Review: Pebble Steel finally brings style to the smartwatch

Posted:
in iPhone edited May 2014
The smartwatch is quickly coming into its own as each successive device brings new levels of utility, but it would be a reach to call any of them stylish. Pebble's new Steel was made specifically with design in mind and just may be the first smartwatch we would consider wearing with a suit.

Steel


When the smartwatch trend started to gain steam over one year ago, it was almost a given that buying one meant you would be standing apart from the traditional wristwatch-wearing crowd. There was no way you were going to wear one to a meeting without people noticing that "unique" styling.

With their large screens, most smartwatches don't fit in with sport watches like Casio's G-Shock or a Timex. So really, the smartwatch has been caught between two different worlds and, until the Pebble Steel, couldn't be fully accepted in either.

Design

After debuting the original plastic-wrapped Pebble last year, Pebble Technology upped its game in February with the launch of the second-generation Pebble Steel.

Steel


As noted in a previous hands-on with the device, Pebble Steel swaps out the plastic exterior of the original unit for a Gorilla Glass display and stainless steel chassis. The two pieces fit together nicely to offer high torsional rigidity. This translates to much less creaking and squeaking compared to the old model.

With the Steel, users can choose from a leather band or steel bracelet (both come included in the box) instead of original's rubber strap. While the leather isn't fantastic and the bracelet's folded links feel inexpensive, from five feet away this is a watch you could wear in the office.

Steel

In use

Pebble's strong suit has always been the hardware's ability to support apps, and they've really nailed it home with this latest release. In Pebble's earlier releases, they had difficulty in reliably pushing email and third-party app notifications to the watch.

Steel


You used to have to toggle notifications for each app in iOS Settings after re-establishing pairing with the watch. That's no longer the case: notifications of all kinds make it over to the watch display without issue. We have noticed that the last notification received will continue to display long after it was received if no interaction with the watch takes place, however.

Weather, sports scores, and other "glance-able" information is available right on the watch face, without a whole lot of trouble. These things are easy to configure in the Pebble app store, as is the addition of watch faces and apps. Even if you don't load any third party watch faces, it's easy to get workable notifications from the phone to the watch.

Unfortunately, in its current state, the third-party app store is a Wild West mix of things that work well (Yelp!, Smartwatch+) and things that don't (Twitter client apps). Just because a developer can do something, doesn't mean they should. Under no circumstances do we wish to type a 140-character tweet using three buttons.

While notifications are good, this watch cannot yet replace a traditional "dumb watch." Sure, it tells the time, but it lacks the craftsmanship and technical achievement that people appreciate in mechanical watches.

Steel


So we've been forced to examine why we don't care when we forget to put on our Steel, or feel the same pangs of absence as we do when we leave our iPhone behind at home or in the car.

Craig Hockenberry of IconFactory touched on this a little in some of his tweets recently.

"It's not like music players and phones where the existing products were crap. There are thousands of great watch design on the market."
"The question I constantly ask myself is, 'Why wear that bulky piece of [expletive redacted] instead of a a nice timepiece?' I already carry a computer."
"No tech company is going to make a watch that can compete stylistically with firms that have been refining their craft for centuries."

As Hockenberry puts it, "The least interesting thing in the smartphone is the phone." And we proffer the least interesting part of the smartwatch is the watch.

There is something remarkable and interesting in the materials choice, the handmade craftsmanship or even the perfectly machined and hand-perfected design of the mechanical watch. There's something very dull about the PCB and lithium-ion battery that's doomed to die in a few short years, housed in a waterproof case that can only be replaced, not serviced.

Steel


Where a traditional watch could work if the world came to an end, these smartwatches are very short-lived and can't really exist beyond the phone in one's pocket.

As it is, I don't want to have to scroll through pages and pages of notifications and emails on my wrist. I don't wish to look at my wrist and see the last notification from a few hours ago - it's no longer relevant. Instead, we ought to see relevant information in the moment it's relevant and not longer.

Conclusion

As good as the Pebble Steel experience is -- it's reasonably good and getting better everyday with new app store content -- we wish it were better. That the hardware be more refined. That the app store have more effective curation.

Steel


We admit that it's a difficult to strike a balance between encouraging developers to write watch apps and stifling developers for releasing apps that need more attention. Discouraging developers by rejecting apps weakens developer support. Allowing apps without curation weakens the platform as a whole.

Pebble can address these issues as their app store progresses, and the Steel design is a step closer to something "normal."

Still, the new Pebble does not successfully overcome the stigma attached to an electronics-based connected timepiece, and as such we are less apt to wear it day-to-day.

After all, this is prime real estate we're talking about; it's our wrists. Forgive us for wanting a product that's worthy of the space.

The Pebble Steel smart watch can be purchased for $249 and is available in silver and black. According to Pebble's website, supplies are limited and orders placed today ship out in 6 to 8 weeks.

Score: 3 out of 5

image

Pros
  • Notifications on the wrist are convenient and helpful.
  • App store expands the possibilities of a wrist-worn device.
  • The ecosystem has good support for data related to weather, sports, and third party services.
Cons
  • Seeming lack of app store curation.
  • Cheap construction details (bracelet, leather, and the sharp bezel edge around the screen).
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 44
    siyatasiyata Posts: 5member

    Finally? You know it came out in January, right?

