Pebble SmartWatch Hardware Review

Pebble SmartWatch Hardware Review

Jan 9, 2014

Wearable tech is all the new rage. From Google Glass to the Galaxy Gear, everyone seems to want a piece of the on person action. Now, sadly we haven’t seen any Android powered belts buckles or tennis shoes quite yet, but we have seen an affordable but amazing SmartWatch called the Pebble. The product of a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, this independent Palo Alto, CA company developed a SmartWatch which costs way less than the Galaxy Gear but sports many of the same capabilities. Additionally, as a wrist watch, it has comfort, functionality and style.

In light of Pebble announcing the Pebble Steel at CES 2014 just recently, the regular Pebble SmartPhone is still an awesome option. A year after its initial release, the Pebble SmartWatch is available at retailers such as Best Buy or online at Amazon. It’s capable of interacting with both iOS and Android via BlueTooth, though Android is where it really takes the cake. It also comes it at a much lower cost than the Samsung SmartWatch, and even the Pebble Steel comes in about $50 less than its Samsung competition.


The watch itself may come off as unimpressive and a cheap knock off at first. The LED watch only appears in grayscale, lacking bright colors on the display. The colors on the Pebble is on the device itself, with the outline area around the screen coming in any of the 5 colors offered. The Pebble also lacks out of box, many of the popular features that a First Party device would have, such as the ability to answer one’s phone via the watch.

But where the Pebble SmartWatch really comes to life, is through the various first and third party apps that exist for the device. The PEbble SmartWatch prides itself on being an opensource device, with information on their website as to how to develop for the watch. Many of these third party apps add in functionalities such as the ability to answer the phone, to adding a calendar, pedometer, the ability to control the music on one’s phone, or a whole mess of other features. Pandora and some other apps are also coming to the PEbble SmartWatch, as announced at CES 2014. These apps give the watch more functionalities than other wearable tech items, while still looking cooler on your wrist and your wallet.


Setting up the device with an Android phone takes almost no time at all. Much like many BlueTooth devices, it’s important to make sure both are discoverable, but I was able to go from unboxing the phone to having it work properly to read a test text from my wife in about 5 minutes. It also has an impressive range with which it will still notify the wearer of any activity on their phone. I was able to get notification of my wife calling me from when I was across the office.

This device is capable of really giving a user a true hands free experience. The particular app I downloaded to answer the phone will actually answer the phone in speaker mode. This device will also send your emails, text messages, Google Hangout notifications and even Facebook replies to your watch. There’s also apps that will send Twitter notifications to your Pebble, as well as many other notifications and utilities. The Pebble Watch does seem to have it all.


The Pebble SmartWatch is probably one of the better devices out there in terms of cost, functionality, usability, operations and overall cool factor. Out of the box, it may not look like much, but an open source device always has an army of ambitious and smart people behind it. The Pebble is no exception to that, boasting a wide array of difference watch faces and apps that will do just about anything. Once you get your hands on one of these devices, it may be hard to imagine what life was like without it.

You can find more information about the Pebble, or purchase it here.

KickStarter Spotlight: Embrace+

KickStarter Spotlight: Embrace+

Feb 27, 2013

In past columns, we have taken a look at a few different devices that were created to help silently or casually display notifications. The majority of these are lamps or LED strips that have built in WiFi or Bluetooth technology. One was a charm that attaches to a purse or bad and lit up for calls, messages, and other notifications. These are all great for lounging around the house or driving in the car but their day to day practicality remain a question mark.

Being a college student I spend a lot of time in places where I would like to receive notifications but cannot because of the distraction to those around me. Obviously, my phone cannot start blaring Alice in Chains during a Circuits lecture, but I will not say that I am one to strictly abstain from texting in class. Those who work in office settings may find themselves in similar situations with email and annoying SMS notifications. Hailing from Seattle, the engineering duo of Paul Hornikx and Rudi Beijnen have an incredibly simple, elegant, and practical solution to all of these problems. Their idea is called the Embrace+, and is an idea so ludicrously simple that I have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that I did not think of it first.

