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Pebble’s New Smartwatch Is Round (And, More Important, Really Thin)

At last, an app-savvy wearable for your wrist that no sane person would describe as “chunky.”

Read enough reviews of smartwatches, and you may notice a theme:

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“The Apple Watch feels a bit chunky compared to Apple’s stable of super-slim gadgets . . . “

“Even though the Gear Fit is still kind of chunky . . . “

“Although thick, the Moto 360 is . . . “

“The [Sony] SmartWatch is too thick, in part because . . . “

On those occasions when someone says a particular smartwatch isn’t on the chunky side, he or she generally means that it’s not as thick as . . . a thick smartwatch. Which is not the same thing as being just plain thin.

But the most striking thing about Pebble’s new watch, the Pebble Time Round, is that it’s really thin–not just by smartwatch standards, but period. It’s also small. And it has a round case, which sets it apart from the Apple Watch but gives it something in common with a bunch of Android Wear models.

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The Pebble Time Round is 7.5 millimeters thick–40% thinner than Samsung’s Gear S, 35% thinner than Motorola’s Moto 360, 29% thinner than the smaller model of the Apple Watch, 21% thinner than the original rectangular Pebble Time. But if anything, those figures don’t fully convey how svelte it is. Unless you count Withings’s Activité models–which have analog dials–this is the most watchlike smartwatch I’ve ever seen. It feels less like a gizmo, and more like a fashion wristwatch that happens to incorporate a screen for offer apps, notifications, and customizable faces.

A most watchlike smartwatch

Now, smartwatch design is all about trade-offs, and Pebble managed to design such a thin watch by choosing a particular set of compromises. As with the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel, the Round uses an e-paper color display that sacrifices brightness, vividness, and resolution for long battery life, readability in sunlight, and the ability to stay on rather than shutting off to conserve power. (At night, if you take the Round off your wrist, it does turn off the screen.) But instead of building a Pebble that can run for a week or more on a charge, like its earlier models do, the company shrunk the battery, which let it slim down the case. It claims up to two days of life per charge for the Round–brief by Pebble standards, but still longer than many other models on the market. (The Round incorporates new fast-charge technology, which can give you a day of life from 15 minutes of charging.)

The screen is small, too: a little less than an inch in diameter, surrounded by a sizeable ring. People who react negatively to the Round’s design, I suspect, will do so based on that combination of dinky display and thick border.

The company also sacrificed some of the water resistance of previous models. Rain shouldn’t be an issue, but you might want to take the watch off in the shower.

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In an unusual move, Pebble is making the Round available in two variants that are the same size but take different-sized straps. The 20-millimeter strap version has a beefy look; the 14-millimeter one is daintier and presumably intended for women. All versions have steel cases, and there are multiple color choices: black and silver for 20 millimeter, and black, silver, and rose gold for 14 millimeter. Prices start at $250, the same price as the Pebble Time Steel, and go higher for some strap options.

The watch isn’t a high-end piece of jewelry in any of its incarnations, but the craftsmanship appears to be quite good–and between the case and strap options, it offers far more aesthetic variety than earlier Pebbles and most competitors.

App Adjustments

There are currently 8,000 watch faces and 2,000 apps available for Pebbles. For them to be Round-friendly, developers will have to redesign faces for the circular screen and recompile most apps–a job that the company says doesn’t involve much effort. Apps designed specifically for the timeline interface that debuted with the original Pebble Time watch will reformat themselves automatically.

Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky told me that the concept for this watch emerged from the company’s overarching desire to stick to its strengths rather than get dragged into competing more directly with the pricier, fancier Apple Watch. “We realized it wasn’t suited for all wrist types,” he says, speaking of the design of previous rectangular Pebbles. “It wouldn’t fit naturally on smaller wrists. Everyone has a unique sense of style–there’s no one size fits all. We started thinking: ‘What can we do that no one else can do? What if we built a product that didn’t have 10-day battery life?”

Pebble is taking orders for the Pebble Time Round starting today, and plans to start shipping units in November. This time around, it’s skipping the Kickstarter campaigns of its past and will sell the watch to all comers from the get-go.

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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