Meet Pebble Steel, the wristwear designed to convince you that smartwatches can have both brains and beauty. It's shipping today.
The latest version of the much-talked-about Pebble smartwatch doesn't offer much that's new under the hood, but its exterior has gotten a serious makeover. I received a pre-production version of the premium smartwatch model a few days ago, and I've been trying it out ever since—taking it out with me to dinner, to parties and to the park.
Aesthetically, this black matte model (also available in brushed metal) fit well in every scenario. And that's the whole point, as CEO Eric Migicovsky told me at CES—to give customers a more sophisticated offering than the original plastic Pebble. Not that Pebble Classic is going anywhere—the company will still offer the $149 smartwatch alongside the $249 Steel.
The higher price tag doesn't reflect any significant changes in the smartwatch's internals; the Pebble Steel's waterproofing (up to 5 atmospheres), e-ink display and sensors are the same as in the original Pebble.
No, the changes in Steel are all skin deep: CNC-machined stainless steel, two watchband options in metal and leather, a new LED alert light for battery-life warnings (and eventual visual notifications), and a creative design twist that allows the antenna to use part of the external casing for better reception.
The product design team also managed to make the watch a little smaller and thinner without shrinking the screen.
The Steel's battery hasn't changed, either, though in my testing I just didn't seem to get as much life out of it as with the original Pebble. Of course, I've also been checking out pre-release apps for the company's upcoming app store, and they might well be more power-hungry than their predecessors.
If I have any complaint about the Steel at all, it's that the topside frame doesn't sit flush with the Gorilla Glass watchface. But that's a minor quibble.
Altogether, the changes bring the Pebble's cost closer to the $300 threshold established by some of its smartwatch competitors like the Galaxy Gear—though it's still well below the $350 Qualcomm Toq.
App, App And Away
Pebble promised to unveil its own app store by the end of the month, so we should presumably see it before long. It'll arrive via an upcoming software update for the Pebble's mobile app—which, by the way, will also offer notification history for iOS users, currently a glaring omission. At the moment, text or email alerts from an iPhone don't stick around on the Pebble, which tends to limit their usefulness if you can't read them immediately.
Pebble has done a great job of attracting interest from developers. Which means that soon, you may wonder how you ever lived without being able to check into locations, search nearby restaurants or control your home from your wrist.