Pebble Steel: Shopping for a decent watch? Might as well be smart

Pebble Steel: Shopping for a decent watch? Might as well be smart

Summary: Hands-on review: The new Pebble Steel -- attractive, functional and well-supported -- is clearly the best smartwatch now available. But competition's on the way.

SHARE:
30

 |  Image 1 of 12

  • Thumbnail 1
  • Thumbnail 2
  • Thumbnail 3
  • Thumbnail 4
  • Thumbnail 5
  • Thumbnail 6
  • Thumbnail 7
  • Thumbnail 8
  • Thumbnail 9
  • Thumbnail 10
  • Thumbnail 11
  • Thumbnail 12
  • Pebble Steel retail package

    A couple of weeks ago ZDNet's Jason O'Grady took a first look at the new Pebble Steel. An eval unit arrived at my house that day and after a couple of weeks of use I have to say it is clearly the smartwatch to purchase at this time and maybe for at least the next six months.

    I participated in this week's ZDNet Great Debate arguing that smartwatches are tomorrow's must-have gear and soundly lost the public opinion by one of the largest margins I have seen in a Great Debate. While the public doesn't currently agree with me, I still think smartwatches are worth considering and Pebble did a great job with the Steel.

    Hardware

    I backed Pebble as a Kickstarter project, originally ordering an orange model. Due to typical delays we see in Kickstarter I then switched to a black one to get it in my hands faster and have been using it for several months. The original Pebble is functional, but definitely not an elegant piece of hardware. Over time I have gotten used to it, but now with a Pebble Steel in hand my original Pebble looks a bit cheap.

    The Pebble Steel comes in an attractive black box with a simple Pebble word embossed on the top. You can order a Pebble Steel in either brushed stainless steel or black matte. I was sent a brushed stainless steel one, but just ordered my own black matte one now that I have had a chance to test it out.

    I had to swing by a store to buy a screwdriver to change out the leather band and test out the stainless steel one. It would have been nice for Pebble to include a small tool to change out the band, although I do appreciate that they included both a leather and stainless steel one in the retail package.

    The display of the Pebble Steel is the same as the original Pebble, both in terms of technology and resolution. The word Pebble is on the front of the watch, below the display. On this stainless steel model there is a brushed metal frame around the front. There appears to be an O-ring seal below this metal frame Oops, it's not a watertight seal. It's plastic insulating the body (ground) from the stainless steel bezel (BT antenna). The main brushed stainless steel body takes up about 80 percent of the Pebble Steel thickness.

    The three metal buttons on the right side are easy to press with the center one sticking out a bit further than the top and bottom buttons. There is one metal button on the upper left side with the two connection pieces for the charger on the lower left side.

    There are four small screws on the back with the Pebble label, model number, serial number, and made in China words on the back. The leather band is soft and attractive. The metal band looks like a typical band and to adjust it to your wrist size you need to take it to a jeweler or follow the method shown on videos online.

    You may be wondering what the major differences are between the original Pebble and the Pebble Steel. The right side buttons are greatly improved on the Pebble Steel, the charger and connection port are different, the band no longer fits standard 21mm watchbands, and there is a handy indicator light in the bottom left of the front of the Pebble Steel.

    Software

    The Pebble Steel runs firmware 2.0 so you will need an iPhone to connect to the watch out of the box. There is a beta of the Android app and hopefully a full version of the Pebble software will launch soon on Android. Android is difficult to get accessories like this working since the Bluetooth stack is not consistent like it is on iOS.

    I used my iPhone 5s to connect and setup the Pebble Steel for a week and then passed my 5s along to my daughter to replace her iPhone 4. I then installed the Pebble 2 beta app on my Moto X and connected to the Pebble Steel.

    I wrote about the new Pebble appstore and like the ability to install up to eight apps on the Pebble. Call and message notifications are my primary reasons for the Pebble as the message triage functionality helps me be more efficient and let me keep my phone in my bag and on my desk.

    Daily usage experiences

    I honestly didn't even realize the Pebble Steel was on my wrist most of the time, it's that amazingly comfortable. It is not as long as the original Pebble and sits perfectly on the center of my wrist. It is a tad thicker than I would like to see in a watch, but the reduced length helps the looks and feel.

