LG G Watch vs Pebble: The simple genius of a not-so-smartwatch

LG G Watch vs Pebble: The simple genius of a not-so-smartwatch

Summary: I bought an LG G Watch to replace my year-old Pebble. Turns out, I'll be keeping the Pebble...

TOPICS: Android
LG G Watch
It's pretty, but trust me: You'd rather have a Pebble.

I really love my Pebble.

What the Pebble sets out to do, it does really well. Admittedly, it doesn't do very much -- but the important thing is that when I forget to put it on, I miss it.

When Google showed the Android Wear watches at the recent Google I/O, I was pretty excited. Watching the video, it seemed to me that they'd nailed it. It looked like they'd taken the best of Pebble and added extra secret sauce. So I excitedly bought an LG G Watch with an expectation of it replacing my Pebble.

Turns out the LG G Watch — and by extension Android Wear — is pretty rubbish. Here's why...


The genius of the Pebble smartwatch comes from the fact that it is so brain-dead simple. The basic principle is that when something happens in your digital life, a notification appears on your wrist. This keeps you very up-to-date with your digital life. You don't have to fish out and unlock your smartphone to keep up with what's happening.

The first problem that occurs with the LG G Watch is that you can't always make out the screen. The Pebble has an e-ink display, and short of trying to read it in the full glare of a supernova at a distance of a few light-seconds, you can always, always read the thing. Any angle, any conditions, you can read the time.

The LG G Watch, because it has an LCD IPS display, often gets washed out by ambient light. It also dims the display when it thinks you're not looking at it, and uses onboard sensors to guestimate when you've moved your arm around to look at the display, at which point the display brightens. That's very hit and miss. So hit and miss you have to think about it.

It's also a lot heavier than the Pebble, and bigger. But, hey, it does more than a Pebble, and right now no one is buying these things for aesthetic considerations.

The problem

When you look at video of the LG G Watch/Android Wear at Google I/O -- and they are the same thing as Google's no longer into the idea of their to-market partners modifying the Android experience -- it appears it works in the same way as the Pebble. Something happens in your digital life, and a notification appears on your wrist.

The Google I/O presentation showed many different notifications all coming through to the smartwatch. You also use gestures on a screen to flick around the notifications, as opposed to Pebble's thick and chunky hardware buttons.

Looking at it cold, you would assume that adding a little bit more sophistication in moving through notifications would create a net improvement over the Pebble. It totally does not do that.

The idea of a smartwatch is not that it runs apps. That's crazy -- no one is going to do that. Why fiddle with a tiny display and a hopeless UI when you have a smartphone that is likely to be less than a few feet away? The smartwatch's whole raison d’être is to show you notifications.

With Android Wear, Google has taken the principle of cards popularised with Google Now and pushed them into a smaller form factor. What happens is that notifications appear as cards on the smartwatch. Flick up and down to scroll, flick right to dismiss, and flick left to see more information.

That's a simple design, and it should make sense, but it doesn't work in practice.

Imagine a continuum where you have different capabilities of devices. Way on the left, you have a screen that shows a notification when you get an email, and buzzes when you do so. Way on the right, you have a PC with a big monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard, running an email client. In the middle you have a smartphone.

Special Feature

Wearables: Fit For Business?

Wearables: Fit For Business?

The explosion of interest in wearable computing is one of tech's fastest rising trends. While big moves from Google, Apple, and Samsung will likely attract a lot of attention, we're going to examine the broader potential that wearables hold for driving innovation in business.

We can then plot any device on that continuum from "all it does is show you the last email you got" to "I can sit here comfortably all day reading and writing emails." A smartphone fits in the middle because of its supreme portability and high usability. It's great for reading and writing short emails wherever you are. You give up some utility in the PC setup for its portability.

A Pebble smartwatch is way on the left-hand side of that continuum. The designers wanted a little bit more than "it just shows you email", but actually not very much more than that. You can always read the display, it always buzzes when something happens, and when you look at it you see the last thing that happened. It gives you information without fuss.

An Android Wear watch is more towards the smartwatch side. It buzzes (sometimes), and you look at it, and it might show you something, but most of the time you'll have to make gestures on the screen to get information out. At that point, you might as well just be using your smartphone because whereas a Pebble is just exactly the correct distance further away from being the basic device on the left, an Android Wear watch is just exactly the wrong distance away from being a smartphone.


A simpler way to put this is that a Pebble does something that augments the always-connected, always-available digital lifestyle afforded by a smartphone, and — through that augmentation — value to the user is delivered.

