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    Pebble Time Round review: A prettier design comes with tradeoffs

    Nicole Lee , @nicole
    11.05.15
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    Earlier this year, Pebble released two new smartwatches: The Time and the Time Steel. Both feature color e-ink displays, an updated "Timeline" interface, support for voice replies, and a new accessory port that promises to increase the watch's functionality over time through third-party "smart straps." But two watches wasn't enough for Pebble. In September, the company unveiled yet another new model: the Pebble Time Round. As its name suggests, it's basically just a circular version of the Time, and will be available in stores starting November 8th for $249. It's also thinner, lighter and the strap comes in both 14mm and 20mm widths, making it ideal for smaller wrists. But with this more fashionable look comes a couple of concessions: it has much shorter battery life than its predecessors and isn't nearly as water-resistant. The Time Round is, without a doubt, the best-looking device the company has ever put out, but those tradeoffs lessen its value considerably.

    Gallery: Pebble Time Round review | 27 Photos


    

    Engadget Score
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    Uninspiring
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    Key

    Pros
    • Thin,lightweight design
    • Color e-paper is easy to read under bright light
    • Potential for third-party "smart straps"
    Cons
    • Reduced battery life
    • Less water-resistant than previous models
    • Expensive for what it is

    Summary

    The Pebble Time Round is without doubt the most elegant smartwatch Pebble has ever made. It's slim, lightweight and fits smaller wrists well. Unfortunately, that fashionable design comes at a cost: It has far shorter battery life than previous Pebbles and you can no longer go swimming with it. Seeing as how you can get a more feature-rich watch for around the same price, we mainly recommend the Time Round for people who care more about style than substance.

    Hardware

    Review: Pebble Time Round

    One of the first things I noticed about the Pebble Time Round is that it looks and feels almost exactly like a regular watch. Even though I liked the style of the Time and Time Steel, their square faces and somewhat thick chassis still betrayed their smartwatch roots. The Time Round, on the other hand, looks indistinguishable from most other wristwatches. In particular, the 38.5mm diameter watchface combines with those relatively slim straps to make the device ideal for those with smaller wrists. Its slim 7.5mm-thick design, all-metal chassis and smooth beveled edges also help make this feel like a premium device. Speaking of the sort, the default strap is made of leather, which I like, but you can opt for a metal bracelet for $50 more. The device is available in black, silver and rose gold.

    Perhaps the biggest downside of the Time Round's design is that thick bezel surrounding the display. Unfortunately, that's the case for all of Pebble's watches because many of Pebble's apps are only designed for a 1.25-inch screen. Fortunately, the Time Round does offer a few different bezel options -- there's a white one with five-minute markers, for example, and a black one with three-hour markers -- to add a bit of style and function to an otherwise empty space.

    As for that display, it's the same color e-paper screen as on the Time and the Time Steel. It's certainly not as rich or colorful as brighter OLED panels, but it's still perfectly functional. You can adjust the brightness all the way from "Low" to "Blinding," and you can also enable the ambient light sensor so that it'll trigger the backlight only when necessary. E-paper offers a couple of benefits over traditional LCD: The Time Round is much more legible under bright sunlight, and the watchface is always on without having to flick the wrist and activate the screen. But while the Time and Time Steel touts a week or more of battery life thanks to the low power requirements of e-paper, the Time Round is only rated for one or two days of battery life, thereby negating one of e-paper's biggest advantages.


    The rest of the Time Round's design is similar to the Time and the Time Steel. The button on the left acts as a back and backlight button, while the three buttons on the right are used to navigate through the watch's interface. You can also map them as quick-launch shortcuts to certain applications if you press and hold down on them. Flip the watch around and you'll find a couple of charging pins that double as a smart accessory port for third-party "smart straps" that add additional functionality to the watch. For example, you could get a smart strap that adds GPS, a heart rate monitor or even extra battery life. I haven't had a chance to try them just yet (many of them are still in development), but the idea of a smartwatch getting better over time thanks to extra smartstraps is pretty intriguing.

    As with the other Pebble devices, you can also easily swap out the straps of the Time Round with other 14mm or 20mm options. It has a microphone for voice memos and voice replies, an accelerometer, a backlight and a vibrating motor.

    While the Time and Time Steel are water-resistant up to 30 meters and can be worn while swimming, the Time Round can not. As Pebble puts it, the Time Round is only "splash-resistant" -- you can still get it wet, but it shouldn't be submerged in water. The company also doesn't recommend the Time Round be worn in the shower. That might not be a big deal for some, but it could be a dealbreaker if you're looking for a device to track swim laps.

