to replace my Round is: what if I don’t need a smartwatch at all?
No, that’s silly. What if I want to skip through the ads on a podcast? What am I, gonna take my phone out of my pocket like an animal?
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Useful: The media controller. Hilariously useless: The Domino’s Pizza Tracker.|
|2.||↑||Except why do you need this? It’s got a touchscreen!|