In the past I have reviewed a knock-off Apple Watch as well as put the watch on trial, but now – Let’s take a look at Cupertino’s latest little marvel – The Apple Watch.
These are my initial impressions and keep in mind I am still in the discovery phase myself, so this review will be unlike the Knock-Off Nerd reviews, where I review a pile of knock off garbage that only I was dumb enough to spend money on. Instead, this will be a sincere look at technology… that I also spent money on.
Apple recently released the Apple Watch and I was one of the lucky ones that got the watch early. Unfortunately, my wife was not as pleased to see the delivery as I was and so I am writing this review late at night from the couch in my basement. Her complaints concern the price and the fact that she believes the device is unnecessary, so I’m here in the basement, tapping away at a keyboard while I should be sleeping. This basement gets a little cold at night I must say. I’m too cold to get out from under my blanket and turn up the heat. Maybe I’ll take an eBay break – I bet I can find heating system that can be controlled by an Apple Watch. I have a feeling I will be down here for a while.
If you are unfamiliar with the device, the Apple Watch is a smart watch which is a cross between an iPhone, a fitness band and elegant jewellery. It has features of the iPhone, such as notifications, apps and utilities. It’s like a second screen for your iPhone in many ways. In addition to this, it has fitness features; some native, others in the form of fitness apps you add on. The Apple Watch can monitor your heart rate and activity, but you can add all kinds of fitness apps to track overall health such as calories consumed vs. burned, the quality of food you have eaten, how much water you have drank in a day, and for us smokers out there, there are some smoking cessation apps as well. The App store is rich with Watch apps and there will be even more as developers get their creative juices flowing. The Apple Watch is beautiful, much like a traditional “watch d’elegance”. I have the 42mm aluminum sport edition and even this one shines and pops beautifully on my wrist. While nearly all the bands are comfortable (based on my experience and the experience of other reviewers so far) the more expensive bands are much more elegant than the rubber sport version in my (humble?) opinion.
You need an iPhone 5 or higher to use an Apple Watch and it requires the Apple Watch App (built in on iOS 8.2). In the United States, this will give you access to the iPhone 6 exclusive – Apple Pay. If you wanted to upgrade to an iPhone 6 simply for Apple pay, take a look at the watch, you can accomplish the same for less.
The Apple Watch comes in a wide variety of formats, but this can be a bit confusing to understand at first glance, so let’s take a look together. First of all, there are NO DIFFERENCES in the internal mechanisms of the devices: An Apple Watch Sport has the same specs and capabilities as a gold Edition. The differences are in the materials used to create the outer shell. Furthermore, every version of the Apple Watch is sold in either a 38 or 42 mm option (unlike traditional screen measurements, this is not the diagonal measurement. The diagonal measurements are 33.5 mm and 39 mm respectfully.) Regardless of what watch you buy, you can mix and match the straps, as long as they are the same size. For instance, you can put a 42 mm rubber sport band on a 42 mm gold edition (assuming you have no taste). You can also take a stainless steel 38 mm band and put it on the 38 mm sport watch.
Let’s get into some specifics…
|Type||Colour / Material||Special Note||Pros / Cons|
|Silver or Grey Aluminum with Ion-X * Glass retina AMOLED screen ** Unofficially this is Gorilla Glass||The face of the Digital Crown matches the body material. If you get a silver watch, the crown is silver and if you get a grey watch, the crown is as well. Sells only with the rubber band (you can change this after if you want.)||Pros: Cheapest Option, Works just as well as the expensive onesCons: Ion-X / Gorilla Glass is weaker than sapphire and is more likely to break
(FYI: your iPhone screen is made of Gorilla Glass)
|Silver or Grey Stainless Steel with sapphire glass Retina AMOLED screen||The face of the Digital Crown is Black, regardless of what colour case you buy||Pros: Solid screen, Looks greatCons: Stainless Steel scratches easily (think about the 1st edition of the iPod).|
|18-carat Yellow Gold or 18-carat Rose Gold with sapphire glass Retina AMOLED screen||The face of the Digital Crown will be coloured to match the band that it ships with (White, Red, Black or Navy Blue). You can swap bands w, but the crown colour is permanent. You cannot order the ‘Gold Edition’ watch straps separately.||Pros :Maybe it will help you pick up girls at a bar?Cons: Starting Price in Canada? $13,000.00 and that is a 38 mm with a rubber Band….|
As a registered Apple developer, I was given access to the Apple Watch somewhat early but I did not have the choice of the watch, nor the band. I received the 42 mm silver aluminum sport version, which is exactly the one I was planning on buying anyway, but it shipped with a blue rubber watch band. As many others have reported, they are very comfortable, but I really think the strap looks cheap on such an elegant, not to mention expensive device. I want to replace it. Apple is selling fancy bands separately should you want to change your band as well, but there is a significant ‘Apple tax’ to pay.
