Pebble Steel – Review


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The original Pebble was one of the first SmartWatches that actually got my attention, up until then SmartWatches were just trying far too hard. With devices like the Sony Liveview being flawed by horrific software and driver issues. What Pebble were offering seemed to fit a lot of people’s requirements.

The wearables market in 2014 is heating up, with more and more manufacturers announcing new devices every few months. There are two distinct sub genres now, SmartWatches and Fitness Bands. Pebble have stuck with the watches and the Pebble Steel is the latest version of their watch. I’ve managed to get hold of one as Dan ordered one a few weeks ago and decided he didn’t want it after all. So it’s down to me to review it, I’ve not personally had a SmartWatch before so the learning curve was quite steep. I’ve had a play with the Galaxy Gear and I’ve stood near someone with a Sony LiveView 2. So onto my review, here we go starting as always with my good and bad points.

Good Points

  • Elegant looking design.
  • Nice build quality.
  • Redesigned magnetic charger.
  • Nice easily clickable buttons.
  • Adjustable metal strap and leather strap both included in the box.
  • App store for watches and apps easily accessible now.

Bad Points

  • Quite expensive for the functionality you get.
  • Android support is a bit of a mess at the moment.
  • Proprietary strap bracket means third party accessories are going to be a while.
  • Metal lip around screen is a little sharp.
  • It just looks too nice for scruffy types like me.

Design

The original Pebble was a pretty basic looking thing, a bit plasticy looking and a bit prone to scuffs and scratches. The Pebble Steel has left those problems behind. Apart from the screen and the leather strap the Pebble Steel is all metal, which gives it a very premium feel to it. I’ve got the brushed metal version which I initially regretted as the black version looks really cool, but now I’m happy with the one I’ve got, mainly down to any scratches just blending in as opposed to showing through.

The Pebble Steel comes with two premium looking straps, a metal one and a leather one. I have chosen to go with the metal one as it looks a whole lot nicer as it’s the same colour as the watch itself. The straps are attached using the tiniest screw bolt ever, they also have a proprietary connector which means that for now you’re stuck with the two straps, Pebble have released designs so that manufacturers can make straps for it, so it’s only a matter of time before you can buy them. In the box is also some spare links to use to lengthen the metal strap, the process is a bit fiddly but straightforward once you stabbed yourself in the hand with a tiny screwdriver a few times attempting to remove the links.

Button wise the Steel has the same button arrangement as before with the back button at the top left and the select, up and down buttons on the right hand side. On the left hand side also is the improved magnetic charging connector, which I find rather annoying to charge the Steel, but it’s necessary to retain the water resistance of the Pebble.

Overall I like the design, however I feel it’s almost too smart for me, I wouldn’t for instance wear it to go for a run or to go to the gym, I’d be happiest wearing it with a smart suit and at a push at work with my company issue shirt and trousers. I’m toying with the idea of getting one of the original models for taking out on a run, just because they don’t look as smart.

In Use

The Pebble is basically an extension of your phone, it doesn’t try to recreate everything you would do on your device and it doesn’t watch you sleep either. When I very briefly had the Galaxy Gear I was a little put off by how it was trying to recreate apps on the watch instead of on the phone. Things like the camera, the gallery, the speaker and the lack of buttons meant that I really didn’t like it and it soon got sent back to its owner.

The Pebble to me seems different, the idea is to push your notifications across to the watch via Bluetooth. You then glance at it and dismiss it with a press of a button. The other main purpose of the Pebble is to tell the time, but with style. You can change watchfaces using one of hundreds in the Pebble Store. I tend to change the face every few hours, with quite a few people commenting on how unique they look. You can get many different faces that offer extra functionality like battery life or weather as well. Within the Pebble app are settings to control which apps push notifications across, so you can make it as complex as you like. I choose to have my main email, SMS and calls. The rest I deal with on my phone.

You can also control music on your phone too, with a list of music player apps that you can control using the Pebble, luckily for me Play Music is on that list. If you’ve got headphones in and your out running you can easily skip through tracks without having to retrieve your phone.

There are also various apps available like stop watches, battery gauges, companion apps for your phone to take photos, Note taking apps, eBay, fitness apps or calendars the list is really quite long is to what you can do with it. It can be as simple or as complex as you want.

The software is where I came across my first hurdle. The first few days with the Pebble Steel were a bit of a nightmare, which was mainly down to me using Android. The Steel shipped with newer firmware than what was compatible with the at the time current Play Store version of the Pebble app. Which left me a little remorseful of my purchase. Someone pointed me in the direction of the beta test version of the upcoming app and I was sorted. I suddenly had an app store and fancy watchfaces at my beck and call. Pebble have since pushed the new compatible app out to the public, so any new buyers things will have a better time than my first few days.

I chop and change phones quite a bit and I’m finding the Pebble app keeps losing track of my watch and I’m having to factory reset quite a bit. I guess it’s all my fault and I should just stick to one phone. If I just used one phone and not chopped around it stayed paired and connected without any grief. Battery life wise it depends what notifications you have turned on and how many notifications you receive, under average use for me I got about three days out of mine although I did notice the paired phone would lose a bit of battery thanks to all of that Bluetooth stuff flying around.

This is how the current Pebble app looks, first of all here is the section that deals with notifications and which Music Player it can control.

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You also get a section of the app which allows you to login and load previously loaded watchfaces or apps to your Pebble. It also allows you to tweak any settings for individual faces here too.

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Within the app you also get access to all of the WatchFaces and Watch Apps from the Pebble Store as well. This is a nice addition as it saves you trawling through third party websites hunting for stuff.

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Conclusion

The Pebble Steel has really taken me by surprise, my previous experiences with SmartWatches had left me a little confused as to what the point was, the Steel however is more of an extension of the device itself as opposed to a weird little device in itself that just so happens to be connected to a phone. Design wise it’s certainly a looker, for me it’s almost too good looking, looking out of place in the gym or doing DIY. I’m going to keep it and see if Pebble can fix the Android software because with the all new Pebble app store I think they’ve got massive potential.

As to what I’d improve I guess I’d change the watch strap or at least make a range of alternatives be available I’d also improve the Android app. As to whether I think they are currently worth importing and paying import tax on I’m not so sure. I’m happy and that’s all that matters really.