Apple Watch Sport
Is it worth the time of day?
From £299 Manufacturer Apple, apple.com
Sizes 38mm or 42mm Weight 35g (38mm), 40g (42mm) Capacity 8GB
Connectivity Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz), Bluetooth 4.0
Tech is more personal than ever, but whereas tablets and smartphones cover this adequately, the final frontier has always been tech we wear. As ever, Apple wasn’t first to market with a smartwatch, but it’s only interested in changing the market in its favour. Like the iPhone and iPad, it’s set to do so just after the beginning of the growth curve. Make no mistake, we ought to be thinking of Apple Watch as the wearable – you’ve already heard enough about consumer demand to understand the Watch’s impact. It’s a new product category, yes, but the Watch isn’t a standalone device, as many wearables are. It’s most definitely an iPhone companion. A beautiful, intelligent and well crafted one, but a companion nonetheless. However, you can take or leave most iPhone add-ons. The difference here is that once you get used to the relationship between Apple Watch and your iPhone you won’t ever want to go back.
The model we’re looking at here is the 38mm Apple Watch Sport, but there’s an important interface difference in the 42mm version that we’ll discuss later. Unless you’ve already decided that you’re in the market for a beautiful new Watch worth serious cash, you’ll be looking at the aluminium Sport over the steel version, so that’s where we’ve focussed this review. First, let’s look at its physical appearance. Apple Watch has that Jony Ive magic at its heart. We find the design attractive and suitably fashionable in both the matt aluminium of the Sport and the classier-looking steel Watch.
The Sport’s fluoroelastomer strap is simple-looking but incredibly comfortable. It really doesn’t feel as plasticky as it looks and the pin-and-tuck clasp mechanism is strong. The rubber can feel uncomfortable after a workout though, and for the white strap at least, we found it dirtied easily. As you’ve probably heard, removing the strap is hassle-free thanks to the tiny push-button release. Because it’s so easy, it really does make you think, “Hey, maybe I will get a different strap”, when with your old watch you’d probably never have considered it. Granted, that’s good marketing from Apple, but it’s also testament to Apple’s simplicity in design. Unfortunately, the simplicity of the exterior is muddled by a few odd choices on the software side.
As with iOS devices, the Watch is nothing without its software and Watch OS is, at first, an excellent distillation of what iOS has to offer. There’s a spark of genius at work, but it’s certainly not as refined as iOS.
Overall navigation is well suited to the form factor, with the Digital Crown at centre stage. You’ll find that you swipe the screen in typical iOS fashion, but your relationship to the Crown (which acts as a ‘Home’ button and scrolling control) is often stronger than the iPhone’s button. It even partially takes over from other, more natural methods of navigation. You can use it to zoom into apps to launch them rather than tapping an app’s icon. For apps like the clock, you can see watch faces build up graphically as you zoom in. It’s stunning, but leaves you feeling slightly bemused about the controls. So, you can zoom in to an app to launch it, but you will have had to have scrolled to it first.
Another thing you’ll notice quickly is that notifications take on a whole new meaning. We bet you hardly considered getting an iPhone out of a pocket, unlocking it, and scrolling to a message to be a chore, but Apple Watch will prove you’ve been wasting time. Notifications are better on the wrist and the quick responses in Messages (which are customisable on the iPhone), for example, mean you never have to miss a thing. And in a good way, because a quick swipe and tap of ‘Dismiss’ is enough to not be bothered again if you don’t want to be. Do Not Disturb is also available, but we found letting through notifications on the Watch and using Dismiss to be a far more satisfying experience. You’re in touch, but don’t worry about not being contactable. It feels like you have control over the alerts you want, when you want it. The Taptic Engine’s little buzz on your wrist feels just right too, accompanied by a brief indication of the type of
Too many times we saw a spinning icon as the Watch tried to get data from the iPhone
notification you’ve received, which then scrolls up out of the way to reveal the notification.
