In just a few hours of being made available on Kickstarter, Pebble's new smartwatch, Time, became the most successful crowd-funded campaign of all time. But surprisingly the company wasn't done with new product announcements.
At Mobile World Congress, Pebble announced the Pebble Time Steel as well. It's a fancier version of Pebble Time, with a stainless steel build, and is a bit thicker and heavier than the mostly-plastic Time. And it too was offered on Kickstarter ahead of wider availability later this year.
But there was always one niggling thing at the back of our minds; Time Steel looks just like Apple Watch. Simply compare the gold-coloured version with a leather band to the actual-gold Apple Watch. It's like a blatant copy-cat. Or is it?
Time Steel can be pre-ordered right now for $250 (the retail price will be $299), which is around £170 after conversion. That's an affordable price that will undoubtedly pique the interests of anyone unable to afford Apple Watch, which will be available from 24 April with the price tag from £299 ($349) for the Watch Sport, ranging into the thousands for the Watch Edition, depending on materials selected.
We've therefore combed through all the specs and features (or at least the ones made available at this time) for both smartwatches to determine if the Pebble Time Steel is indeed a decent alternative to Apple Watch.
Design and options
Apple Watch comes in many different models, sizes, and materials. You must first decide which model you want, then you choose your case size, setup, and material, and once all that's done, you can select the band material you prefer.
The models are called Watch, Watch Sport, and Watch Edition, and each model offers Apple Watch in two different case sizes: 38mm and 42mm in height, both of which can be set up to work on either your left or your right wrist.
The Watch model only features stainless steel or space black stainless steel cases (with Sapphire crystal). It also features a range of watch bands, such as Milanese loop, Brown Modern Buckle, Stone Leather Loop, Link Bracelet, and more.
The Watch Sport model only features anodized aluminium cases in silver or space gray (with Ion-X glass). It also features a range of watch bands, such as White Sport Band, Blue Sport Band, Green Sport Band, and Black Sport Band.
The Watch Edition model only features 18-karat gold cases in yellow or rose (with Sapphire crystal). It also features a range of watch bands, such as Blue Classic Buckle, Rose Gray Modern Buckle, Red Modern Buckle, and more... but costs between £8,000 to £13,500 ($10,000 to $17,000). Yikes.
Pebble Time Steel
Time Steel is available in different materials and with different bands. Starting off with size, Pebble said the Time Steel is 1mm thicker than the 9.5mm-thick Time and similarly features a lens crafted from scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.
Although Time Steel can be used with any standard 22mm band, Pebble said it is making Time Steel available to purchase with the following stainless-steel finishes and bands: silver with a stone leather band, gunmetal black with a black leather band, and gold with red leather band. All Time Steels come with both a leather and matching metal band.
Display and navigation
Apple Watch features a Retina display with a high-pixel density. It's a flexible AMOLED touchscreen that can distinguish between taps and deep presses, meaning it is sensitive enough to allow for more interactions beyond a simple touch. The actual glass will be composed of either a sapphire crystal (Watch and Watch Edition) or Ion-X glass (Watch Sport).
The standout feature on the Apple Watch is its Digital Crown - the dial on the side. It looks like any dial on a classic watch, but it has been added to enhance functionality rather than just to maintain classic timepiece aesthetics. The crown can be twisted to zoom in and out of images, for instance, or to scroll through web pages and text.
The crown should make navigation easier, because it replaced the need to keep touching the screen. It also acts as a home button when pressed in. There is also a side button on the Apple Watch, which can be pressed to quickly access contacts or the watch's communications hub, as well as a small microphone and speaker for voice commands.
Pebble Time Steel
Time Steel has a colour e-paper display - unlike past Pebbles, which only sported basic e-ink screens. The new display supports 64 different colours and 30 frames per second and features Gorilla Glass 3 protection. Not only does the new display offer colour, but also a slightly wider screen that's still readable in sunshine and easy on battery life.
Unlike other recently-announced smartwatches, including the Apple Watch, the Time Steel doesn't feature a touchscreen but rather the colour e-paper display with three minimal buttons next to the watch' face. It also includes a microphone for dictation. You can use either the buttons or the microphone to get things done with Time Steel.
Software and features
Apple has released WatchKit for developers, and with that has come plenty of information on how apps will work. Developers won't initially be able to make native apps that run on the watch alone. Apps will just automatically forward notifications to the watch and will have varying levels of interaction.
One type of interaction is called Glance. It will display a snippet of information by swiping up, but to see more, you'll need to swipe left and right. Everything goes deeper with Short Look and Long Look: a notification will display, but if you keep your wrist up, that will change to include more details like an imminent flight time and data about that flight.
Another type of interaction is called Smart Replies. It's a potentially helpful offering that reads your messages and offers intelligent reply options based on content. You can dictate a response, too. Handoff is another feature the Watch will utilise, and it will allow users to begin reading a message on one device and continue on another.
Watch will even work with HomeKit and HealthKit, meaning it can be used to control your smarthome and monitor your health and fitness. Apple has designed two modes for the Watch, enabling it to be used both for sports and fitness tracking. Activity is the always-on tracker, while Fitness can track a run, cycle, or workout.
