There are gadgets you like, and then there are gadgets you love. For many, the Pebble smartwatch fell into that latter category. It was simple, affordable, and the first smartwatch that made everyone realize smartwatches weren’t just a gimmick. The company deserved better than having its corpse picked apart by Fitbit, and if you still have a soft spot for the Pebble, the hackable Watchy could fill that hole in your heart.
As a former Pebble devotee, I’ve come to appreciate the Apple Watch experience as it’s freed me from having to carry my phone with me wherever I go. But at times it feels a little over-ambitious, and a little too much like Apple tried to create a wrist-worn version of the iPhone. That, and I have to charge it every night, which is a pain. The Pebble, by comparison, was bare-bones feature-wise, but did everything I really needed a smartwatch to do, including serving up notifications for days and days before needing a charge.
The Watchy appears to take a similarly Pebble-like approach to smartwatches. Instead of a fancy full-color OLED display, it opts for a monochromatic 1.54-inch electronic paper screen with a resolution of 200 x 200 pixels which, like the Pebble, is probably a low-power LCD instead of actual E Ink. It gives the Watchy excellent viewing angles, even in direct sunlight, but it doesn’t appear to include a backlight or sidelight, which means that in the dark you’ll need to reach for a flashlight to check the time.
Built around an ESP32 board, the Watchy comes mostly assembled (all you really have to do is connect the display and the battery to the mainboard and use some sticky tape to hold the components together) and ready to accept a watch strap. As with any open-source creation, the smartwatch can be customized with 3D-printed enclosures so it looks like less of a hack and more like something airport security wouldn’t bat an eye at.
Although it lacks fitness-tracking features like heart-rate monitoring and you’ll never want to get it wet, the Watchy does include wifi, Bluetooth for wirelessly connecting to a smartphone, a vibration motor for haptic notifications, a clock, four physical buttons on the side, and a 3-axis accelerometer that allows the smartwatch to detect gesture motions. For just $45, it’s fairly well-equipped, but as with most open-source products, the real value of the Watchy is its potential.
Using the Arduino integrated development environment, users comfortable with coding can make the Watchy do anything they want—and not just create their own completely custom watch faces, which is something the Apple Watch doesn’t even allow yet. The creator of Watchy, a company called Squarofumi, promises extensive documentation through its website, including watch faces that can be downloaded and designs for 3D-printed cases, but the content is sparse at the moment. The Watchy might not be for everyone (I can’t imagine my parents being comfortable trying to customize it) but it’s as good an excuse as any to try your hand at coding, even if you never fell in love with the Pebble years ago.
Correction, January 14, 1:43 p.m. EST/EDT: The creators of Watchy have reached out to us to clarify that the smartwatch does indeed use an AMEPD (Active Matrix Electrophoretic Display) microcapsule e-paper display.