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Pebble's Time Round smartwatch sacrifices battery life for style

Nicole Lee , @nicole
09.23.15
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While Pebble has already sold over 95,000 units of its Time and Time Steel smartwatches thanks to its highly successful Kickstarter campaign, it's not done with its 2015 lineup just yet. Today, the company is revealing the $249 Pebble Time Round, which, you guessed it, has a circular watchface. But that's not the only thing that sets the Time Round apart from the rest of Pebble's lineup. It's also thinner, lighter and the strap comes in both 14mm and 20mm widths, making it the slimmest and most lightweight Pebble to-date. Though there are a couple of downsides -- it only has a couple days of battery life and is not nearly as water-resistant as its square cousins -- the Time Round is by far the most elegant smartwatch Pebble has ever made.

Gallery: Pebble Time Round | 14 Photos

Gallery: Pebble Time Round press images | 13 Photos

The first thing that strikes me the instant I see the Pebble Time Round is how similar it looks to an actual watch. Due to its super-thin 7.5mm chassis, narrow 14mm / 20mm straps and, of course, that round 38.5mm diameter face, the Time Round simply looks and feels like a normal everyday watch, albeit with a touch more class. Smooth beveled edges on the underside lets it sit comfortably on the wrist and the sheer slim and lightweight nature of the watch makes it feel like I hardly have it on. What I particularly appreciated was the introduction of the 14mm width band (unheard of in the smartwatch world) for those like myself who prefer skinnier straps. Indeed, Pebble CEO and founder Eric Migicovsky tells me that the Time Round was designed with women (ie. those with smaller wrists) in mind.

The Time Round has an all-metal casing -- it comes in black, silver and an all-new rose gold finish that's special to the Round. Like the other Pebble watches, the Time Round does have a rather thick bezel surrounding its display -- that's because much of Pebble's apps really only work on a 1.25-inch screen. But unlike the previous Pebble watches, the Time Round's bezel comes in both black and white variations. And of those, you can choose a white one with five-minute markers or a black one with three-hour markers along the perimeter. "Our designers match the bezel for the look and feel of each watch," says Migicovsky. While I would of course much prefer a wider display, I appreciate the efforts that Pebble has gone through to make the Time Round's bezel much more attractive and fashion-forward.

But the Time Round's slimmer and sexier design comes at a cost. While the other Pebble Time offerings have a week-plus of battery life (the Time Steel supposedly lasts up to 10 days), the Time Round only lasts two days before you have to charge it again. "We recognize that it's less than the Pebble Time," says Migicovsky. "So we thought, okay, how does it work in your daily routine. We want to make sure this is a watch you can wear 24-7 if you want it." The solution? The Time Round is the first and only Pebble watch to feature Quick Charge -- just 15 minutes of charge time will give you 24 hours of use. "So before you go shower in the morning [for example], you can just charge it quickly as you get ready for the day," he says.

Another concession is that the Time Round is not as water-resistant as its Pebble predecessors. While you can easily go for a swim with the Time and the Time Steel, you can't do so with the Time Round. It will still survive the shower and the occasional downpour, says Migicovsky, but you'll have to take the watch off before heading to the pool. So if you're a swimmer who'd like a smartwatch to track your swim laps, you should stick to the older square Pebbles.

Everything else about the Pebble Time Round should be the same as the Time and the Time Steel -- it has a color e-paper display, charging pin connectors with support for additional "smart straps" and you can easily swap in any third-party strap that's either 14mm or 20mm wide, depending on which model you pick.

And like all the other Time watches, the Time Round also ships with Pebble's new Timeline interface which lays out all of your apps and notifications in chronological order -- you can use the buttons on the side to toggle through "past" and "future" events. Surprisingly, Migicovsky tells me that the reason they built this Timeline interface in the first place is because they knew the Pebble Time Round was coming. "Timeline is a different way of displaying time on your wrist," he says, and it's an interface that's well-suited for both square and circular displays. When questioned on how long the Time Round was in development, he says Pebble has been working on it for over a year.

As you might imagine, Pebble already has a slew of different round watch face designs ready to deploy. They're also announcing a new SDK today that'll make it easier for developers to make their apps work in a circle as well as a square. Developers can simply update the app, he says, and it should work in all Pebble watches with the Timeline interface. Also of note: Migicovsky tells me that the new Timeline OS will be available to all original Pebbles as well. That firmware update should arrive in a couple of months.

"This is a product only Pebble can make," says Migicovsky of the Pebble Time Round. Apple is already working hard to keep the Apple Watch battery life last more than 24 hours, he says, adding that the Cupertino company can't compromise and make it smaller without dramatically changing the product. "For us, we already have a watch that lasts ten days. What if we concede on that a little? We can make something so much thinner and lighter."

The Time Round comes in a few different options. You can have them in two different strap sizes, 14mm and 20mm, and both versions are available in black and silver. If you want the rose gold option, however, that's only available in 14mm. As a default, all Time Round watches ship with a leather band and will retail for $249, which is the same price as the Time Steel. For $50 more, you can get a metal bracelet, which I think is particularly pretty in rose gold. If you want one, you can go ahead and pre-order the Time Round from Best Buy, Target, Amazon and Pebble's own website starting today. Bear in mind, however, that you'll have to wait for a bit: first units will start shipping in November.

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