The Apple Watch is Apple’s latest foray into creating a new product in a market that already has competitors. There was the MP3 player, smartphone, and tablet, and now it’s the smartwatch, and Apple is once again trying to do it better than anyone else out there. The question is whether or not they succeeded, and if so is it worth the price tag that ranges from $349 – $17,000. This review covers the $350 Apple Watch Sport 38mm from the perspective of someone who spent their own money on the device, and didn’t get a review unit from Apple. There’s no one singular focus of the Apple Watch, and instead offers multiple functions that will be covered separately.
The first thing you notice with the Apple Watch is the actual form that you will strap on to your wrist. The Apple Watch is Apple’s most well made device to date with a fit and finish that easily surpasses the great looks of the iPhone, iPad, and Macs. The Apple Watch Sport features Ion-X glass, and aluminum structure that delivers a matte finish. The Sport can be seen in direct sunlight during the day with little problem, and the Matte finish has stood up well to any little brushes with other objects. The wristband may be the most important part, and while Apple gives a fancy name for rubber in the form of fluoroelastomer, that may be because it doesn’t feel anything like rubber. There’s a great feel to the wristband with a smooth texture to your skin that easily slides around with no rubbery stickiness.
The size of the Apple watch comes down to wrist size, but for my 160mm wrist, the 38mm is perfect. The wrist band fits snuggly, and more importantly the actual watch piece doesn’t full bulky or heavy. It’s surprisingly light, and not nearly as noticeable on the wrist, and that’s coming from someone who hasn’t worn a watch in years. The Apple Watch features two hardware buttons, highlighted by the digital crown to let you scroll information without your fingers blocking valuable small screen real estate. The crown scrolls extremely smoothly, and you can also press it to access the home screen of apps, or hold it to activate Siri. It’s a well integrated piece of hardware that fits into the overall fit and finish of a finely crafted piece of wrist worn technology.
The Apple Watch begins with the clock face, as you would expect. Apple claims to have this “magical” technology that identifies when you’re lifting your wrist to look at the watch, and show the screen. Most of the time, your watch is just an empty black screen, but it does a surprisingly good job at distinguishing between when you’re raising your wrist to look at your watch, and just moving your wrist throughout the day. You can never just glance at your wrist out of the corner of your eye to see the time like a normal watch, but it seems you’re always looking for more than time with the Apple Watch. You can press down firmly to bring up different watch faces, and then customize them to also show the date, temperature, your activity progress, moon phases, stopwatch, alarms, and more. One of the neatest things is the ability to change your watch face at will to go with a different watch face every day, or even change throughout the day.
After the watch face, the UI revolves around taps, and swipes that are quite familiar if you have used an iOS device. You swipe down on the screen to bring up notifications, and swipe up to show glances (like control center). You can swipe left and right to move between glances, and you’re always one up or down swipe away from going back to the clock face. You can go into the Apple Watch app on your iPhone to customize whether the watch launches to the clock face, or your last used app, and it really depends what you’re doing at that given moment. The Watch face is really the spring pad of the Apple Watch, but you can always tap the digital crown to bring up the grid of apps.
Launching apps on the Apple watch is pretty easy, though there are times when you feel the need to tap precisely on the relatively small app icon dots. The Apple Stock apps are made with the Apple Watch in mind with a lot of functionalities offloaded to the digital crown or made with simple buttons presses. A lot of third party apps have taken the same cues, and it’s easy to move through sports scores, messages, news headlines, tweets, Instagram photos, and more. There’s a consistency across apps, so that the same interactions provide similar results. The only real oddity is raising your watch, and then having to use your other hand to do anything. You will need to swipe to access info, press the crown to get to apps, or hold the crown to use Siri just to activate hands free.