I think the thing I dislike the most about the sport band is the way it is tightly connected to the watch body. I prefer a small gap between the body and the strap, much like the modern buckle. Maybe I’m being picky, but if I have to wear this thing every day and paid a small fortune for it (the base 42mm sport model in Canada starts at approximately $600 after tax) I get to be picky. The more expensive bands do look much better and it is tempting to buy, but the modern buckle (the one I like) costs $329 all on its own. Damn son! That is way too rich for my blood. I guess I am stuck with the rubber one, but wait, there are some intrepid creative types out there that have created an adapter so that you can connect any regular watch band to the Apple Watch. These adapters in effect allow you to put whatever band your heart desires onto your Apple Watch (this may be one way to re-purpose a family heirloom watch band on a modern tech piece). Just do yourself a favour though, and change the rubber sport band. It’s comfortable, but only useful if you are into … sports … touché Apple.
I like the gap between the body and band on the modern buckle (right) compared to the sport (left).
Rubber Band Score: 6.5/10 – It’s passable, but I am not in love with it. I know, I know – It’s designed for exercise, not fashion, but still…
Fancy Band Score: 7/10 – I’m in love with it, but they are too expensive
The fact we can change bands: 10/10
Buying the Adapter so I can get cheaper ‘normal’ bands: 11/10!
There are plenty of things I love about the Apple Watch, and we will get to those shortly, but the thing I like the most, and wanted the most from this device (and technology in general) is the chance to better my life. I assume you need a brief moment to recover your composure after laughing at that last sentence, but hear me out. Let’s talk about a device from my recent past that successfully brought me both hope and improved my quality of life. I struggled with weight loss for years. My struggle led to shyness, depression and a constant state of being uncomfortable. I hated going outside. But then came my salvation in the Nintendo Wii. With its focus on fitness, it immediately provided me with the chance to work on myself with both guidance from the machine and with total privacy. It changed my life (as Nintendo has done many times before) and despite the nay-sayers that claimed the Wii was not real exercise or that it was a toy or gimmick, It worked for me. It worked because it fit my needs, perhaps it does not meet yours, but it definitely did mine. Fast forward to the present day, and once again I have fitness goals – This time based on the quality of my food and water intake, as well as quitting smoking. Once again, as if designed for me, a product is released for just this very task. The Apple Watch (in conjunction with some great fitness apps), keeps my mind on my goals, and provides real-time data on what my body is doing and what it needs to reach these goals. As a fitness device, for someone like me who loves real-time data and biometric data in general (I am very supportive of the ‘Quantifiable self’ direction of technology), the Apple Watch is perfect. The apps and internal sensors make this the best health tracking and goal tracking device I have ever witnessed. It is not just for fitness either, there are apps to help keep your mind on, and monitor, any goal you have, be it health or other.
People are asking ‘what is the must-have, killer app?’ as well as ‘what problem does the watch try to solve?’ As far as I am concerned, the fitness and goal monitoring functions are the killer features and they help you be the person you want to be. As far as I am concerned, this alone is worth the price of admission. I’ll be right back, I just got a reminder to stand up and drink some water.
Verdict: 10/10. I cannot wait to deep-dive into the various fitness options and am really excited to see what Apple has in store for version 2. This is the best part of the watch as far as I am concerned.
