April 10th, 12am, and Apple Watch preorders opened up. For about 37 seconds, I sat there, with my shopping cart full and my mouse cursor over the Submit button, trying to decide. It is not cheap, it's a 1.0 product, and I don't wear a watch... what am I doing buying this thing? On the other hand, I missed the iPhone bandwagon by 2 generations, and I've owned just about every Apple device since, from good and bad. My moment of hesitation was over - click.
April 24th came and went, and my watch didn't show up until April 28th. As an Apple Fan Boi Extreme, I was highly disappointed not to have the new hotness, but it wasn't a long wait, - Tuesday April 28th, the watch showed up. I was nervous - a lot of the bad reviews had gotten to me, people claiming it was slow, unresponsive, and worst off, even at best, not extremely useful. It did take awhile to boot the first time, but the pairing process with my phone with a visual code was cool, and while it had a little hiccup, the first time, it was resolved quickly and we were off to an enlightened experience! This review is going to be written from the perspective of a person who didn't wear a watch and wore a Fitbit for awhile before destroying it against a few solid objects.
The Watch is thinner than it looks in pictures - I expected it to protrude quite a bit from my wrist and in reality, it's not really a lot thicker than my conventional watches. It's heavier than you would expect, and feels hefty and nice in your hands before you put it on, and weighty on the wrist, like a solid piece of hardware. I got the Space Gray Apple Watch Sport 42mm, since the larger case was supposed to have better battery life and who doesn't want a bigger screen? I opted for the Sport Band after seeing one - it's an interesting material - feels nice, and you don't sweat a ton, but the band does get dirty and discolored. It cleans up pretty easily with just a damp cloth. I also realized that it irritated my skin a bit - After a week of wearing it, I had to shift it around a bit because I'd get clammy under it - If I was going to do it again, I'd likely spring for the Milanese loop. I like the look of the stainless band, but it, unlike the watch, feels cheap and lightweight, and rips out arm hairs, like a dull lawnmower.
It's a very nice looking device - as long as the notifications make sense. I had Facebook Messenger on it, and for active chats, no way could I read them while driving or walking - not enough screen real estate - which is fine, the watch should be used for glancing at and not for actually reading email or txts/etc. The watch faces are cool, and it will be interesting to see where development on them goes. The customizations are very limited, and if you are coming from an Android watch (or even a Pebble) you are likely to feel pretty boxed in by the customization options but they are there to make sure the watch maintains a reasonable aesthetic. I mostly used the Mickey Mouse or the traditional looking Chronograph.
The Apple Watch is not designed to be used without an iPhone running the Watch app. You don't get anything done, aside from telling what time it is if you aren't an iPhone user. Think of it mainly as an extended Notifications window, mic and a health interface - combine a small display with a Fitbit and you get it. If you are already a watch wearer or a Fitbit (and I use this as the specific, but really, I mean any wrist mounted fitness tracker) the Apple Watch is a cool device.
Health and Activity tracker
The health functions are functional and useful - they go way beyond what my Fitbit used to. Heart rate over time, walking distance, and reminders to stand up. I thought these were a little dumb at first but realized that they actually saved my back on those long grindy days, where I'd forget to stand up over a few hours and end up pretty achy. Not exactly difficult to replicate somewhere else but a thoughtful feature.
The Activity Tracker was less successful for exercise. I tried it while on the elliptical and while running and it had a hard time telling what I was doing. It was nice to get a heart rate figure, but it didn't match the heart rate figure from the palm sensors at the gym, nor did it match the count I did myself while running. Plus, when I really worked up a sweat, it was clear that the Sport Band was the wrong choice for me from the perspective of sweating underneath it. For me, with very little arm hair, I would have been happier with the Milanese loop.
Apple did a decent job of making activity tracking a game, with achievements and encouragement. The encouragement felt a little contrived but not horribly so - less cheesy than Runkeeper tends to be, especially with my infrequent exercise schedule. Runkeeper say stuff like, "This was a good time to run in February 2014, Kit, let's try again". Surprisingly, the achievements aren't easily shareable, I guess Apple didn't want to be the next FarmVille spamming social networks with achievements, but being able to share and compare definitely adds to the experience. I used to get into competitions with friends on number of steps and distance, so having some social aspects to the Activity Tracker would be nice. Perhaps I just didn't figure it out.
Notifications and Apps
Besides telling time, I used the Watch for Siri quite a bit. It had a few quirks, like, "Hey Siri, remind me to take out the trash when I get home," works just fine on my iPhone but when I did that on the watch, it seemed to look for a reminder instead of creating one. I had to change my syntax a bit and that was annoying - not sure if this was fixed in 1.01. But, I would swear for other things, that Siri worked even better on the Watch. I am a pretty frequent Siri user and Siri tends to work better for me than most people, so your mileage may vary.
iMessage notifications were useful, but I wished for an easy way to create custom responses... I had a few people concerned when I replied with nothing but, "OK" which didn't look like something that would come from me. I used Siri to transcribe and that worked great, although I wish you didn't have to peck at the watch to send the response. Sending as a voice message was kind of silly, might as well just call the person. Again, needs to be a way to send without pecking at the watch.
