The First Smartwatch Worth Wearing (from Wired)



Slick new look says “I’m a technology professional” rather than “I’m an early adopter dork.” More apps means greater utility, which means you might actually consider wearing a smartwatch. Waterproof to 5 ATM, same as the original.


$250 price tag is a bit much for a glorified smartphone remote. We wish it had touchscreen display instead of buttons.

The Pebble was the smartwatch that started it all — and by “all” we mean a general interest in smartphone notifications on the wrist and a handful of “me too” devices from larger tech companies. Fittingly, the second-genPebble Steel comes boasting another distinction: It’s the first smartwatch a normal person might actually want to wear.

From the beginning, Pebble was designed purely as a smartphone aide. An unassuming two-tone, e-ink screen relayed notifications, text messages, and calls from your smartphone to your wrist using Bluetooth. It wasn’t much of a looker — “sporty” might be a charitable way of describing it — but at least the watch face was more reasonably sized than recent competitors like the Qualcomm Toq and Samsung Galaxy Gear.

With the Steel, Pebble aims to echo the looks of a traditional men’s watch, and it does a pretty darn good job. The watch feels like something you could wear to the office or a dinner without drawing too much unwanted attention. Part of that is due to a more compact face — 6 mm shorter in length and 2 mm shorter in width — with a narrower, brushed metal bezel. It wraps around your wrist in either a brushed stainless steel, matte-black metal, or black leather band. With a traditional-looking clock face on its display, it might pass for a “real” watch, although it’s clearly no Rolex or Cartier.

My review unit came with the leather band, which is supple, soft, and fit comfortably on my wrist. Of all the smartwatches and sports bands I’ve tried, for a non-watch wearer, this version of Pebble Steel bothered me the least. I could wear it all day without discomfort or irritation.

The watch face, covered in scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass, features the same interface and button operations as the original. A power button and smaller, redesigned charging port sit on the left side, while up, down, and select navigational buttons adorn the right. All the buttons are the same brushed metal material as the rest of the face.

Operation is basically the same as the first Pebble. You scroll through the simple menu interface by tapping up and down to select your app of choice. The only difference is now there’s way more to choose from, thanks to partnerships with big names like Pandora and Mercedes, not to mention thousands of third-party developer apps.

While I unfortunately lacked a Mercedes to test the watch with, I was able to use apps like Yelp, Foursquare, and ESPN on the Pebble. Each of these is specifically designed to push only the most important and timely information to your wrist, in an interface designed specifically for the Pebble’s limited display.

For example, Foursquare’s new app keeps it super simple. You tap it open, it locates nearby venues, you tap the down button to scroll through the list, then hit the select button to check in. Yelp’s app lets you browse lists of nearby restaurants, nightlife, drugstores, and other destinations, providing you with the rating, location, and phone number, as well as the option to tap and read through a couple top reviews. You can also shake your wrist to serve up a random business nearby (I hope that in the future, Foursquare will update their app to use this motion to serve up a nearby deal). ESPN shows the scores for your favorite teams, and if a game is currently going on, it’ll show the score and minutes left.

Pebble wisely limits you to only eight apps on the Steel at a time. This is, after all, a device that delivers up to the second notifications in an even more obtrusive way than your phone. You don’t want hundreds of them mucking up the experience. Of course you’re free to download more than eight apps. Extras are stored in an “app locker” within the Pebble app. There, you can easily swap your Top 8 (Myspace, anyone?) around depending on your needs for the day or week. It’s an easy-to-manage solution for a device that could easily get out of hand with too many services onboard.

Pebble Steel’s battery normally lasts at least five days, and since it receives data from your phone over Bluetooth LE, that persistent connection only makes a minimal dent on your smartphone’s battery life — perhaps 10-15 percent more drain than without the Pebble.

The smartwatch as a concept is still in its infancy, finding its footing in the burgeoning wearables landscape. Should it replicate the features of your phone or tablet? Or should it merely complement them? Should it do something else entirely? For now, Pebble’s approach is to provide simplified access to what’s most important and most relevant on your smartphone. It’s still not something most of us really need, but now at least the overall package looks good enough to disguise this triviality.


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