Embrace+, as their clever name hints at, is a bracelet that glows different colors when their paired phone outputs a notification. Everything here, of course, is completely customizable within an impressive mobile app that keeps everything under the user’s control. The band is lit, not by LEDs, but a band of optical fibre that allows the device to remain incredibly slim and low-power. The goal with Embrace+ is to treat the user with a device that can be worn at any time, in any dress, without seeming like an obvious piece of tech. With successful funding the duo is focusing on putting the finishing slimming touches on as well as making the device 5atm waterproof which would allow for use in the shower as well as peace of mind in rainstorms and snow days. My only reservation is that the Embrace+ is a little bulky, coming in at 5mm at its slimmest and just 8mm at the battery, but I do not see that as being a main concern.

The Embrace+ truly looks like something from the future, and I have big hopes for it. I know for certain that I am putting this to the top of my birthday wish list, and cannot wait til similar devices begin to populate the marketplace. As of now, with only 20-plus days remaining the Embrace+ is still nearly $200,000 behind its goal, and pre-orders are going for just under $50 which is an amazing deal all things considered. So, give this deserving duo a shot and help usher in the next way of personal electronic accessories.

Free App Recap February 19 – Notification Apps

Free App Recap February 19 – Notification Apps

Feb 19, 2013

Believe it or not, some of the phones and tablets out there do not have an LED to notify when there is a message or email. This means, if the devices on silent, the screen needs to be turned on to check if there’s any new notifications. As luck would have it, there are several applications in the Google Play Store to solve this problem.


NoLED is the first application like this I ever used. The way NoLED works is to add an icon to the screen like a screen saver when a message is received. The default icons are nothing more than a colored pixel-like square on the screen. It moves around the screen. If there is more than one notification needed, more squares are added to the screen. The notification squares can be changed to icons for popular Android applications.

Download NoLED


BubbleBuzz is similar in the way it works. When a message is received, a notification icon will be displayed on the screen. The difference with BubbleBuzz is the icons are a bit more fun. The different application icons are floating around the screen in individual bubbles. To open the app, tap on the bubble to pop it and the app opens. BubbleBuzz also lets you automatically disable itself when the battery drops below a certain level.

Download BubbleBuzz

iLED – The Notifier

iLED has pretty much the same features as the other two apps in this list. One noticeable difference here is the background image can be changed. Instead of having just a plain black or colored background, add an image of something of interest. Make sure the background is not too busy or the icons will be hard to see. iLED works with a lot of the popular preinstalled Android apps like Gmail and SMS/MMS message apps.

Download iLED – The Notifier

KickStarter Spotlight: Trellie

KickStarter Spotlight: Trellie

Jan 23, 2013

Easily, the most frustrating first world problems is when people do not answer their phones. The ones who have jobs or classes are understandable but when somebody is just sitting around or driving from one place to another those missed calls seem inexcusable. Trying to point as little fingers as possible the most common reason that these calls go unanswered is because wives and girlfriends have their phone buried in their Mary Poppins’ purse. Incredibly, no one has thought to try and come up with solutions for this problem. Phones, notably, HTC devices come with optional charms to try and draw attention to notifications but there are not very many products available that work outside of the purse.

Enter the Trellie, a metallic key chain that attaches to the outside of any woman’s purse and has two lights that illuminate and blink when ever the connected phone is receiving or has missed a call. This really does two things because, especially at night, the blinking will be a great visual alarm as well as something that lets the user dig into their bag and check their phone less. This secondary use really does free up social situations and keeps the user engaged in the people around them instead of constantly rummaging through their purses.

The device is supposed to be used as a fashionable accessory that clips onto a purse with its metallic shell. The two lights are hidden well but I have questions about how noticeable this light will be. Even though it is a good visual reminder I would have liked to have seen an included speaker to give an audio cue which would sound louder than that muffled phone. The size is also bigger than I would expect and I have questions about the practicality of a device so large. The device holds two AA batteries which makes up a majority of the bulk, and connects to any phone via bluetooth. I have not seen any tag-along app to manage the device, but I feel that one has to be in the works. Their KickStarter page brings a lot of attention to the fact that this device would make mothers more available and aware during emergency situations when immediate contact is needed. This is mind, I think that Trellie is a great KickStarter project that may actually help some lives. Even thought it is well on its way to completing its goal like most KickStarter projects it still needs the help of the internet to become a reality.

