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Pebble Steel Review: Pebble Grows Up and Looks the Part

by Roy Choi | February 21, 2014February 21, 2014 12:45 pm PDT

Pebble was one of the first to launch and produce an effective smartwatch and continues to compete in a market that is bound to become more crowded.  Samsung, Sony, Qualcomm and many more players have already entered the market to some arguable degree of success. Even with all these new entrants, Pebble has found a nice sweet spot as a notification accessory to your smartphone.  It doesn’t try to do too much like the Samsung Galaxy Gear, and is smarter and more intuitive than the Sony Smartwatch.

The original Pebble is already over a year old and has a new fancier, shiny sibling branded as the Pebble Steel.  Add to that a new app store and a bevy of new and planned apps heading to the platform, validating to the idea that a smartwatch can be a useful, everyday device. Can all this add up to make the Pebble Steel be your smartwatch of choice?

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Pebble Steel Video Review

Design/Hardware

The Pebble Steel, by looks alone, is every bit more grown up than its predecessor.  It certainly looks really nice.  The design of the Steel borrows from a classic stainless steel look that we are familiar with in watches of years gone by, with the caveat that the guts and display are entirely all digital.  The face of the watch now features Corning’s Gorilla Glass, making it more durable and scratch resistant than the plastic face of the original Pebble.

The Steel comes packaged with two bands: leather and stainless steel.  Both complement the brushed steel watch that we’ve been using.  The Steel is also available in black matte, if you prefer that look. The Steel ditches the open standard, 22MM bands, the original Pebble used.  While third party bands will arrive down the road, you will likely have fewer options than with the original Pebble. Though most users will find the two straps included to be more than adequate for their tastes.

Outside of looks, the major difference in hardware is an added LED indicator and upgraded magnetic charging connector. The LED indicator adds an additional way to indicate new messages or alerts while the updated charging connector promises to seat closer to completely flush than the original Pebble.  Some users had issues making sure the connector was adequately connected. Previous model connectors do not work with the Steel and vice versa.

One thing that may throw users off is the lack of a touchscreen (BLASPHEMY!).  We’ve seen touchscreens on competitors’ watchfaces, and there are arguments for and against both sides.  The Pebble doesn’t have that and instead relies on buttons.  You don’t really need a touchscreen, at least with how the Pebble is designed you wont need it. I personally prefer buttons on a smartwatch than the touchscreen kind. Furthermore, the Pebble and the Pebble Steel don’t sport the fastest processors or the biggest, highest resolution display.  Instead it uses a processor that consumes little power and uses an e-ink display that works perfectly in the sun or indoors. All these factors allow for better battery life, ease of use and a product that simply works as it is designed to:  A device that notifies you of information that your phone receives.

Battery Life

Pebble promises battery life to be at around five to seven days before needing a charge.  During our review period we experienced exactly five days.  As with most products or devices, battery life depends on how you use it, so it will depend on what alerts, and how many, you receive during a given day.

Apps

When you get into the brains of the Pebble Steel, there is nothing that differentiates it from the original Pebble.  In fact the bigger news is the launch of the Pebble App Store that coincided around the same time as the Steel launch.

One of the less desirable aspects of the original Pebble was the lack of a unified app store, instead you’d have to go hunting for apps and watchfaces on various web sites or forums. Then you would need to download third-party apps that include httpebble support.  Though this process isn’t all that difficult, it seemed a bit dated compared to integrated stores/platforms you find for smartphones. The Pebble App store is not complete yet, now it is up to developers to build on the next evolution of the devices.  Though the addition of the Pebble App Store creates a more complete product, which should entice those that are less tech savvy. In fact, if users are familiar with using Google Play or Apple’s iTunes App Store, then they will feel right at home with the Pebble App Store.

There are plenty of apps to make your Pebble play better with your phone.

This and That

The Pebble Steel is a great device but it isn’t without some faults, it has this super sharp bezel that sits just slightly above the glass display which can snag on things. Not a huge factor, but don’t be surprised by its presence.  Additionally the Pebble Steel is a bit pricey, while the $150 price of the original pebble is a little easier to swallow, some users may be turned off by the extra $99 price jump for steel and glass enhancements.  Then again it looks pretty nice.

While the original Pebble lacks any branding, the Pebble Steel places branding right smack on the front of the watch face.  Some users may be put off by this design element.

Not to be too nitpicky, but the stainless steel band can get caught on hairy arms, then again this isn’t specific to just the Pebble Steel, plenty of other watches that use metal links can cause the same issue.  Despite these concerns, the Steel is still a fantastic smartwatch that is worthy of sitting on your wrist.

Final Thoughts

The Pebble Steel is a sleeker version of the original Pebble. It’s received upgraded looks and some minor hardware upgrades (Corning Gorilla Glass and charging connector). While it hasn’t received any internal upgrades it has all the makings of a beautiful smartwatch that is easy to use.

The Pebble Steel is not a huge update on the hardware side of things.  Surely the materials and design make the watch seem slicker, however, internally you have the same Pebble as before.  The introduction of the Pebble App Store makes the Pebble platform and experience easier to use and allows for a larger quantity (and better quality) of apps down the road.  The price point may be its biggest downfall, though the original Pebble is still available for users and is certainly on its own a fine smartwatch.  Plenty of users are sure to still flock to the Pebble Steel because of its upgraded looks.


Roy Choi

Roy Choi is a Southern California native. He has been infatuated with technology reviews ever since he bought his first crummy laptop in the summer...

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