The Pebble smartwatch has been on my radar since it took Kickstarter by storm back in April 2012. But despite all of the subsequent media coverage, I’ve never quite been convinced enough to purchase one. That all changed last month however, when the Pebble Steel was unveiled at CES 2014. I preordered one as soon as it appeared on Pebble’s website – and having used it daily for over a week now, here’s my review.
Pebble Steel Design
Although it would be unfair to call the original Pebble unattractive, not everybody is a fan of its plastic, sporty design. And that appears to be one of the main reasons for the introduction of the Pebble Steel. Made from forged and CNC-machined stainless steel, and available with either a brushed stainless or matte black finish, the Pebble Steel looks and feels more like a premium product.
In addition to a more refined design, the casing of the Pebble Steel is shorter and thinner than the first Pebble, and despite being heavier, it actually feels surprisingly light for a metal watch. The buttons are chunkier – making them easier to press, and while the 1.26-inch ePaper display remains unchanged, it’s now protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2. This makes the screen both more durable, and less prone to picking up fingerprints.
Regardless of which finish you go for (I opted for brushed stainless), the Pebble Steel comes with two different straps: a metal chain-linked one in same style as your Pebble Steel, and a black leather version. Both feel comfortable to wear – but personally I prefer the metal strap. It just looks nicer, especially with the brushed stainless model.
Like the first Pebble, the Steel is waterproof rated up to 5 ATM – meaning it should be able to withstand being submerged in up to 165 feet of water.
Features & Performance
Although the Pebble Steel has a very different design to the original model, it hasn’t really gained any extra features. For anyone unfamiliar with the Pebble, those core features include: the ability to receive email, text, phone calls and other notifications from your Bluetooth connected iOS or Android smartphone, changeable watchfaces, and the option to control music on your phone. In addition, the functionality of the Pebble can be extended by installing third-party apps, which I’ll cover later in this review.
Navigating the Pebble’s user interface is extremely easy. The left button takes you backwards (and activates a backlight from the watchface), the top and bottom right buttons allow you to move up and down between menus and watchfaces, and the middle right button is used to make selections. Visually, the interface is simple but effective – just occasionally I’ve noticed a slight delay, but overall it feels very responsive.
Like the first generation Pebble, the Steel comes with a proprietary charging cable – so you really won’t want to lose it. One end has a magnetic connector that attaches to the watch, and the other end is USB. The design of the magnetic connector has changed though, meaning that if you own a plastic Pebble you won’t be able to use its charger with the Steel – and vice versa.
I said that the Steel doesn’t really have any extra features, but it does have one welcome addition that the plastic version lacks – a three colour LED located below the display on the left side that lights up when the watch is charging. With the original Pebble it isn’t easy to tell whether or not the charging cable is attached correctly.
Pebble says to expect battery life of 5-7 days between charges – the same as the first generation. Based on my experience so far, that seems fairly accurate – though of course, it could vary greatly depending on the number of notifications you receive.
It’s also worth pointing out that the battery life of your smartphone may be impacted depending on the amount of data being sent between it and your Pebble – I’ve noticed a slight decrease on my Nexus 5.
The Pebble Appstore
Last Monday, Pebble released a major update to its iPhone companion app, which introduced access to an official Pebble appstore – a single place to discover and download apps & watchfaces for both the original Pebble, and the new Steel. Prior to this update, apps had to be found on third-party websites and either Apple’s App Store or Android’s Play Store.
Currently, there are over 1000 apps and watchfaces available to download from the official appstore, with the apps sorted by the following categories: Daily, Tools & Utilities, Notifications, Remotes, Fitness, and Games. All of the apps are free to download, but some work in conjunction with paid smartphone apps. Here’s a quick overview of a few of the more noteworthy ones on offer:
Twebble is a fully-featured Twitter client that allows you to check your timeline, mentions and profile. You can even tweet from your watch, though it’s obviously going to be much quicker & easier to type on your phone rather than entering characters with the Pebble’s buttons.
If you have a Philips Hue lighting system installed in your home, you can use the Huebble app to turn the lights on and off, change their colour settings, and adjust the brightness.
GoPro has released an app that allows you to control your HERO3 or HERO3+ camera from your Pebble. You can stop and start video recording, adjust settings, and view information that appears on the camera’s screen.
Like its main smartphone app, the Yelp Pebble app displays shops, restaurants, and other places of interest nearby. It includes a discover mode, which automatically shows you one such place with the flick of your wrist!
Once downloaded, apps and watchfaces are stored in a locker section within the smarthphone companion app, allowing you to quickly install and remove them from your Pebble – which is handy given that you can only have a maximum of eight installed on your Pebble watch at a time. From what I’ve read online, that limit is an artificial restraint – so hopefully a future firmware update will allow you to install more.
Unfortunately, Android users will have to wait a little longer before they can access the official appstore via their smartphones. At the moment it’s only available to developers – but Pebble says the update will be released to the public very soon.
With the Steel, Pebble has taken an already popular smartwatch with a growing ecosystem of apps, and given it a premium design. Priced at $250, it does costs $100 more than the plastic model that offers the same features. However, if you’re looking to purchase your first smartwatch, and you want something that looks more like a traditional watch, then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it – I absolutely love mine!
The Pebble Steel is available to order directly from Pebble’s website.