6/04/2015

APPLE WATCH REVIEW


Apple has done something rather special with the Apple Watch. No, it’s not the design, the tech, or even the choice of straps that makes it special. It’s that Apple has made the first piece of wearable tech that feels friendly and has a little bit of quirky character about it. Android Wear, the Pebble, and the many proprietary operating systems installed on other less well-known watches are workman-like and functional, but the Apple watch is fun. It’s not without its issues, but they’re not too bad, so far. The effort to learn the interface feels worth it to us.

The world of wearable tech has been crying out for a product that engages people — Something that operates as a companion device to our phone, but also goes a step further. For Apple, that step was using it to connect people in unusual, fun ways. Is the Apple Watch the gadget that’s going to take wearable tech into the mainstream? Let’s find out.

Setup is easy, but you’ll need to crack open that user manual

Getting an Apple Watch and unboxing it is an occasion in itself — far more so than unboxing an iPhone or an iPad. The Watch Sport, for example, comes in an overly elaborate oblong box, with an embossed Watch logo on the front. There’s considerably more empty space inside than actual content, but it all adds to the drama. Buy a Watch Edition, and you get a smaller, but considerably plusher box, which doubles as a charging stand.
Apple Watch Sport
Syncing the Apple Watch with your iPhone is an absolute breeze. Forget all that messing around with Bluetooth connections and pairing that you experienced with Android Wear or Pebble. Apple gets you to point the iPhone’s camera at the Watch, and that’s about it. You set everything else up in the app. The Apple Watch activates most of the notifications as standard, and it’s up to you to trim them down. However, the Watch doesn’t bombard you with notifications; it keeps things simple. It took less than 10 minutes to set up the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch could be one of the first pieces of tech that’s better with a friend.
Here’s where the quirks begin. There are two main screens. The first is the app home screen that’s populated with colorful bubbles depicting your apps. It’s manipulated using the Digital Crown on the side of the Watch, or by pinching and swiping the touchscreen. It looks awesome, but it’s also a bit of a confusing mess, and almost impossible to navigate while you’re moving around. Forget trying to do anything when out for a run; it’s just too fiddly.

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The trick is to get rid of apps you won’t use. There is a real risk of stuffing the Apple Watch full of fun, but ultimately useless apps, and it’s going to ruin the experience. Slim it down, and apps are easier to pinpoint on the screen. You can also select the ones you use most often and put them in Glances, so they’re always easily accessible. To see Glances, simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen. Then you’ll see your main apps, and you’ll be able to swipe through them at will. For example, I’ve got weather, transit, music, and a few other apps in Glances.
The other main screen is the standard Watch face, and it’s the first time I’ve ever needed to watch an instructional video to find out how to change the face. I’m not a stupid person, but I just couldn’t work it out. Turns out, you have to press the screen harder than normal to see the alternatives.
This sets the tone for using the Apple Watch in general. It’s very different to the iPhone, and requires you to learn how it responds to touch, gestures, and the Digital Crown. It’s natural to feel a bit lost, and there is a real learning curve here. You’ll need to have patience, and be prepared to take time to understand how it operates, if you’re to get full benefit from the Apple Watch. The tutorial videos in the app certainly help, and the user guide Apple published not that long ago is invaluable. Yes, you should actually read the user manual for this device. It’s a new product, after all.

It’s the little things that make Apple Watch special

When notifications start to arrive, the quality of the vibrating haptic alerts is immediately obvious. Yes, I said quality, because these go way beyond the irritating buzzes generated by other wearables. The Apple Watch taps you, gently but noticeably. The first few times you feel it, it actually makes you question what’s generating it. Maybe it’s Jony Ive’s disembodied finger that’s jutting out from under the aluminum body, you think. It’s almost uncanny.
This is where the joy of communicating with the Apple Watch starts to come in. The alerts make you want to receive messages. It’s easy to reply using speech, and if you’re communicating with iMessage, they can be sent as audio messages. The Bluetooth range is good, and I was able to leave my phone on the second floor of my house, wander to the kitchen downstairs, and still reply to messages on the Watch. The dictation requires physical interaction to stop though, unlike Android Wear, which stops recording for you.

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Press the button on the side of the Watch, and you get a list of your favorite contacts. Each can be called or messaged from here, plus if they own an Apple Watch, you get the chance to send personalized animated emoji, taps, hand drawn sketches, or your heartbeat.

It may sound frivolous, but the taps, drawings, and in particular, the heartbeat, are truly unique ways of communicating with close friends or loved ones. It’s enhanced by the Watch’s fantastic haptic feedback system, which adds real life to the heartbeat. For some people, this will be the Apple Watch’s killer feature, and only by getting someone else’s heartbeat on your wrist will you understand its potential. The Apple Watch could be one of the first pieces of consumer tech that’s better with a friend.
Apple Pay also works flawlessly. With a double tap of the side button, our default card was brought up, and we were able to buy a cookie at Panera Bread in New York City. Not only were we able to walk out of the office with nothing but an iPhone and Apple Watch, but we also got to bask in the glory of the cashier’s excitement when the transaction went through.

