Apple Watch first impressions — solid design, stable UI

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Earlier today, I spent some time in the Apple Store checking out the Apple Watch units that were on display. I had a try-on appointment that allowed me to wear three different Apple Watch models. I also was able to explore the Watch user interface via one of the demonstration Watches that were on display throughout the store. Read on to find what I thought about the Watch after this brief hands-on experience. 

Watch Design — Casing

The biggest takeaway from the try-on demonstration was how well-made the Apple Watch is in comparison to the other fitness trackers and smartwatches on the market. I’ve owned trackers and smartwatches from Pebble, Jawbone, Fitbit and Garmin and none of those compare to the quality of the Watch.

As soon as I put on the 38mm Sport Watch, I was surprised at how comfortable it was. The Watch had a solid feel that was not too heavy on my small-sized wrist. Even the larger 42mm model felt comfortable though it was a tad big for my personal preferences.

For my second Watch, I tried the stainless steel model and found that one to be slightly heavier, but not significantly different from the Sport. Both the Sport and Watch models share the same overall design, but the Watch had a more elegant look due to its glossy finish and accompanying bands options. The Watch would look great for business and casual occasions, but it was not the styling for me.

Also, as a left hander, I also appreciated how the Watch can be worn upside down with the crown on the opposite side. In this upside down mode, the display will flip to accommodate the new orientation.

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Watch Design — Bands

During my demo, I was able to try-on the Milanese loop and the white fluoroelastomer Sport band. The Sport band was flexible and had a soft feel that was much different than the more rigid bands on other smartwatches. The band used a pin system was easy to put on. You adjust the band to the correct size and then push the pin through the hole to secure it. The excess band is then pushed through a hole and tucked up against your wrist. It’s a clever design that hides the excess band and serves to secure the band firmly to your wrist.

For the Sport model, my favorite Watch combination was the space gray Sport Watch with the black Sport band. The two together were striking as well as affordable. The other Sport bands were brighter in color than I expected with a hue that more pastel than neon. I ordered the green Sport Watch band and was surprised by the boldness of the bright-yellow green color. I am a big fan of neon green, but the green of the band was not what I expected. I may not like the Sport band color I selected, but I can always purchase a replacement.

I also was able to demo the Milanese loop, which was wonderful to wear. The loop had an elegant magnetic strap that allowed you tighten the watch to perfection and let the clasp attach magnetically on the loop to keep it snug. The loop itself was not as flexible as I expected, but the snug fit and solid magnetic clasp made up for my initial hesitation about the band.

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Display

After using a Pebble and other monochrome trackers, the color display of the Apple Watch is a welcome change. The display is bright and vibrant, and the text stands out. Photos look great, and readability was surprisingly good for a small screen. Both the 38mm and 42mm are gorgeous, but the 42mm version is slightly larger and, therefore, more pleasing to use.

Digital Crown

One of the highly touted features of the Apple Watch is its digital crown, which provides a mechanism for interacting with the the Watch. The Crown acts like a home button that allows you to press it to move back through apps and eventually back to the home screen. It also allows you to zoom and move up/down through content. It’s intuitive to use and an easy way to interact with the device.

Taptic Engine

Another novel feature is the Taptic Engine that provides haptic feedback for incoming alerts. The sensation was subtle and very dependent on how you wear your Watch. The first Watch I tried was equipped with the larger Sport band, which was too big for my wrist. Even on the smallest setting, the Watch was loose, which made it impossible to feel the taps from the device. With the Sport band and the Milanese loop, I was able to get a snug fit and could feel the taps. By default, they are very subtle and could be easily overlooked if you are concentrating on something else. The strength of the haptic feedback can be adjusted in the settings, but this adjustment was not available to me during the demonstration.

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User Interface

The Watch user interface was fairly intuitive — I quickly figure out how to use the digital crown to navigate and the button to launch apps. I did not test the Force Touch that allows you to tap for certain interaction and press/hold for others. I was too focused on other parts of the UI and ran out of time to test this feature.

The centerpiece of the UI is the home screen, which is a collection of icons that you can tap to open. They are a bit small, but you can use the Digital Crown to zoom before selection. You also can move them around by touching the Watch face. The apps are not labeled, but they share the same icons as the iOS versions making them easily identifiable.

Because the demos are limited, I did not get a chance to test out glances or notifications. I also did not get to test out the performance of third-party apps. Though some reviews noted sluggish performance, I did not notice any appreciable slow downs. Yes, it is not as fast as my iPhone, but the stock Watch apps opened readily and did not lock up during my limited testing.

Overall Impressions

In the end, I walked away from my demonstration time pleased with my Watch purchase. I was very happy with the build quality of the device and how it felt on my wrist. Even the live demo of the Apple software reinforced to me that I made the correct choice in buying the Watch. I was looking forward to the Apple Watch following its announcement. After the demo, I am even more excited for later this month when the Watch arrives on my door step.