Apple Watch Impressions


I’ve had my stainless steel Apple Watch with its link bracelet going on ten days. More than long enough to form an initial impression of the thing.

  • My first and most significant gripe about the watch is how long it took to get. While I appreciate this is near the front of the line for first world problems and I do my best to keep things in perspective, from the standpoint of someone who’s been playing the necessary game to snag Apple gear as soon as possible for many years, this experience has been the most disappointing. I got up in the middle of the night and had my order confirmation about five minutes past the appointed hour, but my watch was among the last of the initial orders to be shipped by Apple. Based on what I’ve read and the experiences of friends who ordered them, the delaying factor seems to be the steel link bracelet band. Had I ordered it with a sport band, I would have had it weeks earlier. In fact, I did order the sport band, but as an additional band, not the one packaged with the watch. I’d have preferred to see Apple sell the watches separate from the bands and ship them as soon as at least one of the ordered bands was also ready. It would have made this customer happier, at least.
  • Physically, I think this watch is one of the best made, most beautiful things I’ve owned. The way the link bracelet adjusts for size requires no tools and is one of those pure “why hasn’t everyone done it like this” moments you get from Apple when they’re hitting the ball with the fat part of the bat. I love how the light plays over the links in the brush steel band and the dense feeling of the watch itself when holding it in my hand. It’s pure and perfect in its form. The screen is beautiful with totally black blacks and saturated colors. I can’t imagine how the quality of this thing could be improved.
  • Most of the reviews or impressions I’ve read of Apple Watch have been from men (only one woman that I can recall) who don’t normally wear watches. I do normally wear them and consider myself a “watch guy” (though the most expensive I’ve had up to now was maybe three-quarters the price of Apple Watch). I also prefer bigger faces and heavier, chunkier G-Shock-type styles over sleek and thin Movado-style designs. All that to say I find the 42mm Apple Watch to be little too small for my wrist. It feels small and even dainty compared to every other watch I wear (and I have about 24 of them). I’d very much like to see a bigger option in the future. 
  • The relative daintiness of the watch leads me to feel as though the screen is too small. I find it ironic that my own personal preference has been against Apple’s steady movement to ever-larger screens on their mobile devices and here I am complaining about this one being too small, but it is. About half the time, I mess up entering my unlock code because the numbers are too small to hit cleanly. Same goes for the little app icons. I have to stop and carefully aim or else I’ll hit the wrong one. I also find myself tapping on screen elements like “back” and “cancel” several times before they work. I’d love to know what a 45mm or even 48mm screen would feel like.
  • The thing I was most excited to try was the fitness functionality. I’ve had multiple devices over the years in my search for the Goldilocks fitness tracker. So far, Apple Watch appears to be the closest I’ve come to satisfying my needs, but Fitbit’s new Surge looks to have many of the same features and at one quarter the price I paid. Regardless, the best part of Apple Watch’s fitness functionality for me is the heart rate monitoring. I had a Basis band when they first came out and was very disappointed in the lack of accuracy while measuring heart rate. Apple Watch, when compared to my Precor treadmill’s heart rate measurement (which compares very well to my Polar chest monitor) seems to be consistently a few beats per minute lower when running. The first time I ran with it, it wasn’t accurate at all. It bounced around from 215 bpm to around 50 bpm, both totally outside the realm of possibility (I should be from 158 bpm to 163 bpm). But since then, it’s been pretty well dead-on when I’ve done spot checks both against the Precor and counting my pulse against a second hand. Ultimately, I trust the numbers it’s giving me. I have noticed that it seems less accurate when doing weight training or other non-cardio activities, though. 
  • I really dig the Activity app. It gives you gentle reminders on how you’re doing throughout the day and, while it does track steps, doesn’t use them as a metric. I was a big fan of the Nike FuelBand and it’s use of the Fuel system of turing all kinds of effort into a measurable metric and Activity feels similar to that. In addition, the use of concentric circles makes seeing your progress at a glance easy even with it’s shrunken down to the size of a watch face complication. The Activity app includes achievements but, in typical Apple fashion, there’s no built-in awareness that these are things someone might want to share on Twitter or Facebook. You can’t even share them from the companion iPhone app.
  • Speaking of which, Facebook it totally missing from Apple Watch. You can set up the watch to pass along the notifications you get on your phone, but there’s no Facebook app. No way to use the voice recognition to update your status, no way to peruse some kind of abbreviated feed. Nothing. Twitter is present, but the app is pretty lame. You can view “top trends” or recent tweets from your stream, but it starts with the most recent, not where you last read to. That’s not how I use Twitter.
  • Considering all the consternation about battery life prior to its release, it’s one feature that’s been nothing at all to worry about. Very often, at the end of the day, I still have in the neighborhood of 30% battery left. The only day it went into the red zone by 5:00 PM was right after I installed the Misfit fitness app. I put it on the night before, looked at it for three seconds, then forgot about it. Next day, the watch was already at 83% when I left the house. It was at 18% when I left work and was 10% by dinner. After I ditched the Misfit app, the mysterious energy drain disappeared and it’s been back to more than amply charged all day long. Even on those days when I run or workout with it. An hour of working out, by the way, during which the workout app is active the whole time and measuring heartbeat continuously eats about 10% of the battery’s reserve. 
  • I’m somewhat annoyed that the workout app I prefer on my iPhone (Strava) won’t recognize the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor, either on the iPhone app or its watch app. That input only seems to be available to the watch’s workout app.
  • The non-Apple apps in general are too slow to be useful. You want something that will be responsive since it’s supposed to be a quick access kind of thing but most of them just take too long to load their data across the iPhone’s bluetooth connection. I look forward to truly native third-party apps that are supposedly coming later this year.
  • I find using Apple Watch as a phone (that is, placing a call on it and using its mic and speaker to communicate) to be awkward. On the one hand, the mic is excellent and sounds like any other bluetooth device to those you’re talking to. However, the speaker is ridiculous. Near impossible to use outside. Also, there’s just the dorky Dick Tracy feeling of talking into one’s watch I have a hard time getting over.
  • Apple Pay has worked flawlessly the few times I’ve tried it. The closest using Apple Watch has made me feel as though I’m living in the future.

In summary, I have yet to have a “Oh, that’s why I bought this thing!” moment. Someone on Twitter suggested to me that the watch was a beta product. I don’t think that’s right. It’s supremely well finished, both physically and from a software perspective. But it’s limited. It feels more useful than the first gen iPhone, but the first iPhone was significantly more revolutionary and felt as much every time you used it. So it’s clearly a 1.0 product but in a world with greatly increased expectations. 

The activity features are pretty great, but only the Sport model is reasonably priced if that’s how you’ll primarily be using it. I find that it’s basically a “push” device for me in that it’s there to allow me to see notifications without taking my phone out of my pocket or flipping it over. But then, usually, there’s little I can do with the notifications without using the phone. You can use the watch to make short, canned replies to messages, but typically if I’m in a spot where I don’t want to use my phone, I’m certainly not in a place to use speech-to-text. So out comes the phone anyway. 

I think, in time, Apple Watch will be amazing. There’s all kinds of things I can imagine that a device that knows you, specifically, are using it could come in handy. It could replace website passwords, it could open your house, start your car. But right now, it’s early days and very limited. I am not sorry I got it, though. Even with all its shortcomings, I find that I want it on my wrist more than any other of my watches. I hope that Apple moves quickly to make this a more fully-formed product and doesn’t let fashion or an overdeveloped concern for a specific style to get in the way of enhancing its appeal and functionality.