While the initial Apple Watch launch is still ongoing, Apple started shipping standalone bands to customers this week. We’ve got our hands on both the Leather Loop and Sport bands plus packaging today. Check out our comparison photos and my early impressions of each band and the swapping process below.
Personalizing the Apple Watch by changing the watch faces and swapping bands can give the same model a very different look and feel. Customization isn’t always a strong focus for Apple, but ease-of-use usually is. The band swapping process is very Apple in this regard. No tools required, just a custom quick-release system. You’ll also want to make sure you’re matching your 38mm or 42mm with the same size band.
Just like the stainless steel Apple Watch packaging varies from that of the aluminum Apple Watch Sport, the same is true of the materials that ship with the bands from each collection. The leather and metal bands have a shorter-but-thicker box while the fluoroelastomer (okay, let’s just say rubber) band is thinner and longer. Sound familiar?
Inside its box, the standalone Sport band is found with disposable packaging (unless you’re a collector/hoarder like me) with small/medium and medium/large bottom pieces next to the single top pieces. Standalone leather and metal bands including the silver Link Bracelet ship with a smaller version of the long plastic case found with the actual Apple Watch Sport box.
9to5Mac reader Brandon shared these photos of the standalone Link Bracelet Apple Watch band and packaging. When you buy stainless steel Apple Watch with the Link Bracelet, the box contains a cleaning cloth as well. This is not the case with the standalone version of the Link Bracelet; its packaging has the same style as the leather bands. 9to5Mac reader Danny contributed the standalone Milanese Loop shot.
Once you have more than one band with the Apple Watch, a new problem (besides which to wear when) presents itself: How should you store your other band(s)? The plastic case has a nice feel to it with its soft lining and Apple Watch branding, but it’s really only fitted for a specific band design.
The Leather Loop case can hold the leather Classic Buckle, but it’s not ideal as the buckle itself doesn’t fit just right. I’ll probably settle on the top sock drawer of my dresser for now, but a more elegant solution has to be on the horizon as accessory makers already have third-party bands and charging stands in mind.
One more note on packaging and presentation before I mention changing bands. The translucent packing material that first shipped with the 12-inch MacBook and now the Apple Watch and standalone bands is a nice touch from the transparent version used on other products, but the Apple Watch and bands contain a lot of it. I’m not sure how this translates from the jewelry world, but I found this particular piece difficult to remove from the Leather Loop and it gave a Scotch tape impression. Just a small quibble.
As for changing the bands, Apple has made the process approachable enough that you don’t need to have any special tools or experience with jewelry to do it yourself. Even the Link Bracelet takes advantage of Apple’s button system for removing links and adjusting its size. The only part that requires much attention is first ensuring you match 38mm bands with a 38mm watch or 42mm bands with a 42mm watch. Many bands are available in both sizes.
The back of each Apple Watch features two buttons that you press to release the attached band when changing. When pressed firmly, you can slowly slide out the current band in either direction to remove it. Metal sliding on metal (like with the Milanese Loop or Classic Buckle) feels unpleasant, while Sport and Leather Loop maintain a smooth feel. (They also blend with the watch better, in my opinion, as they don’t use lugs.)
You technically can put the band on incorrectly as the Apple Watch supports being worn on either the left or right wrist and changing on-screen orientations through the settings. Generally, the shorter piece fits the top while the lengthier piece attaches below the display. You can also accidentally connect the band with its bottom facing up which is never correct. To avoid this, be sure the size and material markings are visible when you view the bottom of the Apple Watch.
Overall, the band changing process is easy enough to avoid making owning multiple band options an inconvenience. Storing the extra bands properly and deciding which band to wear when probably takes more effort. As a customization and personalization option, the band swapping capability is critical to making one Apple Watch model appropriate for more than one occasion whereas previously individual watches were required.
Initially, I only wanted the additional Sport band as an alternative to the Leather Loop that would come with my Apple Watch, but I changed my order to a Classic Buckle model during pre-orders as the combination has a sooner ship date, ordering the Leather Loop band separately with an earlier date still.
After wearing one band exclusively for the last week while the other two shipped out, changing bands does feel like getting a totally new Apple Watch today. It may be obvious to expect that experience, though it was a nice surprise to me.
The $50 Sport band easily wins in comfort and versatility; I’ll have to decide how both the $150 Classic Buckle and $150 Leather Loop fit into my Apple Watch experience. The richer materials will be right for dinners, weddings, and any dressier occasion, but my early impression of cheaper Sport band is that it may serve as my primary option. As with many parts of the Apple Watch, it’ll take living with for a while to decide…