Conversely, an Android Wear smartwatch doesn't augment what a smartphone does, for the simple reason that it would be easier and more convenient just to take out your smartphone, and use that than fiddle around with something much too small on your wrist. (That by-the-by has no practical input method so you might as well just grab the smartphone. Pebble has no practical input mechanism at all.)

I was worried about the future of Pebble as a business when I saw the demo at Google I/O. I'm not anymore. If you want to buy a smartwatch, buy a Pebble.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Android

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  • All true

    This article is right on the very issue of what android smart watch should be but it is not. In the past six month I use Pebble and I learn the value of digital awareness that it give and that it does not try to be much more then that. It is the fact that it does not try to be much more then just digital life awareness device that make it so valuable. But like any thing else, Android smart watch try to be that and be a lot more and then it become less valuable because it run quick out of real estate to do more and kill battery faster. It also get bigger, heavier and uglier.
    • Uglier is a matter of opinion, of course ..

      ... but it seems to me that a sensible maker of smartwatches would allow you to choose what to use, and what not to use. So the LG, for example, should be able to be set to do EXACTLY what the pebble does, and no more. OR it could be set to do less / more / different.

      That would make it a much more flexible and valuable commodity.

      Pebble fans all seem to say "it's exactly right / I would never want different" ... looks like a fanboi mentality developing already.
      • Fanboi's

        Are a good thing for both, in this case, the company and the consumer. Passion is good, almost always.

        If it was not for the fanboi mentality of Apple fanboi's who were wiling to dish out all that cash for the original iPhone, then we would all still be using StarTAC phones with glowing rubber dial buttons and playing snake with a pager on our hip.
    • version 1 of anything...

      android wear is v1, and lg's watch was certainly rushed.

      wait for version 2 of both and we might be talking.. or in my case, the motorola which appears to have been desigend when google owned motorola and was in development much longer.
  • Fun article but ...

    ... you've slated the LG fairly comprehensively; I'm taking that as a fairly symbolic rejection of all 'supersmart' watches, not just LG's.

    But what you've failed to do, for me, is tell us what's so great about the pebble.

    It tells the time.
    It looks good.
    It signals when there's something occurring on your phone (any phone - or specific?)

    Frankly, I can't see the point of EITHER.

    Oh, and you need to realise that your review is subjective, not write opinion as if it's fact. There may be some folk out there who think the pebble is crude and too simple, while the LG (et al) are just dandy. Stranger things have happened. I think.
    • why I like my Pebble

      I can't legitimately comment on why the Pebble is better since I have not use an other wearables.
      For me the Pebble lets me know who is calling with only a tickle on my wrist and without digging out the phone. No more embarrassing ringing in the meeting and/or forgetting to put the ringer back on afterwards.
      It alerts me to an email arrival. I can read it as well but I don't as the phone is better for that. This function is useful when a reply email is important or an urgent email needs a reply.
      It shows me a limited amount of information that I find useful/interesting [time, date, day of week and weather stuff]
      It has more functionality than that but that is all I wanted to do. I do not want another computer on my wrist I just want another interface with the computer on my hip.
      And that is why in my opinion the smart watch market has been greatly overestimated. Most people I talk to think it is cool, some have no interest but not many want to know where to get one.
      • I still don't get it...

        I have this thing on my wrist that tells me the date and time, never needs charging, and is waterproof. It's called a "watch". I have this other thing in my pocket that let's me read/write email, check the weather, surf the internet, keep connected with social media and more. It's called a smartphone (BB Q10). Why do I want to have a "smart watch"?

        I can easily have my smartphone notify me, with sound or vibration or both, if I receive an email, social media message or phone call - why do I need to have that duplicated on my "watch"? If I care to see what the last message was I'll pull out my phone. If I'm in a meeting or talking to a real-live person I'll ignore the message notifications to focus my attention on that person.

        The more I read about "smart watches" the more I think they are for people that let their technology run their lives or become part of their lives instead of for people that use technology as a tool. The former are screwed.
        • When my Pebble comes in handy

          Here's my use case for my Pebble: I need to get work-related notification for calls, sms, and occasionally emails when I can't hear my phone or feel it vibrate in my pocket. Believe it or not, there are plenty of situations where that's the case. Mowing the lawn, running the snow blower, out at a concert, out at a movie, etc. I don't wear "skinny" jeans but there have been plenty of situations where I haven't even felt my phone vibrate in my pocket, let alone heard it ring.

          I've gotten more than my money's worth from my Kickstarter-backed Pebble. It was exactly the device I needed. And, that may well be true for the majority of other Pebble owners out there.
          • Pager

            ... and that might be a great use case for people that need a "pager like" technology paired with their smartphone.

