Generally, my wallet comes flying out of my pocket after every Apple keynote.
No matter how hard I try to convince my wife that this keynote will be different, I end up failing. Up goes Apple’s product page and out comes the Visa. Shortly thereafter, an eBay listing goes up under my username and I spend the next month or two with different levels of satisfaction and cognitive dissonance.
This wasn’t so with the Apple Watch. When Tim Cook first unveiled the Watch, my first reaction was more “Ummm….?” instead of “Wow!”. For the first time, Apple failed to immediately convince me.
Series 2 doesn’t have any special improvements or enhancements that could somehow change my original opinion of the Watch. Waterproofing and GPS weren’t the make-or-break factors for holding off on the now-dubbed Series 1. The Watch’s design was never the issue either. Nor battery life. Nor watchOS.
No, I just didn’t understand the raison d’être of the Apple Watch. I wasn’t exactly sure how a guy like me was supposed to use the Apple Watch. Up until recently, I don’t think Apple knew either.
I got tired of asking, reading, and researching. With the announcement of Series 2, I jumped into the foray.
An aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 with white sport band arrived at the office shortly after the keynote and I was off into oblivion. A small tap on the wrist here and a beep there, and I quickly got used to my silent iPhone. My workouts were tracked and my to-do list was shorter than ever.
I immediately fell in love with the Apple Watch. To the point I returned the aluminum model and ordered the stainless steel variety.
About a month later, I couldn’t be more infatuated. The Apple Watch is my alarm clock, my fitness tracker, my notification center, my speakerphone, my assistant, and most importantly, my elegant timepiece.
Happily ever after, right?
I’m returning the Apple Watch, for good.
This seems like an odd conclusion to such a love affair. But for all intents and purposes, it’s more so the larger macro-context Apple provides with all its devices rather than the downfall of the Apple Watch itself.
Let’s see if I can make it clear as mud.
This is my first Apple Watch, so forgive me for lusting after the Watch’s impeccable design.
Aesthetically, almost nothing has changed from Series 1. I’ve read the new Watch is marginally thicker than before, and comparison shots point to a small change in the speaker and microphone cut outs. Aside from this, there’s no feasible way to determine if someone is wearing the new Watch if you’re sitting across the room.
Both the aluminum and stainless steel Apple Watches begin and end with tolerance. Glass meets aluminum or stainless steel without a seam on both models, and buttons press firmly with a commanding click. The front face glimmers in the sun. The polyelastomer band is soft, light, and stays fastened almost beyond logic.
The stainless steel Apple Watch is dense. Wonderfully dense. When you fasten the Watch to your wrist, you know it’s there. When you pull up your sleeve, others know it’s there.
I wondered if the Watch’s thickness would be a deal-breaker, but instead it has served to properly balance the Watch on my wrist. Sometimes I forgot the aluminum Watch was on my wrist. I never forget the stainless steel Watch is on my wrist.
The rounded Watch edges serve to keep the Watch from feeling too bulky. The edges sort of melt away from the display, making for the feeling of a heavily aged pebble.
Aluminum Watches ship with sturdy Ion-X glass displays, while the stainless steel Apple Watch has a sapphire crystal display. Side by side, I believe you can feel a difference in the materials. On a day-to-day basis though, I’m unsure if the difference in display hardness would be noticeable. I’m sure sapphire crystal is technically harder and more durable, but if you’re going to smash the Apple Watch, I doubt the difference in display cover will save you.
Apple touts a big improvement in the brightness of the Series 2 Apple Watch display. I recall reading many experiences of visual difficulty in bright or direct sunlight. The Series 2 display is exceptionally bright — 1000 nits bright (whatever that means) — and has never been an issue outdoors. The only time I notice how bright the screen gets is when the display fires up 5 minutes before my alarm is set to go off. I like the idea, but that screen is bright first thing in the morning.
The underside of the Apple Watch houses a heart rate monitor and other wonderful gadgetry, and it’s covered in sapphire crystal no matter the model. I find it picks up my skin oils and sweat fairly easily, making it hard to shoot a proper photo without any smears. My photos don’t do the Apple Watch’s belly any justice.
