Before I got into details about my experience with the Apple Watch, which I have been using now for almost two weeks, let me give you a background of my experience with the (mechanical) watch, and wearables.
There was a time not long ago where I had a fetish for watches. I wouldn’t say I had a great eye for a time piece, but I used to keep upgrading to a better and more expensive watch every year or couple of years.
However, with the introduction of ‘smartwatches’ like the Pebble, I quickly fell out of love with a mechanical watch that just told me the time. I found it pointless to spend hundreds of dollars on a watch, and carry it around, when my iPhone did the job. I hadn’t given up on the watch, as taking out the iPhone to check the time wasn’t very efficient or convenient. I was still looking for a device that could do more than just tell me the time.
Before getting my Apple Watch Sport, I’d used several ‘wearables’, from smartwatches like Pebble to fitness trackers from Fitbit, Garmin, etc. I was very excited about using the Pebble, but I was quickly frustrated with the connectivity issues and the way notifications was handled. The last thing I wanted was to have another device that would annoy me about an incoming notification. In fact, I stopped using it in less than a week or so. I don’t blame Pebble for the notification experience, as it was due to lack of adequate support for wearables in iOS. Fitness trackers from Fitbit and Garmin did a specific job, but I still wanted a device that would do more than just track how many steps I had taken or floors I had climbed.
So I couldn’t wait to get the Apple Watch, as it seemed to tick all the boxes. I was lucky to get my hands on the Apple Watch Sport with a sport band. It wasn’t my first choice. Before the initial Apple Watch reviews came out, I was planning to get the space black 42mm stainless steel Apple Watch. But after reading the reviews, which weren’t very encouraging, I decided to go for the space gray Apple Watch Sport with a black sport band. Unfortunately, it seemed to be an extremely popular choice, so the shipping dates slipped to June by the time I got to adding it to the shopping cart on Apple’s Online Store. So I settled for the silver Apple Watch Sport with a white sport band. In the rush to order it as quickly as possible, I ended up ordering the 38mm model by mistake! But I was lucky to be one of the first few people to get my Apple Watch on April 24th, the official launch day for the device.
When I ordered the Apple Watch, I wasn’t looking forward to using it to make Dick Tracy style phone calls. But it is one of the coolest things you can do with the accessory. I’ve grown up watching James Bond movies (and similar), and the ability to make a call using your watch is like a dream come true. It was a brilliant move by Apple to introduce the ‘Handoff’ feature in iOS 8, it has allowed the company to bring the capability to make and receive calls to the Apple Watch without having to put a cellular modem in the device, which would have a detrimental impact on battery life.
Some might say that the speaker on the Apple Watch is not too loud, but I think it is by design rather than a limitation. It is powerful enough to make a call in public without being embarrassed about the caller being too loud. ‘Telephony’ is easily the standout feature for me, though it is currently restricted to only phone calls. After using it on the Apple Watch (you can also make calls using your Mac or your iPad using Handoff), I realized that it would be nice to have the ability to make FaceTime audio calls and VOIP calls using the Apple Watch as well.
Notifications work seamlessly between the iPhone and Apple Watch. So if you’re using the iPhone, you will get the notifications on your iPhone, but if you’re not using it, you will get the notifications on your Apple Watch, exactly how it should work. Thanks to the ‘Taptic Engine’, it is a lot more pleasant to get the notifications on the Apple Watch, as you get a ‘tap’ for a new incoming notification rather than a general vibration.
The Taptic Engine tap feels like a polite way of telling you that there is something waiting for you, and to check it when you have the time rather than a rude interruption of a notification on the iPhone. Of course, since you are not wearing the iPhone in the same way as the Apple Watch, the general vibration does make sense. But I have always found it annoying. Apple Watch fixes this issue with the multi-tiered approach. If you have the time, then you can check the notification simply by glancing at your watch. Apple Watch gives you 6 seconds to quickly see the notification (I wish it was possible to increase this), and 17 seconds if you tap on the screen to check it. You also have other useful features like “Clear All”, which can be accessed by ‘force pressing’ the screen to clear all the notifications on your Apple Watch.