  • Reply 2 of 44
    "Pebble Steel finally brings style to the smartwatch"

    Then it's rated: "Cheap construction details (bracelet, leather, and the sharp bezel edge around the screen)."
    That's not my style. It's fugly (& cheap) like the others too me.
  • Reply 3 of 44
    aaronjaaronj Posts: 1,595member

    It's a statement as to how ugly the others have been that this is considered even remotely "stylish."



    Scary.

  • Reply 4 of 44
    robmrobm Posts: 1,068member
    OT Rant - How come Goog ads are now incorporated willy nilly into the body of posts? A couple of weeks ago they appeared as standalone posts. Bloody awful but less intrusive. This is really annoying me. Can someone alter this behaviour ? OT Rant off

    And yea - Pebble your watches are still fugly !
  • Reply 5 of 44
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    "Pebble Steel finally brings style to the smartwatch"

    Then it's rated: "Cheap construction details (bracelet, leather, and the sharp bezel edge around the screen)."
    That's not my style. It's fugly (& cheap) like the others too me.

    Something can easily be stylish -and- cheap. Just consider knock off jewelry, purses, etc. you can purchase in grey market shops throughout the world.
  • Reply 6 of 44
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member

    Not even close to hitting the mark.

  • Reply 7 of 44
    aaronjaaronj Posts: 1,595member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post





    Something can easily be stylish -and- cheap. Just consider knock off jewelry, purses, etc. you can purchase in grey market shops throughout the world.

     

    True.  But knockoff bags and jewelry are only "stylish" from a distance.  Once you're within a few feet, a knockoff Birkin, for instance, looks exactly like that: a knockoff.

  • Reply 8 of 44
    sofabuttsofabutt Posts: 99member
    It looks like a cheap Chinese made watch I bought 4 years ago. Stylish? Who the hell considers this crap stylish unless they're on some band wagon or getting paid for their review? It looks like crap, get real.
  • Reply 9 of 44
    sofabuttsofabutt Posts: 99member

    Oh yeah.  Did you see that caller ID watch ThinkGeek.com was selling a few years ago?  Now that was stylish.  It was cheap and made in China, but it was solid and it looked nice.  It was a helluvalot nicer than this Pebble crap....

  • Reply 10 of 44
    The more I look at this watch, the more doubtful I feel about an Apple one. I just can't get my head around what it brings to the table. Fitness and health, sure, but these seem so niche. What can be compelling, that can make us wonder how we ever did without it, like I did with my iPhone or iPad or wife?

    Mobile payments? Phone? Geolocation? Remote control?

    The iPhone was killer on many levels.

    The iPad had no killer app, but the form itself was the killer.

    What's the killer for wearables?
  • Reply 11 of 44
    hhphhp Posts: 5member
    Looks like PAID review !!
  • Reply 12 of 44
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 12,963member
    aaronj wrote: »
    True.  But knockoff bags and jewelry are only "stylish" from a distance.  Once you're within a few feet, a knockoff Birkin, for instance, looks exactly like that: a knockoff.

    The better knockoffs are hard to tell apart even up close.
  • Reply 13 of 44
    aaronjaaronj Posts: 1,595member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by dasanman69 View Post





    The better knockoffs are hard to tell apart even up close.

     

    The stitching is always off.  But you have to be fairly familiar with that sort of thing, I'll grant you.

  • Reply 14 of 44
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 12,963member
    aaronj wrote: »
    The stitching is always off.  But you have to be fairly familiar with that sort of thing, I'll grant you.

    You do know that Prada and Fendi, both outsource manufacturing to China when they're overwhelmed with orders? I wouldn't be surprised if the people entrusted to make the real deal are the same ones making the knockoffs.
  • Reply 15 of 44
    analogjackanalogjack Posts: 1,050member
    [quote]...the bracelet's folded links feel inexpensive...[/quote]

    Say it, it's feels cheap. Isn't that better.


    [quote]from five feet away this is a watch you could wear in the office[/quote]

    All crappy looking things look better when you can't see them.
  • Reply 16 of 44
    If that qualifies for style I'll forego the smart watch revolution
  • Reply 17 of 44
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post



    The iPad had no killer app, but the form itself was the killer.

     

     

    Sure it did. Education.

  • Reply 18 of 44
    Stylish or not, when the Pebble (any Pebble) works, it is liberating - I find not having to dig my phone out every time a message or notification arrives is great. While on silent a phone and calls don't have to be disruptive - in a meeting just excuse yourself and leave to take the call - or ignore till after the meeting

    However, the Pebble is not without fault - if there are any issues (and there will be!) the customer support leaves much to be desired - deal breaker??? Too early to tell
  • Reply 19 of 44
    dsddsd Posts: 177member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post





    What's the killer for wearables?

    The death laser app.

  • Reply 20 of 44
    phone-ui-guyphone-ui-guy Posts: 1,018member
    hhp wrote: »
    Looks like PAID review !!

    Then they didn't pay enough since they only got a 3 out of 5 on the review.
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