Pebble Time

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The folks from Pebble are back, and this time they’ve got something new up their sleeves, if you’ll pardon the expression. The Pebble Time is the third incarnation of the company’s smartwatch, and the first to feature a color e-paper screen.

That’s far and away the most impressive feature of this new device, and is clearly intended to distinguish it from the forthcoming tidal wave that is the Apple Watch. Electronic paper screens have been in wide use in the e-reader market, but haven’t gone much beyond it yet.

Electronic paper’s biggest advantage is power consumption: Pebble says the Time can get up to 7 days of battery life. Saving power is key for a device that people wear, since people don’t want to have to frequently take it off. Apple, meanwhile, has said that it expects you to charge its smartwatch nightly, and rumors suggest that battery life may be a big concern for the device. E-paper screens are also far more legible in daylight than LCDs, and generally have less glare.

So why aren’t we using e-paper screens in all of our electronic devices? For one thing, e-paper screens offer far fewer colors than LCDs and OLEDs. The Pebble Time can display only 64 colors, whereas LCDs can handle millions. E-paper’s limited palette may be fine for text or simple animations, but it pales next to its competitors when it comes to photos or video. But color e-paper screens could prove attractive for budget smartphones, especially those sold in developing countries where long battery life and cheaper production are significant factors.

As of this writing, the Pebble Time had already hit its funding goal, mere minutes after it was launched. But the Pebble Time also doesn’t ship until May—a month after the Apple Watch comes out. It may find itself in a very different market by then.

Updated: A previous version of this article referred to the screen technology as “E Ink,” which was incorrect.