Pebble is launching a bunch of new smartwatches – the Pebble 2 and Pebble Time 2 – on Kickstarter today, hoping to win big at its old game for a third time. But it’s also announcing the $69 Pebble Core ($99 retail) which is most definitely not a Pebble smartwatch.
It’s a GPS tracking wearable for runners with no display that can store up to 4GB of music or even stream Spotify via 3G (and a micro SIM). Oh and it runs on Android 5.0, not Pebble OS.
If you’re tempted, just be warned now – shipping for the Pebble Core is set for January 2017, not September/November 2016 like the two new watches.
This MP3-player-with-GPS is a neat solution to the need for a wearable that will track your run and help you listen to that all important running playlist. We’re starting to see more running watches address this, like the TomTom Spark, but at $69 for Kickstarter backers, the Pebble Core is both simple and super affordable, less than half the price.
Let’s start with what works. The GPS run tracking is compatible with Runkeeper, Strava, Under Armour Record, MapMyRun and Google Fit smartphone apps. The device will also support Moov-style audio cues from your running and fitness apps.
The device is sweat and rain resistant (though not waterproof) and on GPS only mode, you’ll get a battery life of 20 hours. This drops down to nine hours for GPS and stored music, four hours with Spotify streaming over 3G. It’s all pretty impressive and it charges via a headphone charging cable or Qi wireless charging.
The polycarbonate and rubber device (available in black and white) weighs just 50g and, while it’s quite thick, it looks like the magnetised clip should easily slip onto your waistband, sleeve or hide in a pocket. (The exact dimensions are 40mm x 40mm x 20mm). There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack for wired sports earphones and it connects to your phone via Bluetooth 4.1 so there you might also be able to hook up Bluetooth headphones.
It’s worth noting that Pebble is also saying that the Core is hacker friendly. So if you’re not a runner, the Core could become your “keychain computer” and “magic button” in the same way that the Misfit Flash Link can control music and smart home gadgets. It offers two programmable buttons, a hardware expansion port and early access to Pebble’s SDK for Core.
In terms of extra features, not aimed at runners, the wearable can send a SOS alert with your location in emergencies, capture voice notes (via your phone’s mic) and activate Pebble apps – like Uber – with one tap.
Pebble’s latest experiment
As expected, the Pebble Core is compatible with iPhones 4s and above, running iOS 8 and above plus Android phones on 4.3 Jelly Bean or higher.
We don’t have any details on how Pebble sees its customers paying for a micro SIM yet i.e. if there are any partnerships with operators to make sure you’re not paying for a plan just for Spotify (Premium only) streaming every month.
Even without this, the stored music + GPS is a bargain if you can live without a display. Plus there’s also Wi-Fi connectivity so you could stream music if you’re on a treadmill at the gym, for instance.
So here’s we run into what’s interesting about this Pebble experiment. There’s no display. Or optical heart rate monitor, which the Pebble 2 and Pebble Time 2 offer. Or full waterproofing. It doesn’t look like it is compatible with all of Pebble Health’s day to day activity tracking either which could be missing a trick. Though with a 20 hour maximum battery life, this isn’t going to be something you wear 24/7.
Essentially, Pebble (perhaps) wisely isn’t going after TomTom and Garmin in its first non-smartwatch product. Instead it’s going after the affordable Fitbits, Misfits and Jawbones and, once again, offering a viable, cheaper alternative to the Apple Watch for iPhone owners.
“With Pebble Core, we’re launching off the wrist and taking wearables to the next level,” said Eric Migicovsky on the launch. With the Core, Pebble isn’t a smartwatch startup anymore, it’s a wearable tech company and one that’s putting health and fitness more and more at the heart of its future. We’re very intrigued to see how Kickstarter reacts to this one.