After years of rumors, Apple has finally entered the wearable market. They really want this to be the Next Big Thing, but is it? That depends on what you expect from it, really. One thing’s for sure, this isn’t a must-have device... yet.
Apple’s strategy for the Watch has been strangely atypical from the start. It was first shown to the public seven months before it was available. The Watch is also the priciest piece of kit Apple’s ever produced, costing anywhere between $349 and a ridiculous $17,000 . But is it worth picking up? That depends on what you want to do with it.
It Just Works
Apple has always prided itself on making technology accessible to the masses, and when it comes to setup, Apple Watch is true to the company’s reputation. To set up your Watch, all you have to do is turn it on, open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and point your camera at the Watch’s screen.
Your Apple Watch will display a pattern that looks like a densely packed group of stars in space. After the two devices pair, it’s a simple matter of waiting for information to transfer. No accounts to sign into, no preferences to set up, your Watch will be ready to go after that. It’s so simple it makes the iPhone’s set up process (which is also reasonable) look archaic. That’s not to say you won’t want to tweak settings, again vis the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, but you don’t have to to get things working, and that’s just great.
There’s no two ways about it—Apple Watch has an absolutely gorgeous screen. Pictures and text are sharp and beautiful. Apple is no stranger to making devices with top-notch displays and their experience shines through on Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch employs a custom-made curved OLED. Blacks are deep and rich, colors are vivid and images pop every bit as well as they do on an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. The Watch’s ambient light sensor also seems to be a bit better than that on the iPhone, in that the screen brightness adjusts more favorably in low light conditions. If I had one complaint, it would be that—like every Apple device before it—the Apple Watch, particularly the stainless steel model, doesn’t perform well in direct sunlight. I hear the Sport model fares better in this respect due to using glass as opposed to the more durable sapphire crystal present on the stainless steel and too-ridiculous-to-even-consider-buying Edition model.
Fit and Finish
You can’t review an Apple product without talking about design. It’s a rule. If I had to liken Apple Watch to another product, it’d be most reminiscent of a first-generation iPhone. It’s rounded, and almost a bit portly. It doesn’t feel uncomfortable or look bad on your wrist, but it looks like a first-gen device. Just like with the first iPad and first iPhone, it’s easy to see the next model will likely be more svelte and a lot lighter. That’s not to say Apple Watch is a poorly designed product, it’s just one with room to improve.
The stainless steel model feels solid and had decent heft to it, but doesn’t cause fatigue. The only band I tried, the stainless steel Milanese loop is well crafted and comfortable. I’ve yet to use any other bands, as they’ve been nearly impossible to get. Apple Stores don’t carry extra bands and online orders for them are moving at a glacial pace.
Apple Pay, Apple’s new NFC-powered mobile payment system, was on of the iPhone 6’s best new features. It’s pretty convenient, and even more so on the Apple Watch. The Watch contains an NFC signal booster, and reacts quicker than the phone it serves as an accessory to.
Apple Pay is probably one of my favorite uses for the Watch so far. A simple double-tap on the side button and you’re ready to pay. It’s quick, convenient, and most of all, unobtrusive. Paying for things with my Watch has been far more convenient than using my phone. For the first time since Apple Pay launch, I’ve been sold on the idea that it could be the future, it was just waiting for the right device.
Of all the things Apple Watch does well, few are as thoughtful as the ease with which one can swap bands. To swap your band, all you need to do is push a little button on the back of the watch and slide it right on out. Swapping in a new band is as easy as just sliding it into place.
Apple made several band choices available, priced anywhere from $50 for one of the candy-colored sport bands all the way up to $449 for a stainless steel link band, which they claim are made by hand and take nine hours to produce.
Some bands are unavailable to purchase. The black link bracelet, which can only be purchased alongside the black stainless steel watch for $1100, or any of the gold-clasped bands which come with Edition watches, though most would be unable to afford those bands, given Apple’s insane pricing come to mind.
It worked for Xbox, and it works for Apple Watch. Achievements—just like their Xbox counterparts—are meaningless digital baubles to show off your progress in getting fit with your shiny new toy. Even knowing they’re meaningless, they’re very motivating.
Apple Watch was designed to work with your iPhone, and it shows. One of the first things I did with the Watch was to set up the music app. I listen to a lot of music when I’m driving (because really, who wants to listen to radio.) Asking Siri to play a playlist that’s only on my phone, then hearing that start playing through my car stereo via bluetooth made me feel like I’m from the future.
