Pebble Smart Watch - How it Works for Walkers

Pebble Smart Watch with UP Watch Face
Pebble Smart Watch with UP Watch Face. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The Pebble smart watch runs many apps and integrates with smart phone apps. What can it do for your walking life?

I got a sample of the Pebble to try out. I ran into some snags as it arrived the same time as iOS 8 and the roll-out of new activity tracking firmware for the Pebble. I expect that some of the bugs I encountered will be worked out. The Pebble works with both Android and iPhones and also has many stand-alone watch apps.

Pedometer and Activity Tracking Pebble Watch Apps

There are many different pedometer apps developed as watch apps for the Pebble. I tested a few of them.

UP App: This app works in the background or you can use it as a watch face and keep it in the foreground. As a watch face, you see your step count and progress towards your daily goal, plus an hour and minute hand. You can easily press the down button to scroll through your other watch faces if you want more precise time. I loved that the step count and time of day were readable without resorting to reading glasses.

  • History: You can view your daily total steps for the past week with a flick of your wrist, and flick again to return to the watch face.
  • Step Accuracy: The step count with this app matched very well with a Fitbit Zip worn on my waistband and a Nike FuelBand on my other wrist.
  • Inactivity vibration alerts: You can set an inactivity alert and your Pebble will vibrate when you haven't gotten up and moved in your desired amount of time. I loved this feature.
  • Sleep tracking. This was not yet enabled as of October, 2014 but is promised. Jawbone UP does very good sleep tracking, so the addition would make it a great alternative to wearing the UP fitness band or another sleep tracker.
  • Phone app for more details: Your Pebble data can be transferred via Bluetooth LE to the Jawbone UP app on compatible smart phones. You need to pick the app version that doesn't require the Jawbone UP wristband. The app shows steps, distance,  active time, calories burned, longest idle time and more. You can track your food intake and mood and share with social networks. More: Jawbone UP Review
  • I give the UP Pebble App the thumbs up. It is a great replacement for any fitness band. It also beats the other Pebble apps as it works in the background.
  • Drawbacks: UP does not track specific workouts. But it will continue to log your all-day steps while you use one of the workout-tracking Pebble apps.

Misfit Watch App: This app from the developers of the Misfit Shine activity monitor counts steps and activity with the Pebble. You can use the watch app as a stand-alone pedometer or sync it with the partner smart phone app.The watch app displays the time of day, steps and activity points. However, it doesn't work in the background and must be on top in order to record steps. It tracks sleep when you use it with the app. When on top, the time of day is very tiny and I have to get out my reading glasses to read it. That isn't very satisfying for a watch. If you switch to any other Pebble apps, your steps won't be recorded for the duration. There were many bugs and crashes in the roll-out of iOS 8.

I expect those will be corrected. But overall, the reason to use the Misfit app rather than the superior UP app is that it can track your sleep. You might use it just for sleep monitoring until the UP app adds that feature.
More: Misfit Shine Review

Pedometer App: This app acts as a simple step counting pedometer, with calorie count and a user-selected step goal. It doesn't work in the background, so if you launch it you need to keep it up top showing steps and calories, with the time of day displayed in very tiny print. It's useful if you want to count steps for walking workouts, but not if you want to track all-day steps while displaying one of the other watch apps or the watch face. You can see the total since you last reset the app, but only steps recorded while the app was active. I found the app to be very sensitive to arm motion, even when set to the "not sensitive" setting. I give this a failing grade. Don't bother, use the UP app for all-day steps and the Walk+ App to track workouts.

Walk+ App: This app needs the companion app on your smart phone to use its GPS to track your walking distance and speed and save a map of your walk. While there are many phone GPS walking apps that do this (such as MapMyWalk), I liked being able to see my data on the Pebble as I walked. You can scroll through several screens on the Pebble to see time of day (including seconds), distance, pace, walking time (start and stop with the Pebble), altitude, grade, average pace, climbing, temperature, head wind, Pebble battery and phone battery levels. The app info says you should be able to see a map on your phone, but all I get is a blank screen where I think that is supposed to be. This is likely a bug in the roll-out. I love the weather info and hill info. It was very nice to see my stats in real time on the watch while my iPhone was safe in my pocket or pack. I had trouble with the app crashing, but that is likely due to the iOS 8 roll-out issues and should be resolved.

Heartbeats App: If you have a Bluetooth heart rate monitor such as the Polar H7, you can use the Pebble to view your heart rate as you walk. It requires a companion smart phone app to work, and there was a small charge for the app. I tried it out and it works fine, but you can't set any heart rate zone alerts or any other features of a good heart rate monitor. The phone app will integrate with Runkeeper so you can track heart rate along with tracking your workout via GPS.

Other Useful Features for Walkers

  • Music Control: You can control the volume and skip tracks of your default phone music app. This is handy while walking.
  • Notifications: Phone Call Alerts and Text Messages: I suspect this is the main reason most of us would want a smart watch. I loved getting a vibration alert for incoming calls and texts. The caller ID and text messages appear on the screen for easy reading, and are saved in history for easy recall and review. I could read them without putting on my reading glasses.
  • Weather: You can view the weather on the watchface, the Weather Pebblet app or other apps.
  • Lots and Lots More Apps: There is an expanding universe of Pebble watch apps for many interests.

Bottom Line on the Pebble Smart Watch

The Pebble was a great introduction to a smart watch that was easy to wear and easy to use. The size and weight were the same as my traditional watch. It was easy to read in daylight, indoor light and the backlight worked well at night. It needs charging every few days (they say 5-7 but I recharged it each day). I had a couple of unexpected power drains when running the Misfit app -- I suspect it was using Bluetooth for real-time communication with my iPhone.

Pebble is rolling out new versions of the watch. I wore the Pebble Steel, which works well for business or play and doesn't look much different from a regular watch. The regular Pebble is half the price but made of polycarbonate with a rubber or silicone watchband.

Manufacturer's Site

Compare Prices

Continue Reading