Hands on: Pebble Time Steel and Pebble Time review

Fresh from its incredible appearance on Kickstarter, in which it broke all records and raised $1million in 30 minutes, Pebble has arrived at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona bearing gifts: a second, more luxurious smartwatch – the Pebble Time Steel. We made our way over to the Pebble Stand to grab a few precious minutes play time with both devices.

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Pebble Time Steel review: design

The first thing we noticed about both the Pebble Time Steel and Pebble Time is how much smaller and neater they are than the previous models. The Time measures 9.5mm thick and the Steel is a touch porkier, but only by a millimetre.

Of the two devices, the Steel is the most attractive, but from a distance you’d struggle to tell the difference. It’s only when get right up close that you can tell them apart.

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We didn’t get the chance to handle the silver version of the Pebble Time Steel, but both the gold version, which comes with a red leather strap, and the all-black version feel solid and well made. Aside from the colours and the steel body, there are a couple of other details separating the models: the Steel’s three buttons have a textured finish, and there’s a strip of inlay dividing the back panel from the metal-framed glass at the front.

In the flesh, both Pebble Time devices look much more sophisticated than either the chunky, bulky plastic of the original Pebble or the angular, aggressive-looking Pebble Steel. It’s an altogether more sophisticated design.

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Those familiar with the original device will recognise the button configuration: three on the right and one on the left, which cover all navigational functions. But if you look really carefully you will notice one small change. Below the three buttons on the right edge, a small pinhole betrays the presence of a microphone, used in both Pebble Time models to record voice memos.

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Finally, on both the Pebble Time Steel and the Pebble Time, the charger connector is on the rear of the watch body, neatly hiding it away from view while the watch is on your wrist. But it isn’t just there for recharging the watch. Forthcoming “smartstraps” will be able to use this to add features, such as an extra battery or even a heartrate monitor.

Pebble Time Steel review: screen

The Pebble Time’s headline feature was its colour screen and you’ll see the same screen on the Pebble Time Steel. It does a great job of brightening up the monochrome display of the originals, and breathes new life into the Pebble’s selection of watch faces.

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It’s based on e-paper, a low-power LCD technology (not to be confused with E Ink, which is a different thing entirely), and as such isn’t as lush or vibrant as the IPS and POLED screens we’ve seen on other smartwatches at MWC. Indeed, the Pebble Time’s display is only capable of displaying 60 colours.

However, the tradeoff is vastly superior battery life, with Pebble claiming up to seven days of use from a single charge on the standard Pebble Time and, thanks to a battery that’s nearly twice as big, a huge 10 days on the Steel. Most Android Wear watches deliver between one and two days, three if you’re lucky, so either device is a massive step up in terms of stamina.

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The e-paper screen is also reflective, which means it’s easy to read in direct sunlight, though much like the Casio digital watches of old it does need a light built into the bezel to make it readable in the dark.

Pebble Time Steel review: software

The hardware isn’t the only thing that’s new about these watches. We were also able to quickly trial the new Timeline UI, which Pebble intends to use to move its smartwatches away from the app-centric approach of the existing software.

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It’s almost embarrassingly simple to use: press the top button on the right edge to go back in time, read old messages, past calendar entries and missed calls; click the bottom button to view upcoming events. It can’t predict who’s going to call you next, but it’s certainly more intuitive than the old system, and we like the addition of the back button, which makes it easier to skip back and forth around the new UI.

Pebble Time Steel review: initial verdict

When we arrived at Mobile World Congress on Sunday, the last thing we were expecting to see was another version of the Pebble Time, hard on the heels of such a phenomenal Kickstarter for the standard Pebble Time. But we’re glad it did.

The Pebble Steel and Pebble Time smartwatches look like they’ll be the smartwatches to beat this year, and we can’t wait to get our hands on one for testing.

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