It doesn’t just stop there though. Apple Watch’s iPhone integration was very well thought out. If you turn on do not disturb on your phone, your watch will follow suit. If you turn off notifications for an app, you won’t get them on your wrist, either. If you ask Siri for something your watch can’t do, you’ll be asked to grab your phone where it hands off the request to finish up for you. If your watch rings and you want to answer it on your phone, it’ll send the call and put it on hold so you have time to fish the phone out of your pocket and answer properly. It’s little touches like that that make the experience worthwhile.
There’s An App For That
To say Apple Watch benefits from iOS’ massive app store is an understatement. At launch, Apple claimed thousands of apps were Apple Watch ready, and they appear to have been telling the truth. In the weeks and days leading up to and following launch, scads of apps boasted their readiness for the new wearable.
In a cursory check of the apps available for my phone, the vast majority had Apple Watch versions available. Out of the box I was able to do most of the things my phone could do on the Watch, and that’s a great thing. I could control my Hue lights in my home, check for deliveries coming to me, read tweets (but not actually tweet), track my steps in myFitnessPal, check out restaurants on yelp or look at my grocery list via Wunderlist.
No first-generation device has ever launched with this kind of third-party support. Developers will shape the future of Apple’s latest device, and if what we have now is any indication, that future looks bright.
Apple Watch ships with 11 watch faces, each with its own customizable elements to it. Most allow to control the what displays where, like the modular view up above. However, the size and general placement of each element is controlled. You’re generally only allowed one color per watch face, but each of the watch faces make smart use of that color.
The data you can display on your watch face is generally useful. There are some things (looking at you, moon phase) that serve no real useful purpose aside from looking cool on the screen. For those that are into fitness you can add a shortcut to your stopwatch or timer, but beyond that options become fairly limited.
I’d love to have the option to arrange my watch face any way I like it. Maybe have that awesome animated jellyfish background behind the rather spartan face pictured above. Or have my watch face symmetrically arranged on the top and bottom.
The biggest missed opportunity, however, is Apple Watch’s lack of a watch face store. Android Wear has a huge, diverse array of options for users looking to personalize their experience. It’s a great idea that Apple should copy, and if history is any indicator we’ll likely see it next year.
One of Apple Watch’s key features is its ability to track your steps, workouts, heart rate and a bunch of other stuff for the fitness crowd. For the most part, Apple Watch does this well. However, the software is where thing start to come apart. You can’t set a step goal. If you want to track steps versus calories, your only recourse is to download a third-party app like MyFitnessPal.
It’s not just that though, information feels scattered. Calories, steps and that data is tracked in the activity app, but if you want to work out, there’s a separate dedicated app for that. The workout options are fairly limited too—there are only cardio options, with no strength exercises represented.
Apple’s system is good, but not great. For being such a major focus of the Apple Watch, I would have loved more options to customize my goal and change what metrics I track. Every week Apple Watch suggests a new goal based on the previous week’s activity. It’s a cool feature, and one that helped me continue to improve.
Right now, Apple Watch users are in for a lot of waiting. Watch apps don’t live on the Watch, they’re actually stored on your paired iPhone and are loaded up on demand, every time. This means every third-party app has a lengthy loading screen.
This problem becomes exacerbated when you realize that, like the iPhone, Apple Watch needs third-party apps to realize its full potential. Texting and calling from your wrist is great, but if you want to browse your Twitter feed, or do anything outside of iOS’ base functions, you’ll be seeing Apple Watch’s loading screen. A lot.
It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s strange. Apple should have waited for native apps to be available from third parties. They’ve assured an update will arrive sometime in the future that will allow developers to write their own native watch apps, but much like the first generation iPhone, that update may be a long time coming.
Apple Watch is, without a doubt, the best smart watch money can buy. But do you really need a smart watch? For all but the most hardcore technophiles, the answer is no. Apple Watch—any smart watch—doesn’t do anything the phone in your pocket can’t do. Apple markets their wearable as a device that helps you disconnect from your phone more, but in reality it does just the opposite. At its default settings, Apple Watch connects you to your phone in a more intimate way than ever before. Notifications are no longer easily ignored, and the signal to noise ratio is way off as a result.
If one thing Apple touted about the Watch is true, it’s that it is indeed their most personal device ever. Nobody can really tell you if Apple Watch is right for you, there are just too many factors for this review (or any other for that matter) to be able to definitively tell you whether or not you should buy this. That’s up to your sense of style, your budget and just how connected you’re comfortable being.
Apple Watch is a sneak peek into the future. It’s a sign of what’s to come—a must-have device the likes of the iPhone or iPod. That future just isn’t here yet.
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