Activity and Communication:
Apple has focused on three main functions of Apple Watch with Time, Activity, and Communication. I talked about time above, and now it’s time for the latter two. Activity tracking is great on the Apple Watch since you constantly get to see your progress on calories burned, exercise minutes, and standing hours. The watch is always on you, and it offers highly accurate tracking for when you’re moving, standing, and simply not sitting like a bump on a log. The Watch also sends you reminders to stand that you can customize, but it really helps to let you know when you have been sitting at a desk for too long. The one problem with activity tracking I found it that the watch doesn’t always recognize when you’re standing if you’re standing at a standing desk with your wrist resting on the desk when typing.
Communication on the Apple Watch is definitely convenient. There’s the novelty of making a call on your wrist, but it really only works in a quiet room, and definitely not a public place since the microphone isn’t loud enough. Messaging is great though with dictation right on your wrist that is highly accurate. You can also customize quick responses that are then a tap away on your wrist for incoming messages. The special functions of animations emojis, hand drawn images, and sending your heartbeat are made to be shared between Apple Watches. No one I know has an Apple Watch so all of those special communications are lost on me.
The Apple Watch has something known as taptic feedback, which is essentially a subtle vibration for your wrist. Apple claims that it’s like someone tapping you on the wrist, and in my use case that’s a very apt description. When your iPhone vibrates, it’s a very obvious and attention grabbing action. When your watch vibrates, it’s a subtle sensation that is a much more passive function. A good example is that when your phone has a notification, it wants your attention now, while when your watch notifies you, it’s more about telling you it has something for you when you get a chance. The subtle notification really fits in with the essence of the watch, which is to make all of the attention grabbing functions of your iPhone made to be handled in your time, rather than being a distraction.
Like the iPhone, the Apple Watch excels when using apps. The glances can get you to quite a bit of info and functionality, but opening full fledged Apple Watch apps make the device shine. There are a number of use cases that lets the Apple Watch fit into your daily routine to provide function that isn’t a necessity, but a whole lot easier. For example, accessing MLB At Bat or NBA GameTime to check the current scores is just easy on the Watch, and you don’t have to get caught up in menus or in a whole bunch of other apps like when launching the respective apps on iPhone. Also, it’s great to tap on notifications and go right to the given apps, like launching into Messages, or opening up a game like Lifeline… Another good use case is swiping up to control your music playback right on your watch, and then swiping over to see your current activity status for the day. The Remote app is another good example, as it’s just convenient to look at your wrist and tap the screen to play and pause, or swipe to scroll through the current video. One app problem is that there’s a bit of delay in loading some information, and when you’re looking at your wrist you want the information immediately.
Apple claims all day battery life with the Apple Watch, and in my testing I’ve never once had a problem with the battery. In fact, it’s usually about half full at the end of each day, and that’s with using numerous apps for testing. You do need to charge the Apple Watch at the end of every day, but I’m already charging my iPhone at the end of every day. Both plugs are next to each other, and the Apple Watch is effortless to charge as you simply place it on the magnetic charger with no fuss. As far as iPhone battery life, I haven’t seen any significant drop with using Bluetooth all day. In fact, my iPhone may be lasting longer as I find myself pulling it out of my pocket less since there’s a lot of information that is easier to digest on the watch with less chance to be distracted by other iPhone apps.
The Apple Watch is an extremely well made device that is very well thought out also. Every new app and version of iOS has made our iPhones more powerful, but also more attention grabbing. The Apple Watch is made to deliver similar information and functionality, but not so engrossing. There’s a lot you can now do from your wrist, and there are numerous use cases in which your iPhone can stay in your pocket. With that said, the Apple Watch is still an iPhone accessory, and you always need to have your iPhone with you to gain the full functionality of the Apple Watch. Anything you can do with the Apple Watch can be done on the iPhone, but the Apple Watch makes a lot of functions a lot more convenient.
The $350 price tag isn’t the most extreme considering how well made the watch is just as a timepiece. All that it can do beyond that more than makes it worth the price of admission, and this review only covers the entry level and doesn’t speak for value once you get into doubling the cost of the entry level. The Apple Watch makes your iOS life easier and more convenient in a package that feels great on the wrist that is well worth picking up if you ever find yourself too distracted by your iPhone.