            I just don't see that as a mass-market use case, unless it's for people that have decided to let themselves lead an interrupt-driven life. I choose not to. I'll determine when I want to interact with email / phone calls / sms / social media and not have a device do that for me.
          • You hate smartwatches, we get it, why are you reading this?

            DBRem, you are 100% WRONG. I found this article because I wanted to know if the G Watch was a worthy replacement for my Pebble. The article gave me the information I needed.

            My phone is often in my car's cupholder, my desk, or my kitchen counter, I miss calls and texts all day. My Pebble notifies me reliably every time I have a message or call. I thought I would use my Pebble in conjunction with my other watches. LOL, was that a total miscalculation! I haven't worn one of my other watches since.

            And Pebble can do A LOT of things! I am an avid boater. I wear my pebble when on the beach or out in the water and I get notifications on my wrist still! When people need me to pick them up on shore I don't have to get in the boat and check my phone every 5 minutes, I just wait for the text to my wrist. Oh and I hook up my phone via aux cable to my stereo and my Pebble lets me change the volume and skip through tracks in my Spotify app. A wireless remote control for my stereo costs more than the Pebble alone!

            The Pebble is a valuable tool, when used correctly it can replace a multitude of other devices/contraptions.
          • Re: Pager

            It doesn't have to be interrupt driven. It would drive me crazy to get every email notification to my smartwatch. I use an app called eNotify to only receive notifications for selected emails and sms namely ones from important contacts. I used it on Pebble and now I use it with my LG. But in any event software will make sure that you're only paged for important messages.
        • The watch is for small niche of market only who are the tech fans

          My daughter never wear watch since she had a smartphone because the phone can tell the time.
        • They are "for people that let their technology run their lives"

          And by repeating your line DBRem, I do mean the emphasis to be on "THEY ARE".

          I too find it at least moderately ridiculous. Its difficult for me to imagine anyones so called "digital life" to be so deadly important that they need notifications sent to their wrist to avoids them having to take their phone out.

          I mean, honestly, how did this happen to us?????

          It wasn't that long ago, when there wasn't a computer in every home and room, that we didn't even have an endless parade of emails and such. No phone calls when we were away from the desk so to speak. Then we all got computers and the endless stream of emails began. That was something in itself. Then we got the cell phone. The calls away from the desk began. Then began social internet and friends and family and even business interests began posting bits and bits of any little bit of news and thought that came to their head for you to review as soon as you made time.

          Then came the smartphone, now we could get our email and social connections right on the same device we take and make our "away from the desk" phone calls on.

          How did we ever get by without all this a few years back? How did our family and friends know we even cared about them, how did we ever find ourselves able to conduct business? How did the world move at anything but a crawl??

          But of course, as humans, we know well how to push the limits to ludicrous levels. Now we have people saying, that despite all the new bits of tech we have to make our lives move faster than could ever be imagined, we just cant get by without now getting notifications right to our wrists because that's such a fast way to make a check on our "digital life".

          Oh please.

          Really?? Are we actually going to do this one? Are we sure someone hasn't just convinced us on a bill of good s we don't really need at all?

          Im perplexed. Who except the POTUS and similar people in such a position might actual glean some genuine benefit from such a device. And you can bet the Prez aint using such a thing as the Pebble or otherwise similar, to get this kind of info.

          How did we get so self important that we now feel its so important we stay so on top of our "digital life" that we need to spend money on some device to send digital notifications to our wrist so we know whats going on absolutely ASAP.

          It seems utterly ridiculous to me.
          • You Really Don't Get It

            I don't know about other people who use smart watches, but with my Pebble, I spend LESS time tinkering with technology. For me having my watch buzz instead of my phone is wonderful not so I can get all the latest updates 2 seconds faster, but more for so I know when to NOT take my phone out and needlessly waste time on it. It is a time saver for me. Plus I like for my devices to make as little noise as possible. Vibrating/ringing phones can be annoying for me. A tiny buzz on my wrist? Perfect.

            But seriously, its also nice to never miss notifications. You act like people with smart watches are getting the things implanted in their skin, with no option of turning them off or taking them off! When I want that level of notification, I wear my smart watch. When I don't, I either turn off notifications, or I take my watch off. Pretty simple.

            These devices don't dramatically change your life, but they can make many aspects of your tech-related interaction more efficient and less obtrusive. You should really just try it before making these quite dramatic claims that humanity is on some terribly track with the smart watch being the latest nail in the coffin. If you don't think you would get value out of it, don't get one! Its the same situation as every other product that you don't already own.

            It's just a watch. And a pretty cool one at that.
          • I dont get it, your right on with that!