    Software

    The software in the Time Round is identical to that of the other Pebble watches, so if you're already familiar with Pebble's new Timeline interface, there won't be anything new here. But just in case you need a brief refresher, I'll go over the highlights.

    The interface we have here essentially arranges all of your events, notifications, reminders and news in chronological order. Pressing the up button will let you look at past notifications, for example, while pressing the down button would offer a peek at future calendar events. The idea here is that you no longer need to open an app to find out desired information. So instead of launching ESPN to find out when the Warriors are playing next, you can just peek into the future to see that the game is scheduled for 7:30pm the next day.

    In order to install apps and watchfaces on your Pebble (as well as get any sort of notification), you'll need to pair the watch with a phone. To do this, simply download the Pebble Time app for Android or iOS and follow the instructions to pair the watch. Not all apps will work with the Time Round right off the bat due to its circular design, but we're told that there are already 90 compatible apps and over 275 watchfaces, and I suspect that number will grow over time.

    Other neat features include a "Quiet Time" function that lets you disable notifications on certain days or at times when you don't want to be disturbed. You can also set an alarm, enable or disable vibrating alerts, and choose which app you want for activity tracking (you can only enable one fitness app at a time). As for what you can do when you receive an incoming text message notification, that depends on what phone you have. If it's an iPhone, the most you can do is dismiss the text message. But if you're on Android, you're able to respond with either a list of canned responses, an emoji or a dictated voice message. That said, we're told that Pebble is working on an iOS solution too, so stay tuned for that.

    Performance and battery life

    The Pebble Time Round is a simple smartwatch and as such, isn't bogged down by the usual litany of menu trees that have been known to plague more complicated wearables. The performance is pretty smooth and I didn't experience too much lag when scrolling through different pages. The communication between the phone and the watch is pretty snappy too -- whatever change I made on my handset was reflected almost instantly on the watch.

    It's the Time Round's battery life that is its biggest downside. One of Pebble's most touted features across much of its product line is its long battery life -- the Time lasts about a week while the Time Steel squeezes out 10 days before needing a recharge. Not so with the Time Round. In order to create such a thin, lightweight design, Pebble had to cut down the Time Round's battery life to only two days at most. In my first test, where I used the watch extensively with High brightness, I whittled down the Time Round's battery life to 20 percent in just under 24 hours. The next day, I lowered the brightness to Medium, and it wasn't as bad: only about 50 percent after 24 hours.

    The competition

    The Pebble Time Round's biggest competition might be its own cousins. You can get exactly the same functionality in the Time and the Time Steel for the same price or less -- the Time Steel is $249 while the Time is around $199 (The base price of the Time Round is $249). Sure those watches won't be as thin or light, but the battery life will be much longer and they'll be much more water-resistant too. Basically, if you're contemplating which Pebble to get, you have to decide on whether looks and style is worth trading battery life and water-resistance.

    Feature-wise, the Time Round doesn't really compare to other modern smartwatches. It doesn't have a touch screen or NFC or GPS and is thus not quite as robust as most Android Wear devices. That's why its $249 pricepoint is a little problematic. For $30 more you can get the upcoming Fossil Q Founder, while for $50 more you can get the latest and greatest Moto 360. Heck, you can even spend way less for a decent Android watch -- the ASUS ZenWatch 2 starts at only $149.

    And while the other Pebble watches can hold battery life as its big trump card, the Time Round doesn't have that luxury -- it lasts maybe a day or so more than the other Android Wear watches, which isn't that big of a difference to merit losing all the other features too. Both the LG Watch Urbane and the latest Moto 360 last about a day, while the Samsung Gear S2 eked out about two days before running out of juice. Indeed, the only real advantage the Time Round has over these other Android watches is its slim, lightweight design and the potential for those third-party smart straps.

    Wrap-up

    The Pebble Time Round is the most elegant smartwatch Pebble has ever made. It's thin, light and comes in widths that would fit even the most slender of wrists. Its circular, all-metal chassis and options for both leather and metal straps make this a device to behold. Yet, Pebble made significant tradeoffs to achieve such a slim design. The reduced two-day battery life is a big blow; worse, it negates one of the few factors that made previous Pebble watches so unique. Designing it to be less water-resistant feels like a misstep as well. That wouldn't even be such a big deal if the Time Round didn't cost $249, which puts it in the same price class as more feature-rich Android Wear watches. In the end, the Time Round is really only for those who want a pretty smartwatch regardless of the compromises.

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