I have never been one for watches. Well, let me rephrase. I love the concept of watches, as well as the styling and the extraordinary detail that goes into creating the world’s greatest timepieces, and I appreciate watches as a useful piece of art. I admire them, and I’ve invested in my own timekeeping heirloom — a Rolex Sea-Dweller, a splurge I allowed myself in celebrating the marriage of my soulmate (given her ring, the watch was justified). But I’m not a watch wearer, and I’m no horological aficionado.
I am, however, someone that won’t go anywhere without his trusty iPhone 6 Plus. And so, the Apple Watch was a timepiece I could see myself getting behind, and I was curious to see how it would fit into my life. I preordered one as early as humanly possible, managed to select a color and style combination that wasn’t backordered for months, and, after delivery last Friday, I gave it a week to see how it fit into my life.
As Apple did with the iPad, Apple is actually the follower — not the leader — in the smartwatch arena. The likes of LG, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony have all shipped formidable watches in the past year, but none have caught fire. Many would (reasonably) argue that the smartphone itself largely replaced the need for a watch, and if you consider how frequently you check your handset’s screen for a glimpse at the time (1,500 or so times per week), you’d understand the logic. Or, perhaps, none of the watches shipped to date have provided a legitimate value proposition. Smartphones, you see, aren’t just luxury items in a place like the United States; they’re inching dangerously close to being labeled “necessities” or “commodities.”
Miniaturized computers for your wrist are not yet viewed as must-have items, though Apple seems to be doing all it can to convince the public otherwise. The company’s first wearable is important on a number of levels. For starters, it’s the first product developed entirely in the Tim Cook era. If you’re looking for signs on what the post-Jobs Apple looks like, this is it. Moreover, it’s the first Apple product in an entirely new category since the company broke into tablets with the iPad. And, interestingly enough, it’s a bold attempt to slide into a precious space that already has a claimant (as in, your existing wristwatch). So, how does it contend?
Answers to the Questions
A watch is only worth having if it’s comfortable, looks good and keeps time. My Watch Sport was equipped with a white fluoroelastomer band, which is a fancy silicon-like material that doesn’t retain odors, doesn’t grip wrist hairs, and provides flexibility that metal simply doesn’t. While some of the other bands are probably more suited for a night out, I’ve no intention of ever using anything other than the stretchy, rubbery strap that came from the factory. It’s stylish enough in its own right, and those who want to strike the ideal balance of pizzaz and utility can opt for a black one.
To answer the battery question: It’s enough. I used my Watch heavily throughout its first week, including at least 60 minutes of workout tracking per day, 24 apps with the ability to send notifications through, and a whole lot of flicking through glances panes out of sheer infatuation with the novelty of it, and I never dipped beneath 27 percent. That’s with wearing it from 8:00AM to 11:00PM daily, with a 15-minute battery top-up while I showered. Outside of that quick 15-minute squat on the charger, I never had to recharge. So, I feel comfortable in saying that Apple Watch will last a full day for the vast majority of users, but it’ll never last through two.
To answer the speed question: You’ll only notice lag occasionally. It’s fair to say that the Apple Watch is a bit underpowered, likely a compromise to enable it to last a full day with one charge. But even in my heavy testing, I only saw noticeable stuttering when hopping in and out of 10+ apps in a row, which most people won’t do. The Glances pane, which is found by pulling up from the screen’s bottom, hosts an assortment of glance-able (shocker!) panes of information that tie back to accompanying apps.
It’s fair to say that the Apple Watch is a bit underpowered, likely a compromise to enable it to last a full day with one charge.
The tragic bit is that none of these cards will refresh in the background, so the information is never current when you’re ready to glance at it. Instead, flipping over to a glance will remind the Watch to ping your iPhone, which in turn leans on its data connection to find the information and send it back over to the Watch. That delay (typically between 2 and 5 seconds) is annoying, but it’s a common trait found on all smartwatches today. When we get batteries strong enough to support background refreshing, this problem will solve itself.
To answer the fitness question: I purchased the Apple Watch with intentions of using it as a fitness tracker. I’ve actively avoided buying one sooner because my exercise habits involve high intensity-interval training, which conventional trackers have a tough time calculating. Basically, trackers are great at capturing runs and bike rides. Anything more complex (involving push-ups, squats, stretching, and non-cardio routines) throws ’em for a loop. Unfortunately, the Apple Watch fails in the same ways, mostly because the sensor arrangement isn’t much more sophisticated than what’s already on the market. That said, health is too big a topic to shoehorn into this review, so you can expect a full article dedicated to using Apple Watch as a fitness tracker soon.
To answer the phone-less question: Technically, an Apple Watch previously setup with an iPhone in range will function by its lonesome. So, if you bolt out of the house for a jog and only have your Watch, it’ll still tell time, it’ll still remind you of upcoming calendar events that were synced before you left, and it’ll still use its internal sensors to estimate distance. For anything beyond that, however, you’ll need an iPhone within Bluetooth range (around 30 feet or so) with an active data connection. Glances, Siri, apps and notifications are all duds if your iPhone isn’t around.
To answer every writer’s question: No, the Apple Watch (at least ones equipped with the Sport band) doesn’t grind into your wrist while typing. It’s thin and flexible, which makes it comfortable, even if you’re the type that pecks away at a keyboard for hours on end.
How Would You Like Your Watch, Sir?
Apple Watch is available in a dizzying array of combinations. It starts at $349 with the Sport, moves to $549 with the stainless steel Watch, and then jumps to $10,000 and up with the Edition. From there, a few dozen band options are available to further differentiate things. Interestingly enough, all three models have the same innards: a custom-baked S1 SiP (System in Package), a vibration mechanism cleverly dubbed the Taptic Engine, 512MB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage, a rotating dial (Digital Crown) on the edge, along with a single physical button beneath for quickly accessing contacts or activating Apple Pay. The only slight difference you’ll find is when looking at the battery. The 38mm Watch models have a 205mAh cell, while the 42mm model has a bit more (we’re still waiting on a teardown to reveal the exact specification).
