Review : Pebble SmartWatch

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Pebble has been getting a lot of media attention.  It first gained notice after being cited as one of the most successful projects on Kickstarter, getting around 85,000 backers to give it $10 million in order to develop the first Pebble Smartwatch.  After fulfilling its promise to its Kickstarter donors, the company revealed that it had more than 190,000 pre-orders, and eventually it sold more than 300,000 units in just a year.  When the watch was launched, they were able to get into Best Buy and other major retailers.

Just recently, Wired.com named its newest product, the Pebble Steel, as one of the best gadgets in the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show.

Pebble Smartwatches are designed with elegant simplicity.  You do not get big screens that look odd on your wrist.  The design is consistently described as understated.  Nevertheless, it does look good.

In the past, a downside of the display was the plastic casing, which makes it feel less solid, hollow and cheap.  It also made use of an e-paper display that measures 1.26 inches and has resolutions of 144 pixels by 168 pixels.  And this is where Pebble faltered.  The display is very reflective, which makes it very difficult to read under direct sunlight.  Even when you are indoors, it will still be very difficult to read the watch face at an angle.

Not anymore!

With the release of Pebble Steel, the Pebble Smartwatch has become a whole lot sleeker.  It is now made of marine grade steel and comes in two variants: brushed stainless steel and black matte steel.  And instead of the old monochrome LED display, Pebble Steel now sports a tri-color RGB LED screen.

Pebble Smartwatch also uses Corning Gorilla glass, which can keep fingerprints away with its oleophobic coating.

The smartwatch now comes with two straps: leather and metal.  The buttons are now made of metal and feel more solid.  Plus, the screen is now very much readable even in broad daylight.

The Pebble Steel package also includes the magnetic charging cable.

Pebble has opted to forego touch screens for its watch.  Instead, you need to press the physical buttons located at both sides of the watch face.  The result?  It gets the job done, but it is not as intuitive as other smartwatches that feature a touch screen.

You could even wear your Pebble Smartwatch when you go swimming or when you take a bath.  It is waterproof up to 50 meters.  It can run anywhere from 5 to 7 days of constant use.

Pebble Steel is much more compact

Pebble Steel, with its upgraded design and material, is surprisingly smaller and thinner than the first Pebble watch.  It measures 46 mm. long by 34 mm. wide and 10.5 mm thick, as opposed to its previous dimensions of 52 mm x 36 mm. x 11.5 mm.

Pebble Steel is also a bit heavier than the original, weighing in at 56 grams if you use the leather watch band.  It is, however, still a whole lot lighter than the other smartwatches out there.  If you opt for the metal watch band, it would still be a very light 99 grams.

Features of the Pebble Smartwatch

The Pebble Smartwatch offers you another screen for your smartphones.  You could get call and SMS notifications on your Pebble so that you could see who is trying to contact you without having to take your phone out of your pocket.

But more than that, you can extend its functionalities by adding apps.  The best thing about Pebble Smartwatch is that there are now a lot of developers who are creating apps for it.  So now more than ever, you can leave your smartphone in your bag or pocket and just do things on the Pebble Smartwatch to control your phone.

Some of the app types that are currently available include:

  • Notification.  These apps allow you to keep track of your most important notifications on your Pebble Smartwatch.
  • Music control.  These apps let you control the music while running, driving and even remotely.
  • Fitness.  From running to golf to everything in between, these apps help you keep track of your activities.
  • Watch faces.  Make your Pebble Smartwatch face look like a Cartier, or have an 80s video game welcome screen.  Get the best fonts and styles for your watch face or even create your own.
  • Alarms.  Pebble Smartwatches can wake you up silently with a vibrating alarm, so that you could go about your schedule without waking up other people.

Pebble has made sure that developers would feel welcome to create apps for them.  They have a dedicated Pebble Developer Portal as well as a Pebble appstore that will open soon.  More than that, they have made their software development kits and APIs available for anyone interested.

Is it any wonder that a lot of third-party developers are releasing apps for the open platform?  Already, a Mercedes Benz app is available for Pebble Steel users, effectively boosting the watch’s functionality.  The app will be able to tell you about your mileage, how much fuel you have, and even your tire pressure.  It can even help you avoid traffic by giving you vibrating alerts, as well as activate features and functions on your phone using the car’s dashboard.

Other big names that provide apps for Pebble include ESPN, Pandora, Foursquare, Yelp and GoPro.  Plus all the apps that were made for the first Pebble works on Pebble Steel.

Another worthwhile app comes from Yelp.  The app would ask you to shake your Pebble watch and it would give you recommendations on a nearby restaurant or bar.

Far from being “perfect”

The reboot basically touched on the design and focused on making the Pebble Smartwatch look better.  The experience, which Pebble got the first time around, looks and feels the same.  If you are sold on the new Pebble Steel, you can pre-order now and start waiting for the watch when it ships on January 28.

Still, this is far from perfect.  For one, metal and leather straps might not be a good idea to use when running or doing some sporty activity, which is one of the areas that Pebble is looking into to get a share of the activity tracker market where Jawbone UP reigns supreme.  Plus, not having a touch-capable screen is a real bummer.

Nevertheless, Pebble Steel is a great product that expands the Pebble portfolio nicely.  It is also proof that Pebble listened to its customers when they complained about how the first Pebble looked.

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