            For example, I am a more tech savvy and tech headed guy then at least a full 80% of the people I know. I don't get your need at all to "tinkering with technology" to the point that you find a smartwatch helpful in getting you to stop this apparently obsessive behavior.

            You sound like the guy who insists diet pills are a great idea for the general population, and that I don't get it because I don't understand how the pills stop you from wanting to snack so much and food having such a compulsive hold on you, SEE WHAT I MEAN??

            You don't get that what Im saying is that the problem dosnt START with the smartwatch, the smartwatch is like one more drug to help you cope with being on all the other drugs. Its ridiculous. And your claim of "I just don't get it" sounds just like the addict who wants his drugs and wants them bad and has lost perspective on his problem and everyone else who trying to tell him the solution is to cut back, not take on more drugs, just dosnt get it.

            So no, I just don't get it. But you clearly don't quite get it either. Reread my post and think of it and exactly what Im talking about. An iwatch is not a solution, its just one more crutch to deal with what is an almost silly and unmanageable situation.
          • Use Case Makes a Difference

            Many of us using cell phones for constant connectivity do it because our jobs require it - a PITA, but that is how we make our living, by being available on that basis. Apparently you are not in that situation, so good for you, and I really mean that - I am looking forward to retirement in another year or so, and then I will be in that situation (I hope).

            For an example of a non-IT job that requires this connectivity, consider emergency medical personnel where seconds count in life-or-death situations. I can remember back in the 70's when my uncle, a physician ("doctor" for you folks not involved with them personally ;-} ), would take us out to dinner. He had one of those pagers that sounded a loud beep-beep, then, after he pushed the button, a HUMAN BEING, known as a dispatcher, would practically yell out the message to call the hospital at a certain phone number - I supposed everyone in the restaurant could hear it, and I wanted to hide from all the stares. Then he had to go looking for a pay phone or some other available landline (was not ready for a bag phone then I guess). Life is a bit easier now on the physicians in that respect (never mind the insurance company check-box diagnosticians, bean counters, and Uncle Sugar telling them how to treat the patients, at what price, and with generic drugs from China...).

            As for all the socializing "fluffery", I can appreciate your concerns - it is getting all too digitized, and totally distracting, as well as rude on many occasions. Tonight I had to ask some teens ahead of me in the line for some coffee if they were going to order once their turn came since they were too busy comparing what was on their cell phones.

            However, that is still just human social behavior in yet another form. I experienced a similar, non-technological situation last night at a baseball game. I had to ask 2 ladies, who apparently were catching up on not seeing each for some long period of time, like a week or 2, while standing in the middle of the aisle between 2 bleacher sections, thus perfectly blocking our view of home plate, if they would move and let us watch the game. I was civil, and they immediately went down the steps to a more out-of-the-way place, and the crowd cheered (well, the dozen or so people around us appreciated it...). The point is that they were "socializing" face-to-face, no mobile phones involved. It is not just technology to blame here, but how humans interact, by whatever means - civility and considerateness is required in any venue.
          • Too much philosophy

            It's just a smartwatch. No need to get all crazy with the "digital life" philosophical mumbo jumbo. It's a useful tool.

            It keeps me from missing calls.

            I use it to notify me when I need to pick someone up at the dock when I am in my boat. I am able to go swimming without having to check my phone every 5 minutes. I get their text to my watch which is waterproof.

            I use it to plug into a stereo and control the volume and skip tracks with spotify from my watch. I use this in my boat and in my car (rather than look at my phone while driving I just click a button on my wrist).

            I use it to get information on how long and far I have run when running with the Runtastic app, that way I don't have to stop and twist my arm band to try and see my phone screen.

            It is a fantastic Bluetooth accessory for a smartphone.
          • phone can vibrate

            if you tell them so

            and no, I do not want jump at 'all notifications'. I have enough going on in my life not to spend my time reading texts, emails and notifications.

            I do not even have text enabled on my 'dumb' phone - for that reason. If you want to let me know something - call me. Otherwise it is not important.

            Unless you are a broker, and your notifications are worth reading them.

            I think that Cayble's post is brilliant.
          • Caybles philosophy

            Have you EVER considered the fall, your wife/husband/children ... is injured in an accident and you do not hear your mobile ringing because of street noise?
            What you write is far from the everyday reality; it is phony philosophy.
        • Try a smartwatch

          You're not "getting" it because you haven't tried it, and trust me, I've had this conversation with hundreds of people. But if you tried a smartwatch for a week, you'd "get" it. The idea is, it actually FREES you from your phone. It lets you choose when and what you need to interact with, quickly, at a glance.