Pebble Steel Review

March 22, 2014

    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.

    Original Pebble

    Original Pebble

    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!

    pebble steel aa-20140321-012-3

    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.

    Design

    pebble steel aa-20140321-039-10

    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.

    pebble steel aa-20140321-032-8

    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.

    pebble steel aa-20140321-019-5

    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.

    pebble steel aa-20140321-055-12

    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.

    pebble steel aa-20140321-063-14

    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.

    Software

    pebble steel aa-20140321-029-7

    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.

    Gallery

    Final Thoughts

    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.

    pebble steel aa-20140321-007-2

    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.

    Comments

    • Mark Price

      The pebble is my current smart watch of choice, I have hopes for Android Wear pushing things forward, but I have yet to understand why no one is doing a movement/solar/charger only as a last resort, powered watch.

      • Fred Chiang

        because solar panels on that small of a surface area would essentially be useless, and wut do you mean by movement? o_o

        • Mark Price

          I disagree with you on a solar cell being useless as _part_ of the charging strategy for a pebble. It’s a 130mAh battery. Cells mounted on the band would be able to provide enough to charge it over about a day in full sun, and I was speaking of it as a _part_

          As for movement, have you never seen a self winding watch?

          I think you’re missing the point though, and getting bogged down by minutia. A watch for many of us is something we were and use all of the time. Having to take it off to charge means for significant periods of time you are not able to use it. If you do it overnight that negates using it as your alarm. During the day and you lose other benefits.

          I used solar/movement as examples only, there are a lot of very interesting ways to get power into as small a battery as is used as the Pebble. Any way that can keep it on your wrist for longer, ideally not having to take it off at all, would be an advantage.

          • Fred Chiang

            well whats wrong with charging at night..? especially if it has wireless charging you could just get a qi charger on your nightstand and put your watch and your phone on there. do you wear your watch to sleep? o_o

            • Mark Price

              I do wear my watch to sleep. It provides a quiet alarm on my wrist that doesn’t disturb other people, allows me to have no lights on, lets me keep the phone in a different room and still see phone calls coming in, etc. It’s when I would be using the “Phone calls only” option on notifications.

              To me, when I say “I want to do this” and the response is “just do this instead, it’s close enough” it isn’t an acceptable answer. I use tools to help me, and while a little adaptation is part of it, I don’t have any desire to modify my habits that much to accommodate a tool, unless that tool is a) gives me such a big benefit that the ROI for me is pretty high, and b) there is no way it can be made better.

              I like the pebble, but neither of those things apply to it.

            • Fred Chiang

              mmm well i guess for you it wouldn’t be very useful then :/ but i don’t think it would be a problem for most people

            • Mark Price

              In a quick google search that usage came up in the top two links,

              “Using this quick method you can make sure your alerts are silenced. This is especially helpful if you leave it on all the time or wear it to bed.”

              http://www.smartwatchfans.com/how-to-use-do-not-disturb-pebble

              I think it is a problem more people than you think would like addressed. It would also help if you go somewhere and have forgotten to bring the special charger cable you need.

    • Joe Dopita

      Good review but with Android wear coming out why would anyone spend $250 for the steel

      • Luka Mlinar

        Probably the same people who would spend just as much for a Samsungs watch.

    • http://pixelpaperskin.com/ Hoang Cao Nghia

      This is the best and most completed review of pebbles so far, while manage to keep it simple.
      Never able to grasp the concept of using smartwatch before. Thanks.

    • Albert Nery

      hey Joshua! I like ur original pebble strap! where did u get it? thanks! love ur video reviews! :)

    • Dehaha1

      Hey Joshua, what’s that band you have for the original pebble?

      After seeing it, I suddenly had the need for a new watch band.

      • Bob

        Yes, and so do I

    • MasterMuffin

      Still nothing that would make me buy a smartwatch.
      “and you’re look for more versatility”
      “but it’s benefit is undeniable.” >:)

    • Mur

      Pebble has some tough months ahead of them. Especially at a $250 price point.

    • http://sm-phone.blogspot.com/ hamaki

      Good review but with Android wear coming out why would anyone spend $250 for the steel

      http://sm-phone.blogspot.com/

    • Bone

      Looks ugly to be honest. Style reminds me of my pa’s 80s watch, and never liked the style of the watch itself, and especially not the strap. Admittedly I’m not a watch person and I don’t see the point of a limited “smart” gadget when my phone is always at reach, and does more, faster and better, but at least the Moto watch looks okay enough to put on my hand.

      Sport trekking equipment is a different thing, if one could run Runtastic or hiking app with GPS, mapping, heart rate monitor and gyroscope to trek properly, I’d invest.

      • Mark Price

        I don’t disagree on most of your points, but still use it. It could be more attractive, a phone will do more, and it’s limited. It helps to think of it as a peripheral. It would be like using a mouse with a laptop. You don’t really need it, but there are times it makes sense. If you bike it’a nice to not have to pull your phone out to see whose calling, or if you really care enough about the text message to stop. I wear a nearly invisible headset to listen to music at work, and it’s nice to be able to pause what I’m listening to without digging out my phone.
        Again, it’s limited, but it does the things I wanted it to.

        As to the second half of what you wrote, absolutely. As a watch, it is in a good spot to be used as a sensor. Or being able to leave the phone at home and using it to gather data to be uploaded to the phone for a run (I use Runkeeper). I would love to see something that combined the smart watch functions, with a second gps (for the logging mentioned above, and a MIO Alpha style strapless heart rate monitor.

    • http://www.friendlyphotozone.com/ Friendly Photo Zone

      I stopped wearing a watch a few years ago. It was hard at first, I kept glancing at my wrist to see what time it was, and it just felt… bare. But eventually I got used to it and now I really appreciate not having the time constantly glued to my wrist. It’s kinda liberating. Not to mention no longer getting the watch hooked onto things accidentally.

      But with these new smart watch options coming out, I’m starting to consider wearing a watch again. I had no real interest in the Samsung Gear, despite the fact that I have a Note 3. But this Pebble Steel and the upcoming Android Wear devices have me pretty excited to have something wrapped around my wrist once again.

    • nishantsirohi123

      what is going on with sony smartwatches these days

    • http://about.me/ersindurna Ersin Durna

      Good review for “non-buyable” product! Pebble can not distribute its products and does not tell why! You may be interested whats going on in their own Forum thread: http://forums.getpebble.com/discussion/11933/pebble-steel-shipping-mega-thread-2#latest

    • solamente

      nice

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