Pebble Time Steel Review

Pros

  • Notifications delivered in a really useful way
  • Waterproof design means you can take it swimming
  • More luxurious stainless steel watch face

Cons

  • Has a thicker screen bezel than the Pebble Time
  • Leather strap is most unattractive of the strap options
  • Still needs some better watch faces

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £230.00
  • 1.25-inch 144x168 Colour ePaper display
  • Average 10-day battery life
  • Android and iOS support
  • Cortex M4 CPU
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Pebble OS 3.0
  • Compass
  • 10.5mm-thick marine-grade stainless-steel watch case
  • Available with leather or stainless-steel bands
  • silver/grey/gold watch case options
  • Microphone
  • Water-resistant to 5 ATM (50m)

Update:

Pebble has just confirmed that it has been acquired by Fitbit and will no longer be making its own hardware. Fitbit has acquired Pebble predominantly for its software team. It’s the end of Pebble as we know it, with the company stating that it could “no longer operate as an independent entity”.

What does the acquisition mean for existing Pebble smartwatches? Pebble has stated: “functionality or service quality may be reduced down the road”. What this means exactly we can’t be sure at this point, but this is worth keeping in mind if you do decide to pick up a Pebble Time Steel.

Our original Pebble Time Steel review continues below.

What is the Pebble Time Steel?

The Pebble Time Steel is a more luxurious version of the Pebble Time, the watch launched via a record-breaking Kickstarter project. It packs in the same features and specs as the original, but adds a stainless-steel watch face and an impressive 10-day battery life.

This comes at a price, though – £230 to be precise, or an extra £50 if you want the stainless-steel watch band. That’s significantly more than the £179 Pebble Time, and approaches entry-level Apple Watch territory.

As is the case with the Time, there are features to love and others that could do with some work. But is there enough here to justify the price? It really depends on what you value most from a smartwatch.

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Pebble Time Steel – Design

The big visual difference between the Time and Time Steel is the extra metal. The watch case is made from marine-grade stainless steel and it feels much nicer against the skin.

The Time has a smattering of metal around the display, but the rest of the watch isn’t as polished. Almost immediately the Time Steel looks more luxurious, but you’ll need to opt for the more expensive, silver stainless-steel case and band for the kind of leap in design seen from the original Pebble to the Pebble Steel.

Pretty much the first feature most folk comment on when I’ve shown them the Time Steel is the bezel. It’s huge, even bigger than the one on the Pebble Time.

It’s fighting for space with a 1.25in screen and is winning the battle, making the display look even smaller. Matching it with a predominantly black watch face will help to mask it slightly, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the bezel is the Time Steel’s most unattractive feature.

For navigation, there’s a single button on the left of the display and three on the right. Unlike the Time, the buttons are significantly less stiff to press, something that my colleague reviewing the Time was critical of. Perhaps the additional room in the Time Steel’s body, thanks to an extra 1mm thickness, helps matters somewhat.

The mic is still tucked just below the three buttons and, like the Time, has better integrated support for Android phone users. It includes the same charging pins on the rear, which means you can use the magnetic charger supplied with the Time to power up.

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The Pebble Time Steel is waterproof up to 30m – but leather isn’t. I made the mistake of walking into the shower with it on and had to deal with a soggy leather band sitting around my wrist for a number of hours – not a nice feeling.

When it comes to the Time Steel’s straps, you can choose between leather or a stainless-steel band – the latter is significantly more attractive. They’re the same 22mm removable straps as those on the Time, so you can change them easily enough. This also means that the Time Steel will support Pebble’s smart straps, although none have officially turned up yet.

The Pebble Time Steel doesn’t feel as radical a leap forward as the original Pebble was to the Pebble Steel. However, the stainless-steel band and watch face combo and improved buttons will be enough to convince some to opt for it over the Time.

Pebble Time Steel – Screen

At the heart of the Pebble Time Steel is the same 1.25in,144 x 168 resolution colour ePaper display as found on the Time. This is significantly reduced screen estate when compared to the Apple Watch and pretty much every Android Wear watch that’s been released. It does have 2.5D glass layered over the top, though, to give it a more curvaceous look when you look at it from an angle.

The display is always-on, which means it works just like a traditional watch. There’s no doubt this is one of the key reasons that Pebble has decided to steer clear of the LCD or AMOLED displays chosen by its rivals. Instead, you get a colour display that’s better at conserving power.

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Unfortunately, it isn’t particularly sharp; overall quality pales in comparison to other smartwatches. Fortunately, most of the content you’ll consume on the Time Steel will be pretty basic. If you’re expecting to get some Tinder action on the go, you’d be better direct your attention to other smartwatches.

The display excels when viewed under bright sunlight, however. I’d go so far as to say that it does a better job than many of the LCD screen-packing smartwatches in this regard, and it even has a backlight for nighttime viewing.

The Pebble Time Steel also includes a handful of settings for making adjustments to how the screen operates. For example, you can turn off motion-enabled activation or the ambient sensor, or adjust the brightness intensity to help preserve battery life.

Buy Now: Pebble Time Steel at Amazon.co.uk from £179

Pebble Time Steel – Software, Performance and Battery Life

Getting around the Pebble’s software is pretty straightforward. Simply pair it with your Android handset or iPhone. The overall Pebble experience is much like the one described in our Time review, in which the we found that it works better with iPhones than Android handsets. This was my experience with the Time Steel too.