    I was seeing about four days of battery life with the iPhone 5s, but seem to be getting a day or two longer with my Moto X. I personally like that I have finer control over notifications on Android than on iOS. I don't like how iOS doesn't give me specific Pebble control, but requires that I just setup notifications to happen or not happen on the iPhone. In my personal opinion, Android provides a bit better Pebble experience than iOS.

    Pros and Cons

    I thought my original Pebble was just fine, but after testing out the Pebble Steel I don't know if I can go back to using the larger and less refined model.

    Pros Cons
    Extremely comfortable design No tool included to swap bands
    Visible charging indicator Large bezel and bit thick form factor
    Waterproof to 5 atm  
    Compatible with iOS and Android  
    Growing developer community and appstore  

    Pricing and availability

    The Pebble Steel is available now for $249, with free shipping available as well. It started shipping in late January and their website states it is in short supply. I just ordered mine yesterday and don't know when it will ship.

    The competition

    The main competition for the Pebble Steel is the Samsung Galaxy Gear. The Gear is priced at $299 and has a terrible couple day battery life while it does have a fabulous display and improving software. It is likely that we will see an updated version of the Gear next week at Mobile World Congress with a likely price drop.

    Other current smartwatches include the Toq ($350), Sony Smartwatch 2 ($200), and Martian Smartwatch ($249). Pebble has the largest developer base, app selection, and works with both iOS and Android devices.

    Specifications

    Injection molded, CNC-machined 316 stainless steel
    1.26 inch, 144x168 pixel resolution LED backlit display
    Corning Gorilla Glass 2 display cover
    Stainless steel and genuine cow hide black leather band options
    Bluetooth 4.0 low energy
    130 mAh Li-Ion battery with 5-7 day battery life
    Waterproof to 5 ATM (50 meters/165 feet)
    Dimensions of 36.8 x 39 x 10.25 mm and 55.43 grams (92.62 grams with the metal band)

    Conclusion

    It seems that more and more people are using watches today, both for the function and for fashion. Many of these higher end watches run $300, $500, or more. Thus, if you are looking for a high quality and fashionable watch, the Pebble Steel is actually priced very reasonably at $249.

    In addition to an attractive, great quality watch you get a fully functional and well-supported smartwatch. Pebble jumped out in front with a successful Kickstarter campaign and is doing a great job of attracting developers and improving on the hardware.

    Their cross platform support, hopefully soon coming to Windows Phone with the 8.1 update, is one aspect that will help Pebble succeed. The modern smartwatch market is still quite young and I don't think we are going to see real revolution until Apple or Google jumps in or Samsung decides to support all of Android and maybe even iOS smartphones.

    If you are looking for an excellent watch and even a great smartwatch, you really can't go wrong with the Pebble Steel. I am excited about their growing appstore and think the Pebble Steel will be the best option available for several months.

    Contributor's rating: 9 out of 10

    Further reading:

  • Opening up the retail package

Topics: Mobility, Android, iOS, Reviews

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

30 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Help me here

    What is the watch giving you? display that you have a call or email? my phone already does that. What is the driving item that this gear gives someone that they dont already have?
    tiderulz
    • Convenience

      Unless your phone is already in your hand, checking your wrist is faster.

      Another bonus: I have to keep my phone on silent, and I frequently missed the phone's vibrations when it was in my pocket or in a hip holster. There's no missing/mistaking when my Pebble silently buzzes on my wrist!

      I'm happy with my Pebble - it has earned its keep - but I can't wholeheartedly recommend any smartwatch due to their current prices.
      R_Connelie@...
      • Faster?

        we are talking literally seconds. I just dont see any functionality that would garner any interest. Unless i am missing something
        tiderulz
        • Wrong

          Plenty of reasons to have a smart watch over pulling out your phone from your pocket. Driving is one as I am on call 24/7 and get alerts if my servers or systems act up and I need to see these alerts right away. Same for meetings in that I can glance at my watch to make sure I am not missing anything but constantly picking up my phone and glancing at it is considered rude at my company while someone is speaking. Then there are the 6"+ phones that are great if you need to remote into a system to resolve an issue but you might not want to pull that beast out each time you get a ping. Even having a camera like the Samsung one has is nice as you would be able to capture spontaneous events far more quickly.

          Just like not everyone needs a smart phone, not everyone needs a smart watch. Its a use case bases.
          Rann Xeroxx
          • Wrong again

            So going to a meeting and constantly looking at your watch instead of "meeting" and contributing is acceptable?
            Why bother going to the meeting?

