Back in 2012, Pebble launched a Kickstarter for a Smartwatch. This turned out to be the most successful project of all time on Kickstarter (at the time). Fast forward to 2015 and their next generation was released. We’ve taken our time on this product – this is our full review of the Pebble Time Steel.
Disclaimer: This Pebble Time Steel is wholly owned by myself. Pebble did not provide this Time Steel for review and have no bearing on the result of this review.
Raising $10.2m and taking nearly 69k pre-orders the original Pebble Kickstarter project was definitely a success. Pebble was back at it again in 2015 with the Pebble Time and another Kickstarter project. This time Pebble delivered a colour screen, a microphone and a new OS dubbed “Timeline”. But that wasn’t all, just days into the Pebble Time Kickstarter Campaign, Pebble dropped a bomb on us, the Pebble Time Steel. Like the Original Pebble Steel this iteration is a Stainless steel version, with a nicer glass screen, nicer straps and a bigger battery claiming to last 10 days per charge.
So I have the Pebble Time Steel in hand (well, on wrist) and have done since early November 2015 and I’m so happy that I got this over the comparable Android Wear Watch. The Time Steel is a beautifully crafted piece of kit, with the now standard for Pebble 4 button navigation; a single button high on the left as the back button, and three on the right, signifying up,down and select. However these buttons are tighter, more responsive buttons than even the Pebble Steel and they now have a beautiful knurled texture on the surface to feel great to the touch.
Beneath that lower button though we have one of the features that sets the Time family apart from its previous generation. A Microphone, yes Pebble has finally added a Microphone to the Pebble so you can dictate your replies instead of just relying on canned responses or getting your phone out. The Mic works surprisingly well from the apps I have tested it with, but I rarely send messages longer than a sentence by voice, as I like to formulate what I say which takes longer than the pauses Pebble give you.
The Watch features slightly exposed lugs to connect the 22mm watch bands to, and yes, unlike the Pebble Steel, the Time family all use standard 22mm watch bands (with the Time Round even having a version opting for 18mm bands). The straps that come on the Time family all feature quick release pins, meaning that you do not need specialist tools to remove the watch straps, though if you plan on replacing them with straps that don’t have quick release pins, you’re going to need the tool anyway. The Leather band on my Time Steel has aged really quite well over the last 4 or 5 months of daily use. It’s a bit battered and weathered, but that’s how I feel that leather jewellery is supposed to look.
On the rear of the Time Steel we have the charging connector, which is now standardised on the time family, rather than changing with every iteration such as the first two Pebble Smartwatches did. The Time Steel charger is still magnetic and has a much stronger connection than my original Pebble did which means that once that magnet has snapped on there, it’s harder to accidentally break it loose. The Charging port is no longer just a charger though, it’s now the expansion port for what Pebble calls Smart Straps.
Smartstraps are, as they sound, Straps for your Pebble Time device that adds additional functionality, one of the most prominent at the moment is the Pagaré Smartstrap by the people over at Fit Pay. The Pagaré Smart Strap adds functionality to the Pebble to use mobile payments. The Pagaré has a NFC chip in the upper end of the strap, so less contorting of your wrist to get the reader to accept it. The Strap itself also integrates a charger so the bottom of the strap, a cap comes off with a USB connector for plugging straight into a battery bank, Laptop or Wall plug. The Pagaré is just one of many smartstraps coming out soon, and I do hope to get one in for review as well.
Last of the impressive features is the display. The Time Steel, like the Time, has a Colour E-Paper display with a resolution of 144×168. The display on the Time Steel, unlike the Time, is optically bonded to the cover glass which makes the colours look much better than the Time, the reflectivity is also reduced, and just all around makes the display look better. It’s still a low resolution, and it’s still a display only able to reproduce 64 colours (yes, only 64), but Pebble has used the display to it’s advantage.
Pebble has upgraded it’s OS from the Original Pebble to the Time Series, the new OS is dubbed “Timeline”. The Timeline pulls in data from your calendars, weather etc and plots it on, well, a timeline. The main screen is now where the watch face is, if you press the up button on the right hand side its goes back through your calendar showing events throughout the day. Pressing the down button from the “home” position goes forward in your day, showing events that have not yet passed, but also includes things like when the sun will set.