I have a confession to make. I don’t like Mickey Mouse, I think he is boring and useless and I don’t want him on my watch. This really reminds me of my iPod Nano (6th generation) which I used to wear as a watch, and it too came with a Mickey Mouse watch face (Minnie, Kermit and Animal too). I cannot say I am blown away with any of the watch faces thus far; I am experimenting between the ‘Modular’ and ‘Motion’ (An animated Flower, Jellyfish or butterfly) watch faces. ‘Modular’ has great info on it, but lacks personality. ‘Motion’ has personality, but no info other than the time and date on it. The others really do not appeal to me so far. Hopefully Apple will allow additional watch faces soon.
The various watch faces. You can customize some of them, but not all of them.
Image blatantly stolen from Cult Of Mac.
One final thing concerning these customization options – They are officially called ‘complications’, Lord only knows why apple is using such an unfriendly name, but it is what it is. These complications are limited to the following options (so far): The Date (in a few short/long formats), moon phases, alarms, Activity (short and long format), weather, battery, stopwatch, timer, stocks, as well as sunrise and sunset data.
Verdict: 7/10. Not enough choice, but some of them are pretty cool and most can be customized to show extra info. I would love to use a personal picture as a background… hint… hint (I know it will hurt battery life, due to the nature of how AMOLED works, but I still want one)
Ever since I got my first iPhone, I found that enabling Bluetooth drained my battery pretty fast and so I got into the habit of keeping it off. Now with the Apple Watch, I need to keep it on, which as predicted does drain my battery faster. However – I also check my phone less often now, which preserves my battery. So far I have actually found a net GAIN in phone battery life.
As far as the watch itself – The battery is fine, last night I went to bed with approximately 60% battery left. I personally have no issue in charging a watch (I have to charge my phone and laptop too) every night and so every morning everything is running at 100%. If it drains more than normal, I can always charge them at the office as well. Don’t believe any negative hype – The battery on this watch is great and will get you through a day no problem (unless you play on it all day, which you probably will in the beginning). If it doesn’t for some reason or another, keep a few chargers in your desk at work.
Verdict: 9/10. I’d love longer battery life as a general rule, but it has not been an issue so far.
Watch Haptic Engine
Not quite a vibration and not quite a tap, it feels more like a fat finger gently poking me. It’s a bizarre sensation to describe, but it is not unpleasant. Unlike a traditional vibration, it is subtle – Nobody around you can hear it, which I think is great. It may be a little over-hyped as a revolutionary feature by Apple, but to be fair, it is a unique sensation that no other device has. When it comes right down to it though, the Haptic Engine is really a special kind of vibration. Unique and cool, however we need to calm down the hype here.
Verdict: 8/10. I need to get used to it a bit more, I’ve had a few ‘phantom’ taps and even at maximum, I feel there is a chance I will miss it. Otherwise, it is great, and I have yet to miss a notification… that I know of…
When Apple demonstrated the watch UI, many people looked at the hodgepodge of icons and there was mixed opinions. It is polarizing, some love it, some loath it.
I however argue that no matter what side of this fence you are on, you should not be using this interface that often. If you are, you are using it wrong (I bet you used your iPhone 4 wrong too!) This is not an iPhone – There is no reason to spend your time tapping on a grid of icons. If you have to, you can reorganize them to make them more accessible, but what you SHOULD be doing is spending your time in the Glances. These are awesome; Android fans can think of them as widgets / Google cards, while Windows fans can think of them as Live Tiles. Here in the Apple universe, we call them Glances.
Some of the Glances I like
So what are they exactly?
If you swipe up from the home screen you can see a screen that feeds you quick info on the things you care about. On my watch, this is where I keep all the health goal stuff I am watching. At a quick Glance (get it?) I can see my water intake, heart rate, nutrient and calorie intake, exercise and activity levels, how many cigarettes I’ve had today and even what busses are near me and when they are leaving (ok, maybe this last one is not a health item, but it is incredibly nice to have). I can spend all of 10 seconds in these screens and walk away with a solid pulse check on what matters to me. Rather than open up 5 or 6 different apps on my phone, I can immediately see everything I want in the Glances screen.
