Wearable technology has slowly been picking up the pace over the past year or so, and the growth and popularity should grow exponentially with Google’s announcement of Android Wear, along with a bunch of hardware partners that plan on releasing smartwatches and other wearable tech this year.
But before there was Android Wear, there were still some really good smartwatch options available, one of the most popular of which was the Pebble smartwatch. While the original version was pretty great, especially following the highly-anticipated software update, the follow up seems to be even better. Here’s our detailed review of the Pebble Steel!
Before we get started, I have to mention that while I’ve had the Pebble Steel for some time now, I’ve been using the original Pebble smartwatch since Christmas, so even though this is a Pebble Steel review, I will be covering the new version somewhat in comparison to the original, before diving into the identical software experience of both. Let’s get started.
Having extra functionality in a watch is something that is almost unanimously desired, but it has proved to be quite difficult to put it all together in a watch that rivals, or is even aesthetically similar to, a “normal” timepiece, which is one of the biggest hurdles smartwatches face. A case in point is the original Pebble smartwatch, that looked pretty simplistic, and didn’t try too hard to hide the fact that it was piece of technology going on your wrist, which for a lot of people was a little too far from the standard, and something only geeks would be completely okay with.
This is where the second iteration of the Pebble smartwatch, the Pebble Steel, comes in. Attempting to bridge the gap a little, the Pebble has moved into a more familiar watch territory, with a metal or matte black construction as opposed to the plastic build from before, that can be outfitted with a metal or leather band. Both bands look quite nice and are easy to change up, but other than the available options, you won’t be able to use your own watch bands as it doesn’t take the standard measurement band like the original Pebble did. This level of customization has been sacrificed in the transition, but the trade off is a new look that works incredibly well, and is more along the lines of a regular watch.
The body of the watch face itself has a more decisive look to it with its rigid lines and extra thickness, and isn’t too large for small wrists, or look out of place on a large one. Because of the better build material all around, the buttons have a much better feel than before, with more of a click to them, compared to the soft squishiness of the original. The only problem I have with the design of the Pebble Steel is the large logo on the front of the watch. While you don’t have the luxury of having the branding within the watch face with a smartwatch, the large size of the Pebble branding is definitely in your face, and I feel, somewhat unnecessary.
The final gripe in terms of design is with regards to the charger. Granted, it won’t be a big deal if you’ve just picked up the smartwatch, but if you’re switching over from the original, you’ll find that the charger has been changed. While the new charger has a stronger magnet and seems to stay on better than the one before, it’s just a bit of bummer that I couldn’t ostensibly have an extra charger when getting the next iteration. Thankfully, battery life on the Pebble Steel is quite good, and you aren’t continuously bombarded with notifications, you can easily push the battery life to around five days.
Overall, the Pebble Steel is a proper update to the original, with a design more akin to a conventional watch, that should please and attract a lot more users. Metal or leather bands on the metal or matte black body help give a little room to experiment with the look, while also not being completely out of place with a more formal attire. That being said, if metal watches aren’t your style, and you’re looking for more versatility, the comparatively cheaper original Pebble smartwatch may be more along the lines of what you need.
Whether you’re rocking the original Pebble or have just picked up the latest Pebble Steel, as far as the software is concerned, the Pebble ecosystem is very reliable, allowing for the same overall experience regardless of which iteration of the device you’re using. In the transition to the Pebble Steel, the operating system has been updated to version 2.0, which introduced the ability to check our notifications history, along with a new Android app that quite literally consolidates the entire software experience. Earlier, you were able to install your applications only by scouring a number of different sources and installing a bunch of different companion apps for each and every one. Now, almost every Pebble app and watch face is now available from just the single Pebble app.
If you’ve missed our feature focus on the new Pebble app, you can check out the app in action in the video below. Keep in mind that at the time of the video, the app was still a beta release, and the experience is a lot smoother and faster now.
The best thing about the new app is the consolidation of all your Pebble apps. Especially when coming from an earlier model of the smartwatch, signing into the app allows you to easily grab all of the apps you were using before and automatically load them into your smartwatch. With the ever growing list of available watch faces and applications, searching for just what you’re looking for is never too difficult.
Since getting the original Pebble, there has been one particular benefit that it hasn’t failed to provide. When set up with a third party notification application, or the built-in one that is available with version 2.0, you’ll find yourself not needing to look at your phone as often as before. The growing problem of people being glued to their phone all the time is helped by the ability to receive notifications on your smartwatch. You can glance at a notification on the Pebble, and if it’s not important, you can always get back to it later. This also saves you the trouble of having to pull out your phone every time it goes off.
Of course, third party applications do have their own advantages. You can quickly find places to eat nearby using Yelp, keep yourself focused and productive using a Pomodoro app, and even read your notes using Evernote. But ultimately, what the Pebble does best is easily bring your immediate information to your wrist, so that you don’t have to go searching for it.
While the Pebble Steel brings a more conventional style to the ecosystem, ultimately it is a smartwatch that sets out to perform at least one great function, notification consolidation, and does it very successfully. While other smartwatches might simply be trying too hard to replace your smartphone, or at least parts of the smartphone experience, the Pebble compliments the device instead. You might still need your phone nearby to get the most out of the Pebble, but its benefit is undeniable.
Watch wearers understand the feeling of something being missing when they don’t have their watch on, and that’s exactly how you’ll start feeling about the Pebble whenever your phone has to go without it.