Pebble Steel smartwatch review
Pebble Steel review: Price and competition
The Pebble Steel is the firm's more expensive and luxury option and will set you back £179. That's around the same area as the recent raft of Android Wear smartwatches which include the LG G Watch (£159), Samsung Gear Live (£169) and Motorola Moto 360 (£199).
Pebble Steel review: Design and build
The Pebble Steel is not like other smartwatches, where other smartwatches have opted for big chunky screens and bright displays, Pebble has opted for a more understated and traditional design for the Steel. The result is a smartwatch that we can envisage the consumer and business world buying into and putting into actual use but the square shape won't appeal to everyone, especially when the Moto 360 looks so great with its round design.
One of the first things we noticed about the Pebble Steel is how light it is. It's just 56 g so has minimum impact on your wrist when on. It's not the thinnest device around at 10.5 mm but it certainly doesn't feel chunky. You can no longer use any 22mm strap which is a shame.
The machine grade stainless steel case comes in a choice of Brushed Stainless (silver) or Matte Black, each comes with two straps: leather and metal. The rationale for this was that Pebble simply couldn’t decide which was better, so rather than compromise its customers it decided to include both. A nice touch, especially as both straps look incredibly stylish.
The simplistic and understated design includes four physical buttons with which to control the Steel; one on the left and three on the right. It's a nice touch that these are metal, too. Also on the left are two metal contacts which are used for charging but it doesn't take the same cable as the original if you're thinking of upgrading and using both the old and new.
One last design feature to mention is that the watch is waterproof, much like rivals. It's water resistant to a depth of five meters though which is more than we've seen elsewhere.
Pebble Steel review: Hardware
Unlike most smartwatches, the Pebble Steel shuns a touch screen. Instead you control the smartwatch via is physical buttons we mentioned already. They are essentially up, down, select and back with the latter doubling as a power button. There's a new and welcome LED notification light.
This feels a little counterintuitive after using so many touchscreen devices, including other smartwatches. However, it's easy to get accustomed to and you don't need to read any instructions to work out how to navigate.
The screen is smaller than most smartwatches at 1.26in and also bucks the trend of using a high-res colourful panel. Instead, it has a 144 x 168 pixel, black and white e-paper display. You might turn your nose up at this and it might not be want you want at all.
Since it's an e-paper (or e-ink) screen, it's always on and only uses battery when the backlight it switch on and you actually change something on the display. Most smartwatches work like smartphone so switch the screen off when it's not being used – if they do have the screen on it sucks battery life like a V8 engine guzzles petrol. The Pebble Steel's display can tell you the time constantly with minimal effort which is not only handy but aids battery life greatly.
Pebble claims a 5-7 day battery life for the Steel and we can vouch for it. In fact, we've found the Steel capable of lasting longer than a week with light usage.
Compatibility-wise, it works with iOS and Android smartphones over Bluetooth. Setup is pretty simple via the free app.
Pebble Steel review: Software and apps
Although the Pebble runs on its own software, there are plenty of apps available and the Steel can run any app which is/was available for the original Pebble. This is quite impressive since Samsung's own smartwatches running Tizen have a shockingly small amount of apps available so credit to Pebble (a tech start-up) for getting so many developers on-board.
As you would expect, there are plenty of watchfaces to choose from, some of which cost money but a lot of decent ones are free. You can actually switch between them on the fly by pushing the up and down buttons when the clock is showing.
As standard, the Pebble Steel will display notifications from the device it's connected to and has the ability to control music playback and track fitness like steps. You can also set alarms, which we kind of expect from any regular watch, let alone a smartwatch.
Moving onto apps and there are thousands available and you're bound to find some you like - although it can take a while to browse the store via the app to find ones which will benefit you.
It's worth noting that there is a maximum of eight apps which you can use at any one time. However, the app has a 'locker' section to store more than you might only need occasionally. A dramatic improvement than before but the limit is still exactly that, a limitation.
The Pebble Steel may not have a high-res and colourful screen and the square design may not be for everyone, but we think it's stylish and the display has a retro charm which also provides excellent battery life. A good alternative to Android Wear if that's not your cup of tea.