RunKeeper for Pebble (hands-on): What the Pebble should have been all along

The popular fitness app RunKeeper now works for Pebble. This is exactly what the Pebble smartwatch needed in the first place: purpose.

Scott Stein/CNET

When the Pebble watch unveiled its first Kickstarter videos, it seemed like a magic device. Some features, like health-tracking apps, played a major role in that perception. They haven't been available, however, until today, when RunKeeper finally updated its iOS and Android apps to support the little wearable device. It's a small moment for RunKeeper, but a big moment for Pebble.

I reviewed the Pebble smartwatch about a month ago. I was a little hard on it. Why? Because, for all the hype the Pebble watch had received, the actual device couldn't really do all that much. Truly unique new functions and ideas depend on apps, which were waiting on an official SDK from Pebble. Until then, the watch basically received notifications and displayed swappable watch faces.

RunKeeper on Pebble doesn't do all that much: it displays your current run/walk/cycle information (minutes elapsed, distance, and average speed). It also starts and stops activity with a press of the Pebble's right-side center button. But that small bit of usefulness means the Pebble becomes your phone's second screen: suddenly, I could start a walk, track it on my watch, and use my phone for e-mail, music, or anything else -- or just put it in my pocket.

Scott Stein/CNET

Even cooler, I could zip back to the music mini app on the Pebble and switch music tracks, then skip back and track my exercise again.

Suddenly, the Pebble became a bit of a multitasker, and so did my phone. This is the key to success for smartwatches like the Pebble.

Much like Google Glass , a smartwatch is a second screen for your phone. The more apps that add those deeper watch features, the more a watch can be a dashboard for your phone. For persistent activities like music-listening and exercise, that's a big help. RunKeeper still needs a phone to be running the app and connected via Bluetooth -- the app doesn't install and run as a standalone on the Pebble -- but once started, it makes the Pebble a useful if basic fitness dashboard.

The rest of the apps I've seen so far since the Pebble SDK have been glorified stopwatches, mini calendars and Tetris clones, and dozens of funky watch faces. RunKeeper, though, is a keeper. And it just might keep the Pebble on my wrist. All we need now are 10 more apps like these...

RunKeeper's free to download, and allows basic free services via a connection to your e-mail or Facebook account. I tested the app via iOS and an iPhone 5. Stay tuned for a future review update of the Pebble watch.

Read the full CNET Review

Pebble Watch

The Bottom Line: The Pebble Watch has solid basic smartwatch functions, but until promised apps and features arrive, it’s more a tinkerer’s tech toy than a must-have timepiece. / Read full review

About the author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.

 

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