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CNET First Look
Pebble Steel: A new look, new apps add up to high styleCan a reinvented design make the Pebble Steel the most desirable smartwatch yet? We take a look at the $249 watch and Pebble's newly redesigned app marketplace.
I'm Scott Stein and just about a year ago, smartwatch emerged, which a lot of people were talking about, the Pebble watch. And it was interesting because, hey, this is a watch that run apps and attempted to be a little smarter and was the first of its kind that was really defining a landscape that's pretty well known now and is wearable tech. A wearable tech is not really something that you necessarily want to buy into. Well, now, all of a sudden, Pebble has a new watch-- the Pebble steel. Here it is on this wrist and it's available now. Now, what does this bring to the table? You saw it at CES and I've been using it for the past few days and it's not a revolution in wearable tech, but it does two things really well. It redesigns the watch and it also finally creates an app store and a way to manage those apps before you'd have to hunt around for it. Doesn't that add up to something that's a revolution on your wrist? Well, it depends on what you're looking for. It's not saying futuristic in that next-gen type feeling compared to what we saw last year. But if you're looking for a watch that's smarter and a watch that's better designed, the Pebble Steel is about as good as it gets right now and it's probably the first smartwatch you'd actually want to buy. You are gonna pay an extra $100 for the steel, however. And if you like this design, it's pretty snazzy. It's all metal. Well then, it's worth it. But, you know, $150 does get you the original Pebble. That's still out there and both of them run the new app and the new app store and run new STK 2.0 created apps, which are more advanced that came before. I'll get to that in a second. The design, you know, again, it's all about style. It shaved down. There's a Gorilla Glass screen, which creates less glare on the watch face and makes the watch and the numbers pop more in daylight. You could still wear the Pebble Steel in the shower. It's 5ATM water resistant just like the previous model. It also comes with the leather wristband in the box. Now, that's not water resistant, but you can swap them out and pick which one you want. Kind of justifies the price a little bit more. It comes in glossy metal or it comes in this matte black design. And there are no other new real features in this other than a little glowing LED lights when you plug it in and charge. You now know when it's done charging. And that could be used for other apps and notifications. It still vibrates. It still got the same button lay out, three buttons here, one button here, and it feels smaller, although the screen is exactly the same size as before. It's the body that's different. Now, what else is new? The apps. The apps are all completely new, but that's available too if you get the steel or you get the original Pebble. We've heard about these apps for a while. There are now partners like Yelp, ESPN, some big name quantities, Four Square are available. Now, what they do? Well, you know, don't get your hopes up too much because what [unk[ Steel is a black and white display, not a touchscreen and there are three buttons over here. They handle all of your interactivity. Four Square allows you to check in anywhere you want. The Yelp app actually allows you to browse restaurants that are nearby. ESPN shows you sports scores, but not detailed stats yet. So, it's helpful and it's fun. But it almost feels more like the idea of the Palm Pilot years ago. If you're gonna take Palm apps, shrink them down on to a watch and make them connected with your data connection in your phone and your pocket. That's cool, but it's just not gonna be something that's gonna going to the next gen and allow you full touch interactivity right now. There are some other fitness apps and some games. There are bunch of things already on the Pro-Release version that I looked at of the Pebble app store and they were all free, although a lot of them invited you to download a necessary partner app that was available on the actual Apple app store that cost a couple of dollars. So, some of them had some strings attached, but a lot of them, the watch faces and some of these other apps you do get all right out of the box, which is a nice plus. The other positive thing about the Pebble in 2014 as compared to last year is that the experience on iOS and Android feels very much the same. A lot of the apps work perfectly and interchangeably across both platforms. There are some apps that only work an Android, though that I found. But a lot of them work on both iOS and Android and you can get now finally the same types of notifications. You can tie anything from Twitter, Facebook, anything it gets notifications on your phone, pops up here. That was available before, but now you've got these apps, not only can mirror what's on your phone, but allow you to interact a little more at the buttons, maybe to check in, maybe to scroll or tap through into certain elements that tie in here. But it doesn't get its own internet connection. Obviously, it still pairs with your phone, but the amount of phones that it supports is probably one of the best supportive watches out there if you want a smartwatch. iOS, Android and a number of Android phones that had support is a lot better than some of the more restricted ones that we've seen certainly like the Samsung Galaxy gear, but even some other ones that needed Bluetooth 4.0 to connect. This is not that. You can connect with a variety of other phones too. The app store also has some nice features in it that allow you to finally manage the apps on your Pebble. You can pull them off and put them on, but there are only 8 memory slots in the Pebble Steel just like the original Pebble. That means 8 apps or app or watch faces, anything you put on here only 8, that's pretty limiting. You will find you'll run out of that really fast. You can easily swap them out from your phone wherever you are at a bus stop or wherever you might be. It doesn't a long time. But put aside your dreams of any sort of apps on here that's gonna collect a lot of data over time because you're gonna be deleting and reinstalling those apps. That's only takes a few seconds, but I would have like a little more storage on this one. How do I feel about the Pebble Steel? I like it a lot. I wanna buy one. It doesn't mean that's-- you'd wanna buy one, but this is a watch that is smarter just like [unk] a thermostat that's smarter and maybe that's the best approach to taking smartwatches versus something weird and futuristic that flies off your wrist. Pebble Steel is probably the best smartwatch that I've seen. I'm Scott Stein and that's a look at the new Pebble Steel.