Pebble Steel Is The First Smartwatch You Want To Wear: Improves Over First Generation Pebble In Design And Features

By Ajit Jha on January 7, 2014 1:48 PM EST

Pebble Steel
The Pebble Steel comes with either a leather or metal band, and has much improved features compared to the first generation pebble watch. (Photo: Pebble)

Close on the heels of the success of Pebble smartwatch at CES 2013, the startup's second device, the Pebble Steel is making waves at CES 2014 in Las Vegas. The pre-launch announcement put its price at $29, $100 more than the original, while the original entry level Pebble will continue to be available at the same price. The Steel is slated for shipping by January 28.   

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Pebble Steel comes in a stainless steel body, and the Gorilla Glass cover used in Apple's products is used in this watch over the face to make it extra durable and scratch resistant. While the first generation Pebble came in the plastic band, the latest avatar of this watch comes with a band made of either metal or leather. The Steel has smaller side and top bezels for a slimmer, lighter profile. The Pebble Steel weighs 45 grams, two grams less than the original Pebble. The Steel version, according to Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky quoted in CNET, is the more formal version of the original Pebble.  

Pebble's new offices in Palo Alto, California give the appearance of a startup with exposed concrete and raw woodwork. However, 300,000 sales across 150 nations is a job that only a technologically proficient company can perform. Barely a few years ago in 2009, the company's inPulse product was a chunky wearable watch with a poor battery life, lacking extensibility and support for major platforms. As a result, it never gained any traction. Within the next three years the company transformed completely on the strength of their technological excellence, innovative features. and successful marketing plan.  

Pebble Steel embodies the fruit of the project code-named Bianca, on which a small team has been slogging secretly for the last six months. Compared to the plastic body of the Pebble, the Steel chassis is far more durable and looks nicer with injection-molded main body and button along with cold-forged backing and bezel.

However, the team inadvertently created what CEO Migicovsky called a "Faraday cage on your wrist." A Faraday cage is a metal box or metal mesh that blocks all incoming and outgoing transmissions. It is usually used when testing a device's wireless performance as you need a clean interference-free area for controlled testing. However, when the device blocks its own transmissions, it is a challenge that must be addressed. Apple encountered similar challenges in the past. For Pebble, this was an engineering challeng - which they ultimately met.

It's pretty tough to design antenna for a watch, according to Andrew Witte, hardware designer on Pebble and Steel because the devise is on your, wrist which absorbs a lot of radio waves. The problem is especially tough to address as they are the same frequencies that Bluetooth uses. Witte did a lot of testing to ensure that you got good performance even when you held it and clicked buttons.

Pebble used the same solution as applied by Apple. They turned to a plastic window in the form of a ring to separate the bezel from the body of the watch. The body acts like the ground while the bezel becomes the antenna. This strategy actually results in better bluetooth performance than the plastic-bodied devices. 

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