You’ll need to install apps, watch faces and adjust what turns up in your Timeline. There’s a series of menu screens dedicated to different modes and apps for which you can use the physical buttons on the side of the Time Steel to scroll.

Hit the middle of the three buttons and then press those above and below to view settings, access the music player mode, view notifications, watch faces and any of the installed apps.

With the latest Pebble firmware update, you can now assign buttons to activate the new Quiet Time notification mode and Quick Launch features to make navigating easier and reduce the amount of button presses.

Before the Time Steel and the Time officially turned up, CEO Eric Migicovsky once teased that the company would do something big with the Pebble operating system.

That turned out to be Timeline. It’s the idea of delivering information you need at that precise time, whether that’s upcoming calendar appointments or the weather in 24 hours’ time. It’s similar to the feature introduced by Apple in watchOS 2 for the Watch and sounds similar to Google Now on Android Wear.

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It works well on the Time Steel, so long as you’ve correctly configured which apps are pulled into the Timeline. The problem with Timeline is that, along with watchOS 2 and Android Wear, it isn’t alone in providing this more contextual approach. Android’s Google Now works in a similar fashion, and arguably does a better job with third-party apps than the Pebble.

App and watch-face support aren’t as comprehensive as its competitors, and the approach feels all the more archaic in its presentation.

I was really hoping to have a wealth of great-looking watch faces to try out. This simply isn’t the case. Most lack the retro charm that I imagine was the goal when they were made. I settled on something very simple, but I was hoping I could be a bit more adventurous with my selections.

It was the same with the Pebble App Store. Headline apps are generally covered, but it’s nowhere near as comprehensive a storefront as the Apple Watch App Store or Android Wear options in Google Play for unique experiences on the watch itself.

The Timeline support isn’t great either, and if you value having access to those apps at your wrist then the Pebble Time Steel might come as a bit of a disappointment. If it’s only notifications you’re concerned with, then maybe not so much.

So what is the Pebble Time Steel like to use on a day-to-day basis? I was fortunate enough to spend several weeks using the Pebble Time and I’m pleased to say my experience with the Pebble Time Steel was pretty similar.

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I found myself taking far more notice of notifications and messages than has been the case with other smartwatches I’ve used. Yet it didn’t feel at all intrusive.

Acting as a second screen for smartphone apps is where the Pebble Steel Time excels. Unlike the Apple Watch, third-party apps such as Runkeeper will remain on the screen, doing away with having to try to locate them on the watch. Timeline also worked well and I actually found it very useful not having to stare at my phone during a meeting when something important had come up.

There weren’t many dedicated Pebble apps that I found myself using on a regular basis. I did make good use of the music player app, however, which works well with third-party music services and comes in handy when you’re crammed into a tube carriage and might have to risk touching someone to innocently get to your phone.

There are a selection of good newsfeed applications, but the screen isn’t really built for reading bite-sized articles in the same way that Android Wear watches or the Apple Watch is.

Where you really notice a difference between the Pebble Time Steel and its predecessor and rivals is with battery life performance.

Unlike the Time, the Time Steel can stay powered on for ten days according to Pebble. That’s three more days than the Time and significantly more than all Android Wear watches and the Apple Watch. Even the more sport-centric smartwatches, such as the Fitbit Surge (with the latest update) and the Garmin Vivoactive, can’t match the Time Steel’s ability to get you more than a week’s play.

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However, The Pebble Time Steel isn’t always going to make it to that 10-day mark. You’ll need to tinker with the settings and put the new Quiet Time mode to good use to increase your chances. Even with the low power sapping ePaper display, it’s closer to seven or eight days. That’s disappointing, even if it blows other smartwatches out of the water for battery life. I wanted 10 days and that’s not what I got.

The good news is that even when that 10% battery life icon pops up on the 1.25in screen, the watch has plenty of juice left to manage at least a few more days before you really need to reach for the charger. Plus, it’ll take less than an hour to get you sufficient battery life to get going for four or five more days; two hours gets you to 100%.

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Should I buy the Pebble Time Steel?

In general, my overall experience with the Time Steel has been virtually identical to that with the Time. It’s the battery life and design that are the key differences here.

In my opinion, unless you’re going to fork out for the more expensive stainless-steel Time Steel, you’d be better off going for the Time. This may mean having to deal with a little more plastic, but on the positive side it’s very similar in look and its bezel doesn’t look as monstrous.

Is the Pebble TIme Steel the best smartwatch available at the moment? Well that depends entirely on what you value in a smartwatch.

If you’d like a watch that works well with multiple smartphone platforms, offers great battery life and is generally easy to use, then yes. However, if you want a device with better app support, and you’re happy to compromises on battery life, then an Android Wear watch such as the LG G Watch R is still a personal favourite.

In addition, if price isn’t an issue then the improvements with watchOS 2 mean that the Apple Watch shouldn’t be discounted either.

Ultimately, like the Pebble Time, the Pebble Time Steel hasn’t entirely won me over. Maybe the arrival of Pebble’s smart straps could be the saving grace for the expanding Time family, but I’m still waiting to see one of those.

Buy Now: Pebble Time Steel at Amazon.co.uk from £179

Verdict

Improved looks and a better battery life put the Pebble Time Steel slightly ahead of the Pebble Time. However, it’s too expensive for what’s on offer.

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