Pebble Time Steel Review Extravaganza!

Last week I finally received my Pebble Time Steel in the mail. I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this for about seven months now. I had it delivered to my work office as I couldn’t risk it being stolen or lost. My hands were trembling as I opened the box. My colleague eyed me from across the room but said nothing. He knew that I had to immediately open this box and play with my new toy. The box within the shipping box looked like retail packaging. It was nice and compact. I carefully ripped the box open and powered up my new watch. I was immediately prompted to connect the watch to my smartphone. Once that finished I had to wait a few minutes while the watch searched and downloaded the latest firmware update. As the progress bar slowly moved across it’s beautiful color screen I realized that just a few years earlier I was at this very same job about to invest in something called a smartwatch…

CAN YOU HEAR ME?!
CAN YOU HEAR ME?!
In April of 2012 I took a chance and backed a smartwatch on Kickstarter. It was a big decision at the time because I felt like dropping $115 on a company I knew nothing about was a risk. Sure, they had a fancy video and had previously created a Blackberry smart watch under a different company name, but what was stopping them from taking my money and putting out an over hyped, under delivered product? I knew at the time that I was looking at the future of smartphones and decided I needed to have it. It wasn’t that much money… right?

Fresh from some mailroom clerks sweaty hands.
Fresh from some mailroom clerks sweaty hands.
After what felt like years, my original black Pebble finally arrived in the mail. I wore it on my wrist with pride and only took it off to sleep and when I would bowl. (It’s hard to focus on your approach when your left wrist would randomly shake to let you know that your aunt liked your photo on Facebook). I showed it off to all my friends and family. I demonstrated it’s ability to read texts and answer phone calls just from the watch. It improved my life at work and was a nice conversation starter for the two years that followed. The watch helped me out immensely while I was at work. I had to constantly keep my phone on silent so as not to disturb the artists in my office. This was causing me to miss many phone calls and texts while the phone was in my pocket. I was not feeling my iPhone’s vibration alerts. My new shiny smart watch fixed all that! Suddenly I was getting every phone call, text message, and app alert without delay. Nothing was happening on my phone without me knowing about it one vibration at a time. Starting about a year ago the amount of phone calls and texts I would receive about work increased substantially . This lead to a period of months where I would receive a text or phone call and I would start cursing at my watch. I’m sure people at my work thought I was crazy.

Dominion is still better apparently. Says Gio. Every 10 minutes.
My old watch in action.
Back in the present the watch finished updating. I was now free to start installing watch faces and apps. You cannot have a color smartwatch with just the basic watch face. I needed something unique to stand out! The app is very easy to use and navigate. Just pick a watch face you like using the Pebble app, click “add”, and it now lives in your Pebble phone app and is activated on your watch. You can also select already installed watch faces just using the watch menu. It keeps a few ready to go but it may need to quickly download the watch face from the phone to the local memory. It took about ten seconds. It should also be noted that all previous watch faces are compatible with the Pebble Time & Pebble Time Steel.

The watch menu’s animate and are quite snappy. I’ve only been using the watch for a week now but I can see myself eventually getting quite annoyed at the at the extra second or two it adds to what you are trying to do while using the watch. I’m sure if it didn’t have the animations people would complain about it being boring so perhaps they just need to add an option to turn them off. Timeline seems like a great idea. It takes all of your appointments, past and present, and places them on a timeline you can scroll through. It shows you the sunrise and sunset times. It takes anything that is in your phone’s calendar app. I just wish I was more organized in my life to actually use it. I do not have a lot of events in my phone at the moment. If I scroll back to yesterday I can go through all the phone calls I received and my one reminder for the day: It was my Goddaughters birthday. Perhaps I will someday organize my life and put this good use.

There are quite a few apps that I may someday invest in using. There are watch apps for ESPN, Swarm, Runkeeper, Evernote and many other websites. There are apps to add a timer to your watch. You can check the weather, pay for coffee, and check your grocery list. There are also games for your watch including the ever popular Pixel Miner. I never played it on my previous pebble, but my friend loves it and would tell me about it from time to time. The graphics have been updated and are now in color for this latest generation of Pebble watches. I ended up installing it and completely forgot about it until about five minutes ago. I upgraded my miner and off he went. I will most likely forget about it for another week but for that brief moment it was entertaining. I’m sure with the color display more and more micro games will be released for this watch. The open platform for this watch is perfect for programmers to pump out some little micro distractions. I do not think I would pay for a watch face or app, though other people may. While it is fun, I do not see myself staring at this little screen for longer than a few moments at a time.

