A beginner’s guide to Pebble Health

The industry can’t decide if fitness trackers are killing the smartwatch or vice versa. Pebble is now in the win win situation of automatically upgrading a sizeable chunk of its smartwatches (the Time series onwards) to natively track steps, distance, time spent active and sleep, with its platform Pebble Health.

There have been a few updates to Health since it landed including the new Pebble 4.0 upgrade, which we’ve included in our guide along with some fresh tips and tricks. Here’s what we think of the platform and how to get started.

Pebble Health: Set up and mobile app

Setting up Pebble Health is seriously beginner friendly – just update your Pebble Time app on your phone to the latest v3.8 or 4.0 software and then the smartwatch itself will update in a couple of minutes. The Health app will appear automatically on your list of apps on the watch – it’s a block heart icon on a red background and from the time being this is where you will interact with Pebble Health.

The only thing you need to do on your iPhone or Android phone is head to the Pebble Time app, then to the Apps/Timeline tab and hit the settings icon next to Health. That shows you your Health settings – your profile info (sex, age, height and weight) as well as the option to sync to Google Fit or Apple Health. You can also select that you want to be more active or want to sleep more, or both – these will come into their own more as Pebble adds more insights to the set up – and you can go back in and edit these later on.

It wasn’t the case at the beginning but there’s now plenty to see in the Health tab of the Pebble mobile app, as well as on the watch itself and Google Fit/Apple HealthKit. There’s self-explanatory daily, weekly and month views for activity and the current step counts updates every 15 to 20 minutes (so don’t panic if your watch’s total is ahead of the app’s total). Again, with sleep there’s daily/weekly/monthly screens with a yellow bar to show your 30 day average.

Pebble Health: Which watch?

Pebble Health is currently available for the Pebble Time, Pebble Time Steel and the Pebble Time Round so while the old Pebble devices got Timeline UI, this platform is just for the new smartwatches. The most recent Kickstarted watches will also have the updated Pebble Health support when they ship in September.

Read this: Hands on with the Pebble Time 2

The upcoming Time 2 features an optical HR monitor which works alongside the accelerometer to track your activity via the native Health app. The Pebble 2, a non Time series watch, also rocks a heart rate sensor and works with Pebble Health too.

What about the Pebble Core, Pebble’s first non-watch wearable? This mini GPS/music player will work with Pebble Health when it arrives in early 2017 as well as a whole host of third party fitness apps.

The idea is that you then wear your Pebble Health compatible watch 24/7 only taking it off to quick charge it in 15/30 minutes – all three existing devices are comfortable enough to wear in bed compared to most Android Wear watches.

Pebble Health: The smartwatch app

Once you push the up button on your smartwatch, you’ll be taken to the Pebble Health app where you can cycle through two main screens instead of four. First is your daily steps – this shows you how many steps you’ve done so far that day, now shown in a little hexagonal shape. It will also tell you your typical number of steps below the current number. Pushing the middle button again takes you to an overview of the past week and shows the calories burned and distance traveled.

The second screen is your main sleep stats which now tells you what a typical night is like for you, along with a rectangular icon above. Scroll down by pressing the bottom button to see more details. Instead of showing up as a vertical bar graph, the data is now horizontal – but still a bar graph.

It’s all presented much simpler and cleaner than before where you’d see how many hours and minutes of deep sleep you the previous night and blocks of colour for deep and light sleep. It didn’t seem useful on the watch and it’s nice to see that Pebble has revamped it to show general information.

The app however, still tells you all the details that you want to know which makes more sense on a larger screen. However if it’s not to your liking, or anyone else’s, Pebble will likely update again to feature what the people want with tweaks here and there to the design. Overall, the whole Health app is much easier to access thanks to the quick button press, and feels easier to digest.

Pebble Health: New features

Pebble Health beginner's guide

In the past few months, Pebble has really stepped up its game with new Health features. The most practical, time saving one is probably the auto detection of runs and long walks but there’s also a couple of extras in terms of how your data is displayed.

Activities like runs and hikes now get an auto summary once they’ve been completed. And Mobile Health Snapshot, as we mentioned above, in the Health tab of the Pebble smartphone app, lets you compare your last day, week or month of activity for extra motivation plus it shows you changes in heart rate zones (depending on the hardware) and your average wake up time.

Read this: Pebble CEO – health and fitness is a huge focus for 2016

The other upcoming features, presumably landing when the Time 2 ships, point to where its work with MIT’s Wearables Lab is headed. There is a lot of potential here. The first is the integration with your calendar. So if you’re behind on your goal and there’s two hours free in the afternoon, Pebble should give you a nudge to go out for a walk. This relies on you putting everything in your calendar/Timeline but we’re intrigued to see how we get on with it.

Second, and on the same theme, adaptive coaching will keeps thing energised by tailoring activity goals to how active you’ve been, making sure you’re challenged but not overstretched.

Anyone who uses their Pebble for sleep tracking has probably already tried out the smart alarms which wake you up 30 minutes before your alarm if you’re in light sleep or wait if you’re still in deep sleep. Now, we’re sure the algorithms are sound but we’re not personally a fan of these. Still, some people report feeling more refreshed and energised with a smart alarm like this.

It’s worth noting that Pebble Health still doesn’t accept tracking from other third party trackers within the app. We’re sure that’s coming at some point and if this is how you want to use data from the Pebble, we’d recommend linking it to Google Fit or HealthKit depending on what your second device is.

That said, you can now switch between Pebble watches on the same Health account which will be a plus to some loyal users.

Pebble Health: Tracking

Pebble Health beginner's guide

Pebble is pretty confident about its activity tracking accuracy with Eric Migicovsky, its CEO, saying that it’s more accurate than Fitbit. We have worn our Pebble Time Round alongside a (generally very accurate) Misfit Shine 2 and on steps, distance and time active, the two devices recorded similar daily totals.

Pebble Health tended to come in slightly under Misfit and was also within 50 steps or so (below) per day of Google Fit when this was tracking activity on our smartphone. So, if anything it might be ever so slightly stingy but that’s probably no bad thing.

We’ve been very impressed by the sleep tracking – it’s automatic and has been freakily accurate at estimating the times we’ve been going to sleep and waking up. For instance, one night this week I was tossing and turning slightly trying to get to sleep while a documentary I hadn’t seen yet blared away in the living room. This continued for about an hour but Pebble Health knew I wasn’t asleep yet. It’s hard to account for the accuracy of the light and deep sleep stats so you’ll have to judge yourself how well rested you feel each day, compared to what Pebble Health is saying.

A few minutes after you wake up, Pebble will stick a pin on your Timeline with your sleep summary and it’s been pretty spot on here. Plus you get an evening activity summary pin each day at 8.30pm showing your steps that day – we’d like to be able to set this to a time to suit us.

We used Pebble Health with an Android phone and it synced up without fail to Google Fit (every 15 minutes) where we were able to add the data to stats from other wearables and dig into graphs a bit more. It’s nice and open and this is a must if you want more than weekly totals. But Google Fit is not always the most useful platform in terms of getting a quick idea of progress.

Pebble Health: Battery life impact

Pebble’s guidance is that Pebble Health will drain about 5 to 10% more battery when it’s enabled which is about right and shouldn’t be a major problem for Pebble Time/Time Steel users.

Pebble Time Round owners who are charging their smartwatch once every 1.5 – 3 days might want to consider this a bit more carefully. If you’re concerned, we’d recommend popping standby mode on in settings to stretch out your watch’s stamina.