When I purchased an iPhone 5S for my mother some months ago, she was both thankful and stricken with fear. She’d relied on a RAZR (as in, the original) for more years than either of us could count, which meant that she was effectively transitioning from a telephone to a bantam supercomputer. For the first few weeks, she used the iPhone for one thing: calling people. It wasn’t that she slept through my four-hour tutorial of its features; she was simply having a tough time adjusting her habits to consider the power at her disposal.
The Apple Watch is going to be like that for a lot of people, particularly those who have never worn a watch with regularity. As a society, we’ve grown used to checking our phones for vital information: the time, nuggets of intel and so on. Now, suddenly, all of that is available right on your wrist, but only if you remember to use it.
Seemingly in anticipation, Apple engineered its notification system so that one’s Apple Watch will do the lighting up and dinging (if you enable sounds) instead of your iPhone if the iPhone’s screen is off. This acts as a teaching tool, coaxing you into looking toward your wrist for the next dopamine hit rather than your iPhone’s display. By default, your iPhone’s notification settings will be ported to your Watch. If you get a notification and an audio cue on your iPhone each time someone likes a photo of yours on Instagram, that will continue on your Watch. As it turns out, maintaining that is a great way to drive yourself insane.
I actually used my iPhone less by having Watch on my wrist, and it was exactly as liberating as you’d expect.
Indeed, part of me was worried that the Watch would pull me farther from reality — farther from being “in the moment.” And, if you allow notifications to run rampant on your Watch, it probably will. But I toned things down considerably. The only notifications that are allowed to make any noise whatsoever on my wrist are an incoming phone call, an iMessage or an upcoming appointment. Everything else pops up silently. For those notifications, I’m alerted by a simple red dot at the top of the Watch that I can pull down at my own convenience. (One of the wonderful features of Watch is the ability to firmly press on any notification to clear out the entire stream, which is mirrored instantly on your iPhone. So, so refreshing.)
By day two, I had already moved on from using my iPhone as a notifier. I peeked every single notification on my Watch, cleared it, and kept on about my day. I had assumed that this sequence of events would increase my stress level and blood pressure, but in fact, the opposite happened. What I began to realize was that I rarely checked a notification on my phone without unlocking and diving into the operating system. From there, I felt compelled to not only address the notification at hand, but to get lost for five or ten minutes in Twitter, the AP Travel section or heaven knows what else. Five minutes here, 10 there — it adds up to a lot of time spent engaged with my phone and not with my surroundings.
With Apple Watch, there’s precious little you can do with notifications. You can (elegantly, I might add) reply to iMessages, ask Siri anything that you would on an iPhone, and even utilize the search function in Evernote. But you can’t pull up a keyboard and compose an email reply, and seeing the glance that tells you the score of last night’s Royals game won’t let you dive deeper into the 2,000 word recap. It gives you what you need to know, it looks beautiful doing it, and it gets out of the way.
I actually used my iPhone less by having Watch on my wrist, and it was exactly as liberating as you’d expect. Those pockets of minutes I saved by not getting lost in hoopla enabled me to spend more time in front of my computer actually addressing the notifications in a manner I was happy with. I also disabled notifications for my work email through the Watch, and I’d recommend you do the same. Any notification that can get your blood boiling doesn’t deserve a spot on your wrist. We’re all busy enough as is; don’t bring potential negativity any closer to your eyeballs.
The Value of Your Time(piece)
Perhaps it’s the whimsical UI elements, or perhaps it’s the knowledge that no work will ever be done on the Watch, but I found it to be genuinely fun to use. My iPhone is a tremendous tool, but I also see it as a burden. When I look at it, I have fond memories of it navigating me through foreign streets that I would’ve otherwise been lost on. But I also have memories of frustrating emails answered at the dinner table and inopportune meeting invites popping up during a vacation day.
The Watch isn’t where work happens. It’s where fun happens. It’s where I ask Siri about things that I’d never ask her about on the phone, because on the phone, I can just Google it faster with my fingers than Siri can formulate a reply. (As an aside, Siri’s true home is on your wrist — if you’ve blown her off on the iPhone, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much more suited she is as an input device on the Watch.) It’s where I’m able to pull up my full calendar with a few flicks rather than digging through a backpack or coat pocket for my iPhone. It’s the little things, you know?
The Watch isn’t where work happens. It’s where fun happens.
Do you need an Apple Watch? No. I can’t say with a straight face that no one needs any smartwatch, much like I believe that most people don’t need a tablet. Unless you have a specific use case in mind — wedding photographers being able to check a schedule and a shoot list on their wrist being a great one for Watch; entertaining the kids in the backseat being a great one for iPad — these are items that you can live without. But for those already neck-deep in the Apple ecosystem, the Watch feels like a no-brainer. It’s worth reiterating that Apple Watch is useless without an iPhone to pair it with, so it only suits those who’ve already bought into the regime. If you have, however, schedule a fitting at your local Apple Store. You’ll probably dig it.
Initially, I felt that the $349 baseline price was too high for what the Watch offered on paper, but now, I’m sure Apple could’ve charged more. Decent fitness trackers are pushing $200 already, and if you consider that you’re effectively getting two devices in one, the value proposition becomes clearer. In a week, I’ve used my iPhone less, wasted less time aimlessly traversing the Internet, felt less stressed by notifications, and have started to track my workouts for the first time.
Oh, and I now know what time it is, so feel free to ask if you see me.
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