Earlier in my reviewing career, I always tried to estimate the likely audience for products I tested: was an accessory likely to be universally appealing, somewhat popular, niche, or poorly received by virtually everyone? Many reviews (and reader comments) later, I learned there was at least a small audience for virtually anything, and conversely, that some people found reasons to dislike even the best-designed and best-reviewed products. I eventually concluded that there is no such thing as “universally appealing” or “universally bad” — just products for different audiences of different sizes.
SwitchEasy’s Blocks ($20) and Colors ($15) are as close to a test of my conclusion as anything I’ve covered so far for Apple’s $350-$17,000 Watches. Blocks lets you build your own Apple Watch dock from 92 plastic pieces that just so happen to be “compatible with Leading Manufacturer building blocks,” code for “works with Legos.” Colors is an inexpensive Apple Watch case designed to match three Apple Watch Sport bands. Toy-like in appearance, the designs are clearly not “universally appealing,” particularly for owners of expensive Apple Watches and Editions. But it’s possible that one or both of them may appeal to you, anyway…
Of the two accessories, Blocks is the one that makes more sense to me — at least, in theory. Shipped in a package that practically screams “Lego,” Blocks is a set of 92 pieces “in random colors” including white, blue, red, yellow, and green. Highly visual instructions are provided in the package to transform the blocks into either an Apple Watch “presentation stand” or an Apple Watch plus iPhone “Dual Dock charging set,” either one requiring a subset of the included pieces, self-supplied cables, and around 30 minutes of assembly time.
SwitchEasy’s instructions get you around 95% of the way to a completed solution; there was no guidance, for instance, on attaching the second piece of a base that was ultimately necessary to stabilize the presentation stand, but it wasn’t hard to attach leftover blocks to join the two pieces together. Similarly, a one-block error in the building instructions for the base of the Dual Dock meant that an extra extension piece was necessary, but again, a leftover piece made this easy to fix.
Beyond including Lego-like blocks, SwitchEasy has made a custom 6×6 Apple Watch holder large enough to fit either a 38mm or 42mm body, with two inserts that alternately fit Apple’s self-supplied regular or Sport-style Magnetic Charging Cables. The holder works, but you’ll need to figure out a way to tuck the cable down and out of the way if you’re using a closed-loop band, and a little glue would help to secure the holder to the blocks below. To my eyes, Blocks doesn’t look or feel like a premium Apple Watch stand solution, but SwitchEasy’s clearly catering to Lego fans here, and the low price point excuses some of the jankiness.
As it’s shipped, Blocks is in fact capable of doing what it promises to do — serving as a standalone or dual-dock Apple Watch stand. And there’s no question that you can use the pieces to create something novel; apart from the limitations of the included blocks, the box is correct in noting that “the only limitation is your imagination.” The fact that it’s Lego-compatible may give serious Lego aficionados the opportunity to use SwitchEasy’s 6×6 Apple Watch holder and charging cable inserts in more sophisticated projects, which could give the Blocks set appeal beyond the limitations of what’s in the box. Otherwise, you’ll have to decide whether the DIY design is more compelling than the largely pre-assembled best Apple Watch stands I’ve previously covered.
|Manufacturer: SwitchEasy||MSRP: $20||Compatibility: Apple Watch|
Colors is the latest release in a long-running series of SwitchEasy cases for iPods and iPhones, which has been notable for two consistent traits: very low prices and simple designs. Unlike its soft silicone rubber predecessors, the $15 Apple Watch version feels like a stiffer TPU plastic, just flexible enough to permit insertion of the Apple Watch through the top hole while retaining its shape thereafter. Three easily removed and replaced side button covers are included in each package, and SwitchEasy offers Colors in separate 38mm or 42mm sizes, each in white, blue, or black.
My colleague Jordan Kahn has seen (and written about) a lot more Apple Watch cases than I have, but I’ll say that I’m not particularly excited about the design of most of the cases I’ve seen, and Colors isn’t an exception. The thick plastic tends to cheapen the appearance of even the entry-level $350 Sport watch, and looks almost comical when paired with a non-Sport band, as shown here. Yes, it does what it’s supposed to do in the sense that it protects the metal against scratches, and recesses the screen under enough plastic to reduce the chance of damage during impacts. But it just doesn’t look great — at least, to my eyes — and the added thickness was very obvious on my wrist.
I noted at the beginning of this review that I don’t believe in “universally appealing” or “universally bad” products any more, as accessories tend to be marketed towards different-sized audiences. This has historically worked out for developers because Apple devices tend to sell tens of millions of units, making even a 1% niche a viable business. Today, however, the Apple Watch is relatively new, not quite at the tens of millions scale, and not being marketed towards younger users. It’s possible that toy-inspired accessories are an Apple Watch generation or two away from finding their niche. But it’s also possible that Blocks or Colors will appeal to your personal needs and tastes. If so, you’ll find that they’re typical SwitchEasy products: very affordable, just as advertised, and straightforward to use.
|Manufacturer: SwitchEasy||MSRP: $15||Compatibility: Apple Watch|