Smartwatches

Hands-on: Pebble Steel smartwatch

Hands-on: Pebble Steel smartwa...
Gizmag goes hands-on with the new Pebble Steel smartwatch
Gizmag goes hands-on with the new Pebble Steel smartwatch
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The Brushed Stainless variant of Pebble Steel
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The Brushed Stainless variant of Pebble Steel
While the original Pebble looks like a fairly stylish plastic watch, Pebble Steel is a piece of jewelry
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While the original Pebble looks like a fairly stylish plastic watch, Pebble Steel is a piece of jewelry
Black Matte version of Pebble Steel
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Black Matte version of Pebble Steel
The Brushed Stainless Steel will ship with a Brushed Stainless band (foreground) as well as a black leather one (background)
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The Brushed Stainless Steel will ship with a Brushed Stainless band (foreground) as well as a black leather one (background)
The band is much more high-end this time around
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The band is much more high-end this time around
Pebble Steel has been backordered, with pre-orders now shipping in mid-Februrary
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Pebble Steel has been backordered, with pre-orders now shipping in mid-Februrary
Pebble Steel retails for US$250, a $100 increase over the standard Pebble (which will remain on sale)
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Pebble Steel retails for US$250, a $100 increase over the standard Pebble (which will remain on sale)
Gizmag goes hands-on with the new Pebble Steel smartwatch
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Gizmag goes hands-on with the new Pebble Steel smartwatch
View gallery - 8 images

Earlier this week, Pebble kicked off CES 2014 by announcing a high-end version of its popular smartwatch called Pebble Steel. Today we had the pleasure of sitting down with Pebble and taking the new watch for a test-drive. Read on for our early impressions.

I'm not going to beat around the bush: Pebble Steel looks and feels very sharp. Although the original Pebble brought about as much style as could be brought to a plastic watch, well, it's still a plastic watch. The stainless steel Pebble Steel feels less like a tech gadget and more like a piece of jewelry that happens to have some cool tech inside.

While the original Pebble looks like a fairly stylish plastic watch, Pebble Steel is a piece of jewelry
While the original Pebble looks like a fairly stylish plastic watch, Pebble Steel is a piece of jewelry

You can get a sense of how sharp it looks from pictures, but my biggest surprise on seeing it in person was how much it changes the Pebble's overall aesthetic. Though it's mostly the same as the original on the inside (the new model has more storage), the two slick new designs (Brushed Stainless and Black Matte) really changed my perception – for the better. It's like taking a familiar painting, putting it in a more expensive frame, and seeing the artist's vision in an entirely new light.

When I started flipping around Pebble Steel's UI, I wondered if it had a faster processor than the standard Pebble. It zips around noticeably quicker. But Pebble's Myriam Joire told me that it's all on the software end. That's good news for owners of the original (plastic) Pebble, as an upcoming update will give it a perceptible speed boost too.

Black Matte version of Pebble Steel
Black Matte version of Pebble Steel

I also got to see some of the unreleased apps made with Pebble's SDK 2.0. The SDK 2.0 apps that you'll find in Pebble's upcoming app store will all be built in Javascript. That means a more focused (no long list of apps to install) and consistent (the same on iOS and Android phones) user experience.

Yelp's Pebble app looks very nice. Open the Yelp app on your watch, perform a quick gesture with your wrist, and you'll immediately get suggestions for nearby restaurants. Likewise there's an ESPN app, which you open and immediately get scores for your league of choice. Pebble is about simplicity and glanceability, and the company is building quite a promising ecosystem on that foundation.

Pebble Steel has been backordered, with pre-orders now shipping in mid-Februrary
Pebble Steel has been backordered, with pre-orders now shipping in mid-Februrary

When I reviewed the original Pebble, I wondered: would the scrappy startup be remembered only as an early torch-bearer, only to be quickly overthrown by bigger companies with deeper pockets? Or could it establish itself as a leader and innovator, standing alongside (or above) those mega-corporations? It's too early to say for sure – and I wouldn't pretend to know the future – but it's clear that Pebble is a company determined to be the latter. The Steel is the sharpest-looking smartwatch I've used, and its app ecosystem is about to take a big leap forward.

Pebble Steel is up for pre-order for US$250. No matter which of the two styles you choose, it will ship with both a matching steel band and a black leather one. Apparently sales have been off to a good start, and shipping times have slipped to "mid-February."

Product page: Pebble Steel

View gallery - 8 images
4 comments
exodous
Even if I do buy the steel, which I know I will because the one I have looks cheap and plasticky, I'll keep my old one because it looks, well, cheap and plasticky. I don't have to really worry about it getting stolen, or as much, as the steel. I have been asked if it was a 'video watch' before but beyond that I don't think anyone has even noticed it.
I do find myself thinking 'man, I wish my watch didn't look so cheap' when I'm at a nice restaurant. I do have 'dress' watches but I just can't live without my pebble anymore. So I'll probably hold on to both, one for when I fear getting mugged and the other when I'm trying to make an impression.
Chris Maresca
It's too bad the band is made out of cheap folded links and uses a non-standard case connection....
Prospector
I just wish they made a round one - I don't wear square watches. Back to playing the waiting game I guess...
The Skud
Prospector - Why the h**l not? What have you got against them? If they need to make a square watch to fit all the bits in neatly, what is wrong? Round watches are so 'last year' anyway.