In reality, the underside of the Watch is my favorite part of the entire design. Flipping the Watch over shows a wonderful combination of gadgetry and design. The circular sensors have a Rolex sort of look. Flipped upside down, you immediately know this is an expensive watch. The heart rate sensor, to me, defines the Apple Watch’s sense of wondrous elegance.
The left side of the Watch has an updated speaker and microphone. Both are simply cut out of the stainless steel body, with nary a clue of what’s hidden underneath. Of course, the speaker has been redesigned to use sound waves to eject water when you wear the Watch in the pool or in the shower. Knowing this brilliant engineering rests under the two small slats in the Watch’s body is a testament to Apple’s engineering team.
The right side’s home button and Digital Crown are equally impressive. The home button clicks solidly and has tolerances you can feel in your fingertips.
The Digital Crown leaves nothing to be desired either. The Crown’s small notches give the Crown a timeless appeal, while still providing enough tactility to turn no matter the perspiration on your fingers. I do find the Digital Crown to spin a little too easily, mind you. I’m sure Apple tested different spinning tolerances a thousand times over, but I know I’d prefer something with a little more friction.
As many alluded to throughout the year, the sport band’s design and feel match the design prowess of the Apple Watch body. The polyelastomer band is light and tactile and is quite easy to fasten to your wrist first thing in the morning. Pulling the Watch off your wrist is equally easy — almost frighteningly easy — when it’s time for bed. When working out, the band doesn’t slide up and down your wrist. Yet, when you’re sweating, it doesn’t flat out stick to your skin. If not for how the white polyelastomer band clashes with a suit, I’d be comfortable never buying a second band for the Watch.
Even the Watch’s charger is well designed. There is a physical difference between the plastic charger shipped with the aluminum model and the stainless steel charger shipped with the stainless steel model, but both are designed well and snap magnetically to the Watch with ease. I noticed the stainless steel charger scratches more than expected. Really though, I’m not sure I care if the charger shows a few bumps and bruises.
Like every Apple product, the material design and engineering in the Watch is second to none. Design makes a first impression, and Apple’s design helps it get off on the right foot. The Apple Watch is the epitome of Apple’s impressionistic design.
Moreover, this is a watch. It’s defined by its design. How a watch looks is arguably more important than how it works. Yet, if the stainless steel Watch’s design was applied to the iPhone, I’d still be in love. In the Watch, Apple has found a way to create a fashionable watch and a fashionable gadget.
I’m a really bad individual to ask about the Watch’s new operating system. I had never used a Series 1 Watch outside of the Apple Store, so I never experienced the miscues in watchOS 1 and 2. I heard there used to be something called “Glances”, and I remember seeing that laughable “Circle of Friends” in Apple’s keynote. Aside from this, my experience is non-existent.
So take it with a grain of salt when I say watchOS 3 seems to work pretty well on the new Series 2 Watch. Opening the dock with the home button stutters for a split second, yet quickly slides back to show you your favorite apps. Pressing in the Digital Crown reveals the still odd app home screen, yet the home screen scrolls around smoothly with no hiccups. Apps still seem to take a few seconds to load. However, I’m told this is still a wonderful improvement over older watchOSes. As a whole, watchOS 3 is hardly a stumbling block for the Apple Watch.
I appreciate the work of developers to pare down the features of their Apple Watch apps. Tweetbot, for instance, doesn’t have a timeline to scroll through tweets. Instagram, however, does. Instagram’s Apple Watch app is a wondrous mess, while Tweetbot runs quickly and efficiently. As people continue to hone in on what the Apple Watch does so well, so too will developers narrow the scope of their apps. I appreciate this.
The Watch feels like a gadget built for full screen swipes, and watchOS 3 appears to admit this. Swiping from the right edge lets you flip between watch faces, swiping down shows you your notification center, and swiping from the bottom brings up Control Center. Control Center is perfectly executed — all the necessary quick-change settings are there, with properly sized buttons to press. Swiping right to left to change watch faces feels like a wasted gesture though. I don’t find myself changing watch faces whatsoever, let alone needing an entire gesture dedicated to the task. If Apple could find it in its heart to allow customization of this gesture, I’m sure there would be some happy campers.
