Pebble Time Steel Review

Posted Wed 23 September 2015 22:20 under category tech

In February, I Kickstarted the Pebble Time. As soon as it was announced (March 3), I upgraded my Kickstarter pledge to the Pebble Time Steel. As you might remember from last year, I had Kickstarted the original Pebble ("Pebble Classic" now) and purchased the Pebble Steel as soon as it was released, so this was a no-brainer.

Well, it took a few months longer than expected, but my Time Steel arrived about a week ago, and here's my review.

Pebble Time Steel on wrist1

Hardware/Design

The Pebble Time Steel offers a few improvements over past models

  • 64-color memory LCD display optically bonded to curved Gorilla Glass
  • substantially smaller body
  • microphone (which I can't comment on since it isn't enabled yet for iOS users)
  • better buttons

People complain that the bezel is too large or that it's too easy to scratch or whatever; haters are going to hate. The bezel doesn't bother me (yes, it'd be nice to get rid of, and I'm sure we'll look back on it and laugh in a few years), and I've had absolutely no scratching issues.

Screen

The screen is the centerpiece of this watch, so let's talk about it. Color is, well, nice. Watchfaces can be more information-dense with multiple colors, and it's definitely more attractive. However, there have been costs. The usable viewing angles are much narrower in both directions than the black-and-white displays on the earlier Pebbles, especially the optically-bonded Pebble Steel.

Head-on, they're comparably-legible:

PT vs PTS Head-On

2

But at an angle, the PTS is dim and somewhat solarized:

PT vs PTS angle

The Time Steel also has a much higher reflectance than the earlier, black-and-white watches.

The backlighting is quite bright (which is nice for some weird lighting conditions), but it has a notably blue hue that distorts screen colors. For example, compare the following images of the Foursquare Swarm app:

Backlight off Backlight on

That's a pretty authentic representation of what the device looks like with the backlight on, particularly with yellow colors. Very blue.

All that being said, I would never go to a watch that didn't have an always-on screen. I've worn Apple Watches briefly, and it irritated me to have to make this really-deliberate arm-raising motion to see the time. Bleh.

Battery Life

I got my Pebble Time Steel on Saturday, September 13th (10 days ago). It came about half-charged and I used it for four days before it warned that it was down to 10% battery life. It's been six days since then, and it's currently reporting 30% charge. So I think that 9-10 days (Pebble's estimate) is totally reasonable.

I have noticed no significant battery impact on my iPhone 6 (which reports the Pebble Time app as 12% of the total usage).

Bands

As you can see in the pictures, I'm currently using a NATO band with my Pebble. That's because, frankly, the leather band it ships with is awful. Supposedly there's a metal band shipping later this year, and I might update this review when and if it comes, but the official Pebble leather band is one of the worst I've worn. It's got this strange sueded texture on the outside, it doesn't breathe well, and it looks ugly. Here's a picture:

PTS Leather Strap PTS Leather Strap (on wrist)

Oh well. The lugs take standard 22mm spring pins, so you can put pretty much any band on it. I like my NATO bands3, but others seem to enjoy the Truffol third-party steel band. shrug. http://www.amazon.com/s/field-keywords=22mm+watch+band should get you started if you want to explore band options.

The only thing to be aware of: the charging port is on the back, so bands (like my NATO straps) that cover the back make charging somewhat inconvenient. Thank goodness you only need to charge once per 10 days.

Software

Many of the functions on the watch behave similarly to previous models, but the overall design language is drastically changed. Most transitions are now animated in a fun and friendly style, and there is a pervasive design language of glyphs and primary accent colors that reminds me of classic Mac OS. Susan Kare could have designed this operating system.

The core of the smartwatch experience is the watchface and notifications, and both of those things are largely unchanged between Pebble OS 2.0 (from the Steel) and OS 3.0 (the Time/Time Steel). It still integrates smoothly into the iOS notification system to show you alerts from all of your apps. It's still frustratingly-limited and unable to take any action on those notifications, despite Apple clearly being able to expose actions over Bluetooth (to the Apple Watch). Watchfaces have color and you can fit more of them into the watch's memory, but they're pretty much the same.

Timeline

The biggest new feature in OS 3 is "Timeline". By scrolling forward or back in time, you can see past calendar events and a few other kinds of data. I'll let the official Pebble video explain it:

Timeline is useful once in a while. I feel like I'd use it more if there were more sources for timeline pins; right now, the only sources I've found are the system calendar and the ESPN app, which I've had put pins for SF Giants games so that I can sound vaguely competent when people are talking about sports. Maybe when approaches, I'll make a timeline pin provider for poll closings.

Third-Party Applications

There are now thousands of third-party applications in the Pebble "store"4. Most of them seem mediocre, but some of the name-brand ones are useful. The Swarm app is just as good as the Foursquare app was last year, and I still like checking in. And the Uber app is super-neat (although it has an unfortunately-long loading time).

Uber loading Uber app

Conclusions

The Pebble Time Steel is the best smartwatch I've ever used. It's got well-designed hardware and software, and it's got personality. You should get one. Go look at all of my photos at my Pebble Time Steel flickr album.

Pebble closing

Except.

The day I wrote this, Pebble announced their newest watch, the Pebble Time Round. The same CPU and screen technology as the PTS, but in a gorgeously-thin body that looks more like a traditional watch. The only sacrifice seems to be that battery life drops to 2 days. Pebble seems to be positioning the Time Round as the "feminine" smartwatch, but I think it looks amazing. If I hadn't just bought a PTS, I'd be pretty tempted by the Round.

I guess I'll stick to my Padron Hennepin, Vuelta 17, and Tessera for formal wear.


  1. Watchface in first photo: Kiezel Essential 

  2. Pebble Steel and Pebble Time Steel running DIN Time 

  3. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00ZO6G9GE and http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00YWITJRG if you really want to copy me 

  4. Which is a misnomer, because there's no monetization in Pebble's "store". It would better be called "Repository". 


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