Pebble just added optical heart rate sensors to its new smartwatches, but a lot of smartwatches are still lacking one feature that matters to workout hounds: GPS. Pebble's solution? Create an accessory device that has GPS.
The new Pebble Core is the company's first non-smartwatch gadget. It's a small, square-shaped dongle that attaches to a person or keychain or bike or bag, with a magnetized leather clip. At first glance, the Core looks kind of like a bigger, plastic iPod shuffle; or maybe a thicker Tile, the lost-item tracker. For a while, Pebble had been exploring sensor-filled "smart" bands that could attach to Pebble watches to add more functionality. But after determining that would make the watches too bulky, the company came up with this instead.
Aimed primarily at runners, the Core has built-in GPS, includes a 3G modem, and plays Spotify playlists over 3G or Wi-Fi. The larger, concave button in the middle controls all of the stop-and-start functions for most activities, while the small button in the corner will send a text with your location, preprogrammed through the Pebble mobile app. It has a 3.5mm jack for headphones, but also pairs with wireless headphones over Bluetooth. Pebble says the Core should get about nine hours of active battery life, and works with Qi wireless charging technology.
Pebble Core has GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a 3G model
The idea behind all of this is that runners would be able to go running without their smartphones and still have access to some of the core (my terrible pun, not Pebble's) functions they need. You can stream music, call an Uber, or send an SMS over 3G; and then, of course, there's the GPS tracking. If you are a runner, and you're wondering about the usefulness of a GPS device without a display — I asked Pebble the same thing. The Core gives audio cues, but you won't be able to see your distance or your pace on some kind of display until you sync the data to Pebble Health, or other third-party workout apps. It also doesn't have a microphone, so you would have to use headphones with a microphone in order to make a phone call over a third-party VoIP app.
What might be even more interesting about Pebble Core is that it's the first Pebble gadget not to run on the company's homegrown OS. Instead, it runs on Android OS, which Pebble founder and CEO Eric Migicovsky believes will both expand its capabilities to run third-party apps and make it an appealing gadget for hackers. The Core isn't actually just for runners; it could also be used to control smart lights or other functions.
After a brief hands on with the Core I'm not fully convinced that this accessory is the answer to all of the questions that still exist around the usefulness of smartwatches, but I'd have to use it for a longer period of time to see how it really works. In some ways it seems like it could be yet another thing to carry around if you want a truly holistic wearable experience (Core for GPS, watch for glanceable data, and headphones for a microphone). But Migicovsky says he sees the Core as a kind of keychain computer, one that bypasses the smartphone. "Pebble didn't have a way of accessing the Internet before without a phone. This gives us a bit of a pathway to get through to the Internet," Migicovsky said.
Pebble Core launches on Kickstarter today and will sell for $69 to start. The company expects to ship in early 2017, so stay tuned for a full review when it's available.