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[Review] Pebble Steel

pebble steel

Apple’s newly announced Apple Watch may be the product that will finally skyrocket the smartwatch category into massive popularity, but the real honor of being the first to really bring the idea of a wristwatch that could do so much more – since Casio in the 80s – should rightfully belong to Pebble. The smartwatch startup first burst unto the scene on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in 2012 raising over US$10 million from almost 70,000 backers in a very short time. It launched the original Pebble in January 2013, and earlier this year in January announced the Pebble Steel at International CES and starting shipping them by March.

But is the Pebble Steel -which works with both Android and iOS – worth getting in a day and age where a slew of technology giants are launching an onslaught of their own versions of smartwatches, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Gear or Sony’s SmartWatch? We check it out.

Look And Feel.

The Pebble Steel is a more premium version of the original Pebble – eschewing the toy-like plastic chunkiness of its predecessor, the Steel embraces either a brushed stainless steel or matte black metal chassis, and protects its e-paper display with an ultra-durable Corning Gorilla Glass lens as well as an oleophobic, anti-fingerprint coating. Its look is timeless classic and looks far more like a Swiss timepiece than the original Pebble and any of its current competitors.

Pebble Steel (2)

If you purchase the Pebble Steel direct from Pebble’s own site, the watch comes bundled with both a metal strap (pictured right with the Pebble Steel) and a leather band; curiously, if you purchase it from its distributors – such as Leader Radio Technologies in Singapore or Hong Kong – it comes with only the leather band, with the metal strap purchased separately.  For Pebble Steel’s launch in Singapore, Leader Radio Technologies bundled an exclusive custom made silicone strap (along with a pouch) together with the first 500 units.

Personally, I find the metal strap looks best with the Steel but can scratch easily (mine’s looking rather scarred already, especially at the clasp); the leather version looks good too but seem prone to fraying at the edges. The third-party silicone strap looks ugliest, but is definitely the best option if you’re using the watch for sports or if a metallic strap would chafe your wrist too easily.

Many may find its monochrone e-paper display a disadvantage; I like that the display still can be read clearly under bright sunlight. In the dark, simply give the Pebble Steel a shake to activate its LED backlight.

App Ecosystem.

Endomondo Pebble

When the original Pebble was first touted on Kickstarter, it promised a world of apps that allowed you to do anything – aside from just receiving notifications – from tracking your speed or distance as you ran or cycled on the bike, to using it to remotely control different music devices. Well that didn’t quite happen until Pebble’s SDK 2.0 hit in February this year.

Today there are a plethora of third-party apps available that finally delivers on that promise. You’ll find Pebble apps from GoPro, to Sonos and Philips Hue so you can control video recording, music and even lighting on your devices from your smartwatch. Even Evernote has its own app, but how useful the note taking app is on a screen so small is debatable.

Physical activity tracker Endomondo recently launched their Pebble app (pictured left), and I use that to track my cycling rides in lieu of an odometer.

Battery Life.

Pebble says the Pebble Steel should be able to last between 5 to 7 days in terms of battery life depending on how many notifications you get; I find my Pebble Steel lasting less than 3. I doubt if my usage is far heavier than the next regular guy, but 3 days – for a smartwatch – is still decent compared to many of its competitors.

Price and Availability.

You can get the Pebble Steel in Singapore since August for S$359 from various retailers; the problem is, it’s still available direct from Pebble for US$249, which translates to just over $310. The bigger problem is that by now you’ll only get the leather strap – since the first 500 units that come with the exclusive silicone strap should have now been sold out – so you’ll miss out on the steel strap in the local version. I’m not sure why Pebble screws with its distributors that way.

The Pebble Steel is still probably one of the best smartwatches in the market; Apple’s recent Apple Watch announcement is unlikely to challenge that anytime soon, at least till it officially launches in 2015. Right now it sits in the sweet spot where it gives both Android and iOS phone users a viable smartwatch option that few other brands do.

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Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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