Pebble: Still Not Ready

Sadly, I have to say the Pebble smart watch is still not ready for general use. There are still too many bugs in the firmware, and too many limitations for it to be acceptable to anyone outside of the early adopter crowd. Even a year after they initially shipped.

In the early days, the regular firmware updates seemed to improve things. Unfortunately, the most recent updates seem to have made things worse. 

Battery Issues

The new stainless steel watches were launched with version 2 firmware and the Pebble App Store all of which seemed great. Except that the battery life of the watch could suddenly drop from the several days normally achieved to just a few hours. And it could go from super efficient to super inefficient at any time. Given that battery life is one of their key advantages, this was a pretty serious regression. Something that should have been caught during testing.

The fixed firmware was released recently, but apparently it is still not really fixed. My watch took around 24 hours to drop from fully charged to 89% (that is pretty much the normal rate I have observed – around 10% a day).

2014-05-18 04:48:27:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 4224mV 99% hardware charging 0 plugged 0
2014-05-19 02:55:26:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 4095mV 90% hardware charging 0 plugged 0 
2014-05-19 03:00:26:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 4086mV 89% hardware charging 0 plugged 0 
2014-05-19 05:41:26:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 3994mV 79% hardware charging 0 plugged 0 
2014-05-19 08:19:26:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 3927mV 69% hardware charging 0 plugged 0 
2014-05-19 09:44:26:000 ttery_monitor.c:204 Batt state: 3869mV 59% hardware charging 0 plugged 0

But then look at what happened. The next 30% drop took less than 7 hours. And for most of that time I was asleep and very few notifications were being delivered (I get far more during the day when all my calendar event reminders are firing off).

Seems the issue with the battery is still not fixed. I have submitted the logs, but at this point I am losing confidence in Pebble’s ability to fix these serious firmware issues.

Audio Interference

For the longest time the audio quality I have experienced when using my car’s hands free telephone system has been terrible. Very occasionally it would be crystal clear, but most of the time it was crackly, sometimes to the point where I would need to hang up and redial in hopes of getting better quality. It never occurred to me that the cause of this noise was the Pebble. 

Last week though I was driving back home after going to pick up some paperwork and I was stuck in traffic listening to music from my phone connected via the car’s A2DP connection. This had always been good quality (further confusing me as to why the telephone audio should be so bad), but now it was experiencing periodic drop outs. Very short times in the music when there was silence, but easily noticeable. Since I was stuck in traffic, often not moving at all for several minutes, I had time to trace the cause.

Remembering that the Pebble had just updated its firmware, that was an obvious place to start. Turning off the Bluetooth on the watch didn’t impact anything immediately but right then the traffic moved, so I turned my attention back to the road; leaving the Pebble’s Bluetooth off. Perhaps 30 seconds or so after I switched it off, the dropouts stopped. The next time I stopped, I turned Bluetooth back on and sure enough the drop outs re-appeared. So now, the Pebble interferes with A2DP music streams (a clear, and serious regression).

Even more interesting, during one of the times I had Bluetooth off I received a call. It was crystal clear. More experimenting with that showed that the interference I had long put down to an incompatibility between my car and iPhone was in fact also being caused by the Pebble. That is not a regression in the latest firmware though; that has always been there.

Some searching online revealed a thread on their support forums describing the hands free audio interference that is happening in lots of cars. And yet the support response I got merely shrugged it off with the advice that I should disable Bluetooth on my watch when in the car & there was no way they could test all cars. Obviously, nobody would expect them to test all cars, but it doesn’t seem hard to find some that show the problem. And there is even a detailed post in that thread stating the problem can be reproduced on Bluetooth audio quality measurement test equipment:

The Voice Quality algorithm used for this test was ITU-T P.862.1 (PESQ). The scale for the PESQ algorithm is 1-5 (5 being perfect). For all tests, the iPhone is on ATT network whereas the far-end is Verizon PSTN. Each test consisted of 3 different calls, each call sending/recordng 4 voice files. After each test i averaged all PESQ scores.
The average score for iPhone5 without Pebble was 2.71. This is average for mobile to PSTN.
The average score for iPhone5 with Pebble was 1.36. This is considered extremely low.
The average score for iPhone4 without Pebble was 2.40. 
The average score for iPhone4 with Pebble was 1.22.

That makes it pretty clear that the Pebble is interfering with the audio quality on iOS devices at least. Again, this should really have been caught during testing.

Recommendation

At this point in time, if you asked me whether you should buy a Pebble I would have to say no. Not unless you are willing to live with pre-alpha quality software, potentially abysmal battery life, poor quality Bluetooth audio connections and relatively little support. When it is working well, the Pebble is a great smart watch, but the ongoing software quality issues are really letting it down right now.

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