Hello everyone! Recently, I bought a PineTime smart-ish watch. I thought it would be a good idea to share my thoughts and experience with this watch with all of you, in case you have some unanswered questions!
Let’s see what this watch is capable of!
Table of Contents
- What’s a PineTime ?
- Shipping Time
- First Look and Impressions
- Hardware Features
- Downsides and Missing features
- The wrist band
- Battery life
What’s a PineTime ?
The PineTime is an open-source smart watch sold by the Pine64 company, the makers of the PinePhone. It’s running open-source firmware and can run community-built firmware to add more content to the watch. Here is a quote from the Pine64 store:
The PineTime is a free and open source smartwatch capable of running custom-built open operating systems. Some of the notable features include a heart rate monitor, a week-long battery, and a capacitive touch IPS display that is legible in direct sunlight. It is a fully community driven side-project which anyone can contribute to, allowing you to keep control of your device.– Pine64 store
The PineTime is pretty cheap, sold at USD$26.99. As a french guy I had to pay extra tax and shipping which made the whole watch cost 38€ and a bit more. which is still pretty cheap! I also had to pay 5€ for customs fees. Which make the total cost at around 43€, for an open-source smart-watch it’s a price I could take any day!
When I bought the watch, it took two days to start shipping, it shipped from China and it took around 18 days to arrive at my door (counting week-ends). I was a bit worried that stuff from China would take longer to ship, but two weeks is pretty fast for this kind of shipping, in my opinion!
The watch came in a small package in my mailbox:
First Look and Impressions
I was surprised when I opened the box, the watch was not in the right position and had slipped inside the box. I was scared that the screen would have been scratched or worse. Hopefully the screen protector did its job very well and the watch is still in perfect condition!
The content of the box is pretty simple; you just have the watch, the charger, a thank-you letter and a small informational document.
In terms of hardware, it’s really basic, we just have one button on the side, which acts as a “back” button most of the time. When pressed down longer, it shows the version of the firmware, and when double-pressed, it will show the notifications. It also has a heart-rate sensor on the back, which, as we will see, does not work that well unfortunately.
The screen is a 240×240 IPS capacitive touch display, and despite its small size, it is surprisingly sharp and good-looking. It’s still just a square display, and, unlike an Apple Watch or other smart watches, the screen does not follow the rounded edge. Maybe we will see another version in the future with an even better design, maybe even with an OLED screen to save even more battery life!
It also has an accelerometer, which can track steps. It is also dustproof and water-resistant, with an IP67 rating, meaning that it can handle up to one meter of water and is fully dust-proof.
You can see the full specifications on Pine64’s website or below!
Square 1.3-inch 240×240 IPS capacitive touch display Software: Any open-source operating systems built on top of numerous RTOSes SoC: Low-power Nordic Semiconductor nRF52832 64 MHz + Floating Point 4 MB of User Storage 0.5 MB of OS Storage Bluetooth 5 and Bluetooth Low Energy Compatible with almost any device Over-the-air update Health Tracking Step Counting (with Accelerometer) Heart Rate Detection Notification access Wrist vibration Quick glance via lift-to-wake. All-week 180 mAh battery 2-pin USB charging dock Solid build Dimensions: 37.5mm x 40mm x 11mm Weight: 38 grams Made with Zinc Alloy and Plastic Dustproof and water-resistant up to 1m (Rated at IP67)
The charger is a small square with two pins and strong magnets to keep the watch in place. The cable is a bit short for my taste, but I was able to make it work with my current setup. It’s also got a USB-A male connector at the end with no extra powerbrick. What I did was plug it into a USB port on my desktop computer at all times, so I can just pop the watch in place when it needs a refill!
The software has a loooot of cool and useful features, and it’s getting better with every update! My watch shipped with the 1.11.0 InfiniTime firmware. However, 1.13.0 was released a few days before I got the watch, so I flashed the new firmware pretty easily. I won’t go into the details (I might do an article on this later?) but I just downloaded the firmware from the Pine64 git repo and flashed it using the Companion App GadgetBridge.