I think most reviewers of the Apple Watch overlooked the importance of the reliable connection between the iPhone and the accessory. Since the Apple Watch or any other wearable depends heavily on the iPhone, the connectivity between the two devices can make or break the user experience. In the case of the Apple Watch, it ‘just works’. I haven’t had any issue connecting my Apple Watch with the iPhone. Without wishing to ascribe blame, I’ve had connectivity issues with most wearables I have used, resulting in an extremely poor user experience. Adding Wi-Fi support, which is not available in most smartwatches, is also a smart move, since it extends the range between your iPhone and the Apple Watch, when you’re at work or home, so you can move around in a living space without carrying your iPhone around all the time.
One of the best things about the iPhone and iPad is the quality of the applications available in the App Store. So I had quite high expectations about Apple Watch apps. My expectations were tempered after reading the initial Apple Watch reviews and it turns out that most third-party Apple Watch apps are pathetic. Since they are running on the iPhone instead of the Apple Watch, it can take a long time to load an app. In fact, it is so slow that it is faster to take out your iPhone and use the app on that instead.
Even from a user interface point of view, the apps are unusable in most cases. For example, here’s a screenshot of the Hours app on the Apple Watch. It’s a time management app (one of my favorite and an extremely well-designed iPhone app), but as you can see, it is impossible to figure out which task to tap on to track time on the Apple Watch as I cannot see the complete task name since it is long.
The apps that stand out so far are Remote to control Apple TV, Uber (just need a tap to request a cab to your location), Due (iTunes link – for its notifications and glances), Shazam (for quick song identification). Twitter has a nice app for the Apple Watch, but the need to tap on the ‘More’ button after reading every 5 tweets makes it a non-starter for me.
One of the reasons the quality of apps is poor could be because many developers didn’t have an Apple Watch early enough, and I expect them to get better with time, but my advice to developers is to avoid releasing an Apple Watch app just for the sake of it. It can end up backfiring and resulting in negative reviews. Don’t think of the Apple Watch as another iPhone with a smaller screen. It was probably fine to think that way about the iPad (an iPhone with a bigger screen), but it won’t work in case of the Apple Watch. You need to reimagine the user interface for the Watch. Keep it simple, and if you can’t keep it simple, don’t release an Apple Watch app.
As a Watch
If you’re a die hard fan of mechanical watches, then you will find the delay it takes to show the watch face when you raise your hand a little annoying. It would have been nice to have the display ON all the time, but due to battery life concerns Apple seems to have settled for this ‘on demand’ solution.
Personally, I wasn’t too bothered by it, as I didn’t wear a watch before this, and used to use my iPhone to check the time. The watch faces that come pre-installed are nice, but nothing to rave about. I hope that Apple allows third-party designers to also release watch faces in the future, as ten is just not enough. I prefer the simplest version of the ‘Utility’ watch face, and have added complications (follow this link in case you’re wondering where the word originated from) for Activity, battery and upcoming Calendar events.
I must admit that I was disappointed by the Apple Watch in the looks department when Apple unveiled it in September. I was expecting Apple to launch a wearable that would look futuristic (definitely not a watch), and blow my mind away. Having said that, I think it is one of the best looking smartwatches in the market, probably after the Moto 360 and the LG Urbane, if you prefer a round watch face. Personally, I am glad Apple didn’t go for the round watch face, as it is not practical from a user interface point of view.
Having said that I was planning to buy the stainless steel Apple Watch, after checking it out in person (in an Apple Store), I am glad I went for the Sport model. I prefer the matte finish compared to the glossy finish of the stainless steel model. I wasn’t able to check the Black stainless steel model as it was not on display.
Like it or not, Apple Watch’s user interface has a learning curve. Thanks to two home screens, the watch face (where you can check the time, access Glances, and Notification Center) and the actual home screen (where you can launch apps), it can get a little confusing. You have the Digital Crown, which is a dial that lets you scroll and zoom, and you can also press it, which is like using the Home button on the iPhone. You also have the Side button, that lets you quickly access the Friends and Family app, and also works as a Power button when you long press it. It took me a day or so to get comfortable with the user interface and the Digital Crown.
The buttons to dismiss notifications or take action are also big enough. In terms of readability, I found the screen (in my 38mm case) too small to read long emails, but it seems perfect for notifications, shorter messages, and glances.