Lastly, I find the whole “Force Touch” thing on Apple Watch to be half-baked. As a brand new Watch user, I’m never sure when an app has a Force Touch option or what I’m going to find by pushing down hard on the display. Having a three-dimensional input method is fundamental to a device built on swipes and gestures, so I hope to see Apple improve Force Touch going forward.
Despite my inexperience with prior OSes, I think I can accurately see Apple fine-tuning how the Watch is used. More importance has been given to the Activity app and to watchOS 3’s Nightstand Mode. Watch apps — both first and third party — have narrow scopes and do one very specific thing well. Apps that try to do too much are immediately noticeable. watchOS 3 operates like the Watch is coming into its own. Apple’s iterative improvement schedule of the iPhone is not mimicked with the Apple Watch, and watchOS 3 is a perfect example of a software redesign done well.
When reading Series 1 Apple Watch reviews, people discussed two specific things: clunky software and surprisingly good battery life. Apple originally claimed the Watch would last an entire day and would require recharging overnight. In hindsight, it’s obvious Apple underestimated the Watch’s battery for the day-to-day Watch user.
I could easily get two full days of battery life on the Series 2 Apple Watch. I pulled up Control Center around 3:00PM the other day and found a battery charge of 93%. I pulled the Watch off the charger around 8:00AM that day. At the end of the day, I put the Watch back on the charger with around 80% of a full charge.
Now, I didn’t go for a run that night without my iPhone at my side, nor did I use extensive battery hog features throughout the day. I used the Watch the way I’ve come to use the Watch — tracking notifications, daily step/stand/calorie tracking, and as a speakerphone on occasion. Even if I use the Watch heavily from 6:00AM to midnight, I still go to bed with a half charge.
I’ve been flat out stunned with the Watch’s battery life. There are instances where my iPhone has less of a charge than the Watch at the end of the day. I don’t believe anyone can look logically at the Apple Watch and state it doesn’t have enough battery life for their daily uses.
That nifty speaker I mentioned earlier has been designed in the name of water-resistance. Apple Watch Series 2 ships with a water-resistance to 50 metres, allowing you to bring it with for swims, shallow diving, or into the shower. I had read Series 1 already had a level of water-resistance sufficient enough for tracking swims, but Apple never fully endorsed this type of activity. Either way, you can now rest easy if you get dumped into the pool with your Watch on your wrist and your iPhone in your pocket.
If you’re going to jump into the pool, simply pull up Control Center by swiping from the bottom of the Watch and tapping on the water icon. The Watch then turns off touch input to the display, leaving only the gyroscope active. If you turn your wrist to look at the time, the display will show the time. Aside from that, the Watch becomes essentially inactive.
When you are finished your aqua workout, you can press in either of the two side buttons to bring up the water ejection view. Simply spin the Digital Crown a few times and the Watch uses a few sound waves to eject any water caught in the speaker. This water ejection is brilliant, easy to use, and masterfully executed.
As a whole, water-resistance is mostly lost on me. I don’t have access to a pool where I’d be able to track fitness, nor do I see a need to wear the Watch in the shower. It’s nice to know, though, that I could wash the dishes with the Watch and nothing would short circuit.
Yet, even still, you need to be wearing the polyelastomer band for the Watch to undergo no damage at all. I have the same worry about the Watch as I do with my iPhone 7 Plus: with a leather case on the iPhone 7 Plus, I’m more worried about getting the case wet than the iPhone. If I had a leather band, I’d be more worried about the band getting wet than the Watch. Having water-resistance to 50 meters is a major improvement over Series 1, but there are still small hiccups in the Watch experience to incentivize staying free and clear of water.
Processor and GPS
watchOS 3 runs on the Series 2 dual-core processor, which has built-in GPS this time around. GPS works wonderfully on the Apple Watch Series 2, even if it’s a battery hog. Without an iPhone connection, the Watch automatically jumps over to its own integrated GPS module. If you’re out on a workout, the Watch tracks your exact locations locally and then syncs them over to your iPhone when the connection returns. It can do this for about five hours on the Watch’s battery, which Apple says should last an entire marathon.