Speaking of GadgetBridge, it’s an awesome app that is kind of required if you want to make full use of your PineTime, at least on Android. For Linux desktops, you have the WatchMate application, which I tried, but It’s not really worth it, as I’m not as much next to my computer as I am to my phone. However, it might be awesome for those nice Linux phones.
All of the PineTime navigation happens with swipes, mostly centered around the main clock interface. When on the main clock, you can swipe up to display notifications, swipe left for quick settings and notification mode, or swipe down to get access to some more features.
The only button is used as a back button everywhere until you get to the clock menu, then it will turn on or off the display. Also, you can long press it to show the current firmware version, and lastly, you can double press it to show the notifications.
There is room for more features in the future, as swiping right on the main clock menu does not do anything yet.
The PineTime default firmware comes with a lot of stuff baked in, which is awesome! The more things, the better! We have six different watch faces to choose from, and here are my two favorites below:
The default watch face (called “Digital face”) is also really good, but it’s the one you can see everywhere on the Internet, so I prefer showing only unique things here!
Speaking of unique things, the PineTime also comes with a few games, such as the famous 2048 game, or even a single-player Pong clone! It also has something you can draw onto, but sadly, the touch screen makes it really hard to draw even a single thing…
The PineTime also comes with some basic features for timing things. Such as a timer, stopwatch, alarm, and lastly, a BPM vibrator to stay in sync when playing music, which I don’t use at all, but I’m happy it’s on there!
Talking about music, we can also control music playback and volume in the custom menu for this! This is very useful for someone like me who listens to music a lot on the phone and keeps the phone charging or not within reach, so you can still control volume or pause if needed!
By default, only the next and previous buttons are shown, but you can swipe up to change them to volume up and down! The transition between the two button states is not obvious, sadly. I wish it could have a small animation or color flashing to indicate the change a bit more.
As I said previously, the PineTime also comes with step-counting and heart-rate monitoring. The step counting works as well as you can expect, and it also has the ability to set daily goal for steps.
As for the heart-rate monitor, it works less well. The watch needs to really be pressed against the arm to work faster, and even with that, sometimes the sensors take a good amount of time before displaying a number on the screen. Also, don’t forget to turn the sensor off when you finish using it, as it will eat up a lot of battery life if it stays on.
A small feature of this watch, is that it provides a “flashlight”. Which is just turning the screen all-white. It has 3 levels of brightness. Some might say it’s not really useful, but they’re wrong!
I’ve been using the watch flashlight a lot when waking up at night. The not-so-bright display makes it easy to not wake up people around you. And the fact that you don’t need to hold a phone to illuminate something is really useful, so you have both your hands available. It’s also nice when you’re outside to illuminate the way a bit to see if there are no obstacles or if you don’t want to attract attention with a brighter light (or just don’t want to be seen in the tall grass!).
Weather & Map Navigation
As in version 1.13.0, some work began to add weather information to watch-faces. This requires another application on your phone and setting up an API key most of the time… Not really straight-forward, I didn’t set it up because only one watch face supports it for now and it’s not one I like, but I hope in the future we will see all watch face benefit from this integration!
Another weird thing, is the direction menu. When you set up a trip on Google Map, Waze or other mapping applications, the PineTime can tell you which step to take next. What’s disappointing is the lack of GPS or a compas to make the arrow point in the right direction. From my small testing, the arrow on screen always pointed away from me, just like in the screenshot. But I didn’t use this enough to really know how it is to use it daily.
You can even see a small bug when there is a lot of text on the screen, the screen space is not well utilized here. The green text is supposed to be the distance to the next step.
The PineTime also vibrates when you receive a notification on your phone. It shows the notification’s title and a bit of the content. This is really useful to check if a notification is important or not without having to open up your phone, which is better when you’re talking to somebody, in my opinion!
