More and more tech companies are rolling out smartwatches, the latest in high-tech gear that, in terms of design, only gadget-lovers can appreciate.

But now there is another option for regular consumers looking for both style and function.

Unlike the original Pebble, which looks a bit techie, the Steel comes with a frame that is available in either black matte or brushed stainless steel. Both versions look elegant and each comes with two bands: one made out of leather and the other out of metal chains. The two can easily be swapped.


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Workplace health: In the Feb. 22 Saturday section, an article about exercising during the workday had recommended Fitbit's the Force as a fitness tracker. The company has announced that it is recalling the wristband device after complaints about skin rashes and burns.

I reviewed a stainless steel device and wore it with the leather band. The device weighed about the same as any other wristwatch I’ve worn and it felt comfortable. The only difference between a regular wristwatch and a Pebble Steel is that the smartwatch features a small black-and-white e-paper display that is used to tell the time and also display apps, games and other features.

I wore the watch at restaurants, bars, and around friends and no one ever noticed that it was anything other than a classy wristwatch unless I started to play with it.

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There are four buttons on the sides of the smartwatch used for controlling it. One button is to the left of the watch face and the other three are on the right. The left button is typically used to go back to a previous screen while the middle button on the right is used to make selections and go to new screens. The top and bottom buttons on the right side of the device are used to scroll through options in menu screens.

Before users can take the Pebble Steel out into the world, they first have to set it up, but that only takes a few minutes.

First, users have to download the Pebble app for either their iPhone or Android and then pair the two devices using Bluetooth. The Pebble app on the smartphone is used to manage the apps running on the smartwatch as well as selecting different types of watch faces.

There were a few flaws on the Pebble Steel, but the Pebble app that is used to manage the device was the most frustrating part. The Pebble app is sluggish, especially when users try to look for new apps that they can install on their smartwatch. When compared to other commonly used smartphone apps, the Pebble app often took longer to load new screens.

This isn’t a major issue, but on mobile apps, speed should be a priority. Fortunately, fixing the speed of the Pebble app is something the company could do through a simple software update.

Once users have loaded their device with apps and different kinds of watch faces, they can start using it.

I found myself primarily using the Pebble Steel to check the notifications that I received on my iPhone. Any time somebody sent me a text, liked a photo of mine on Instagram or whenever I received any alert that showed up on my iPhone’s notification center, it would also flash on the Steel’s screen.

The advantage here is that users don’t have to take out their phone every time it buzzes. Users simply glance at their watch to see what’s happening. This helps cuts down on the number of times smartphone alerts interrupt social interactions in the real world. You’ll still want to pull out your phone when you receive an important message that requires a response, but you won’t have to take out your phone for trivial alerts, such as a Facebook “Like” or when someone favorites one of your tweets.

Among the Pebble apps I tested during my trial, there were a few that stood out. One of my favorites was Foursquare.

I use the geo-location social network daily, and the Foursquare app for the Pebble Steel makes it quicker to check in than using a smartphone. When I launched the Pebble version of Foursquare, the app came up with a list of places that I might be at. The app's first recommendation was usually where I was at, so I just pressed the middle right button on the watch and it checked me in. I didn't need to pull out my iPhone at all.

Another useful app was the Pebble Cam. This one required that I also purchase a $2.99 companion app for my iPhone.