Pebble Steel: Taking the leap of faith on smartwatches

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN - In the coming years, wearing a smartwatch or a health/fitness wristband will be the "in" thing. Wearable tech is going to be mainstream. So much so that you would rather not be caught dead without having some form of tech on your wrist.

Smartwatches have been around for quite some time, but it was only last year that it gained some momentum with the launch of kickstarter-backed Pebble and Samsung's Galaxy Gear.

This year, Google launched Android Wear, an operating system designed for smartwatches. LG and Motorola releases the hardware to run it. The most striking to ever come out was the round-faced Moto 360.

Samsung continued churning out new Gear watches, the recent one being the curvy Gear S which can take SIM cards and make calls independently.

Finally, Apple threw the gauntlet with the announcement of the Apple Watch, slated for release early 2015.

So there are already a selection of smartwatches to choose from right now, and there will be more next year. But is there really a need for a smart wearable device now? I'm here to find out.

I was never big on smartwatches to begin with because the industry is still in its infancy and has not yet offered anything compelling. However, I recently took the plunge as I was curious to find out what its like wearing one.

I never wanted any of the current offerings by big name phone developers. While Google's Android Wear OS is really impressive, the hardware leaves so much to be desired.

One major flaw of these smartwatches running on Android Wear is poor battery life. Even the best looking smartwatch on the market, Moto 360, requires a daily charge.

The upcoming Apple Watch is also expected to be a power-hungry device.

I was attracted by Pebble's five-to-seven day battery life, thanks in part to the e-ink display. Unlike colour LCDs, e-ink technology does not drain so much power.

I was worried at first, after being spoilt by sharp vivid displays on smartphones; I expected be disappointed by e-ink watch faces, but it turned out better than I expected.

E-ink's biggest benefit is that I can read the time on bright daylight.

Another factor on my smartwatch purchase was that I wanted a smartwatch that looks more like a wristwatch and less like a toy. While design is pretty subjective, I really don't want to get people's attention too much. Hence why I opted for something more discreet.

Pebble Steel

The stylish Pebble Steel (right) successfully conceals the "smartwatch" look from afar. It's only when people got a closer look and notice the incoming message alerts on the watch that they realised its not a regular watch.

The original Pebble watch looks too sporty for my taste, but I think it would be perfect for those with active lifestyles. On the other hand, the Pebble Steel is great for those wanting something more fashionable.

The Pebble may not be as powerful and feature-heavy as Google's smartwatches, but that's the point. I wanted a wristwatch that can alert me of incoming calls and messages. I don't want a glorified smartphone on my wrist that can tell time.

The Pebble is also currently the best way to go as it has the most apps in its ecosystem than its competitors.

There are already hundreds of apps that can be downloaded to the Pebble, from fitness trackers to GoPro remote. There are also thousands of watch faces to choose from, so you'll never grow tired of your watch's face design.

Once I got my incoming calls, messages and email notifications diverted to my watch, I felt a sense of liberty from my phone.

Trade-off

The trade-off is that I am constantly looking at my watch's face more than my phone, which oftentimes can be distracting. Fortunately, you can control which notifications you want to pop out on your watch.

The funny thing is whenever I look at my watch to read my notifications while having lunch with my friends, it seems like I was giving the impression that I was rushing for something. "Are you late?" "Do you have to be somewhere?" These were the questions I got from the guys at the table.

Perhaps when smartwatches finally become mainstream, people would no longer react that way.

For now, a quick glance at my wristwatch is far less rude than having my head down on my smartphone in the middle of a one-on-one.

One thing that really hit me when wearing a smartwatch over the past week was my growing appeal for larger phones and phablets.

You see, I never liked the idea of smartphones getting bigger each year. Easy one-hand use and pocketability are crucial for me.

But with a smartwatch acting as my second screen, I no longer need to take out my phone that much. So with a phablet, that's not going to be bothersome at all when you won't be needing to use your phone all the time.

When I had the first Galaxy Note three years ago, having to constantly taking out and unlocking the big unwieldy phone just to check for any important messages was cumbersome, and made me revert to a much smaller device.

Others might find this a non-issue and may have gotten the hang of it, but having a second screen on your wrist makes having a large phone a great experience.

After using a smartwatch over the past few weeks, it's safe to say that the future is going to be exciting.

Is it a must-have now? Not really. Wait for at least another year until we start seeing something better. Current smartwatches haven't really hit the spot that would get anyone replace their traditional wristwatches.

The Apple Watch is definitely going to be popular among Apple fans next year but we still don't know the extent of how good it's going to be.

For now, the Pebble watch is an excellent choice for those who just want to dip their toes in smartwatch waters and not feel disappointed.