The company that put smartwatches on the map is going high end. Available for order now, the $249 Pebble Steel is sleeker and sturdier than the first plastic model, sporting a stainless steel face and Gorilla Glass screen. It's also waterproof, just like the original. Plus, you'll be able to access exciting new apps like ESPN, Pandora and Yelp via the Pebble Appstore when it launches towards the end of January. The Steel won't ship until January 28th, but we have plenty of juicy details to share right now from our hands-on encounter here at CES 2014.
Design and Comfort
Pebble is offering the Steel in two flavors: Brushed Stainless and Black Matte. Both models will also come with a black leather wristband and a matching steel strap when the watch ships on Jan. 28th. The Pebble Steel isn’t meant to replace the original model, but instead adds another option for users. The company will continue to sell the $150 edition alongside its steel sibling.
While the original Pebble looks and feels more like a device you’d wear during your routine workout or in casual situations, the Steel is a classier, more elegant timepiece you'll want to wear to important business meetings or on a night out. The Pebble Steel’s display is the same size as the first model, but swaps out plastic for an anti-fingerprint coated Corning Gorilla Glass e-paper screen.
Pebble hasn’t shared any precise measurements with us yet, but we could tell by looking that the Steel is slimmer than its predecessor. In addition to sporting a thinner frame, the premium edition Pebble features thinner side bezels, which makes the screen look larger. The metal design does mean that the Steel weighs a bit more than the lower-end Pebble, but we didn’t find this to be a burden on our wrist.
An Improved App Ecosystem
The first Pebble was praised for its simple yet charming UI, but lamented the lack of iOS notification support. The watch has since been updated to address that concern, but the company hasn’t stopped there. The newly announced Pebble Appstore will make it much easier to discover and load apps on the Steel and original Pebble, and it will feature big-name apps from ESPN, Yelp, Foursquare, Mercedes and Pandora.
During our hands-on demo we found the Yelp app to be particularly useful. Rather than having to whip out your phone to find a nearby restaurant or bar, you can access a menu that allows you to browse nearby locations and reviews from your wrist. Shaking your wrist prompts the Pebble to choose a nearby venue for you, just like the mobile app.
The Pandora app for Pebble also makes it easier to perform basic functions without having to grab your phone. In addition to browsing through tracks, you can also issue a thumbs up or thumbs down rating by pressing the up and down navigation buttons. (Come on, Spotify, get crackin!)
The Pebble Appstore itself, which we previewed on an iPhone 5s, is simple, clean and colorful. The store is divided into all the subcategories you’d expect from your standard marketplace, including Top 10 New Apps, but also digs deeper into specific categories. For instance, on the home screen you’ll find genres such as Top 10 Heart Apps in addition to the Fitness section. The store has seven main categories, such as Daily, Remotes, Games, Notifications, Tools & Utilities, Sports & Fitness, and Watchfaces. This store will be available for both the original Pebble and the Pebble Steel.
Value and Competition
With the Pebble Steel's premium look comes a higher price tag as well. The Pebble Steel is still cheaper than the $349 Qualcomm Toq and $299 Samsung Galaxy Gear, both of which offer color screens. The Gear adds voice call capability and a camera, but Pebble says it's not trying to re-create the smartphone experience on your wrist.
The $199 Sony Smartwatch 2 costs a bit less than the new Pebble, and offers a 220 x 176 color touch screen display. However, the Pebble boasts longer battery life and works with both Android phones and iPhones, whereas the Sony is Android-only.
A big part of the first Pebble’s appeal was its low $149 price tag, but the Pebble Steel is competing head-on with wrist-worn gadgets that deliver more features. Overall, the Pebble Steel brings a much more attractive design to a watch that already offered a natural and enjoyable experience. We look forward to bringing you our full review soon.