Plastic vs Metal. Old vs New. Wolverine vs ... A plastic Wolverine.
Plastic vs Metal. Old vs New. Wolverine vs … A plastic Wolverine.

The watch feels sturdy and has a solid weight to it. It has a much nicer build and quality than my plastic OG pebble. The buttons have a texture on them that feels nice to the touch. The metal band was missing from the packaging but Pebble acknowledged this and said they would be mailing them out separately when they are available. The included leather band is nice. It has quick release straps which should be very helpful when I eventually get the metal band. It was previously difficult to take off the straps myself without the proper tool. The quick release straps fix this problem and let me switch them out without having to visit a watch repair shop. The leather band was difficult to buckle at first but now that it is broken in, it is much easier. The watch is also expansion ready. Pebble included the ability to create watch straps that plug into this expansion port on the watch to further enhance the watch. People could potentially add extra battery life or memory or have the watch shock me if I start spending ridiculous amounts of money buying Magic cards. I saw a Kickstarter for a watch band that would let you go through the watch menus with hand gestures. Time will tell where this leads.

The battery has been good for the past week or so. It’s about on par with my OG Pebble which is pretty amazing considering the color screen must take more energy to keep it running. After about a week of use I am at ten percent battery life. While it is not the ten days that Pebble promised, it certainly beats the pants off of the Apple Watch with the caveat that the Apple Watch’s screen is much nicer. The shake to wake feature is still present and works well. There are now options to have the backlight on for three, five, or eight seconds. Three seems too quick and eight seems like it is on forever. This is especially annoying when you are in a movie and your watch lights up to let everyone around you know that you have a text or phone call.

 

Wax on!
Wax on!

Wax off!
Wax off!
My biggest gripe with the screen is the backlight. Even though we now have control to how bright the backlight is, it washes the color out of the screen. It may be a product of the e-ink color display but my Enigma watch face goes from being a nice red, white and black to pink, white and black. It reduces the contrast and desaturates the color on screen. Maybe in the future people can design the color of the watch faces to look better with the backlight on. Perhaps have the color and contrast of the watch face fade in as the backlight fades in. The watch has multiple backlight intensities and I have my watch set to medium. I’ve tried the other backlight levels (low, high, and blinding) but medium gives me the best visibility without pulling out too much of the color. This is my biggest gripe with the watch and while it is not a deal breaker, it is annoying. The screen is also harder to see while I am driving since the viewing angle is much lower than the previous version of the watch.

One quick note before we get into my problems with the watch is that Pebble is constantly releasing firmware updates for this watch. One of the benefits I had of being an early backer of the original watch is that I got to see if slowly improve over the course of a few years. There are limitations to these firmware updates but there were a lot of great improvements. One of the most recent additions was to the Pebble Time. They added in the previously mentioned additional backlight levels so that people could pick what suited them best.

As much as I love this watch it does have a few problems. As I mentioned previously, the screen could be a bit better, but overall, it works just fine. The backlight washing out the color issue might be something that is fixable with future firmware updates. It may take some tweaking and fine tuning to have the color and contrast fade in and out with back light. Maybe I am the only one that finds this annoying. The price is also bit higher than I would have liked. I know it is easy for me to want a lower price for this watch but I feel like knocking $50 off the watch would clinch this for people that are torn between a Pebble Time Steel and an Apple Watch. Currently, it is $250 for just the watch with a leather band. The metal band will cost extra $50. People that backed the PTS on Kickstarter will get the metal band for free. I can see people paying $250 for the watch with the metal band, but not $300. The microphone on the watch currently does not work with iOS at all. This is a huge bummer since that was one of the main reasons I wanted to get this watch. It could very well be implemented later but I’m sure Apple will make it difficult for them.

Useful all the time!
Useful all the time!
Overall, I am happy with this watch. It’s a step forward from the previous generation Pebble watches. I’m eager to see what they are going to squeeze into this watch with future firmware updates. I know I’ll have to explain to many people that no, this is not an Apple Watch. (There is even a watch face that displays that as a text watch face). I can’t wait to get the metal band so that my watch can look a bit fancier. I really hope they fix the iOS’s lack of Pebble microphone support though I won’t hold my breath.