You can add your calendar, Shazam, Apple Maps (hopefully Google Maps comes soon) and even a Tamogatchi pet if you really want – It doesn’t all have to be fitness. This screen is customizable and should be your main interface with the Watch. You are likely to spend most of your time in the Glances rather than fiddling about with the app springboard. This is why the app icon layout matters less than it does on an iPhone. The true home interface is in the Glances.
Glances are quick, easy and gives me everything I want to know. This is where the Apple Watch shines the most and many apps you already have Glances enabled. When I think of the Apple watch, I am thinking of the Glances.
Verdict:10/10. Perfect. For those interested – Yes, there is a calculator app you can get that adds a calculator to your glances, bringing back that retro calculator-watch style you rocked in the 80’s
This is where Apple’s brilliance comes shining through. For anyone who is on the fence about what the Apple Watch can do for them, all they need to do is imagine what they want, and chances are, there is an app for that. The Apps download onto your phone and the apps that are equipped with a Watch extension will also have an interface on your watch. The Apple Watch itself will then communicate back and forth with the phone (which connects via Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi). There is some lag, but nothing offensive, and the watch will cache much of the data so that it appears quicker the next time. Many have complained about the lag when launching an app, however we are talking about 2-3 seconds or so… if it happens at all.
All the expected categories are there; there are apps for business & finance, apps for foodies, games, health & fitness apps, lifestyle apps, news apps, productivity apps (as a former teacher, I can only imagine how cool it would be to control a PowerPoint presentation with my watch), social networking, travel, utilities, you name it – the Apple Watch can do it!
Sample of some Apps available right now:
Verdict: 9/10. The App store has its limitations as many great apps are hidden away and hard to find (much like the iPhone app store). Again, much like the iPhone App store , it has everything you can imagine and this catalogue will only get larger as time goes on.
You can control your music or podcasts (whatever is playing on the iPhone) with the Apple Watch ’Now playing’ app, however there is only 2Gb of available storage on the watch itself to store music.
As someone who is running out of space on his iPhone, I was hoping I could off-load my music onto the watch, and I can, or at least 2 Gb of it. If I have one complaint, it would be the lack of space for music on the watch. I would have loved at least 16 Gb on the device for music (and would have paid extra for it too). Sure, many people are streaming music instead of hording it, but I am not one of them, at least not while I am on 3G where I have to pay for data usage.
Verdict:I still carry an iPod. It would have been nice to retire it.
Notifications & Communication
Again, this function is completely customizable. You can turn on or off notifications. Personally I want to receive only Messages, phone calls, email, calendar and Twitter notifications. Anything else can be a bit distracting, and Apple has given us great control over this so that the watch doesn’t become an overbearing device. The Apple Watch is a background device, something subtle and quiet, alerting you only to what matters to you. If you want it to be a carnival of noise and pop-ups, you can, but the device works best when it is minimal.
As many have mentioned before me, you can use the device for communication, and yes, it does have a Dick Tracy feel to it. You can make and receive calls as well as texts with the watch. I don’t envision talking to someone on my watch, but if my hands are full and I need to get a message out, it’s nice that the function is there.
The most important thing to note here is that you can send a poop Emoji. It is incredible how many times I send people this on a daily basis.
I presume many of you are laughing at the idea of talking into the watch. I also assume you laughed at:
- Carrying a phone with you everywhere you go instead of waiting until you get home
- Talking on a phone in public areas
- Talking to Siri or any other dictation / note taking device
- Talking into a Bluetooth device, giving off the illusion you are talking to yourself
- Texting instead of calling someone. How impersonal
- Sending an e-Christmas card instead of mailing a physical and classic Hallmark card to someone
Time will tell if talking into a watch gets added to the list…
The Messages function is perfect, It is so easy to use and since most of the messages I get can be answered with a quick 1-liner or so, I can either type a quick response, dictate a response (and I can send this as a regular text or even a voice message), use a canned response (yes/no/can we talk alter?, etc…), which are customizable or even use some Emojis. Let’s face it – many of us answer a text with either a smiley face or a ‘LOL’ anyway, so the Emojis come in handy.
One thing to note about all notifications: If you are using your iPhone (and I presume iPad or Mac) at the time the notification comes in, it will be sent to the phone, not the watch. If the iPhone is not in use, the watch picks up the notification.
