Apple Watch: A Hands-On Review
Last September following the first Apple Watch announcement, I was excited enough about the smartwatch's possibilities to put off buying a Fitbit until I learned more about Apple's new wearable. The official announcement and lukewarm early reviews left me feeling ambivalent, however, and while some colleagues were up at midnight on April 10 placing their orders, I was sleeping peacefully. A few days later I finally admitted I was going to need an Apple Watch in order to do my job and reluctantly placed my order for the 38mm Apple Watch Sport.
Smartwatches have a welldeserved reputation for looking like small calculators with wristbands, so I was surprised by how small and unobtrusive the Apple Watch was when strapped to my wrist. Like everything Apple designs, the watch was beautifully simple: the Digital Crown and side button were discreet, and the bands were easy to remove and put back on. It easily stayed connected to my iPhone 6 as long as I was in the same building, and though the 38mm model has a smaller battery than the 42mm, I never ran out of juice even after a full day of use.
Once I had the watch set up, I had no trouble figuring out the basics of navigation: Raising my wrist to activate the watch, swiping and tapping through glances and apps, using Force Touch to access hidden menus, double-pressing the side button to activate Apple Pay, and pressing and holding the crown to activate Siri.
Personalizing Your Wearable
After tailoring the settings and features of the Apple Watch, I saw and heard only what was useful to me. I was able to finetune which notifications were pushed from my iPhone, which contacts were added to the friends wheel, and what appeared in my glances and in what order.
Choosing my watch face was the most basic way I personalized my Apple Watch. Sadly, the choice is basically limited to beautiful watch faces and useful watch faces. Although I enjoyed watching colorful flowers unfurl on my wrist, after a few days I gave in and started using a practical one that featured “complications,” so I could check the temperature, battery levels, and my activity progress at a glance.
Using the Watch
I have been really pleased with the fitness-tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch. The step, calorie, and heart rate monitors are all effective and the Workout app is easy to use. I love getting a weekly summary of my activity as well.
I have never cared to track my sleep, so I don't mind that this capability is lacking, but I know it's important to many people and could be a significant shortcoming. I also find it unnecessarily complicated to track my workouts in one app, my activity in another app, and then to have to go to a third app (the Health app) on my iPhone to see a summary of everything I have been doing. Apple is usually much better at creating a smooth user experience.
You'll have to set up Apple Pay for your watch even if you've already set it up on your iPhone. But once you do, paying for things on the Apple Watch is so easy (just double click the side button and hold the watch face to the NFC terminal until you feel a vibration on your wrist). I predict that as contactless payment becomes more common, people will start complaining when they have to actually get out a credit card.
Opening apps requires good aim and a steady finger. I quickly learned to save myself the frustration of using the app screen and have Siri open apps for me instead. Once you open an app, it becomes clear that Apple has put a lot of thought into making sure apps work on the Apple Watch, although apps like Weather and Maps that require your iPhone to push a lot of data can take a while to load.
Unfortunately, third-party apps still have a long way to go. They're slow to load and some developers appear to have added Apple Watch compatibility to their apps without adding any real watch functionality.
Calling and Messaging
While I wouldn't choose to initiate a call or message from my Apple Watch, I haven't missed a single call or message since they started vibrating on my wrist. And when I took a call on my watch while driving, I was able to hear and be heard by my caller while keeping my hands on the steer- ing wheel. The default text replies seemed a little brusque and even unfriendly, but once I created customized replies with punctuation and emojis to convey context, I found myself using them frequently.
One question everyone's been asking about the Apple Watch is, “Is it necessary?” My conclusion is that it's not. No more than your iPhone is, anyway, and many people have convinced themselves that they can't live without their iPhones. As Apple updates the watch's hardware and operating system and app developers begin to understand and leverage the new platform, I won't be surprised if people begin to feel the same about their Apple Watches as they do their iPhones.
Tim Cook was right when he said the Apple Watch is the most personal device Apple has ever created. Depending on how you choose to customize it, Apple's new wearable can help you stay on top of all your appointments and then help you navigate there. It can make sure you never miss a call or email or message again. You can even use it as a remote control. But ultimately, for most users, I believe the first-edition Apple Watch is going to be a very successful fitness tracker. While most activity monitors end up abandoned in the back of a drawer after a few months, the watch's extra capabilities greatly increase the odds that a user will continue to strap the Apple Watch on her wrist every day.