At a glance
Then there’s the curious case of Glances. Swiping up from the clock face provides quick access to up to 20 screens (customisable in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone). The defaults, which include Settings, Battery, Calendar, Heartbeat and Now Playing, are actually the most useful. However, it’s a pain to have to keep swiping to the one you want. It’s often no quicker than going to the main apps screen.
Third-party apps really aren’t making best use of Glances just yet. For example, the BBC News app merely shows a few words from one story, and Twitter shows a top trending hashtag. A deep press (Force Touch) does nothing in Glances either, and you must tap a glance to open the app, so you may as well have opened the app in the first place where you actually have control over something.
While Apple’s own Glances are better, customisation options in the watch faces largely eliminate the need for them. A deep press on the clock screen enables customisation of its face and its ‘complications’ – the areas of a timepiece that show the date, a world clock, and so on. Most watch faces have four or five areas you can customise, making details such as the date, weather, battery levels and your activity always visible, and leaving Glances often unused.
More text fits on the 42mm screen with a discernible difference: text often flows awkwardly on the 38mm screen
On the face of it
Navigation oddities aside, how does Apple Watch perform? To answer that you have to look at navigation once again. You might not use Siri much on your iPhone, but it has found a more natural home here. You’ll use it for both UI (launching apps) and simple tasks (dictating reminders, making calls) that you want actioned hands-free. Siri’s performance is key to the Watch’s overall success, and we’re pleased to say it’s Apple’s best iteration yet.
App performance can be troublesome. Too many times we saw a spinning icon as the Watch tried to get data from the iPhone. Most of the time it’s a small delay, but some apps seemed to get confused and fail to refresh. The proximity to your iPhone is always in the back of your mind and those promised apps that work independently of an iPhone can’t come soon enough.
Battery life was never going to be great, but the all-day life Apple promised is largely achievable. We regularly went from 7am to 11pm with what we considered average use. It’s phone calls and long workouts that will sap the battery. With calls, the impact on your iPhone is equally dramatic, but you are unlikely to make half-hour calls on the Watch. It’s not meant for that.
With textual notifications, there is a downside to the 38mm Watch. More text fits on the 42mm model’s screen with a discernible difference: text often flows awkwardly on the smaller screen, making reading slightly less pleasurable on it.
Watch’s two fitness apps, Activity and Workout, are very well thought out and become addictive. If you’ve never obsessed over calories burnt each day, the at-a-glance nature of it here will soon change that. It’s the same for Workout. Whether you’re taking a gentle country walk or training for a marathon, its data is useful and presented so well that you’ll hate not having those stats if you exercise without it. Apple Watch might be less comprehensive than some trackers, but most people will find it an accomplished fitness companion. We’ll explore the fitness features thoroughly in next issue’s ‘Get Fit’ feature.
Just like you love your iPhone, you’ll learn to love the Watch too, perhaps more in some situations. But there’s not enough here yet to sway the doubters. If you want a cheap fitness tracker then you can get one for a third of the cost. If you want a watch to last a lifetime, you know this is not a prestige handcrafted model. But if you want a brilliant wrist companion to your already indispensable iPhone, then Apple Watch is your new best friend. Christian Hall
The Home screen of Watch OS is Apple’s most beautiful touchscreen interface… ever!
Apple has made it so easy to swap out straps (by pushing a couple of buttons) that you’ll actually consider doing it on a whim.
The ‘Home’ button and Digital Crown are the only physical buttons. The Crown has many functions, whereas the other button is very limited.
The Watch’s Activity app gives you three rings showing movement, exercise and standing. You’ll be ‘pinged’ with updates on your progress too.
Notifications that you’re happy to receive on your iOS devices can come over to the Watch too. Here we’re reminded there’s a new issue out, hurrah!
Notifications are better on the wrist and, for the most part, simple replies are much faster on your Apple Watch, rather than pulling out your iPhone.