Pebble Time Steel review: Time, with a battery boost

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MSRP: $249.99

The Good Solid, all-steel construction; boosted battery life should last over a week; 30 meters water resistant; always-on display; works with iPhone and Android phones.

The Bad Design doesn't look much different than the less-expensive non-steel Pebble Time; can't make phone calls; fitness tracking is less accurate than rival wearables.

The Bottom Line Pebble's step-up all-steel smartwatch has added battery life and a more durable feel, but it's basically a tiny upgrade to the less expensive Pebble Time.

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7.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Battery 9
  • Performance 7
  • Software 8
  • Features 7

I've stopped worrying about charging my watch.

After living my spring and most of the summer with the Apple Watch , I've gotten into a routine with watch-charging, taking it off my wrist each night. But I like to keep my watch on all the time. That's the biggest advantage Pebble watches have over the smartwatch competition, and the Pebble Time Steel pushes battery life even further.

Pebble watches have always had good battery life. The Pebble Time Steel takes it up another notch, offering a promised 10 days on a charge. The Steel is a step-up model to the already available Pebble Time . It also costs an extra $50: $249 with the leather band, versus $199 (around AU$339 or £160).

Besides that battery boost, the Steel -- as you can guess from the name -- has an all-steel body. But it's otherwise exactly the same smartwatch as the Pebble Time that came out a few months ago, which feels like a slightly improved color-screen version of the original Pebble that came out in 2013. For $299, you also get two bands: one leather, one steel. (Note: My review version of the Pebble Time Steel wasn't sent with the steel band, so I couldn't evaluate that band design...but I saw it briefly in Barcelona, and it's definitely a step up over leather.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

I've come to appreciate that the Pebble is a completely different product than the Apple Watch or Android Wear devices like the Moto 360 . It's a watch first, smartwatch second. It's low-key, always on, and skips a touchscreen in favor of physical buttons. It's shower friendly. And that battery life is mighty nice to have. But this Steel version is nowhere near as impressive as the Steel upgrade to the original Pebble that debuted in early 2014. That felt like a whole new watch. This feels more like a minor upsell. I like great battery life on a watch, and the Steel version definitely delivers on that. Would I pay an extra $50 for the Steel? I didn't think so at first, but now I think I would, especially since the build quality and buttons are better on this model. (Originally, when I wrote this review, Pebble hadn't announced the $249 version: instead, you had to pay an extra $100 for the $299 two-band one, which seemed like too great a leap.) But, $249 isn't cheap, and it comes close to the price of other smartwatches that have inferior battery life but superior features.

Before you read this review, go back and read my Pebble Time review . Since this is nearly the same watch with a thicker body and better battery life, most of what I say there still stands, including what it does and how its software works. Below, I'll mainly focus on what's different on the Steel.

Editors' note, August 10, 2015: This review was updated with updated battery life results and impressions, including a revised opinion on the overall watch price and value proposition.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design: A muted affair

Take the Pebble Time watch and cover it in metal, and you have the Pebble Time Steel. But the funny thing is, most people probably won't notice the difference. Take a look for yourself.

That's because the Pebble Time already had a steel front bezel that made it look like it was all-metal, even though the body was plastic. The gunmetal version of the Time Steel I received to review isn't easily identified as an "all metal" watch, either: the sides and back are muted gray, blending with the faded brown leather strap it came packed with.

Pebble family: Pebble Time Steel (left), Pebble Steel (middle), Pebble Time (right) Sarah Tew/CNET

Compared to the gleaming, squared-off retro look of the Pebble Steel from a year and a half ago, this watch is more bulbous, and less eye-catching. And the Pebble Time Steel's thick black bezel only emphasizes how small the display looks in the middle. This new Pebble is the better watch, but also somehow the less impressive-looking one.

The Pebble Time Steel and 42mm Apple Watch are a similar size. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's nearly the same size and thickness as a 42mm Apple Watch, leading a lot of people to ask me if this Pebble was an Apple Watch. In some sense that's a compliment to Pebble, but in reality the Steel's design is clean but somewhat innocuous. It doesn't look bad at all, but neither does it leap out and make a statement.

With a steel band, my opinion might change. The Pebble Time Steel does come with both a leather and steel link band, but I only got the leather band, and it doesn't do the watch any favors. The band's faded leather feels too faded for me, and doesn't seem to match the watch's design. The band can be easily popped off and swapped for another: either one of Pebble's, or a 22mm watch band you find anywhere else.

The Pebble Time Steel comes in black (seen here, but it's more like dark gray), silver and gold finishes. Each design has its own set of color-matched straps.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In a side-by-side test, several people in my office preferred the less expensive Pebble Time with a silicone band, as, perhaps more pertinently, did my wife. Maybe that would change with one of the Pebble Time Steel's other colors or watch bands. With the steel-link band that's not currently available yet -- but is part of the Kickstarter backer package -- it cuts a much sharper profile.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The best part of the Steel's design, and the reason to consider the upgrade, is its buttons. There's no touchscreen on the Pebble Time Steel: you need to press buttons on the sides to interact. The slightly thicker body seats the buttons higher, and they're easier to click than on the Time. The metal buttons are also less mushy, and more responsive, than the plastic Time's seemed to me.

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