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Digital Life
 
Wearable Tech

Pebble Steel: Probably the best smart smartwatch now

Published on May 2, 2014 8:10 AM
 

Pebble, the poster boy of smartwatches, is back. In steel.

The original Pebble raised more than US$10 million (S$12.5 million) on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. The watch won mostly rave reviews.

However, its plastic finish and sporty looks meant that many would not wear it in a business setting or to formal occasions.

Enter the new Pebble Steel.

In matte black or brushed steel, it includes an additional leather strap and costs US$249, which is US$100 more than the original.

The packaging has also undergone an upgrade. Unlike the cardboard packaging of the original, the Steel comes in a faux leather box with cushioned insides protecting its contents. Inside, you will find the Steel, a black leather watchband, matching steel watchband and a proprietary charging cable.

Like the original, the Steel is water resistant up to 50m and is supposed to run for five to seven days on a single charge. There is a small upgrade in system memory from 4MB to 8MB. Otherwise, the innards are the same as the original's.

On the outside, though, the Steel looks nothing like the original. Its stainless steel body has a smooth metallic finish with curved sides. A subtle LED light at the bottom, near the bezel, indicates charging status.

Like the original, it has one button on the left side and three on the right, all metallic.

Some think it looks old-fashioned but I found the Steel's design to be classic and timeless. Right out of the box, it is a good-looking device.

Being a watch aficionado, I am particular about the way it is built. The bezel's edges are a little too sharp for my liking. Not sharp enough to cut but I expected better from Pebble.

The Steel feels comfortable on the wrist with the leather watchband. But the steel watchband does feel rather cheap. The original used a standard 22mm watchband, whereas the Steel uses a proprietary design. So, you probably have to wait for third-party replacements.

The curved sides of the new design also require a new charging cable. So, the cable of the original will not work.

While the Steel retains the 144 x 168 pixel monochrome ePaper display of the original, it is now protected by Corning Gorilla Glass with an anti-scratch and anti-fingerprint coating.

Still, you can read time easily, even under bright sunlight. Unlike some smartwatches, such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear, Steel shows the time constantly, so you do not have to press a button for it. And you can activate the backlight with a gentle shake of your wrist.

Pairing the Steel with your iOS and Android smartphone is a breeze. I tried it with my Apple iPhone 5s and a Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

Just download the free Pebble app. Make sure Pebble's Bluetooth mode is turned on and use the Pebble app to connect.

For notifications on the original Pebble, you have to toggle each individual app. But with the new Pebble OS 2.0, it shows all the notifications as on your smartphone. So, apart from SMS and incoming calls, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other app notifications will also be shown on Pebble Steel.

In addition, there are also apps you can download from the Pebble App Store, such as Foursquare and Yelp. Interesting apps are still lacking but there should be more to come.

I find myself constantly finding new watchfaces for Steel, as the new OS 2.0 allows developers to develop watchfaces that include the battery level and Bluetooth indicators. Previously, you needed third-party apps to do so.

With the Steel constantly connected to my iPhone 5s, the battery life lasted around three days. This is much shorter than advertised. In addition, it drained my iPhone 5s' battery faster than usual - around 20 per cent faster.

However, it does last five days if it is disconnected from my iPhone.

  • Pebble Steel might lack the bells and whistles, such as heart-rate monitor or touchscreen, that new smartwatches have. But its simplicity, ease of use coupled with premium looks make it the best  smartwatch in the market now.

trevtan@sph.com.sg

This article was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life on April 23, 2014.

Background story

TECH SPECS

Price: US$249 (S$311), available only from getpebble.com

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0

Compatibility: Smartphones running Android 4.0 and higher or Apple iPhone and iPod touch running iOS 7 and higher

Weight: 56g


RATING

Features 3/5

Design 4/5

Performance 4/5

Value for money 3/5

Battery life 4/5

Overall 4/5