I was impressed with the Watch’s GPS accuracy. Not only did it show small deviations in my running route, it also showed my speed. I’m not into hardcore fitness, but I did find the GPS results to be helpful for maintaining consistent running speeds and maintaining a consistent route.
What built-in GPS doesn’t bring is full-on Apple Watch independence. If you’re out for a run and witness an emergency — or go through an emergency yourself — you still need an iPhone to make the call. (I actually accidentally dialed 911 through the Watch the other day by holding in the home button with my hand in my pocket. I was so shocked when I was talking to the operator that I spit out some random sentence that made no sense. I would actually recommend turning off the “Hold to Auto Call Emergency SOS” option for fear of replicating my mistake.) Long story short, built-in GPS is good for tracking a workout, and that’s mostly it.
How I Use the Apple Watch
As has been apparent with Apple’s jumping around, we are still collectively fine-tuning what the Apple Watch does best. There are some immediately obvious features, like fitness tracking, notifications, and time-telling, which everyone will use extensively with the Apple Watch. From there, how one uses the Apple Watch could be unique to the individual.
I’m not sure tracking “calories” is an accurate way of measuring movement throughout the day, but it’s hard to blame Apple for trying this method. Aside from the odd method of movement measurement, the Apple Watch tracks fitness wonderfully.
I find my hourly standing statistics to be impressively accurate, although I will run into occasions where the Watch thinks I’m standing when I really just put my hand in a new position. I try to give in when the Watch tells me to stand up and I can feel an improvement in my legs when I follow directions.
I turned off Breathe notifications. They always seem to come at the most inopportune times.
Exercise tracking has been hit and miss for me. I brisk walk down to the bank is tracked as exercise 99% of the time, but even slow pacing around the office is tracked on occasion. I often find myself looking down at my activity rings at the end of the day and wonder when I actually pulled off 30 minutes of exercise.
But those activity rings are a monumental invention. Looking at them now, they seem so obvious. Filling those activity rings has to be the most healthy addiction a human could have in this day and age. The Watch is solely responsible for an uptick in my exercise over the last month and a half, and I see this being fundamental for those looking to become at least somewhat more active than their current state.
As a Notification Center
My iPhone no longer vibrates in my pocket when a notification comes in. Instead, I feel a tap on my wrist, like a close friend or spouse would do to let me know someone is at the door. The seamlessness of notifications flowing into the Apple Watch from the iPhone is probably my favorite part of the Watch experience.
Pulling down Notification Center from the top of the Watch is very natural. I tend to use the Digital Crown to scroll through notifications and I use Force Touch (this is the only area I find myself ever using Force Touch) to clear notifications.
But more so than Notification Center is the Watch’s array of notification sounds. Why can’t these sound bites be used on the iPhone? The Watch’s phone ring is far more professional and appropriate than the default iPhone tone, and the email/iMessage/general notification beeps and bops are far more subdued. I love these sounds more than any other notification sounds on any Apple device and genuinely hope they come to the Mac and iPhone/iPad in the future.
As a Timepiece
In this regard, the Watch’s physical design probably plays just as large a role as the software. The stainless steel Watch looks especially good with a leather band and business casual attire, to the point I feel it actually fits in. I honestly feel confident wearing the Watch on a daily basis and pulling it out just to check the time.
Software-wise, it does take a half second for the Watch’s gyroscope to determine your wrist movement and display the time. I haven’t found this horribly bad though — anytime I have an issue, I’ve been able to tap the screen (or nose-tap the screen) to fire up the display.
I love how the second-hand flows around the watch face instead of ticking and tocking one second at a time.
Nightstand Mode is a great watchOS 3 feature which feels like a natural use for the Watch. Simply pressing one button to snooze or the other to turn off an alarm is far and away more efficient than trying to figure out how to dismiss an alarm on the iPhone. Plus, like I said before, the Watch’s alarm tones are much better than the iPhone’s.
Lastly, I find it to be an interesting addition to have the Watch’s display light up to almost full brightness five minutes before your set alarm. I assume this is meant to be a subtle cue for your body to begin the wake up process. If not, that’s how it has been working for me. And I swear I’m waking up more refreshed than I ever did with an iPhone alarm.