The biggest thing I got out of the watch was for calendar invites - I could see the meeting room or address that a meeting was in at the glance of my Watch which was pretty cool. I think, aside from telling the time, the calendar display was the most useful thing I found.
Weather and Maps were two potentially other good use cases, but I found the Weather App lagged a lot - often I'd look at the watch to see what it was like outside and would see -- in the weather display. My Phone would refresh and the watch would show, but that was annoying. The Maps app lagged a bit too, I'd get a set of spinning bubbles for awhile, although once loaded, it was very responsive.
The Apple watch is pretty good for navigating too. It gives you gentle haptic feedback on when you need to turn and the subtle beeps and bloops are not bad. When you enter an address on your phone, it automatically uses the watch, although this is a little bit annoying since I didn't always want that and didn't see an easy way to turn it off. Apple Maps has come a really long way and I found that it's improved to the point where I rarely use Google Maps on my phone anymore (mainly because there is a bug with Google Maps that really confuses my Bluetooth and the car can't figure out whether it should be talking with the A2DP profile (BT streaming which it should) or the phone profile (which it shouldn't because it comes out sounding really garbled and crappy.)
The Watch does have a speakerphone and it can be used in a normal room - I took a few calls on it and it worked out. A couple of problems - first, there was no way to pull a call back to the watch if another bluetooth device takes over. Sometimes, I want to use my headset or my phone or the car's bluetooth and all of them have controls that say, "Send Audio to ME!" The Watch lacks that, so if another device takes the call, you have to go to your phone to get it back to the Watch. Tragically, it's really not loud enough to hear the other person even in a quiet car, unless you hold the Watch up to your ear and then you just look stupid.
Apple Watch Accessories reviews
The Screen protectors are great, but you have to realize the caveats - the Apple Watch, unlike the iPhone and most of their other products, has a curved bevel on the screen which means that a traditional semi rigid clear screen protector won't work over the face and the Spigen covers only the flat part. The things you need to keep in mind is that you have to get it perfectly centered or the edges of the screen protector will lift slightly and catch lint and dust. I put the first on, only to rip it off with a long sleeve shirt later in the day. The second one went on more centered. Once it was in place it was almost invisible, but care has to be taken when putting it on.
The Spigen Watch Stand looks nice but had some seriously sharp edges. Not sure what was up with that. Might be a pre-production unit. No issues in actual use, but if you picked it up to move it, you could scratch or cut yourself. It does not come with the expensive charging cable, rather uses the one included with the Apple watch, by securing into a rubber holder at the top. It worked really well and held the watch at a convenient angle if you wanted to use it as an alarm clock, etc. I liked that the base was (slightly) weighted and non stick so it didn't tend to flop over when I removed the watch.
I bought 2 cases and wow were they different. The "exact-fit" cheaper case was pretty good, looks and protection wise. I crashed it into my car door getting into the car and the watch came out unscathed as did the case. Before I got the case, I mysterious put a pretty decent sized scratch in the Watch - Space Gray looks nice but scratches show bare aluminum so are very noticeable. I was pretty sad, but what can you do? The case covered it up and protected against any further scratches. My only complaint was that some of my clothes snagged on the slim fit case and since it didn't actually wrap around, it popped off a few times.
The Air Cushion larger case was disappointing, it was bulky and sort of ugly - the slim fit case didn't change the look of the watch much, but the larger one was pretty fail - I'm sure it protected better but it looked horrible. It was stretchy and to it's credit, it did shrink back down so it fit reasonably well, but it just added too much bulk to the watch for me to use.
So, WHY SELL?
While shopping for accessories, I noticed something peculiar on eBay - Apple Watches were going for 40-50% over their retail price for in hand units - people were even making profits on nothing but a shipping date promise! Crazy. I thought about getting in on this but I kind of liked the watch and figured it might not sell with the scratch I put in it. After knocking one of the slim fit cases off the watch, and INTO A PUBLIC TOILET (I got it out with a plunger and threw it away) I decided that I might just be too klutzy to have an expensive device precariously on my wrist, so I decided to sell. And sell it did... even with new ones just 4-6 weeks out, mine sold for $660 with the accessories. Crazy but Apple Fan Bois - we a crazy bunch!
I may end up getting another one - definitely a cool device and useful. I am just a bit of a klutz so we'll see... given how much my Watch Sport sold for, I am considering buying an Apple Watch with the Milanese loop band... but I might just save the money for the iPhone 6S I'll inevitably buy.
Thanks for reading and hope this was helpful!
Silicon Valley Dad, who loves cars, cooking, clothes and cameras