For 19 years, I appreciated my titanium Citizen Eco-drive with its perpetual calendar (see figure 1). Titanium, because I don't want the weight. Eco-drive, because it never needs a battery (a solar panel on the face recharges a capacitor). Perpetual calendar, because I never need to set the date, even in leap years.
I tried a few other watches, and even some smartwatches, but always went back to the Citizen as it was reliable. Until it wasn't. One morning I noticed that its hands weren't moving. Now, this could be because the face hadn't had enough light, but one day in sunlight apparently powers it for months. This was kind of the last straw, as I had been irked already for some months by perpetual calendar no longer working.
What now? Searching for a replacement, I found that Citizen no longer makes any models with exactly the same functions my aging one has. Then I though, "Hmmm... what about my now-obsolete Pebble Steel smartwatch?" (See figure 2.) It dates back to ye olden days of 2015.
I thought that resurrecting it might be an interesting exercise. Would it still run after Fitbit bought the Pebble company and abandoned this old line of smartwatches last summer? I found the watch and its charging cable, and left it for a day to charge.
As a basic watch, it worked, offering a digital watch face that displays the date, day, and time. Another built-in watchface offered to simulate an analog watch, but the coarse resolution of the Pebble screen made it untenable.
From my experience with Umidigi's basic smartwatch, I wondered how long the Pebble would last with all radio functions turned off. Recall that the second biggest drain to a smartwatch's battery is the set of radios they harbour -- GPS, WifI, Bluetooth, and/or cell. (The biggest is the bright, colorful display.) The Pebble, however, was the biggest selling smartwatch for a time precisely because its battery lasted about a week, due to its use of digital paper -- a monochrome screen that was always on, and only consumed power when it needed to change, such as once a minute to update the time.
With the watch fully charged and the only radio (Bluetooth) turned off, I was pleased to see the Pebble Steel last two weeks. Recharging took under an hour.
This was a possible replacement for the Citizen.
I wondered what sort of support was available for the now-discarded Pebble, and found that Google Play Store still offered the official app. I installed it on my phone, set up the Bluetooth connection, and you can imagine my surprise when it announced there was an update for my watch! I allowed it to be installed...
...and immediately regretted it. The two functions I actually use from time to time were disabled -- stop watch and timer. Messages were replaced by cartoon images that irked me. And, nothing else worked -- the connection to Pebble's online store was broken.
Eventually I found someone who had archived nearly all Pebble apps for the watch, but I couldn't figure out how to install them. The official Pebble app on my phone wasn't particularly interested in handling them.
Time passed. I used the watch on a trip overseas and delighted in how much easier it was than the Citizen to change the time for new times zones. But I would have loved to have a dual-timezone watch face, which I recalled having the first time I used the Pebble many, many years ago.
Every so often, I'd do another search for how to install apps onto Pebble, run into a wall, until I found Pebble Alternate App Store Helper (see figure 3). This awkwardly-named Android app guides you through the steps needed to access an archived Pebble server, and so installs apps and watch faces.
I tentatively followed the steps and was amazed that it actually worked. Be sure to follow all the steps, except for the optional ones. Finally, I got my multi-time zone watch face, along with alternative apps to replace the missing stopwatch and timer. Remember to access apps through the Watchface category if you actually want them to be displayed; watchface apps accessed through the Apps category don't work property.
The only catch was that I found was this: it was hard to make and maintain the Bluetooth connection between the watch and the phone. I dunno whose fault it is, but here is the inconvenient workaround I used, repeatedly:
- Make sure the Pebble watch is waiting for the Bluetooth connection.
- On the phone, go to the Bluetooth setting.
- Hold down the entry for the watch ("Pebble 355D," in my case), and then tap Forget. This forces the phone to look anew for the Pebble.
- Tap the ... menu button, and then tap Refresh.
- Within a few seconds, the two devices should recognize each other
- On the watch, tap OK
- On the phone, tap OK
I kept having to renew the connection while setting up Pebble Alternate App Store Helper and installing fresh apps. But once I had everything on the watch, I no longer needed the Bluetooth connection.
What about notifications? Hate 'em.