Theme Thursday: Business Ringtones

Theme Thursday: Business Ringtones

Sep 20, 2012

Editor’s Note: Regular column author Joseph Bertolini is currently injured. Wish him well!

This week on Theme Thursday, I decide to focus on Business Ringtones by RCP, something a bit different from the other columns in this series. The difference is obvious: this is an app focusing on ringtones, not on a visual theme. Yet, it still fits in a roundabout way. As part of Android’s fantastic ability to be customized to a device owner’s desires, there’s so many visual options that users have. Yet, os often phones are stuck making the same obnoxious sounds, or randomized set of ringtones and notification sounds that vary from phone to phone, and often even from ROM to ROM

And many of these built-in sounds are loud, showy, and just plain over-do it. Ever look at the ringtones on a phone and think, “these are just too much?” Or, “why can’t I just have a normal ringtone?” That’s what Business Ringtones aims to do.

The tones are all designed to be basic digital chimes, with enough differentiation to be used as the notifciation sounds for different apps, for example. I like being able to hear my phone go off and know based on the notification sound whether I just got a text message, a tweet, or an email from one of the accounts I check. That’s what these sounds enable me to do. There’s over 50 sounds available, suitable for ringtones and alerts alike. Each sound can be previewed in the app, and then saved to the phone or set as a sound immediately. Once added to the device, individual apps can easily use them for their various tones.

These subtle yet differentiated tones go well with a sleek, minimalistic theme. As well, they could be used with a more garish theme, operating as the mullet of phones: it sounds like business, but it looks like a party. Business Ringtones runs for $1.99 on Google Play, and there’s a video demo of the various tones available below. As well, developer RCP has other apps available with other types of tones, including a complete collection for $4.99.

Theme Thursday: Missed It!

Theme Thursday: Missed It!

Aug 23, 2012

Many custom launchers have the option to remove the status bar, which makes for a much cleaner look but obviously leaves the user without the very helpful notification bar. A while ago I did a Theme Thursday post about using Tasker in conjunction with Minimalistic Text to give a nice and highly customizable text notification widget, but this week I found a slightly easier way that, while not containing the high amount of customization as the Tasker and Minimalistic Text combo, still delivers a high quality widget that looks great. Simply called Missed It!, this app takes the middle-man out of the widget experience and combines the two jobs of Tasker and Minimalistic Text into one, simple app.

The first thing to do after opening this app is to pick what notifications are going to be displayed. There is a short list of the usual phone functions, such as missed calls and text messages as well as another list that displays notifications for the rest of the applications. As in Minimalistic Text there is a bevvy of customization options and I will go as far to say that I almost prefer this app than Minimalistic Text; simply because it is more user friendly and with a little patience no idea is too big to be represented. Fonts are easy to import and certain variables can be shared with other applications and widgets which adds some extended Tasker-like use to Missed It!.

It is hard to see how this app escaped my gaze for so long but after some work I feel like my set up with Tasker feeding Minimalistic Text might have finally met its match. Missed It! is a premium app but at only $1.25 it is a steal, and I even failed to mentioned the ability to display Missed It! on a custom locker with stunning results. For anyone who does not feel like wading through the messy details of Tasker, or pay its exorbitant price tag, should take a hard look at Missed It!, because it is quickly becoming one of my new favorite home screen modification tools.

See What Apps Are Sending Those Annoying Push Notification Ads With Notification History

See What Apps Are Sending Those Annoying Push Notification Ads With Notification History

Aug 2, 2012

Notification History is an app with the simple purpose to log all those notifications that come in to one’s Android device. What this app is primarily designed to do is to help keep track of what apps are sending what notifications, in order to track down what’s using push notification advertisements. However, it has the secondary purpose of being a great way to keep track of all those notifications that come in. Accidentally hit the clear all notifications button? We all have. This app can help keep track of them. It’s not possible to use it to view missed notifications, though the messages they provide make it easy to see what came in and when. For those annoying push notification ads, there’s an easy one-tap “uninstall app” button. The app comes in free and paid versions, the free version being ironically supported by ads. I suppose if an app is upfront about them and not trying to sneak them past users, then that’s on the level.

Pops Brings Video Notifications to Android Phones

Pops Brings Video Notifications to Android Phones

May 8, 2012

Notifications, as they currently exist, are just simple lines of text that play across the top of the status bar when they come in, and make a sound when the screen is off, with no visual notification at all, like on iOS. Pops is trying to do something quite different with the way notifications appear on Android, and taking visual notifications to a new level.

