I gave my first impressions of the Apple Watch on Friday. Three-and-a-half days in, and halfway into my one-week experiment, it’s time for an update. You may want to get a cup of your preferred hot beverage before reading this piece: it’s a long one!
It appears I was entirely alone in my uncertainty over whether or not the watch would win me over. Strangers commenting here, and friends commenting on Facebook, spoke with one voice: I was, they all confidently predicted, going to keep it.
Are they right? Let’s begin by updating my first impressions …
Several readers pointed out that while I considered it chunky, it isn’t actually particularly thick by conventional watch standards. I went out and compared it to a number of standard watches, and they are absolutely right. Perhaps I’m influenced by the slimness of my iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2, expecting the Apple Watch to compete. Put up against other watches, I have to admit my characterization of it is unfair.
In fact, compare it with many fitness watches, and it’s pretty slim. Ok, this isn’t a fair comparison, as my friend’s Polar watch is several years old, but it’s still not too atypical of similar fitness watches today.
The look of the Apple Watch has grown on me quite a lot. I opted for the Sport mostly to avoid spending too much on a first-gen product if I decided to keep it, but as someone whose liking for anodised aluminum borders on a fetish, I think I might actually prefer it.
I’m not the sort of person who generally cares what other people think of the things I own, but I confess to a certain amount of self-consciousness over the white strap. Not that it’s ugly – it isn’t – but with it a lot of people immediately recognized it as an Apple Watch. Wearing it on launch day, and over the weekend, it attracted attention. A lot of attention.
That, though, is a temporary issue – both because it won’t stand out when everyone has one, and because it will be a lot more discreet when my black strap finally arrives if I end up keeping it. By the way: remember this photo, I’ll return to it.
I mentioned last time that, as someone who hasn’t worn a watch for around a decade, having something on my wrist again felt very strange. In 12 hours of wearing it on day one, it didn’t stop feeling strange. It reminded me of the xkcd cartoon:
By the end of the weekend, though, I was no longer aware of it. My wrist had apparently dredged up dim and distant memories of watch-wearing, and decided it was ok.
As I predicted, the user-interface already feels very familiar. There are still times when I find myself unsure whether I tap or Force Touch to initiate a particular action, but most of it makes sense within the first day or two of use. In particular, Glances are very nice: start with the weather, for example, then swipe through the detail – like the percentage chance of rain on an hour-by-hour basis, above. Everything feels very well thought through.
There are a lot of nice touches. For example, put your iPhone into Do Not Disturb mode, and the watch mirrors it, displaying a crescent moon symbol. Cancel that on the watch, and it cancels it on the phone. (This behavior can be changed in settings if desired.)
One thing I did find very counter-intuitive at first was time-zones. I could see no way to change these on the watch, nor in the Apple Watch app on the iPhone. It turned out you have to set these up in the original Clock app on the iPhone, and they then become scrollable when setting up the complications on the watch face.
However, while this wasn’t obvious to me, I do think it’s the right approach. By default, the watch mirrors what you do on the phone, and this is a logical extension of that.
I thought notifications might be the one thing that would sell it to me, and the watch is indeed a great way to check these – if you’re wearing a short-sleeve shirt. With a long-sleeve shirt, jumper or jacket on, it immediately loses the benefit of the instant glance.
In the photo I asked you to remember from earlier, I was keeping my jumper scrunched up to keep the watch visible, and that felt like I was showing-off that I had an Apple Watch. Slimfit shirts tend to have cuffs that are snug, and make uncovering the watch a very deliberate act, rather than a casual glance.
Cycling in British weather, I’m wearing a cycling jacket more often than not, so my hopes of casually glancing at my wrist while cycling were immediately dashed. So while I was liking watch notifications a lot at first, it’s not quite the effortless glance it had first appeared. Maybe watch guys buy shirts with looser cuffs?
By default, the Apple Watch loads watch versions of all of your iPhone apps (where available, of course). I initially switched this off, thinking I’d want to be selective about which apps I wanted on my wrist, but again soon realized that Apple knew better than me what I wanted.
I first realized this when in a bar, wondering what the song was. I asked Siri on my watch to open Shazam, only to find it wasn’t installed. I flipped the switch in the iPhone app to switch automatic app downloads back on.
I’m not a fitness kind of guy. That’s not to say I’m not active – I cycle just about everywhere – but I’m not that interested in stats. I cycle and walk because I enjoy it and because, in London, cycling is by far the fastest and most pleasant way to get around.
