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Pebble Time Round review:

A thinner, lighter smartwatch -- with tradeoffs

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The Good Sharp construction and a thin, comfortable design; always-on screen; voice-dictation support in apps; works with iPhone and Android; clever at-a-glance timeline feature.

The Bad Shorter battery life than previous Pebble watches; not water resistant for swimming; expensive for what it offers; doesn't run all Pebble apps and watch faces.

The Bottom Line Pebble's newest round, thin watch takes the Pebble formula and shrinks it to a stylish design, but gives up battery life and some app support in the process.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.1 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Battery 6.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Software 7.0
  • Features 7.0

I love Pebble watches. They're utilitarian, and value basic function above all else. The Pebble Time Steel gets over a week of battery life on a single charge; I can swim and shower with it; its screen is always on. Those are perks that smartwatches like Apple Watch lack. It made me forgive Pebble not having more advanced smartwatch features like voice calling, heart-rate monitoring and wrist payments.

So it's funny that Pebble's newest watch, Pebble Time Round, gives up the things that made it so unique. It's like an O. Henry story of smartwatches: The Round finally has a sharp design and a super-slim build, but now it can't be worn swimming. Its battery life has shrunken to just two days on a charge. And it can't even run all the apps that other Pebbles can (but it can run a good number of them).

pebble-time-round-studio-05.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

It is, however, one of the lightest, most comfortable smartwatches around.

The Round is the third Pebble watch released this year, and it's all part of the same family as Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel, so you don't have to choose the Round. In fact, that's the idea: The Round is a design choice, not a replacement for the other watches in Pebble's lineup.

For $250 (£230 in the UK, or AU$250), I wouldn't pick the Pebble Time Round, I'd get the beefier Time Steel instead (available for the exact same price). But maybe you value style over battery, or water resistance, or full app compatibility. On a watch, it's not unreasonable. The Round keeps the Pebble's core functions and a good chunk of its apps, but I think it loses too much to win me over...although I really like where Pebble is going with its watch design aesthetic.

pebble-time-round-studio-03.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Design: Seriously thin

I can't tell I'm wearing the Pebble Time Round. It slips under my sleeve, and hugs my wrist. The stainless steel body and slightly domed anti-glare Gorilla Glass-covered display feel and look great. So does the Round's included leather band, which you can easily pop off with an easy-release mechanism to add other bands, or any standard 20mm band (or 14mm band, if you buy that version) instead. Pebble says this is the slimmest, lightest smartwatch in existence, and I certainly can't think of anything that beats it.

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There's no smartwatch that looks as slim as this watch does. Android Wear watches and the 42mm Apple Watch look gigantic in comparison. But the utilitarian crisp style of my black-and-grey review model has one drawback: a seriously thick bezel around the display.

Regardless of the color, all Pebble Time Round watches seem to have too much bezel. The reflective color display -- the same as the Pebble Time and Time Steel -- is circular this time, but feels dwarfed in the middle of that bezel on the edges. If I pick the right watch face, it balances out and can look good. But sometimes it just looks weird. Admittedly, the Pebble Time has a large bezel, too -- actually, a double bezel -- but on the Round it somehow feels like it stands out more.

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Pebble Time Round next to Pebble Time: Nyan Cat comparison.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Round is beautifully built. The steel body feels strong and sturdy, the glass on top meets the edges elegantly. The side buttons are small but easy to find and have an excellent feel, they click easily and are well-spaced from each other. It's a lot better than the Pebble Time's mushy, cramped plastic buttons.

pebble-time-round-01.jpg

Other Pebble Time Round designs.

Sarah Tew/CNET

And I should add that the Round accomplishes its biggest goal: it's more appealing to women, it seems. Several women around the office liked the way it felt on their wrists, and the slimmer design makes the Round seem far less bulky than nearly every other smartwatch that's on the market. (My wife also liked it.) The Round comes in black, silver or gold steel cases, with a variety of watchbands.

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Voice dictation works.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Clean software, but fewer apps

Pebble's software is simple and functional, and somewhat elegant, and it keeps getting better. Notifications from your phone pop up and stay up until dismissed. You can jump straight to a timeline mode that shows upcoming appointments and notes, like a day planner. Apps can be run from a side menu; Pebble's app store has a lot of apps to choose from, most free.

You can pair Pebble with an iPhone or Android phone, making this one of the best "universal" smartwatch platforms. Both iOS and Android Pebble apps open up to the Pebble app store, which syncs your apps to an account that remembers what you own.

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