The display of most wearables that I’ve used until now have been quite ordinary. When you compare the display with your iPhone or your smartphone’s display, it has usually been a step down. Apple did the right thing by using a high-resolution Retina OLED Display (332 ppi). It is the first time Apple has introduced a new product with Retina Display. Anything less than a Retina Display would have been a let down, as we’re so used to the Retina Display on our iPhone and iPad. Text, images and watch face graphics look sharp on Apple Watch display. It is also quite readable in direct sunlight.
Battery life is pathetic if I compare it with (the more limited) Pebble, but it is better than what I had expected. I have been able to get through the day without any problem. It is a pain to charge it every night, but I am getting used to the routine. Note that I haven’t used the Apple Watch for measuring workouts, etc., which I hear can decrease battery life significantly. It is quite possible that one of the reasons for my better than expected battery life is because I am not using the Motion, Astronomy, or Mickey watch faces or using the Weather complications, etc.
What’s bizarre is that I am getting better battery life on my Apple Watch than on my iPhone 6 Plus, because of the severe battery drain issues after updating to iOS 8.3. I was worried that things would get even worse with the Apple Watch, but surprisingly it hasn’t had an impact. In fact, it is not even in the top 10 list of apps or services consuming battery life.
Fitness and Activity tracker
As I mentioned, I am yet to test it for workouts, etc. As an activity tracker, it does the job, and shows the data in nice circular dials (which turns into a target after you achieve all the goals). If you want to see a previous day’s data, then you have to access it via the Activity app on the iPhone. It also nudges you to stand up and move after a hour or so of inactivity. I will update this section after I test the Workout app.
Since the Apple Watch is water resistance and not waterproof, I avoid taking it in the shower, which is quite annoying. Even after almost two weeks, there are times when I start the shower and realize that I haven’t taken it off. Ugh!
So if you’re someone who wears the watch to bed, while bathing and swimming, then it will mean that you will have to remove your Apple Watch at least twice a day, which can be quite a pain. I really hope the next version of Apple Watch is waterproof and comes with much better battery life.
The Sports band is extremely comfortable, and after trying out various bands, I found it to be the most comfortable band of all. However, it may not be suitable for all occasions, so you may want to buy another band for more formal events.
Not surprisingly, the white band does end up getting dirty. So far, rinsing it with water seems to do the trick.
Other cools features/details
There are a few cool features that I thought I should mention.
When you get a new notification or a call, you can mute it just by covering the display with your palm. This can be very useful when you get a call in the middle of a meeting, not having to fiddle with the mute switch!
When Apple introduced the “Hey Siri” feature in iOS 8, we all wanted to use it hands-free without tethering our iPhone to a power source. But Apple was worried about battery life so it had to put in that restriction. The implementation of the “Hey Siri” feature on the Apple Watch is just perfect thanks to the wrist detection feature. All you need to do is raise your wrist, and say “Hey Siri” to get a response, completely hands-free.
Apple Watch also allows you to take photos remotely on your iPhone. It also makes it possible to take selfies using your iPhone’s rear facing iSight camera which is much better than the front facing FaceTime camera, without trying to guess where the shutter button is on your iPhone. I thought I might not need it, but I have already used it to take quite a few photographs.
If you’re planning to buy the Apple Watch, set the right expectations. If you buy the Apple Watch because you think it is a tiny iPhone then you will be disappointed. But if you look at it as an accessory for your iPhone that helps you manage notifications in a non-intrusive way so that you’re on top of things without having to take out your phone, and that can also make calls and track your activity and fitness, then you’re going to love it.
Here’s how I would summarize the review in terms of pros and cons of Apple Watch:
- One of the best looking smartwatches in the market (but this is very subjective).
- Great way to manage notifications on your iPhone.
- Allows you to do cool things like make and receive calls.
- Reduces the need to use your iPhone.
- One-day battery life
- Not water proof
- Most apps in the App Store suck (at the moment)
Is the Apple Watch a must-have? Absolutely not. But it is a really cool wearable, and I’m loving it.
I hope this article helps you with your own Apple Watch buying decision. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments if you’ve any questions. If you’ve already got your Apple Watch, please do share your experience in the comments below.