The Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel slowly shipped out to Kickstarter backers all summer long and then became available to anyone wishing to order. While some say the original Pebble smartwatch initiated the smartwatch craze, the Apple Watch and Android Wear now dwarf it in popularity. This shift is largely due to the huge marketing budgets behind them.
Potential buyers will want to know whether they should grab the Pebble Time, Pebble Time Steel or spend their cash on an Apple Watch or Android Wear. Pebble fans will want to consider upgrading their original Pebble or the Pebble Steel from last year. We’ll share our findings in this review and offer some advice to such buyers.
Pebble Time Steel Design
The Pebble Time Steel ($249) shipped with a black, red or white coating around the stainless steel water-resistant casing. Then, Pebble sent out the Pebble Time Steel with a more refined look. It comes with stainless steel and black, gold or silver casing. They also offer multiple bands.
The red band with gold watch looks a little like the expensive gold Apple Watch. The Pebble Time Steel is not as impressive as the Apple Watch; however, it’s still a beautiful smartwatch. People who saw the Pebble Time Steel review unit commented that it looks nice.
The Pebble Time Steel shares the same basic design as all the previous Pebble smartwatches. On the left side of the watch is a button used as a back button in the user-interface. It eventually backs out of apps or settings screen to show the main watch face.
Along the right side of the watch we see three buttons. The up/down buttons can also double as shortcut buttons. For example, go into Settings to the Quicklaunch setting and set one to launch a Timer and the other to launch Settings. Other shortcuts will open Music, Notifications, Alarms, Watchfaces or other installed apps.
The center button on the right works like a select button. Use it to select a highlighted feature or choice in apps or settings.
The buttons on the Pebble Time Steel feel sturdier than earlier models. The build quality, in general, seems better with one notable exception: the gold paint. The gold paint on the watch scratches off far too easily. The back that rests on a desk or table and connects to the charger looks like it is a year old instead of a couple of weeks out of the packaging.
While the Pebble Time Steel does not include a touchscreen like the Apple Watch or Android wear watches, the button-controlled Pebble Timeline user-interface works well.
Up until now Pebble used monochromatic ePaper displays. The Pebble Time Steel introduces a color display for the first time.
The colors look washed out with little contrast. Under certain lighting, some colors do not look colorful at all. The display disappointed me.
The ePaper display adds one great feature: long battery life. Android Wear watches from Samsung or Motorola typically last a little more than one full day, two at the most. The Pebble Time Steel lasts at least four days with heavy usage and up to a week under light usage.
The watch features a backlight so you can see it in dark rooms. There is also a mic that lets the user speak searches or text responses. Simply tap some buttons to reply to a Facebook Messenger or Google Hangout message.
Pebble Time Software, Apps and Compatibility
Pebble’s new Pebble Timeline user-interface works well considering there is no touchscreen and the user interacts with it using buttons.
Think of the user-interface as a stack of cards. The topmost card is the watch face. Tap the center button to get to Timeline. The screens show apps pre-installed or installed using the Pebble Time app on a smartphone. In the phone app users can reorder these app screens. Cycle through the apps using the up or down buttons. Select an app to launch using the center button. Once an app is open, use the buttons to navigate within the app.
The Pebble Time Steel works with any iPhone 4s and newer running iOS 8 or higher. It also works with any Android phone running Android 4.3 or later.
Open the app on either the iPhone or Android and it lets the user pair with the watch. Then users can choose any of the pre-installed watch faces or add new ones from the Pebble app store. There is also a large collection of Pebble compatible apps, from games to utilities to productivity tools. Most apps come free but others cost up to a few bucks.
The software and apps work well given the non-touch user-interface. I prefer the touchscreens on the Android Wear or Apple Watch. That’s not a weakness of the Pebble design, but merely a user preference.
Pebble Time Steel and the Competition
We’re not going to offer an exhaustive comparison. Instead, here is a list of benefits that make the Pebble Time Steel a better option than the competition.
- Longer battery life
- ePaper Display always shows the time
- ePaper Display is easier to see under bright lights than Android Wear or the Apple Watch
- Cheaper than Apple Watch and many Android Wear watches
If the above factors matter more to you than anything else, then go with the Pebble Time Steel. However, here are a few things that the Apple Watch and Android Wear Watches offer that Pebble doesn’t.
- Touch screen
- More support from mainstream app developers
- Apple Watch integrates better with iOS than Pebble
- Android Wear integrates with Google’s ecosystem of services better than Pebble
All of these watches do notifications well. However, Apple Watch lets the user answer phone calls and talk on the watch. All of them include the ability to voice dictate text or other messaging app replies.
Additional options are the Samsung Gear S and Gear S2. The former only works with Samsung smartphones and is bulky. It can work with a SIM card and users can turn it into a phone for about $10-$15 on a shared account. I know of one user who doesn’t own a smartphone. He set up a smartwatch using a friend’s Samsung phone and uses the smartwatch exclusively. That’s rare, but possible, though not recommended for most.
Pebble just announced a newer option: the Pebble Time Round. It works just like Pebble Time Steel but is thinner, round and has a huge bezel around the display. The battery lasts only a couple of days. It also won’t ship until weeks after the date of this article.
Android users have a more difficult choice. Pebble works better with Android than it does with iPhone, so it’s harder to choose between the Pebble Time Steel and Android Wear smart watches. The Pebble Time Steel, especially in gold, looks better than every Android Wear watch I’ve seen. It is also thinner than most. Unfortunately, it’s too little too late. Both Android wear and Apple Watch offer more features, app support and tighter integration with their respective platforms.