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Wearable Tech.

We’re now seeing the start of the next, big thing in technology: Wearable tech. Google is experimenting with their Glass wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display, all the major fitness brands sell some kind of semi-intelligent fitness hand band, and the selection of smartwatches is increasing fast.

One of the first smartwatches to hit home with a major audience was Pebble. In 2012, Pebble Technology launched a Kickstarter campaign that turned out to be a huge success. With over ten million US dollars pledged at the end of the campaign – more than ten times the amount the pledged for – the company went ahead and launched the first version of their Pebble smartwatch. As of November 2013 they have sold almost 200,000 units. Early 2014, Pebble released the second version, the Pebble Steel, a smartwatch that looks like a nice 80’s high quality watch and not something out of a lame science fiction movie.

Since I’m a sucker for (new) technology and have a soft heart for nostalgia, I really want a Pebble Steel. But is it a good idea to buy one now?

Technology

The Pebble smartwatch runs a proprietary operating system, Pebble OS. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I enjoy the openness of Android. So naturally, I got very excited when Google announced Android Wear earlier this week.

But do you really want Android on your smartwatch? If the device is a replacement for a mobile phone, you do, but will that happen any time soon? I doubt it. People are using their phones for a lot of things that won’t be possible on a smartwatch, mainly because of the screen size. Browsing a web site on a screen the size of a coin? Close to impossible. Playing Angry Birds or Candy Crush? Good luck with that. So in those terms, when the smartwatch is not a replacement for your mobile phone, but rather an extension of it, a light weight operating system like Pebble OS might be a good thing. It only contains the bits and pieces you actually need, and not all the bells and whistles that quickly drain the battery.

And battery drain is an important factor. I’ve already got one device that needs to be charged every day and carefully nursed continuously to make sure it stays on whenever I don’t have access to a charger for a longer period of time. I’d rather not have a second device that demands the same level of attention to stay alive. I’m sure the engineers at Google have thought a lot about this problem, and that Android Wear isn’t a fully fledged Android version that will drain your smartwatch in a matter of minutes. But Pebble with Pebble OS is a tried and tested device that, with normal usage, will last at least five days without being charged.

Another thing that’s puts me off Android Wear is the use of voice control. In the few concepts I’ve seen so far, voice is used to control your Android smartwatch. I’ve been able to talk to my Android phone for years, but I’ve never done it. And how many people have you seen talking to iOS’ Siri in a real, every-day situation? I’m guessing none. Voice control is a novelty feature that the bulk of mobile phone owners don’t use. People just don’t talk to they gadgets. Pebble doesn’t use voice control, and as far as I know, it’s not even supported. This speaks to me (pun intended): I’m not the first guy to talk in a large group of people, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the first guy to talk to his smartwatch either.

Bluetooth

Pebble, and the majority of (if not all) smartwatches, use Bluetooth to connect to their companion phone. Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances. Its theoretical range is around 100 meters (~328 feet), but this depends on what Bluetooth class the device is.

Bluetooth uses the microwave radio frequency spectrum in the 2.402 GHz to 2.480 GHz range. Maximum power output from a Bluetooth radio is 100 mW for class 1, 2.5 mW for class 2, and 1 mW for class 3 devices. A modern smartphone typically outputs around 250 mW. I’ve not been able to find any information what class Bluetooth device the Pebble Steel is, but I’m guessing it’s class 2, with a typical range of 10 meters (~33 feet).

The 2.5 mW radiation isn’t much, at least compared to a mobile phone. But think about it for a second. Even though the wireless radiation is pretty low, the smartwatch is glued to your wrist. One of your arteries goes through your wrist, and that makes me a bit cautious. It’s probably just me being a paranoid, old fart, but having a constant source of wireless radiation connected to your wrist sounds like a bad idea. As far as I know, there is no conclusive research saying that electromagnetic fields and wireless radiation are harmful. But there isn’t any research concluding that they’re not harmful either. The reason is simply that we don’t know yet. We haven’t been exposed to Wi-Fi, mobile phones, Bluetooth and other sources of wireless radiation long enough for anyone to be able to conclude anything.

So strapping a radio transmitter to your body might not be harmful at all. Or it might be very bad for you, given enough time.

Usefulness

Let’s be honest. Pretty much every one of you have a mobile phone that you take with you everywhere. For the majority of you, it’s the last thing you look at before you go to bed and the first thing you look at when you wake up. It’s become an obsession. So why don’t we stop there? Do we really need to have technology that’s even closer to our body? Of course not. In the same way that most of us don’t really need a mobile phone. I remember when I didn’t have one, and I didn’t feel like less of a person than I do today back then.

But in many ways, the mobile phone has made life a lot more convenient. Easy access to GPS and interactive maps, for instance. Getting lost is a thing of the past. Men don’t have to ask for directions ever again. A lot of other devices have merged into the mobile phone and made moving about more comfortable. A couple of years ago I dragged an MP3 player, a camera and a larger, less functional mobile phone with me everywhere. Now I’ve got all of these features embedded in my LG Nexus 4.

So, a smartwatch can help make a the convenient mobile phone even better. But do I need a smartwatch? No, I don’t.

The Future

We’ve just beginning to see the future of wearable tech, and that future looks bright. With Google’s announcement of Android Wear came the news that both Motorola and LG are working on smartwatches running Android Wear. The Moto 360 looks like a classic time piece and embraces Android Wear’s ability to work on both square and circular screens. The LG G Watch using the square form factor we’re used to on most other smartwatches.

But although the Moto 360 looks like it will become an impressive piece of tech, some of the smartwatch concepts I’ve seen completely crush Motorola’s device. The Smartwatch Concept by Gábor Balogh is one amazing example.

The problem with the Moto 360, the LG G Watch and all the concepts, however, is that they are not available today. The Pebble Steel is.

Conclusion

This was me trying to write myself out of spending $229 on something I don’t really need. Unfortunately, I didn’t succeed, and a Pebble Steel order has been placed. The delivery time is horrible, though. The watch won’t ship until 6-8 weeks after the order is placed, and then there’s a few extra weeks on top of that for the actual shipping.

So now we play the waiting game.

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  1. Good choice, I have the original and love it. After almost a year of use I still only charge it once a week and use it every day. The biggest drawback with the Steel is that you can’t easily replace the strap. On the original the strap is garbage, but the the Steel straps looks a lot nicer.

    @ingermjohansen that test is complete bollocks, the only remotely interesting part is the comments.

      • Both steel and leather are huge improvements to the bulky and stiff rubber crap that is the standard on the Pebble Plastic. Luckily for me it uses standard 20mm straps so I could put a nice black Nato strap on it.

        Yes and no, I don’t turn off BT on my watch, but I do turn off BT (and everything else) on my phone 7 hours every night (Tasker turns on Airplane mode from 00:00 to 07:00 if I’m home).

        YMMV, but you should get 5 days if you use a sensible watchface, I’ve seen some complaints about 2-3 days battery life and most of them have been due to analog watchfaces with seconds or something else. I try to limit how much of the screen is updated every second, for a long time I only used digital watchfaces without seconds, but then I found one with two tiny seconds digits in a corner and I’ve stuck with that one.