As the official sequel to Pebble’s first e-ink black and white smartwatch from way back in 2012, the Pebble 2 (or Pebble 2 + Heart Rate, as it’s officially called) seems like an odd addition in the face of last year’s color Pebble Time. Pebble’s new focus is merging fitness tracking tools into their designs and the Pebble 2 is a definitive step in that direction. It refines the original’s activity tracking abilities and adds a heart rate monitor, all in a sporty lightweight package.
For those enamored with the shiny, high tech (and expensive) attributes of the Apple Watch and many of the Android Wear (and Samsung Gear S line) watches, the Pebble 2 might seem like a real step back. I’ve always gone back to Pebbles because they do exactly what I need a connected watch to do exceptionally well. As the successor to the original Pebble, the Pebble 2 is a step up, though it’s certainly not the belle of the ball when it comes to looks up next to the Apple Watch and the Moto 360.
Although personally, I really like the multi-colored plastic body, with a tough Gorilla Glass panel to protect the e-paper LCD screen. The rubber band is comfortable, even when strapped on tighter than I usually prefer, and the entire package has a distinctly athletic aesthetic. This is, of course, the point.
Pebble has undergone a bit of a change in direction over the last year. They’re aiming squarely at the fitness band market and they’ve changed the functionality of their watches to match. For $130, the Pebble 2 + Heart Rate offers all the important features of a smartwatch and a fitness band. It tracks walking and running (and “other” workouts, which is a hedgy description for every fitness tracker I’ve tried), but the inclusion of a heart rate monitor helps make it an exceptional bargain in comparison to the competition.
Pebble has been steadily improving the operating system of their watch line and their Pebble Health functionality is compatible with both Google Fit and Apple Health, so it can seamlessly become part of your work out. It’s also one of the few watches I’d take into water without even thinking twice, which is something you simply can’t say about most smartwatches.
In comparison to other wrist (and ear) heart rate monitors, the Pebble 2’s proved entirely in line. Step tracking has also gotten a lot more accurate, although it’s still mostly useless if you’re pushing a stroller. While I wouldn’t recommend most lower-priced fitness trackers for hard core fitness folk (especially actual trainers), for the average person, the Pebble 2 is fine way to monitor your fitness goals. The watch also includes the built in microphone from the Pebble Time, allowing you to respond to a variety of messages with your voice, without ever having to break out your phone.
While the black and white screen does feel like a step back after the Pebble Time, it has several distinct advantages. The contrast is better than the Time and no straight up LCD watch display even comes close to the visibility of the Pebble 2 in sunlight. More importantly, the screen is alway on so using it as an actual watch doesn’t feel like a gimmick or afterthought.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors in any level of light, the Pebble’s seemingly more primitive screen will prove its worth in no time, especially if you’ve dealt with the frustration of trying to read the screen of much more expensive watches in full daylight. At night, a quick shake of the wrist activates the backlight and the screen lights up briefly when you get a notification.
The Pebble 2 lets you choose whatever apps you want to send notifications to the watch screen. You can opt to shut off notifications for a particular app from the watch as well and the overall user interface is easy to get the hang of. In addition, there are literally thousands of downloadable apps and watchfaces to choose from in the Pebble store—most of which (on the Android side at least) are free or really cheap.
Like all Pebbles, you can change watch faces to your heart’s content and many of them show you pertinent time, weather, date, fitness, and even heart rates on one screen. It’s this sheer level of customizability that I still appreciate most about these watches thanks to an incredibly loyal and prolific user community.
The Pebble 2 continues the overall Pebble line’s absurdly good battery life. Pebble claims the 2 can go a week between charges, but I actually managed over 8 days—and that was with a watch face that provided real-time heart rate data. The Pebble 2 does still use that proprietary magnetic charging cable though, so losing it is a huge pain.
The upcoming Pebble Time 2 will include the heart rate monitor as well and look more refined, but also cost $200. If you aren’t quite into fitness and simply want a cheap and reliable smartwatch, you can even get the Pebble 2 without the monitor for a measly $100 (oddly called the SE version). Either way, the Pebble 2 does everything a smartwatch needs to do—it provides subtle notifications for all the incoming activities and messages on your phone and is adept for a variety of fitness needs, including swimming—for a surprisingly cheap price.