The two things to note with these notifications are that they don’t get removed from your watch once you view them on the phone, and the preview doesn’t render accent characters, which makes some messages really awkward, especially in French, so I need to take out my phone to read those messages. I don’t know if it is a GadgetBridge issue or a PineTime issue, even though I think it’s the watch that has problems rendering non-ASCII characters.
However, GadgetBridge offers a “transliteration” feature that replaces accentuated characters with their non-accentuated counter-parts. Which is a good compromise and works pretty well. I don’t know if WatchMate offers a similar feature, but I hope so.
There is also a Do Not Disturb mode so that notifications don’t vibrate the watch or wake the screen, but you’re still able to wake the display with your wrist or by touching it. There is a Sleep mode that disables notifications and prevents the display from automatically waking up.
Unfortunately, you cannot automatically set those modes after a certain time, which makes this process manual every time you get to bed. This might be a deal-breaker for some people that get loads of notifications, but happily for me, no one talks to me! .. wait…
Downsides and Missing features
Anyway! As we saw, this watch is very feature-rich, but it comes with some downsides….
I’ve talked about the notifications being unable to render accent characters, no automatic sleep mode, and no removal of notifications once viewed.
Another problem is that the watch often wakes up without my knowledge, and sometimes it goes into the settings or other menu and clicks on something. I guess it is mostly because of the wrist-wake function and the shake-wake function, which are too sensitive. You can adapt the sensitivity of the shaking, but if I lower the sensibility, then the watch doesn’t wake up as easily. It’s not that annoying, but sometimes it messed with my display settings or even turned on the flashlight.
But despite all of this, it’s actually pretty usable, and most of these things can be fixed with a future software update, so we will see what the future gives us!
The wrist band
When I started learning about this watch, I was wondering if the included wristband was really that comfortable. I was starting to look at other options a bit, and thanks to its standard size, it was quite easy to find a replacement wristband. It’s a 20-mm wristband that’s easily replaceable. But I’ve not yet purchased any other wristbands.
After spending a few months with it, it’s not that uncomfortable. However, during really hot days, it’s hard to keep it on as you’re sweating a lot with the rubber bracelet. Maybe a less sweaty bracelet would do the trick for those hot days.
Also, with my arm, the bracelet is either too tight or too loose, but this is a problem with my body having weird sizes. This might not apply to you!
Battery life on the PineTime is really impressive. I went on vacation to see my girlfriend for two weeks, and I, of course, took the watch charger with me, but the full battery when I left lasted me for around 10 days with plenty to spare. I can easily expect this thing to last a week and more!
I often charge the watch a bit when I go take a shower. I take it off because it is not totally water-resistant, and I prefer not to take any chances. It charges for around 15 to 20 minutes and gains around 5–10% of battery.
I haven’t measured how long the charging time from 0 to 100% is, but the first 50% seemed really fast, and the remaining percentages seemed slower to charge, which is a good thing! You want to be able to fast charge it when you really need those percentages, but once you reach 50%, you can expect a few days of battery life, so you will be good to go!
Also, to save on battery life, I recommend turning off the wrist-raise to wake function and only using the button or shaking to wake. Because the wrist-raise is really sensitive and can’t be tuned, and it will turn on the watch a LOT when not wanted.
I never ran into a situation where my watch had no more battery. Even though I only used it for a few months, I’m pretty confident that this will never happen, or at least very rarely.
In conclusion, I’m really happy with this watch. I’m happy to support Pine64 by buying their hardware, and I can’t wait to see what future updates will bring us! I understand that this watch might not be for everyone, at least for now! But if you need a week-long watch made by people who really care about their users and are not here only to make money, then please, go save up 40 bucks and buy yourself a PineTime!
Ending Note: This article is NOT sponsored by Pine64 or anyone else. (Unfortunately ahah)