When a user’s screen is off, a video with sound plays, and the notification text appears below the screen. The video is mainly just there to serve as an immediate visual cue that a certain type of notification has appeared. The notification text below the screen isn’t just there for posterity, it can also serve as a quick reply box. For example, a Twitter reply that comes in can be replied to without ever unlocking the phone.

While some services like Skype, SMS, and Google+ work out of the box for receiving notifications as long as they are already configured through their apps, Twitter, Gmail, and Facebook require separate logins through Pops for their notifications to work. Twitter notifications allow for replies to be sent directly from the video screen, but there’s no character limit; going over causes the reply to not be sent by Twitter, though.

There are a variety of free pre-made videos for users to choose from, largely comprising short animated clips that play. Users can also use their own pictures and videos to make their own videos. While the app is currently free, it seems as if monetization opportunities abound: selling new videos, or even through sponsored ones. A user could find out that they’ve got a new text message through a video of Katniss from The Hunger Games shooting an arrow. It makes too much sense.

Pops is currently available from Google Play, and appears to be compatible only with phones, not tablets, as it is incompatible with the Motorola Xoom.

Kickstarter Spotlight: Pebble

Kickstarter Spotlight: Pebble

Apr 18, 2012

Unlike most of the past Kickstarter projects that we have featured here on Android Rundown, the amazing Pebble watch is in no way in need of more financial support. In fact, if the project closed today, the Palo-Alto-based Pebble Technology would be awarded nearly $3.5 million more than their initial goal. The more astounding part is that this is merely just the beginning; the project still has almost a month remaining. It little less than a week, the Pebble watch has become the highest ever earning project on Kickstarter. To be fair, it helps that Pebble already has a working model in the wild for BlackBerry which has built a solid fan base with plenty of envious friends just waiting for the inevitable announcement of a model for Android and iOS.

For those who aren’t aware and don’t feel like reading the Kickstarter project page; Pebble is a watch that, through bluetooth, connects to any Android or iPhone and can be customized through downloadable apps that do anything from controlling music to display pace data for that morning jog. The advantage is that instead of reaching for a phone, all this information is instantly available at a glade on the user’s wrist. This is huge for runners and bikers, because instead of fumbling around for a phone and fidgeting with unlocking it a quick glance at the wrist displays time elapsed, distance travelled, and average speed. Also, other features that one would expect such as text message and email alerts and previews as well as caller ID. I know personally caller ID on my watch would be an amazing luxury because I am constantly leaving my phone is different rooms and missing calls because of it. Unfortunately, this leaves no excuse for not picking up the phone.

In my opinion, Pebble’s most necessary and valuable feature might also be its most overlooked. The screen is a technology called E-Paper which is a black and white e-ink style display meaning that it is fully readable in direct sunlight, just as what is used on e-readers. This means that even on a sunny day text messages are clear and readable, which is not always the case with fingerprint-caked smartphone screens. As if there needs to be more good news, an SDK is already available; user-generated content, as shown before, is never a bad thing. For any users of the great website, the Pebble watch also supports those notifications and alerts.

Even though the Pebble watch won’t be going on sale for a while and the $150 price tag may be a little steep (though by supporting the Kickstarter, the watch can be had for less), there appears to be no shortage of deserved hype and excitement for this amazing little watch.

I’m Sleeping Makes That Phone Shut Up at Night

I’m a notifications addict. If something even remotely related to me is happening, I want to know. Sometimes I even want several devices to notify me of what is happening. Even if I’m asleep, I want to make sure that those emails and tweets are coming in! I’ve learned to sleep through my device notifications. Some people cannot, or don’t want to. For Android owners, there’s an app to help keep things quiet in the still of the night.

I’m Sleeping lets users set their phone to shut up at certain times on a daily basis. Carry different hours on the weekend? Then it’s easy to set different hours for then. Taking a nap and don’t want to be notified? Then use the widget’s nap mode to quiet the phone for a certain amount of time. Want to make sure certain notifications come in from certain people? Then use the whitelist feature to make certain notifications make the phone sound go off. Best of all? The app is free.