The original Pebble Steel was a great smartwatch in a surprisingly fashionable costume. Its successor, the Time Steel, keeps the sex appeal but crams more brains inside.
Pebble is one of the oldest smartwatch companies around, and its products have evolved over time. First was the original Pebble, a Kickstarter project with an e-ink screen and a cult following. Next came the Steel, the Pebble's internals in a grown-up body. This year saw the launch of the Pebble Time, the replacement for the original Pebble. A colour screen, new design and revamped software let the Time hold its own in a world with the Apple Watch.
And now those upgrades are making their way into a fancier body, to make what should be the ultimate Pebble: the Time Steel.
What Is It?
A $US300 smartwatch that does basic smartwatch things while looking pretty. A Pebble Time crammed into a body made of aluminium and curved glass.
People who want a smartwatch they can wear in public without first tattooing GEEK across their foreheads. But Pebble watches don't come with all the bells and whistles of Android smartwatches, or the Apple Watch -- no touchscreen, no heartrate sensors, certainly no elaborately named digital scroll wheel.
If you want to get notifications on your wrist or skip music tracks without pulling your phone out, any Pebble is your perfect smartwatch. The Pebble Time Steel is simply the best-looking of the range.
Time vs Time Steel
The first Steel was decidedly metallic and angular, giving a purposeful vibe that nonetheless felt a bit chunky. The Time Steel is softer and more curved, which works much better on dainty feminine wrists like mine. I feel like it's lost some of its individual style in the process, though: I've have mine mistaken for an Apple Watch twice a day.
Although that comparison is a little sad for a diehard Pebble fan, it's not really an insult: the Time Steel has a subtly curved glass screen, solid aluminium body, and polished bezel, all very Apple-y pieces of design.
It's far more understated than the first Steel, for sure, but for a lot of people, that's probably a good thing: Paired with the leather band, it makes a subtly handsome package. The original Steel had style and personality; the Time Steel will go with your style and personality.
I've got one design bone to pick, though: The bezel, already noticeable on the original Steel, has put on weight, and now sits as an oppressive black border of emptiness around the screen. It doesn't destroy the looks of the watch too badly -- the black bezel merges into the screen pretty seamlessly when the backlight's off -- but it gives a vibe that's more $US10 Casio than $US300 fashion accessory.
What's It Like To Use?
Using the Time Steel is identical to using the regular Time, which in turn is pretty much the same as using the original Pebble. Everything that those watches do well -- seamless push notifications to your wrist, basic fitness tracking, the stupidly great flick-to-activate backlight -- the Steel also does well. I'll let you read our thoughts on the Time separately; everything in terms of functionality and software is identical.
The Time Steel does have a few particular highlights, though. The buttons, which have consistently sucked on Pebble's other watches, are way better: not too soft, not too stiff, but just the right amount of firmness for, uh, buttons.
The screen is also usable on the Time Steel! I've been using a regular Time for the last month, and the screen is way too dim and washed out. The Time Steel still doesn't 'pop' anything like the OLED display you'll find on the Apple Watch, but it's very usable. The backlight is noticeably brighter, and the display seems closer to the surface of the glass, which makes reading texts in sunlight actually possible.
The band is also different on the Pebble Steel. To go with the more premium feel, you've got your choice of leather and steel bands. I've been using the brown leather band with a grey Pebble, which makes for a good (and comfortable) combo.
Battery life is the same as the Pebble Time -- which is to say, very good. I got four days of use out of the Time Steel before it whined about being on 20%, at which point I popped it on the charger (same weak magnetic connections as the Time, ugh), and it charged back up in under an hour.
What's It Good At?
The Time Steel fixes most of my gripes about the regular Time -- better buttons, better screen -- and puts everything in a package that looks nicer, and feels better on my wrist.
What's It Not Good At?
That oversized bezel makes the whole thing feel a little calculator-watch cheap. The glass on the screen also seems susceptible to scratches -- I've put two (tiny) marks on the screen in under a week, which doesn't bode well for the long run.
Should You Buy It?
If you want a Pebble watch, the Time Steel is the one to buy. For $US100, you get a watch that fixes everything wrong with the Time, in a far more attractive package. If you can't stomach the extra cash, I'd seriously consider buying the original Pebble instead -- you can pick one up for $US90, it does most of the same things as the Time, but with a screen you can actually read things on.
There's a broader question here about whether you should get a Pebble, or some other smartwatch. The Time Steel doesn't change the answer to that question: If you want something that sings, dances, navigates, and tells you to get off your arse, then an excellent Android or Apple watch will be your best bet.
But I've always been suckered by what Pebble offers: a watch that is first and foremost a watch, with a thousand different quirky watchfaces I can customise, which saves me the occasional need to pull my phone out. For me, that's all a smartwatch should be, and the Time Steel does it better than anyone else.
If you're sold, you can pre-order the Time Steel on Pebble's website starting today for $US300, with delivery slated for 6-8 weeks.