It’s too early to say if the battery will last a day

We can’t conclusively report on the battery life yet, it’s too early in the test. But after installing apps, messing around with settings, and then using RunKeeper, the music remote app, and GPS navigation, it’s down to 61 percent. That’s about six hours into the day. It’s connected to an iPhone 6 Plus, and that’s used 50 percent of its battery in the last nine hours, with six hours spent connected to the Watch. A working day should be achievable with both devices together, depending on use, we think.

Third-party apps still struggle to get it right

However, it’s not all sunshine and happiness wearing an Apple Watch. Some apps are slow to react, and buttons sometimes need more than one press, or require laser-guided precision to tap. Several of the release-day apps also have irritating bugs. Seven, the fitness app which guides you through a seven-minute workout, may have a Watch app, but it doesn’t really work. The screen dims and turns off, stopping you from seeing the instructions, and getting back to the app takes too long. Since speed is of the essence when using Seven, the latency ruined the experience.

Despite Apple’s crowing about thousands of apps being available at launch, Facebook doesn’t have one, and neither does Facebook Messenger. If TweetBot is your Twitter client of choice, you’re out of luck; you’ll need to use the Twitter app or Twiteriffic. There’s a Foursquare Watch app, but not a Swarm app, and while Line has its own Watch app, WhatsApp doesn’t. This will obviously change as time goes on, but at the moment there are some crucial communication channels closed off to the Watch.
Google hasn’t made Maps compatible with the Watch yet either, so for navigation, you may have to rely on Apple Maps. Despite Apple Maps shortcomings, the Watch navigation system is an improvement over Android Wear. It guided me home in a sensible, clear way, and didn’t confuse me at junctions like Android Wear can. However, all of us in the Wearables department at DT would still rather use Google Maps.

Just get the Sport — Don’t waste your money on the Edition

After an hour out and about wearing the Watch to test navigation and fitness tracking, it did get a little sweaty under the strap and body of the Watch Sport. Not uncomfortably so, but taking it off and letting things breathe for a moment helped. The Apple Watch is very light — even more so for the 38mm model — and otherwise very comfortable to wear. The Watch Sport may be the cheapest in the range, but it does everything its more expensive sister Watch models do, and there’s really no need to pay more.

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The Apple Watch Edition is absolutely, positively, not worth it at all. Here’s what you get that’s different from the versions that cost a tenth of that price: A real gold body, a rather nice box, and a sizeable hole in your bank account. The Watch functions in exactly the same manner as the other models, and the straps are also identical. Yes, if you buy a Watch Edition with a Sport strap, that’s the same one fitted to the model that costs $350.
Apple Watch Sport
Paying $17,000 for an Apple Watch makes no sense. If you’ve got exactly that amount in your bank account, ready to blow it all, please think two, three, or four times before ordering a Watch Edition. It’s a toy for people who spend $17,000 like most of us buy a $5 coffee. After trying on the Watch Edition at Selfridges in London, I visited Watches of Switzerland, a retailer that sells many expensive timepieces, to see what else I could get for my imaginary thousands.
While chatting to a salesperson, a customer overheard my conversation and asked if I had tried out the Watch Edition. He had too, so I asked whether he liked it. He called it “exquisite,” and lavished it with praise about the build, feel, and its ability. I asked if he tried the Watch Sport. He sneered and said it was “rubbish.” He was about to go into a private room to try out a few watches.
If you have an ounce of sense, you’ll buy the Apple Watch Sport and be very, very happy indeed.
Maybe I’m not as refined (read rich) as this gentleman, but to my wrist, the only difference I could feel between the Watch Sport and the Watch Edition was the latter is quite a bit heavier. If that’s good enough for another $16,500, then go for it. If you’ve got an ounce of sense, you’ll buy a Sport and be very, very happy indeed.
Additionally, if you’re a woman with small-to-average wrists, Apple is the only manufacturer that makes a smartwatch that will fit your wrist. We’ve tried nearly every Android Wear smartwatch, every Pebble, and alternative smartwatch, and none of them have fit on a woman’s wrist – except the Apple Watch. The 38mm size is a game changer. It makes the Apple Watch the very first smartwatch that’s appealing to women, and those with petite wrists.

Conclusion

Right now, it’s difficult to say whether the Apple Watch is going to break into the mainstream. It’s also too early to say whether our initial warmth toward it is because it’s new and fun. Only more time spent with it will tell if the sheen will wear off, and other issues will arise. We’ll update regularly, but for now, if even slightly tempted by an Apple Watch, make the effort to try one out. We think you’re going to like it.

Highs:


  • Unique communication methods make it special
  • Attractive design in multiple sizes
  • Notification taps are subtle
  • Setup is a breeze

Lows:


  • Third-party apps crash
  • Software has a learning curve
  • One-day battery life