I've worn a Pebble Time on my wrist since 2015. That's over 7 years with the same device, and probably the longest for any 'mobile' device that I've owned. Even after the Pebble company's demise at the end of 2016, it was still the most usable smartwatch for what I needed. Only now that its battery life is going to roughly 3 days have I needed to replace it, and it was a somewhat begrudging replacement.
Why it took me so long
It took me so long because none of the 'new' smartwatches would be more functional than the Pebble for what I use. Here's what is important to me in a smartwatch:
- Primarily a watch for me is for telling the time 😱. Shocking, I know! I want to be able to look at my wrist and see the time. Any watch (nearly all of them at the moment) that doesn't have an always-on display is a no-go for me. Gesture-activated screens don't count. Which leads me to...
- Battery life. Nearly all the watches that do have an always-on-display option, come at a significant hit to battery life. My Pebble would last a week on a single charge, and at the end of its life, at least 3-4 days. Most smartwatches with LCD/OLED screens struggle to get past a day or two with an always-on display. I don't want to have to charge my watch every day.
- Notifications experience. This means at least:
- Notifications from all Android apps (with an option to filter out specific apps).
- Dismissing a notification on the watch should dismiss the same notification on the phone (and vice-versa).
- I want to be able to see that I have unread notifications on the watchface. At least an unread count, although my Pebble could show the icons of the apps that had unread notifications. As of now, Fitbits still aren't able to do this basic thing.
Everything else, like advanced fitness features, GPS, heart rate and pulse oximeter monitors, on-board music, etc., are all nice-to-haves but not essential.
Why I chose it
Over the years, I tried a few watches to see if I could replace it; for example, the original Fitbit Versa and one pre-wearOS Samsung Galaxy watch. Both failed matching the essential points above.
What I ended up getting, despite not being happy with the large price, was the Garmin Vivoactive 4. What's unique about these watches is the transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) display, which is similar to the Pebbles and doesn't use much power. It won't win any brightness/clarity/colour/resolution awards compared to the more-popular LCD/OLED screens, but it's totally fine for a watch that you don't spend much time looking at. It's always-on, always-readable in bright environments, and IMO is well worth the trade-off for almost-a-week battery life.
3 weeks in
I've used the watch for about 3 weeks now, and I'm pretty happy with it. It does have its quirks, like the distinction between widgets and apps, with widgets for some reason having a built-in 20-second timeout that reverts back to the watchface.
Although it can't show the apps that have unread notifications on the watchface, having an unread notification count available to watchfaces is an acceptable compromise. I have chosen to use the Clear and Powerful watchface; it's very customisable and shows just the right amount of information.
So far, I'm pretty satisfied. All the advanced fitness stuff has also motivated me to do more exercise: I've done a few GPS tracked walks, and I am tracking stair-climbs (my main indoor exercise when working from home) throughout the day.
Time will tell how this goes, but if it gets anywhere near the Pebble in terms of longevity, I'd be pretty happy.