The Timeline OS uses the quirks of the E-Paper display to its advantages, purposefully cartoon-y and jagged animations make the Time Steel feel joyful and fun, the large, boxy images again contribute to the quirky nature of the display technology. Pebble has engineered the Timeline OS to have fun animations tied to each function, for example, muting an app wields an Ostrich putting its head in the sand. But it’s a very blocky Ostrich again fitting in with the low resolution of the screen, it just really works. Dismissing a notification sends the notification “card” in a puff of blocky 16bit smoke rushing to the right of the screen, And a reply from the watch sees it be sent off with a paper aeroplane flying off jaggedly into the distance.
You can still change your watch face, and Pebble still boasts that they have thousands upon thousands of them in their app store, they have about 5 preloaded, ranging from analogue and digital, to text-based faces, I have decided on one called “Make me smile” which really fits in with the blocky aesthetic of the Timeline OS with weather animations behind the watch face with a colour that changes depending on the time of day. It also has the time (of course) Date, Day, Temperature, Bluetooth connection status and a Battery meter. Make Me Smile is just one of the plethora of great faces for the Pebble Time, and it’s actually one of the less information dense watch faces.
It’s hard to over explain just how fun and quirky the Timeline OS on the Pebble Time Steel is, Pebble have really outdone themselves. Where the Original Pebble (since updated to a variant of Timeline OS) was merely a functional tool, the Time Steel manages to make me smirk every time I catch myself catching the animations that I usually gloss over. It’s the little things, the way that a screen doesn’t slickly move from one to another, it pulls and stretches and snaps from corner to corner, and it doesn’t feel disorienting, it just feels hilariously cute, again It is really hard to understand how great the UI and the UX on the Pebble Time series is, and the limited colour depth actually helps it, not hinders it.
Pebble claims that the Pebble Time with it’s 150mAh battery can last up to 7 days, and that the Time Steel with it’s 250mAh Battery (Thanks FCC Photos) can last up to 10 days. Now It’s hard to take a tech company seriously with it’s battery estimates, and Pebble is no different, whilst it does get close, I can usually get between 6 and 8 days on my Pebble Time Steel, and I hear some standard Pebble Time owners getting the 5 days is mark. This is similar to the Original Pebble got, and way better than the 2-3 day battery life of the underwhelming on so many levels Pebble Time Round.
Charging on the Time series is actually unified for once. All Time devices, whether they be plastic, steel or round, all use the same charging connector and charger. The Magnetic charger is situated on the rear of the Time series in the top centre, and thankfully the magnet used is far stronger than that on previous generation watches. The Time Steel’s charger firmly snaps into place with a reassuring vibration to let you know that it is charging. Another way it shows you it’s charging? By utilising those awesome animations I told you about earlier. The Time series when charging display a takeout coffee cup filling up once you plug it in, and when the device is near empty, the coffee cup shows up again with the line representing battery capacity near the bottom, Once again this just shows how cute and whimsical the Timeline OS is and just how much of a joy it is.
So after 5 months with the Time Steel, how do I feel about it and would I recommend it? Wholeheartedly. The Time Steel is something that I would not hesitate to recommend to an Android user, the situation on iOS is more complicated as Apple control the UX from top to bottom and therefore grants the best functionality for it’s own device. But an Android device, The Time Steel is currently my favourite smartwatch for the pure reason is that it doesn’t try to do too much and it doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. It works within it’s limitations and it uses them to it’s advantage, making it quirky and fun.
When Pebble launched a second Kickstarter for the Time I was skeptical, and when they launched an extension for that campaign with the Time Steel almost a week later I didn’t think things would go too well. But I am glad to say that I was wrong, and that the end product is something I gladly wear everyday, It’s something that I charge once a week, Is useful for me when I’m at work or being lazy at home, I can dress up in a nice strap and watch face for dinner, or dress down with a big leather cuff for T-Shirt and Jeans, the Pebble Time Steel is flexible enough that It works for me, and Although Its price tag of £200 is a little hard to swallow, If you can find it on a deal site I wouldn’t hesitate, but personally? I’d snap it up anyway.
Pebble has proved that they can and will knock it out of the park multiple times, Instead of cramming in a load of half-baked features into a product that will culminate into an unsatisfactory product, whether that be battery, performance or general user experience, they’ve shown they know what they’re good at and they play on it. I’m not sure if they can get away with another blockbuster Kickstarter (Also, they doubled their original Campaign with the Time, not sure they could double it again for a successor) so I wonder how else Pebble will advertise the next-gen. But until then, the Time Steel is a product I would happily recommend to friends, family and colleagues.