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First Look: The New Pebble Steel Smartwatch

The successor to the popular Kickstarter-backed Pebble is a smartwatch with a little more style.

300,000. That’s the number Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky proudly told me when I asked him how many E-Ink smartwatches he has sold so far.

“It was a good holiday season for us,” he said.

Now the Silicon Valley startup is on the verge of shipping its next watch, a higher-end, stainless-steel-and-Gorilla-Glass version of the first Pebble.

Called Pebble Steel, the new Bluetooth watch is aimed at consumers who are looking for something a little more refined, a little less sporty than the plastic Pebble watch. There are two versions of the Steel, brushed stainless and matte black, and each comes with swappable metal and leather bands. It will cost $249 — a hundred dollars more than the first Pebble watch — and ship at the end of January.

Looks aside, the Pebble Steel does virtually everything the original Pebble watch does. It pairs with iOS and Android devices (some devs have created hacks for BlackBerry and Windows phones, too), shows the same types of notifications and runs all of the same apps. It’s also waterproof, and claims the same battery life, about five to seven days.

In addition, Pebble is launching its own app store, something the company has been teasing since last year, to feature even more optimized apps, including Yelp, Foursquare and GoPro. A quick flick of the wrist in Yelp will bring up a local “wild card” spot for you to check out, like a bar or restaurant. And now the Pebble watch is a GoPro controller.

It’s no small feat for a product that started out as a Kickstarter-backed prototype just about a year and a half ago, or for a company that faces competition from the likes of Sony, Samsung and Qualcomm, all of which have released new smartwatches in recent months. (Check out my review of the Samsung Galaxy Gear and my colleague Bonnie Cha’s take on the Qualcomm Toq. We didn’t love them.)

Migicovsky and the 50-person Pebble team are using CES as a launchpad for the Steel, but I had the chance to see the watch late last week at the company’s Palo Alto offices.

While I can’t give a full assessment without testing the watch for an extended period of time, my initial thought when I saw the Pebble Steel was that people who have already jumped on the Pebble bandwagon are going to like this watch — a lot. While you’d probably still wear the plastic one for swimming or serious athletic activities, the Steel is more suitable for work, meetings and nights out.

And for those consumers who consider the current crop of smartwatches to be too geeky for mainstream, the Pebble Steel might offer a sleeker, more stylish alternative.

My one gripe about both versions of Pebble Steel is that they’re decidedly masculine-looking. I asked Pebble about this, and Migicovsky said this is partly by design: The current customer base is largely male. But Pebble also consulted with watch designers in building the Steel, and hopes it will have appeal for women, as well.

Here’s a video I taped with Migicovsky, with plenty of beauty shots of the new Pebble, so you can check it out yourself:

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