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Pebble Steel review

Can the Pebble Steel steal a march on the forthcoming Android Wear smartwatches? Find out in our full review

We loved the original Pebble smartwatch. While the device was pretty big and rather plasticky, the combination of great battery life, good performance and an excellent e-paper (monochrome LCD) screen convinced us that the Pebble, borne of out of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, was the Smartwatch to buy.

Above all, the implementation was just what we felt a Smartwatch should be – it didn’t try to do too much, but what it did, it did well.

Fast forward to 2014 and here we have the second iteration of the Pebble. Since the release of the original a number of competitor devices have appeared offering more power, full colour screens and the ability to run more complex software on the device itself… how does Pebble respond?

Thankfully, Pebble have taken the right approach to upgrading their device. They haven’t ruined the battery life with a huge colour screen, they haven’t deserted existing Pebble owners by completely changing the software and they haven’t skimped on where the Pebble most needed an update – design.

Internally, the Pebble steel is identical to it’s predecessor. If you’ve used the original this means you know exactly what to expect, but it also means software improvements on this device can also be applied to the original.

Better desgin

Externally is where you’ll find the changes. Although the screen is the same, it’s now covered with Gorilla Glass – a useful update, as the original was particularly susceptible to scratching. The slightly mushy buttons now click positively which makes the whole device feel quicker in operation.

The device is smaller overall and, of course, it’s now made of metal! Gone are the cheap plastics, replaced by a beautifully crafted black or silver body with both leather and metal straps included. With this change the Pebble has moved from being a geeks plaything to a genuinely desirable piece of jewellery – and that’s no mean feat.

Charging is still carried out via a magnetically attached USB cable (necessary due to the water resistance), although the design has changed slightly from the original. A charging LED is now present on the front of the watch.


Next-gen software

With the new device comes a new release of both the watch software and the Android companion app, which includes the new Pebble app store to smooth the process of loading content on to your watch. This change feels like a ‘coming of age’ for Pebble. Whereas the original software could feel a bit ‘thrown together’ and installing new watchfaces and apps could be confusing, the new app brings everything together into one place.

The new watch software itself also brings new capabilities for developers, so ever more innovative apps are starting to appear.

Is the Steel perfect? Nearly, but not quite.

Battery life does seem to have dropped slightly compared to the original, but this can be attributed to the more thirsty version 2.0 firmware. I suspect that over time Pebble will improve this, but even so the watch will still outlast rivals such as the Galaxy Gear.

The biggest disappointment with the Steel is that Pebble have moved from a standard 22mm watch strap to a proprietary design. No longer is the strap mounted by a conventional spring bar, instead there is a tiny screw that must be removed to change the strap, and on the metal strap itself the pins make the strap very cumbersome to adjust.

With that said, once you have the watch all set up it’s a non issue, and I imagine we’ll see a dedicated replacement Pebble strap ecosystem spring up.

Written by Paul O’Brien