Pebble Steel Review
By most metrics Pebble has been a bonafide indie success, the poster child for successful crowdfunding campaigns and the darling of the quickly emerging smartwatch market. Though it has faced competition from giants like Samsung and Sony, as well as many other small companies, it has maintained its position as the industry leader thanks in part to its tempered ambitions. It is a simple device at heart, doing a few things well rather than trying to cram every feature imaginable onto your wrist. While Pebble has been generally well received it is not without criticism, the most often cited being that the dressed-down design. The Pebble team has heard the criticism, announcing the Pebble Steel at CES last month.
While the device is virtually unchanged on the inside, the Steel offers a more modern, mature design with steel housing, a Gorilla Glass face and both steel and leather bands. The Pebble Steel is a handsome device, but is it worth the $250 price tag?
The original Pebble (still available as an entry model) was an understated device in black, but any splash of color made it stand out when you weren’t dressed casually. Even the black version, with its included rubber strap, could be described as sporty at best. The Steel offers a completely new design, and paired with a classic watch face most people wouldn’t know that you’re wearing a smartwatch at all. That said, no one will be confusing it for a Tag either.
The redesign begins with an all steel housing, save for a strip of black plastic that allows the Bluetooth 4.0 signal to escape. The Steel follows the same button layout as the original, but the three buttons on the right are now spaced closer together with the middle one sticking out slightly further for some tactile discrimination. We wouldn’t call the Pebble’s side buttons flimsy, but the Steel’s buttons are more reassuring to press. Below the solitary left button is the magnetic charging port, which unfortunately has a slightly different design than the original.
The Pebble Steel uses the same easy to read 144x168 e-paper display as the original, but shrinks the bezels, adds a RGB LED in the bottom left corner and covers the face with Corning Gorilla Glass. The Steel slims down its profile in all dimensions while retaining the same 5ATM waterproof rating and “weeklong” battery life. It is of course heavier than the original, especially with the steel bracelet, though no heavier than a traditional steel watch of similar dimensions.
The included steel bracelet is lighter than expected and matches your chosen housing color: Brushed Stainless or Matte Black. The leather strap comes in any color you’d like as long as it’s black. The bands easily swap using a tiny flathead (not included), but unfortunately they are no longer standard 22mm bands. Pebble has open-sourced the toothed design, but that will undoubtedly make it harder to find a replacement band than it is on the original. Link removal is a bit tricky, but with this guide and a few basic tools we had our band sized properly.
The watch looks good in both color options, and the included leather and steel bands should appease most users. The Pebble Steel is a massive design improvement over the original, and we finally have a smartwatch that we’d feel comfortable wearing for any occasion.
If we’re being picky there is still some room for improvement, however. There is a slight but sharp lip where the display bezel meets the steel housing, and the display itself sits deeper in the watch than we’d like. Since Pebble went with a proprietary band connection we’d prefer the steel band to be a bit fatter at the end, rising up to match the height of the watch casing. Personally, we’d also like to see a bit more thickness to the steel band, though that would add more weight which may turn some users off.