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Pal adds GPS and battery life to your Pebble, but also a lot of bulk

Raymond Wong

Last year, when Pebble announced its Time smartwatch lineup, the company showed off straps with built-in accessories that could interact with the watch body. 

"Smart Straps," the company called them, were theoretically capable of adding GPS, extra battery life and lasers for teasing your cat to the standard Pebble Time watch.

SEE ALSO: Pebble launches 2 new smartwatches and a surprise

Smart Straps interface with the watch using a combination of a companion app and the magnetic charging port on the back of the watch.

Despite the company touting all of the potential just waiting to be unlocked by Smart Straps, we’ve yet to see any meaningful products emerge.

Smart Straps are real after all

Pal, which successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign, hopes to be one such meaningful product for Pebble users.

The Pal Strap has raised $124,161 on the promise of delivering a smart strap that adds GPS tracking and extended battery life to the Pebble Time lineup.

From what I can gather after using a pre-production unit, Pal seems like it will deliver on that promise — if you can get over its size, that is.

To use Pal, you’ll need to disconnect your current watch band from Pebble and snap the watch body into the Pal Strap. There aren’t any pins or convoluted attachment tools needed. Just snap it into place.

Despite using hardware that’s yet to be finalized, I didn’t have any concern about my Pebble Time falling out; Pal held it firmly in place.

Make room for GPS and a battery boost

Image: jason cipriani/mashable

The GPS antenna is housed just below the watch, while the external battery is located on the bottom of the strap. You can charge Pal and your Pebble watch using the standard magnetic charger.

It’s easy to see in photos just how big Pal Strap makes the standard Pebble Time watch. In order to make room for the GPS antenna, the housing now extends down over the curve of my wrist. While the top of the new housing doesn’t protrude nearly as far, the added size could be problematic for those with smaller wrists.

Adding to the overall size is the battery that’s tucked into the bottom of the strap. The battery compartment has a slight curve to it, meant to match the natural curve of your wrist.

Image: jason cipriani/mashable

That’s not to say that Pal is uncomfortable to wear, and with design refinements already evident in mockups for the Pebble Time 2 version the strap is sure to feel better when it begins shipping. Still, the added bulk will be too much for some. 

I struggled with putting the band on my own wrist, often requiring help from my wife to ensure it was firmly connected. In its current form, a traditional watch buckle is connected to the battery on the bottom of the strap. Because of this, you need to make adjustments to how tight or loose the band is before you put it on. 

On a couple of occasions, I thought I had the strap properly connected only to have it disconnect awhile later. Thankfully I was able to catch my watch before it hit the ground.

I suspect this is an issue the company has already fixed, based on a look at the latest mockups, which show a completely different mechanism on the battery compartment. The model I was sent looks as if the company took a clasp from a watch and repurposed it just to make a working model.

An app to go with a strap

Image: pal

Through a beta version of the Pal app on my watch, I was able to start and stop GPS tracking and control charging of my watch using the strap.

To start a GPS tracking session, you select one of three different categories and wait for the antenna to acquire a signal. Right now, that process takes up to a minute of holding your wrist just in order to point the antenna towards the sky. Once a GPS connection is established, Pal will track your run, bike ride, or walk.

Pal is working with Qualcomm, the manufacturer of the GPS chip used in the strap, to speed up the connection. Hopefully it’s something the company can figure out, as the current process takes longer than users are going to want to wait. I know I got tired of waiting.

Image: jason cipriani/mashable

This is the same app you use to turn the battery on or off, should your Pebble Time need a quick charge. Pal estimates the final product will pack enough juice to power your Pebble Time for another seven days.

When Pal begins shipping later this year, the company will also have a companion app for iOS and Android users. Through the app, users can view workout details such as distance and time, along with GPS routes on a map.

When I tested the GPS capabilities, I was only able to see the location indicators show up within the app — I was unable to check how accurately the strap tracked my movements due to the phone app not being available for testing.

Shipping later this year

Image: jason cipriani/mashable

Pal expects to begin shipping to Time backers in October, with the Pebble Time Round version shipping in December. Pebble Time 2 backers will have to wait until Feb. 2017.

Pledges currently begin at $79 for a Pal compatible with Pebble Time. 

The biggest problem Pal will need to overcome is justifying the purchase of a Smart Strap by Pebble users. I couldn’t see myself using Pal as my main watch band — it’s too big. Instead, I see myself relying on it only for tracking workouts or to quickly top off my watch’s battery much in the same way I use a battery case for my phone.

Then there’s Pebble Core, the newest gadget from the company that’s entire purpose is to provide GPS tracking and music streaming to Pebble users.

For those who don’t mind the bigger footprint introduced by the Pal Strap, and are itching to gain GPS and extended battery for the Pebble Time Pal, it may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Pal Strap

The Good

Adds GPS!

The Bad

It's big Getting GPS signal takes too long Cumbersome installation

The Bottom Line

Pal Strap adds GPS and battery life to your Pebble smartwatch, but at the price of adding bulk.