Watch Options and Siri
My two favourite things in the world are Apple and my kids (the order of which changes depending on my daughter’s attitude). I am right handed while my daughter is a lefty. She is one of the many artistic and wonderful people with a left-hand preference. Did Apple consider her when making the watch? Eventually when I get an updated version of the watch, she will inherit this one. Will she be able to use it comfortably? Do I have to buy a special version?
Apple thought about this in advance and offers options for left handed people, without the need for special hardware. You can set the watch to be left or right handed and even wear the watch upside down and indicate where the Digital Crown will be. After setting these options, the watch screen will orient itself accordingly.
There are some accessibility options (Apple is the best in the business at this) as well as settings for how the watch face lights up when you lift your wrist and of course, our favourite assistant, Siri. Siri is fully functional on the watch, although she does not speak, she only responds in text. Siri is the perfect interface on a watch and she works as well as (if not better) than she does on the iPhone.
Verdict: Accessibility and left-handedness options: 10/10
I’m in Canada. We do not have Apple Pay.
There is much more to the Apple Watch, in fact you may have noticed I never even mentioned the technical specs of the Watch. The Processor? The RAM? The specs don’t honestly matter that much as far as I am concerned (other than the fact we get only 2Gb for music storage *grumble* *grumble*). Apple is selling an experience, not a supped-up computer and so the specs do not matter as much as the experience – and that experience is solid.
But let’s get down to brass tax: Is this device worth shelling out the equivalent of your rent money for?
This depends on where your feelings land currently on the Apple Watch. Maybe you want it, but are apprehensive about the cost or about the fact that next year a better version will replace it. Maybe you don’t see the value in it (and maybe that is ok, it doesn’t have to have value for everyone). So let’s break it down a little bit:
|Your Current Mindset||Discussion Points|
|I want it, but what about waiting until version 2 is released?||Absolutely, this will be replaced eventually by a better version. However, the one that is available now is great. Does it do what you want already? If so, then don’t worry about version 2. Besides, there is always version 3 … That being said, this device is not essential (your iPhone can replicate much of this) and if you can wait, you will get a better watch, and avoid all the growing pains / glitches of a first generation device|
|You want it, but are apprehensive about the cost||Get the Sport Edition with a rubber band and then replace the band with a cheaper 3rd party band and sell the one that you got from Apple on eBay. Maybe skip the iPhone upgrade next year? Maybe wait until version 2 and snag a used version 1 on eBay at a lower price.|
|I still don’t get it. What does it do?||It does whatever you want it to do thanks to the App store. What would you like? Recipes? Fitness? Life goal logging? School or business tools? Browse the app store – the answers are there. Apple has admittedly done a poor job in selling the ‘raison d’etre’ of this device, but the App store helps define it. There are other smart watches (Pebble and Alcatel One Touch) which work with iOS (albeit not as seamlessly as the Apple Watch). Maybe give them a try and see what the fuss is about – They are a heck of a lot cheaper, although not as feature rich and no app store.|
|With this make me healthy?||I personally define health and wellness as a combination of proper food, a caloric intake/output balance, water, exercise and mental harmony (in my non-medical opinion). Nothing except hard work, determination and keeping your eyes on the goal will achieve this. The Apple Watch may help with the latter, depending on who you are. The same can be said for the Nintendo Wii as well.|
|I have an iPhone, do I really need this?||No. But then again you don’t need your iPad either. In fact all you really need is food and shelter. The Apple Watch is a luxury and it’s ok to take some time and see what pioneers such as myself have to say before you spend your money. For what it’s worth, I love it more than my iPad (but not more than my iPhone).|
Long story short; if you can afford it and see the value, then don’t worry about the next version – you can upgrade in a few years if you want anyway. If you are planning on buying it only if it is a ‘must-own’ device, then don’t – It’s a ‘great to have’ device, but not a ‘must-own’.
So these are my initial feelings and brief overview of the Apple Watch. I hope it helped you understand the device a little better and maybe even helped you make a decision on if it belongs in your life or not. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to go try to sweet talk my wife into letting me back in the bed, it’s cold down here and I think I saw a spider!