2015-08-30

The new Pebble Time Steel - early impressions

Having missed the Kickstarter for the original Pebble (and subsequently kicking myself over it) I decided to embark when the pledge for the successor, the Pebble  Time was announced.

Now, by this time I had owned not only the original black Pebble, but subsequently upgraded to the Pebble Steel. To me, the original Pebble was a cost-effective way to try out the entire smartwatch thing, and once I found that I really enjoyed not only the concept, but also the way it was implemented by Pebble, I decided to take the plunge to the Steel. These are my first impressions.


WHY A SMARTWATCH?

There's been a lot of articles and confessions written about what a smartwatch brings to the table, and why many of us enjoy wearing them, so I'll refrain from it. Let's just say that I was a bit biased to start with, as I actually enjoy wearing timepieces from several decades, propelled by both mechanical and quartz movement. I know some people who gave up wearing a watch years ago, instead referring to their mobile phone for timekeeping, who started wearing a watch again when the Pebble and Apple Watch appeared. For me, it meant going from wearing a watch during the day to never taking it off. (Well almost never. I don’t shower with it) 

TIME OR TIME STEEL?

Of course, after a while, the opportunity to upgrade my original pledge for the Pebble Time to a Pebble Time Steel came about. This is of course a really clever marketing ploy from Pebble, well aware of the seemingly basic fundament of human logic making the mental step of adding an amount to your pledge to upgrade it much smaller than pledging a larger amount to start with (to get the Steel instead). But for me who really wanted the Steel to start with, it was a no-brainer.
The downside was of course having to wait a fair bit longer, and I was rather envious of the backers that stood by the original Pebble Time, when they were being distributed.

Fast-forward a few months, and to my joy, the dark version of the watch were allegedly being shipped first. I originally chose the dark version, not because of my psychic future-seeing powers, but because my Pebble Steel is the chrome version and I fully intend to keep it, so it made more sense having the new watch in a different style. And suddenly, one slow afternoon, I was surprised by a message from DHL stating that a package would appear the next day!
The joy of being a Kickstarter backer!

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

I have barely had my Pebble Time Steel for a week, so this article will only describe my initial findings, and will have to be followed by a more in-depth review later. But, here goes.

First impression was actually that of a slight disappointment. The dark metal is very discreet and the design of the watch is actually much more subtle than the original Steel, which felt bold in comparison. I also did not enjoy the tactile feel of the buttons as much, something that after a while proved to be more down to what I was used to than the design itself. 

The PTS was delivered with the leather band to start with (the metal band will be shipped later, due to quality issues with early production). I find that the PTS will probably benefit more from being worn with a metal link, compared to the original Steel that I wear with the black leather band for contrast. I do not like the color of the band for the dark PTS and I think it just makes the watch appear even more bland, so it will be replaced once the metal band arrives.

Which brings us to .. 

THE DISPLAY

New and old Steel model, with the excellent DIN watchface,
Here's the color code for my customized version left:
DIN_Time_2fff00000000000ffff000fff00ff00f00f00#
As expected, the display is less contrasty than the original Steel. I anticipated this, as adding color to screens of this type typically means less light can pass through the display. Still, it felt dull when viewed next to the original Steel, and at this point I actually started to have a little bit of buyer's remorse.

That feeling would change pretty soon, though.

THE GOOD THING ABOUT THE DISPLAY

...it's gorgeous! Of course, it can't be compared to the vibrant display of the Apple Watch, but one of the important design decisions Pebble made was to use a passive display, which is one of the reasons it has such a long battery life. (And yes, not having to charge your watch, among with all the other rechargeable things - soon even including your car - every day .. is huge!
But once I started loading up watchfaces that utilize color, I was sold. And yes, as with most things color-enabled, you start your journey in the most garish way, finally ending up with subtle, classy watchfaces that use just the right amount of coloring highlight. The red second hand of the Mondaine face, the superb use of color in the Squared face - I think the point is really well illustrated by the side-by-side image of the excellent DIN face on the PTS and the original Steel above.

Also, and this is not to be taken light-ly, the backlight of the PTS is an improvement over the original, which adds to the usefulness of the display. 

It looks great, and if you want people giving your watch, and you, a funny look, load up the Invader face...

OTHER GOOD STUFF

Much has been written about the Timeline. Myself, I'm getting used to it, so I won't comment on it just yet, but I do like the concept. It's also brilliantly fast and easy to access, and information is presented in a clear manner. OK, that's actually a lot of comment, but I have to revisit it at a later stage when I have incorporated it into my Pebble routine. 

The watch feels snappy and responsive. At first, I was a bit skeptical to the abundance of animations and menus, but again this is something I got used to almost immediately and it doesn't distract from the experience one bit, rather giving it a bit more of a personality. If anything, I would love for the watch to remember the last menu I accessed when hitting the middle button- as it turns out, the default starting point is actually the choice I rarely use ("Music"). Perhaps this is a setting hidden somewhere? My Nikon V1 camera remembers my last menu, and always starts there when I hit the menu button, which makes it immensely fast when adjusting things- I tend to most often adjust the same thing, or access the same setting, as previously, and I suspect this goes for watch owners as well.

NOTIFY ME

Being able to adjust the physical notification was a big plus for me. The original Steel could sometimes be so loud on "silent" notification that people would check if their phone was vibrating. I immediately set the PTS to "Low" and I love the subtle, well-engineered notification, that proved adequate even for waking me up at 0540 in the morning. Big thumbs up. 

APPS AND FACES

The way apps and watchfaces are integrated into the menu flow makes more sense to me than the original Pebble, and I will not miss the agony over having just eight slots for watchfaces. Yes I know, limitations make for creativity. But I don’t want to waste time being creative about which watchface to throw out when I really want all fourteen of them to choose from! (Or thirty. Or whatever.)

FINAL THOUGHTS - FOR NOW

New and old Steel spooning.
There are still aspects of the PTS that I have not yet explored, not least the voice commands, which lies in the future. That will have to come- but I feel already confident enough to make a statement regarding the new Steel.


To, me it's not an upgrade, it's a different watch. And as my wardrobe contains a few old "dumbwatches" - that I still wear now and then - the original Steel will not be relegated to junk. It is a watch in its own capacity, with a bolder design and an extremely sharp monochrome display. As there are already great watchfaces utilizing the color of the PTS, some look better on the original Steel. So for me, I enjoy having an additional watch. And if you, like me, are sold on the original Pebble, or smartwatches as a concept, I can wholeheartedly recommend this one. 

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