Pebble Time Round review: Incredibly thin watch, pretty thin value proposition

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Gizmag reviews Pebble Time Round, a razor-thin smartwatch that costs too much(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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Pebble has been something of a pioneer in smartwatches, blowing up Kickstarter with its original Pebble watch back when wearable tech wasn't much more than a concept. The company's latest smartwatch has one killer feature, but its pricing puts it in the Bermuda triangle of smartwatches.

Pebble's watches keep things simple. Notifications, music control, timelines and a decent collection of third-party apps – with voice dictation thrown in to give just enough of a nod to the higher-tech smartwatches it competes with.

That sounds like a great recipe for a budget smartwatch. Sell these suckers in the US$100-200 range and you have one hell of an alternative to pricier watches that sometimes struggle to justify their fancier tech and longer lists of features.

Unfortunately Pebble insists on pricing its 2015 watches in the $200-300 range, which has them breathing down the necks of more advanced rivals like the Gear S2, Apple Watch and Moto 360.

You could argue that Pebble gives anyone all they really need out of a smartwatch (though you could take that a step further and say nobody needs a smartwatch at all right now). But when you can get better screens, smoother input methods and other nice perks like voice assistants for just an extra $50 or so, why not splurge for the more powerful device?

Pebble makes quality products that are still priced like it's the only smartwatch in town.

Pebble Time Round has one badass killer feature: it's an incredibly thin smartwatch. At just 7.5 mm (0.3-inch) thin, it puts in perspective just how beefy other smartwatches are. It's like strapping a Thin Mint to your wrist.

When a device is that svelte, there's a subconscious reaction that makes it that much more impressive when it does something smart. Put a big and clunky geek-watch on your wrist and it had better have a time machine or money printer hidden inside to make it worth your while. But when something is so light and thin it feels like a kids' toy, suddenly simple smartwatch business like notifications and voice replies seem amazing.

Once you get past that initial reaction, though, Pebble Time Round's status as a $250-300 watch sounds pretty thin as well.

Its "e-paper" display (not to be confused with e-ink, this one is a backlit LCD) is color, but not the kind of full-color AMOLED or IPS screen like you'd find on its rivals. It also isn't a touchscreen, so you're left navigating with four physical buttons on its side. Going from the Gear S2's awesome rotating bezel or the Apple Watch's digital crown to Pebble's four button setup feels a bit like going from your current smartphone back to an old Moto Razr flip phone. There's a better way, and this ain't it.

Again, if all of this was in a $150 watch, it would be much easier to digest. But for $50 less than the Gear S2 and Moto 360 – and $100 more than the Asus ZenWatch 2 – then why bother?

Pebble Time Round also loses one of the last-remaining advantages of other Pebbles: insane, often weeklong battery life. I have no problem dropping a smartwatch on a charger every night, so as long as it can make it through a full day with no issues (as all of today's tier-one smartwatches do) I'm not too worried about anything beyond that. But weeklong battery life is still a nice bonus, and it even opens the door to things like sleep-tracking.

But, unlike the O.G. Pebble, Pebble Steel and Pebble Time, this Round model only lasts a couple of days. That's the same as the Gear S2 and Huawei Watch – watches that feel much more advanced than Pebble's. Yet another strike against Pebble Time Round in the value proposition department.

As you may remember from the rectangular Pebble Time, the company is now building its software around a timeline UI, where you scroll up from the main clock face to see recent past events and down to see future events. If you're a heavy user of your smartphone's calendar app, this can be a convenient way to lay out a smartwatch UI.

Unfortunately not everyone does that. I rely much more heavily on Google Now or Siri reminders than I do calendar entries, and Pebble's timeline doesn't include those. In fact, when paired with an Android phone, you won't even get notifications for Google Now reminders or contextual alerts.

The timeline UI is a great idea with one flaw. It assumes we all organize our digital lives in the same way.

Pebble Time Round is the company's best-looking watch since Pebble Steel, and the most comfortable smartwatch we've strapped on to date (not that any of the others have been particularly uncomfortable). Once the Apples, Samsungs and Huaweis of the world start cramming more advanced tech into watches that are this crazy-thin, we'll have something truly special on our hands. And if Pebble Time Round cost $100 less right now, that could also be something special.

But at $250, Pebble Time Round is a pretty cool watch that just doesn't give us enough of a reason to get excited about it. Nothing special here, apart from its wafer-thin build.

Pebble Time Round is available now, ranging from $250 for leather band models to $300 for steel band versions. For more on its longer-lasting and rectangular sibling, you can hit up Gizmag's Pebble Time review from earlier this year.

Product page: Pebble

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