            As a side note, at my previous job, I stopped going to meetings (after talking to my manager).
            Waste of 1-2 hours, with everybody constantly checking smartphones, laptops, sending text messages and the like.
            radu.m
          • As Rann Said.....

            It's not for everyone, and obviously, it's not for Radu.M. I have a feeling, no matter what anyone says, you are going to think it's useless. I have the Galaxy Gear with my Note 3 and although I'm in the Telecommunications field, and can use my phone at any moment throughout the day, it is much more convenient to look at my wrist (when it discreetly vibrates) than it is to un-snap my phone from the holster. Also, I can utilize the voice commands on my phone through the watch, to completely transcribe a message, email, phone call, without ever touching my phone. I find it extremely useful.
            cell_guru
          • Call me Nostradamus

            But something tells me meetings have been more efficient and productive since radu.m has been absent. Just a guess...

            Can't wait for mine to be shipped (6-8 weeks I'm being told now).
            Whatevaman
    • Solution looking for a problem?

      For the man who has everything?
      radu.m
  • Original Pebble.

    $150 for the original Pebble isn't expensive.
    People
    • The original Pebble is the Pebble Steel's biggest competition

      Not the expensive power hungry sammy watch
      brant@...
  • How can it be a Smartwatch...?

    ...when it gets its brain from a stupid iPhone?

    It doesn't look like anything I would wear, ever. But does look like cycle computer on my bike. Provide a handle bar mount, circuitry to get speed and distance data from a transponder next to the wheel, and make it Android compatable and maybe you'd have something.
    jvitous
  • What I want in my watch

    1. The ability to quickly tell the time (and perhaps the date) without fumbling for my cell phone. Analog clock faces preferred.
    2. A stopwatch capability (useful for bike rides).
    3. A timer capability.
    4. *maybe* the ability to set one or more alarms (but maybe my cell phone works better for that too).

    That's pretty much it. I don't need a watch to check e-mail (wristwatches are too small for that purpose anyway). I certainly don't need a calculator or a music player (ditto). My cell phone would work better for any of those extra things than a wristwatch possibly could.
    John L. Ries
    • Forgot

      Waterproofing is frequently useful.
      John L. Ries
    • casio PRG-90 ,,,, + other TALKING WATERPROOF watch

      0 / 11- email me if prices between us dollars 200 to 500.

      1- a watch must not be affected by network/system resets, or viruses for a reliable alarm time (my prg-90 is more reliable than my note1).

      2- should be talking like = " alaaaarrmmm its 11:21 am beep beep alaaaarrmmm its 11:21 am alaaaarrmmm its 11:21 am beep beep alaaaarrmmm its 11:21 am .... etc...

      3- should be at least 5meters water resistant for moist or daily use , like washing your hands ... etc (specially the etc..) .

      4- should have a back light for nights .
      5- my prg-90 last for 6months stand by = a smart watch should last for one month no charging or smarter.

      6- should be 5meters or smarter = shock resistant .
      7- should be 5centigrade or smarter upto 60 centigrade temp smarter .
      8- must be descent looking (in parties , meetings or dating girlfriends--not wives...haha..).
      9- vibrates and talks with high pitch sounds .
      10- add other apps like Samsung gear .
      11- email me if prices between us dollars 200 to 500. and how to acquire .
      ilovesards@...
  • It does contribute an extra something

    ...more battery drain on the ol' cell phone.
    D.J. 43
    • Not much

      These new ones use the BT 4 tech that is a very low level PAN and uses very little battery. Same Thing with devices like the FitBit.
      Rann Xeroxx
    • Not at all

      Mine conserves battery. Look at your battery usage on your cell. It will be primary used up by the display. This watch keeps you from constantly turning on your display to see text and email. Increased my battery time by about 30%-50%
      brant@...
  • Hands

    We now have a situation where a driver could have BOTH hands off the wheel of a car their driving....1 hand for the phone and the other trying to d/l the latest game to his phone.
    electric800
  • Water Sports

    I like to kayak and fish. I can put my expensive smart phone in a dry box and use the water resistant watch to know when Im being called or texted. Especially when Im running late because the bite is hot and the wife is worried.
    sbursik
  • Why no photo?

    An article about a device very few of us have seen doesn't have a photo of the device! Why not? This strikes me as a serious omission, particularly as there is a photo of (presumably) the box it comes in - weird choice!
    JohnOfStony