Apple Watch also supports the Apple Pay contact payment technology. To pay at checkout, double-click the button below the Digital Crown on Watch, while also holding the face of Watch near a contactless reader. Similar to Apple Pay for iPhone, a pulse and beep will confirm that your payment information sent correctly.
And finally, the face of Apple Watch is customisable with 11 options, though we expect plenty more to arrive in due course. Most of the faces offers some at-a-glance information, such as Timelapse, Astronomy, and Activity level.
Pebble Time Steel
Pebble teased earlier this year that it developed a new smartwatch software, and now we know that the software's interface is called Timeline. It's based on your past, present, and future activity. Timeline connects to calendars, alarms, and apps - and then it organises relevant information from those apps into a scrollable timeline with quick actions.
Scroll back in time, for instance, to see missed emails, or you can scroll forward in time to see if you have any meetings scheduled for later in the day. Alongside Timeline, Pebble has introduced a new app menu and system. The app menu features new app faces and glanceable content, while the new system dynamically loads and caches apps as needed.
Timeline will work with all 6,500+ apps and watchfaces, but Pebble is asking developers to update their apps for the colour screen. Timeline will also work on Time, Pebble, and Pebble Steel, though a rollout date hasn't been set yet.
Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, mentioned during an interview recently that Apple Watch will need to be charged daily, with the official launch event announcement claiming 18-hours of "normal" use. To recharge the Apple Watch doesn't need any cables plugged directly into the device, thanks to a magnetic inductive charger that attaches to the rear. The charger, which uses MagSafe technology similar to that used on Apple's Macbook laptops, delivers power over the cable from the wall socket.
UPDATE: The New York Times, which cited unnamed Apple employees, just revealed that Apple Watch should include a special battery-stretch feature called "Power Reserve". It's like a low-energy mode that will allow the Apple Watch to continue displaying the time, even if there is little battery life left, but it won't display much else.
Pebble Time Steel
Pebble has claimed that the Time Steel features a 10-day battery, making it the longest-lasting smartwatch available, but that has not been tested. The original Pebble lasted seven days on a single charge. Pebble's energy efficient e-paper display is likely the sole reason why Time Steel is able to last so long.
Apple wants its Watch to become the centre of its users' lives, controlling the smart home as well as tracking their health. So it needs to have plenty of sensors and communication capabilities. For the first time, for instance, Apple has begun to introduce NFC in its devices.
Heart rate sensors are also built into the Watch, with four optical sensors encased in scratch resistant sapphire glass. There's no built-in GPS, but Apple Watch uses the GPS and Wi‑Fi in your iPhone to measure the distance you travel during the day or during certain workouts.
Apple has also highlighted the following other features:
- Taptic Engine and built-in speaker combo for instant tactile feedback
- Apple's custom S1 system-in-a-package chip
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Siri support
Pebble Time Steel
Time Steel eschewed heart-rate monitoring and other health-tracking features found in Android Wear and the Apple Watch and instead included a motion detector for counting steps. Pebble said it plans to add more hardware integration in the near future, such as straps that'll plug into a special port and add functionality like heart-rate monitoring.
Although Time Steel doesn't have heart-rate monitoring, Pebble has highlighted the following other features:
- An improved backlight
- New Cortex M4 processor
- 6-axis gyroscope
- Smart accessory port (for plugging in third-party sensors and smart straps)
- Water resistant and durable
- Tactile buttons for easy "eyes-free" clicking
- Silent vibrating alarms and discreet notifications
- Language and international character support (with Chinese coming soon)
- Fitness tracking (via third-party apps) such as step tracking with Misfit and Jawbone
Apple Watch only works with iPhone 5 or later. The latest iOS 8.0.2 software is also required, as announced 9 March at Apple's Watch conference.
Pebble Time Steel
Time Steel works with iOS 8 on iPhone 4S and above and all Android 4.0+ phones.
Price and availability
Apple Watch will start at £299 ($350), launching 24 April, with pre-orders opening from 10 April.
However, pricing will vary wildly depending on your choices. There are 20 Watch options (starting from £449 / $550), 10 Watch Sport options (from £299 / $350), and eight Watch Edition models (ranging from £8,000 / $10,000 to a whopping £13,500 / $17,000). The Edition models will be available in limited numbers - but how many hasn't yet been made clear.
Pebble Time Steel
Time Steel can be pre-ordered for $250 (the retail price will be $299). It is expected to start shipping in July.
Which one is for you?
If price is an issue, or if you're an Android user, then choose Pebble Time Steel. It'll be the cheaper smartwatch all around. But if you're more concerned about features and are an iPhone user then consider the Apple Watch.
Apple Watch has the better display of the two, as well as hear-rate monitoring, which is a hugely popular feature at the moment. It won't have a better battery life over Time Steel though, and it's limited to just the iPhone. Time Steel works with both Android and iPhone, and it'll last you up to 10 days on a single charge.
In other words: you should decide if you care about price, what type of features you prefer, whether you'd like to be locked into Apple's ecosystem, and how much battery life you need. Once you go down that list, you'll know exactly which smartwatch to buy.