As a Speakerphone, Dictation Device, and To-Do List
Apple pitches Siri pretty heavily when it comes to interacting with the Apple Watch and I swear Siri is better on the Watch than on the iPhone.
When driving, simply holding in the Digital Crown to dictate a message to a friend is better than looking for the home button on an iPhone and dictating into the microphone. Not only is the iPhone illegal to use while driving, it’s far less accurate and less efficient than the Watch.
I also find myself using the Watch fairly regularly as a speakerphone. The Watch’s microphones aren’t overly great at drowning out outside noise, so it can be a bit scrambly on the other end of the phone call. Same goes for the Watch’s speakers — I’m not sure the speakers were designed to emit enough sound to overcome the hum of highway driving. Either way though, and especially when in town, the Watch works great as a driving speakerphone.
Perhaps the one unique facet of my Apple Watch use is Omnifocus. I have an Omnifocus complication on my watch face and it is easily the most used app on my Watch. While possible to create tasks, I find checking tasks off one by one is where the Omnifocus app excels. Overall, I input quick tasks on the go in the iPhone, triage them on the Mac, and check them off on the Watch. Fun workflow.
And here is where everything falls apart for me. If I haven’t been clear already, there is very little about the Apple Watch I don’t like. Design, battery life, utility — everything about the Apple Watch provides an incredible experience.
Except for price.
Unfortunately for customers, Apple’s approach to international currency fluctuations is to price on the high side of the equation. I don’t necessarily blame their product pricing department for hedging on the high side, but the result is an ever-increasing price array on all Apple gadgetry. In the United States, the 42mm stainless steel Apple Watch comes in at $600. In Canada, it’s $779. Add tax onto there and it becomes a $900 Apple Watch. And I haven’t put a leather band onto it yet.
It’s logical to point to the aluminum Apple Watch and state my thought process is flawed. I admit, it’s probably flawed. But I don’t like the aesthetics of the aluminum Watch. The aluminum Watch is wonderfully designed, but it’s not nearly as impressive as the stainless steel model. Further, if you want to grab a leather band, you’ll find the lugs on the leather band don’t match the aluminum Watch body.
I mean, hey, if you’re fine with this, the aluminum Apple Watch could be a no-brainer. It provides the entire Watch experience in a far less expensive package.
For me, I can’t stand the inconsistency between the aluminum Watch body and stainless steel lugs. I also appreciate the heft of the stainless steel model — it feels more like it’s supposed to be there. For me, it’s stainless steel Apple Watch or bust.
Even at $900, I’m this close to saying the Apple Watch provides equal value to the price paid. I absolutely love the device. I’d even go so far to say it’s my favorite Apple device ever.
But it’s still an iPhone accessory. I can’t do work on it. I can’t sell it for more money than I bought it for. And I certainly can’t feel good looking down at my $1000 wrist accessory that I know I’m going to have to upgrade again in a year and a bit.
Because that’s what this comes down to, isn’t it? For every Apple device you purchase, you get caught in an upgrade cycle. For iPhones, that means a new phone every (or perhaps every other) September. For MacBooks, that means a new laptop perhaps every two or three years. For iPads, it means a new iPad every other March. Although the current update cycle is seemingly longer for the Apple Watch, it’s still a device that will require updating in the future. And I just don’t know if I can justify yet another $1000 a year to do so.
Since money doesn’t grow on Josh’s Canadian pine tree, I think I will be taking my thousand dollars and putting it towards something I can earn money with – not an iPhone accessory.
I talk big. I want to believe I can afford all of Apple’s latest iPhones, MacBook Pros, and Watches. I wake up in the morning ready to return the Watch, only to go to bed thinking I want to keep it. What a first world problem to have.
Yet there’s no arguing that this is a superfluous device. Is the Apple Watch a state-of-the-art device? Yes sir. Is it a desirable object to wear on your wrist? You bet. Is it a must-have Apple device? I’m not kidding when I say it’s close to being must-have.
But it isn’t must-have. And in a world with ever-shortening upgrade cycles, fast-paced technological innovation, and fluctuating international currencies, the Apple Watch is the first Apple gadget to go.