The Pebble appstore consists of three sections: My Pebble, Get Watchfaces and Get Apps. My Pebble is where you manage the content you've already downloaded. You can have up to eight apps loaded on your watch at any one time, and these show up on the top half of the screen. Below that is the Pebble Locker, a handy place that stores extra apps that you may only need some of the time. This setup is a massive improvement over the old system, which didn't store any of your discarded apps. Now, the process of loading and unloading apps on the watch takes only two clicks, and you don't have to worry about digging out unloaded apps if you want to use them again later.
The other two sections, Get Watchfaces and Get Apps, are self-explanatory. As of this writing, more than 1,000 apps have been published in the store, a number that will probably grow steadily in the coming weeks and months. (Pebble also informed us that 6,000 developers have registered, so we can expect to see plenty more apps.) As is, we were wholly satisfied with the number and scope of available apps -- even in its beta stage, we don't feel there are any "must-haves" missing.
So what kinds of apps are available? First, let's go over the categories that the apps are assigned to: notifications, daily, tools/utilities, remotes, games and fitness. You'll find apps dedicated to tracking packages, customizable RSS feeds, metro status, your watch's battery life, grocery lists and personal notes. An app lets you simulate a dice roll by shaking your wrist; you could use PebbGPS to load maps and routes onto your watch; you can pay for your drink at Starbucks with PebbBucks; and you can play games like Asteroids, Tetris or Connect Four. Heck, some apps even throw in text input, but it's a slow and frustrating process that we'd only recommend if you're physically stuck in your chair and can't get up to grab your phone.
There are a few big-name apps on there as well. Pebble's made deals with ESPN to update you with real-time scores; using Yelp, a flick of your wrist will pull up a random restaurant suggestion; you'll be able to check in to Foursquare; and finally, you can use the watch as a GoPro remote.
The Pebble appstore will be available on both iOS and Android devices. We've only had the opportunity to play with the iOS version so far, but we're told that the Android build will have a nearly identical interface with only a few minor differences. The vast majority of apps in the store will be cross-platform, but we noticed that there are a handful that work only on one or the other (for instance, some Android apps offer Tasker integration, which isn't available on iOS, while there are a few iOS-only options as well); in cases like this, apps specify on their description page which platform they're compatible with.
Performance and battery life
Since the Steel has the same components under the hood as the original Pebble, we weren't surprised to see it deliver comparable performance. Part of the appeal of the Pebble line is that neither watch pretends that it's a fully featured smartphone. Instead, Pebble always errs on the side of minimalism over complexity. In short, the Steel doesn't try to be anything that it's not -- it's an accessory that accentuates the functionality of your phone, and that's all.
With that in mind, the Steel performs well. We barely observed any lag or stuttering (including when we entered and exited apps), although on rare occasions, we'd notice an animation stop halfway through (such as when we had to back out of a notification), but this was usually only for a second or two before the processor caught up and got us where we needed to go. We've experienced this enough times on the original Pebble that we weren't surprised, but it's something we hope Pebble can iron out in a future firmware update.
The Bluetooth performance here meets our expectations -- the watch and handset communicate instantly. For instance, it takes only a fraction of a second to fast-forward to the next music track when we push its associated button on the Steel; it's fast enough that my brain perceives the transition as instantaneous and seamless, which is exactly as fast as we want it to go. My only beef is that when I'm switching watchfaces, it sometimes takes a couple seconds for real-time information to pull up -- and this is only a minor inconvenience at worst, especially since we experienced the same issues on the first Pebble. The most crucial information, the date and time, always show up without any hesitation.
We're happy to say that battery life is quite promising. Our tests are still ongoing, as it's difficult to test a smartwatch battery that claims five to seven days of regular use, but here's what we've found so far: After three full days of what we consider to be heavy use -- loading, switching and playing with countless apps as part of this review, using it as a remote for music playback and receiving more iOS notifications than we care to admit -- we drained the battery down to 20 percent. This is a strong indicator that battery life will meet that five-to-seven-day goal with normal usage patterns. Company reps tell us that the new firmware comes with heaps of optimizations to increase efficiency, and so far we haven't found any reason not to believe them. That's a large improvement over the original Pebble, which often couldn't get through three days on regular use.
If functionality is the most critical factor for you when buying a smartwatch, the original Pebble is still a better deal at $150. It will do the same things as the Steel, which means there is very little incentive to paying an extra $100 for the nicer watch if that's your motive. Additionally, the first Pebble is also more colorful and customizable, so some might still prefer it over the Steel.
On the other hand, the Steel serves a wide-open market segment: people who want a watch that looks good. Indeed, the Steel blends functionality with an elegant and durable design, and it does a fantastic job at it. You'll get a long-lasting battery (by smartwatch standards, at least), a tough stainless steel body and a solid ecosystem that will continue to grow and get better. It seems like an ideal compromise for those who want a flashy watch that does more than just tell time, and even though it's significantly more expensive than its first-gen counterpart, it's still much cheaper than some of the Rolex-style timepieces you can buy.
Simply put, the Steel isn't going to persuade many people to swap out their perfectly functional Hamilton, Movado or Citizen, but if you're in the market for a replacement and want a smartwatch, this is your best option. What's most important, though, is what the Steel represents: a realization that if smartwatches are going to become mainstream, they'll need to appeal to people who prefer to adorn their wrists with jewelry. At the very least, the Steel is a significant step in the right direction.
Edgar Alvarez contributed to this review.