A Low Cost Hackable Watch
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Sunday, 18 July 2021

Pine makes a range of community-supported hardware that is well worth knowing about, but its new PineTime SmartWatch offers a unique opportunity to program your wrist.

The PineTime is supposed to be the partner of the PinePhone - a Linux open source phone, but it can be used with other phones or standalone. Its spec isn't hugely impressive and it is a bit on the big size, but you can program it:

  • SoC: NORDIC Semiconductor nRF52832
  • CPU: 64MHz ARM Cortex-M4F
  • Internal: 512KB Flash, 64KB RAM
  • Additional: SPI NOR 4 MB Flash

It has a touchscreen display 240x240 pixels and in 65K colors. It has an accelerometer, heart rate sensor and vibrator plus some general GPIO lines. Its communication method is Bluetooth 5 BLE. It is claimed that its battery will last a week.

Smartwatches with Sim - See this guide on Superwatches to learn how this smartwatch can be used as a phone for calls and messages

If you want to program it then you will need the Dev Kit at $49 which comes with two watches - one open for development and one sealed for testing/use. If you just want a sealed unit you can get one for $29, but it is not recommended for development because you cannot get at the internal debug interface.


Now we come to the challenge. This is not an easy-to-program device. It is not just a matter of writing some simple lines of MicroPython and uploading. Its operating system is written in C++ and you are probably going to have to use C++ to develop anything interesting. This is not such a problem, but the need to use the internal debug connector is. To do this you need to make contact with four tiny pads on the back of the watch. You can solder wires or you could opt to use a pack of four pogo pins that you can also buy from the Pine Store. A fiddly business no matter how you do it. Then there is the debug port itself.  This is an SWD interface and you need to connect a suitable debugging device to make use of it. You can use OpenOCD and you can use a Raspberry Pi to run it and avoid the need for a special SWD debugging device. Even so if you aren't used to SWD it can take time to get it all working and working with your favorite IDE. In short, even if you have already done this sort of low-level development, getting started is going to be a challenge.

OK, assuming that your development environment is set up. what next? The problem is that there is almost no documentation. The operating system is available on GitHub for you to read through and there is one, very good, article on creating an application. If you are prepared to put the work in, this should be enough. Again it would be difficult for the complete 100% beginner, but if you have done anything like it, programming the Raspberry Pi Pico would be enough, then it's a challenge you should be able to meet.

As it is so difficult do I recommend that you don't bother?

No not at all! The watch looks sort of usable as it comes and people are developing new features all the time - it could have an interesting future. If you are looking to get deeper into embedded development, then this looks like a lot of fun, but just don't expect it to be easy.



More Information


PineTime SmartWatch Dev Kit

PineTime Smart Watch (Sealed)

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 17 November 2021 )