Before Android Wear and the Apple Watch, Pebble had been quietly making waves in the smartwatch industry. Today, even as more popular and more expensive offerings come left and right from the technology industry's biggest players, the Pebble Watch remains the darling of the indie crowd for plenty of good reasons.
Allerta, the company that kick-started the smartwatch industry via Kickstarter in 2013, continues its push toward a more improved Pebble with the release of the Pebble Steel and, the latest from its line of e-paper smartwatches, the Pebble Time. All three devices are built on the same basic philosophy as the first Pebble Watch - that smartwatches are not meant to be flashy, obtrusive devices posing as fashion accessories when they're really tiny smartphones slapped on the wrist. Instead, Pebble won the love and praise of many a techno buff because it is, first and foremost, a watch before it is a computer.
That said, there are a few notable differences between the Pebble Watch, the Pebble Steel, and the Pebble Time. Read on to figure out which of these devices is best for you.
Design-wise, the Pebble won't stand up to better-looking smartwatches, such as the LG Watch Urbane or the Apple Watch. The Pebble Watch, which comes in a variety of colors, is light and comfortable on the wrist, although with a 22 mm swappable plastic strap and a 2 x 1.2 inch-screen that's bound to feel bulky on slimmer wrists, you'll feel like it's more of a toy watch than a high-tech device.
But Pebble really switched up the ante on design with the Pebble Steel. After having users complain about the fact that they couldn't possibly wear the plasticky Pebble Watch to business events and formal affairs, Allerta gave birth to the Pebble Steel, definitely the best-looking Pebble out there, with the exception of the Pebble Time Steel, which is also way more expensive. As its name implies, this watch is made from marine-grade stainless steel and features a matte, black, premium-looking leather strap, although you can also get a steel band for an additional $20. Also, the Pebble Steel won't feel as huge as the Pebble Watch with its smaller 1.5 x 1.4 display, but all that steel makes it heavier than its predecessor.
The newest Pebble Time goes back to the plastic frame and silicone strap of the original Pebble Watch, but thankfully, the new watch has a slimmer bezel, rounded corners, and an overall slimmer profile than the first Pebble. Also, there is the option of getting the Pebble Time Steel, which is mostly the Pebble Time garbed up in premium stainless steel and leather.
Pebble's claim to fame is the low-power e-paper display that, unlike the energy-guzzling AMOLED, OLED, and Retina displays for Android Wear smartwatches and the Apple Watch, makes the Pebble watches the longest-running smartwatches in the world. The display is not as stunning as other smartwatches, and on the Pebble Watch and Pebble Steel, you'll only get a black and white display, which could be disappointing if you're so used to the color-rich interfaces in other devices.
On the Pebble Time, the display is still e-paper, but Pebble managed to squeeze out a color e-ink display covered in Corning Gorilla Glass as the Pebble Steel. Again, even on the Pebble Time, the display is still relatively low-resolution, but on such a small screen, a staggering number of pixels doesn't really matter. On the most basic level, the color e-ink display on the Pebble Time looks very good with its support for 64 colors and 30 fps animations.
Keep in mind, all Pebble displays are not touch-enabled. To navigate the interface, you'll have to use the three buttons on the right to select and scroll up and down and the single button on the right to go back.
Battery life on the Pebble is closely tied to the e-ink display. Because the Pebble does not need to consume lots of juice to power up millions of pixels, all three Pebble models can last up to seven whole days on a single charge, which is seven times more than most smartwatches from Apple, Samsung, Sony, LG, or any other big-name manufacturer can crank out. The Pebble Time Steel, even with its color e-ink display, can even last up to 10 days.
Charging is the same for all three, which require a magnetic charging cable that come right out of the box.
Another standout feature of Pebble watches is the software running on them. Unlike Android Wear, which can be paired only to Android smartwatches, and the Apple Watch, which only works with an iPhone, Pebble OS can sync and work with any device running on Android 2.3 and higher and iOS 5 and higher. Pairing is easy and intuitive on all three smartwatches, but you'll need to download the Pebble app from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store and install it on your phone to sync it up with your smartwatch. You'll then be able to install new watch faces and play around with apps from there.
Unfortunately, all Pebble watches can only hold up to eight apps at a time, a paltry number compared to how many can run on Android Wear and the Apple Watch. To make up for the lack of app space, Pebble added a new Locker section to the Pebble app where you can store extra apps that you can load into your watch once some space gets freed up.
Currently, you can choose up to 1,000 apps on the Pebble app store. It's not a lot, but you'll find a lot of the most important apps, such as Yelp, ESPN, and Pandora optimized for the color e-ink displays.
All Pebble smartwatches are designed primarily to push notifications. You'll be able to customize which notifications you want to receive via vibrations and the screen flashing up. A software update to Pebble OS also lets you view your most recent notifications from the previous day, which is useful in instances such as when you want to quickly look back at an email you received yesterday, even when you're in the shower or swimming in the ocean, thanks to a water-resistance of up to 50 meters.
Also notable among the pre-installed features is the ability to use your Pebble as a remote control for the music playing on your smartphone. You can use the middle button to play a song and the navigational buttons to skip a song or go back, but you'll only be able to do this on the exact playlist currently open on your smartphone. For now, switching playlists means you'll still have to reach for your phone.
While notifications, music, and custom watch faces are all part of the three Pebble models, the Pebble Time has a few more features that separate it from its predecessors, aside from its color e-ink display. Notably, the Pebble Time now has a microphone and voice support to allow users to record voice memos and dictate quick responses to texts.
But perhaps the real standout on the Pebble Time and the Pebble Time Steel is the inclusion of smart straps. For now, we have yet to see how these things work, but Pebble is hoping it can attract a wide enough developer base to create custom straps that can add to the functionality of the Pebble Time. Smart straps can enable more features such as NFC payments, heart rate tracking, and even month-long battery life, says Pebble, but smart straps have yet to take off. If it does, the new feature has the potential the Pebble Time the most adaptable smartwatch on the planet.
The Pebble Watch is available at the Pebble online store for only $99, which makes it a great, budget-friendly, entry-level choice for people buying their first smartwatch for the first time. For a much more premium-looking device, you can get the Pebble Steel for $199, although the $100 addition for a better-looking smartwatch might be questionable since there aren't very many new features. Pebble will ship both the Pebble Watch and the Pebble Steel to you wherever you are in the world for free.
If you're wary about throwing in an extra hundred bucks for the Pebble Steel, you can wait out for the Pebble Time, which is in mass production stage and is set to become available in the second half of May. On Kickstarter, where Pebble first made its big splash, the backer price for a Pebble Time is $179 and $250 for the Pebble Time Steel.
However, the crowdfunding campaign has ended with a whopping $20 million in funds raised by early buyers, and you'll have to wait for both smartwatches to become available for retail. By then, you'll have to pay $199 for the Pebble Time, which is the same as the Pebble Steel, although you'll still get the plastic body and the silicone straps in the third-generation Pebble. If you're up for some good-looking, steel-and-leather high-end Pebble, the Pebble Time Steel will be $299 at retail.