I’ve never bothered with the Activity app on my iPhone, but because I’d added the activity complication to my watch face – and could see those three little circles every time I looked at it – I did find myself drawn in. I also tried the Workout app on a 26-mile cycle ride – this was the cake-stop a little under halfway.
I was comparing the Workout data against my Garmin Edge 810 cycle computer in terms of both distance and calories burned, and the two were in almost perfect agreement. Again, the Workout app works like Glances: start with a summary and then swipe for the detailed data.
I wasn’t sure whether the hourly reminders to stand up would be welcome or annoying. So far, they are welcome (except when I’m already standing), but they can always be switched off if they become irritating.
Apple’s human interface lead Alan Dye is absolutely right about it being an instinctive human desire to close those Activity circles, and it was the same with those nudges to stand up.
iMessages and SMS messages are very easy to read, using the digital crown to scroll. I used Siri to reply, as I do with the iPhone, and that worked equally well.
I of course had to try a Dick Tracy style phone call on the watch, and I have to say it worked perfectly well. That, though, falls well into novelty territory for me – I can’t ever see me doing it in real life.
Finally, fellow 9to5Mac writer Benjamin got his watch at around the same time I did, enabling us to test Digital Touch, the watch-to-watch comms that allow you to send taps, drawings and your heartbeat.
All worked well, but we both felt this was something you’d only ever use in real life with your partner. Since my girlfriend is at the complete opposite end of the tech scale to me – she only swapped her Nokia featurephone for an iPhone a few weeks ago – I don’t think I’ll be using this anytime soon.
To be honest, I have to say all the fuss about battery-life seems overblown to me. I suspect most of those complaining about it have used their Apple Watches straight from the box (mine arrived with a 66% charge), spent the entire day playing with it and then apparently been surprised when the battery died in the evening.
In real-life use, my watch comfortably made it through a full day on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was a pretty tough test as I was using the Workout app for a 4.5-hour bike ride (which forces continuous heart-rate monitoring, rather than sampling every ten minutes), and I was regularly checking its data against my Garmin. I also demonstrated it to several interested parties in addition to my own more-than-normal use on day two of ownership. With all of that, it started the day with a full charge at 8am and still had 17% power left at 11pm.
Benjamin found his watch switched to reserve mode in late evening, and theorized that might be because he has the 38mm model with its smaller battery.
While the Bluetooth connectivity presumably has some impact on iPhone battery-life too, I’d expect this to be more than offset by using the phone less as the watch picks up some of its duties.
There is much to commend the Apple Watch. It’s a very cool gadget. The user-interface is extremely well-designed. Being able to simply glance at notifications while wearing a short-sleeve shirt is extremely convenient. The Activity stuff does motivate me to be a bit more mobile while working from home (though the calories probably cancel out as I make more cups of tea). The watch makes a handy remote for the Music and Podcast apps when my iPhone is in my pocket. It provides more convenient access to apps like Shazam. In short, what the Apple Watch does, it does very well.
But … the convenience of the casual notification glance is somewhat nullified when wearing a long-sleeve shirt or jacket. This might sound like a dumb complaint, but honestly, it’s one of those tiny things that makes a big difference. With a shirt and cycling jacket on, for example, I can actually slip my iPhone out of my pocket more easily than I can uncover the watch. And it doesn’t actually do anything I can’t already do perfectly well with that same iPhone.
The $64,000 question (ok, $516 question in UK pricing) is whether I’ll keep it. On any rational basis, the answer should be no. It’s a non-trivial sum of money for something which, in truth, adds little value to my life. There are probably better things I could do with five hundred bucks.
But human beings are not rational creatures. Most of the early reviews concluded that nobody needs an Apple Watch, but many will want one – and I think this is spot-on. I’m a gadget guy, this is a very nice gadget, and while $500 isn’t trivial, neither is it a fortune.
If I had to predict now, I’d say there’s a 70% chance I’m going to keep it. So yep, I’m far less of a smartwatch skeptic than I was on Thursday. But that other 30% of me is wondering just how long it will take for the novelty factor to wear off. Will I wear it for a few weeks then stick it in a drawer? I have to admit that’s a real possibility.
But I don’t have to decide today. I set myself an arbitrary experimental period of one week, so I’ll make my decision on Thursday and post the final diary piece then. Place your bets …
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