To say 2013 was a good year for Pebble is a huge understatement. The company started out at last year's CES showing off functional versions of its iconic smartwatch -- you know, the one that generated over $10 million on Kickstarter in a matter of weeks -- and it ended the year by announcing it had pushed more than 300,000 units and was planning to launch a dedicated app store. But while the watch has a healthy ecosystem, loyal following and a sporty look, the Pebble isn't exactly the kind of device you slap on your wrist for wine-tastings or galas at the local art gallery. For those types of events, you'll need a premium-looking smartwatch, but good luck finding one; you'll probably just opt for your traditional Rolex or other fancy piece of wrist jewelry over anything else on the market.
Fortunately Pebble didn't come to CES empty-handed this year. CEO Eric Migicovsky announced the Pebble Steel at the company's press conference this morning, which takes the original Pebble watch and encapsulates it in an all-stainless steel, CNC-machined body. If you like the idea of the Pebble, but don't think it radiates enough elegance or class, the $250 Steel may be more up your alley. The new device will be available alongside its predecessor on January 28th, but you can pre-order it beginning today.
So what did we think about Pebble's new look? In a nutshell, we like it (although the jury's still out on the name itself). Keep reading below to get our full take on the new watch, and enjoy the image gallery and hands-on video first.
Before we go any further, let's make an important clarification. The Pebble Steel isn't replacing the original version, which will continue to be available for $150 through several different channels. Fortunately, it isn't creating fragmentation within the Pebble lineup either; aside from a few minor hardware changes (such as a new charger, Gorilla Glass, an anti-fingerprint coating and an LED notification light, which is used to indicate the watch is charging), the Steel adds very little extra functionality. Many of the other specs remain the same: the e-paper display, waterproof design, user interface and battery are identical.
Indeed, the most striking changes to the Steel are all cosmetic, all of which are welcome improvements that give the Pebble a much more mature appearance. The stainless steel body is surrounded by a small, black racing stripe near the top, which doubles as an external antenna; without it, the Bluetooth signal would be consistently obstructed by the watch's metal chassis. Each Steel will come with two wristbands -- leather (below) and metal (above) -- but this time, standard bands aren't going to be compatible. Pebble plans to release the design specs in a 3D-printable format, in case third-party manufacturers want to come up with a wider variety of options.
You can also choose between two available colors: Brushed Stainless and Black Matte. While both models feature the same build material and quality, the black unit's casing is coated with a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) finish that helps make the body more scratch-resistant and slightly more durable.
We've always been fond of the original Pebble's look, but there is definitely something to be said about the fact that the Steel is simply more stylish, not to mention easier to use. It still feels just as comfortable to wear and even the buttons offer a more enjoyable experience; we didn't feel like we had to push as hard on the Steel's buttons to navigate around the UI, which is a huge win for the watch's industrial design.
Earlier we mentioned that the Steel unfortunately doesn't use the same charger as the original version. Since the new watch is shaped quite a bit differently than its predecessor, the team had to make some adjustments. Fortunately, the result is at least a good one: In theory, since the contacts actually have a little bit more surface area, it charges the Steel faster. Also, don't worry about having to buy a new one -- as you might expect, it'll come with one in the box.
On the firmware side, the Steel will come with Pebble OS 2.0 built-in, and you'll be able to take advantage of the company's new App Store. CEO Eric Migicovsky tells us that more than 6,000 developers have already submitted apps, so the Steel should have a pretty healthy selection of games, watchfaces and other apps when it launches. This list of apps includes ESPN, Pandora, GoPro, Yelp, Foursquare and Mercedes.
Pebble Steel. January 28th. Tell your friends.