I am not a devoted adoring Apple fan. I use both an iPhone and an Android phone. I use both a PC and Mac. Yet I really admire some of the things that Apple has done in the digital world. The iPod, iPad, and iPhone were all breakthrough products that have brought a lot of enjoyment to users and have changed our lives.
I’ve been trying out the Apple Watch for the last few weeks and I can tell you that with this watch, Apple has developed another device that is a real innovation.
When Apple first announced the Apple Watch, most of the processing for the watch was done on the iPhone, which made the watch a little sluggish, but Apple rectified that problem quite quickly. A few weeks ago, they also added some excellent new features with the introduction of the Watch OS 2 operating system. Now apps load faster, do more, and are richer and more engaging.
Apple Watch Design & Build
Like other Apple products, the Apple Watch excels at both design and build. It is strong and sturdy yet light and comfortable. I reviewed the smaller 38mm Sport model in imitation rose gold with a pale lavender rubbery sport band. At $345 this is Apple’s cheapest model. If you have money to burn, you can purchase the same watch in real 18-karat rose gold with white sport band for $10,000 or you can get it in real gold with a leather band with rose gold buckle for $17,000.
Apple offers three different watch versions which are all available in 38mm and 42mm sizes. The Sport Model has an anodized aluminum case, an Ion-X glass screen and comes in four finishes. The sports band is made of something that Apple calls fluoroelastomer which is strong, flexible, and very comfortable. These durable bands are available in several bright colors. The 38mm Sports Watch is $349. The 42mm is $399.
Apple’s second watch version features stainless steel cases, sapphire crystal and a variety of bands. Both the stainless steel case and the sapphire crystal screen are stronger than the materials used in the Sports Model. This version sells for $549 to $1099. The last version of the watch is the one with real gold case, selling for between $10,000 to $17,000.
The versions with stainless cases and sapphire crystals are stronger, but also noticeably heavier than the Sport Model. The custom bands can also add to the weight of the watch. I found the lightweight Sport Model perfect for everyday use. I can wear it comfortably all day. The Sports band has a unique locking mechanism that is adjustable, easy to put on with one hand and keeps the end of the strap nicely tucked in.
With average use, the battery lasts an entire day. The battery is charged with a small magnetic circle that attaches to the back of the watch. It is not wireless, but charges quickly and works well with the new Nightstand mode. This allows you to attach the charger and set the watch on its side to use as a nightstand watch or alarm.
Apple Watch Software & Use
The software interface of the watch is excellent. Several times, I was amazed at how easy it was to get the information I needed as well how much information could be seen on such a small screen. The watch has only two controls. Pressing the digital crown will bring up your apps which appear as small circles. The digital crown is turned to scroll through choices and the button below that is used for communications. Double-pressing on the crown gives you a screen of apps. Pressing and holding the crown brings up Siri.
Pressing the second button brings up your contacts in an easy-to-use format. Double-pressing on the second button brings up Apple Pay and pressing and holding it gives you the ability to power off the watch, initiate the power reserve, and/or lock the device. Besides the two buttons, you often swipe on the screen move from screen to screen. The Digital Touch allows you to press and hold an item or icon to bring up further choices. And, of course, Siri is always available to assist.
Apple Watch Faces
The screen on the watch is blank most of the time, but when you raise your arm to look at the watch, it comes to life. It goes without saying the Apple Watch tells time quite well and the watch faces make it fun to use. With a large variety of watch faces to choose from you can feel that you have a new watch every day. Just touch and press on the current watch face, swipe to choose a face and press customize and set the options for that watch face with the digital crown. You can have everything from a playful Mickey Mouse that taps the seconds with his big yellow feet to a more useful watch face that lets you set options like weather, date, timer, appointments, and stocks. With the updated operating system you can also choose some wonderful time-lapse videos of major cities around the world or you can select one of your photo albums to use its pictures for the watch face background.
Importance of iPhone
Tasks like choosing the photo album to use for the watch faces are handled on your iPhone. On the phone you can also control the app layout on the watch, the size of the text, the sounds and haptic feedback. You can also choose music to load on the watch, but you will need Bluetooth headphones to hear it when your phone is out of range.
In watch-making terminology a complication is typically anything that adds information beyond the time. On traditional watches they might be the date or things like a stopwatch. They’re called complications because they “complicate” the watch and watchmaking process. Apple uses complications in a new digital way.
Most of the watch faces have complications like the date but several allow you to add the temperature, day of the week, remaining battery level, moon phases, sunrise/sunset, stocks, and timers, and world clocks.
You can make the most of many of these by customizing them on your iPhone. For instance, you choose the Stock icon to put in a corner of the watch face. Then you use the iPhone to choose the stocks you want to watch, then tap the stock icon to get current price, charts and a ton of other information.
Any app can have a complication. Right now only the basic ones are available, but I expect their number to grow in the future.
In traditional watch making any watch with three or more complication is called a Grand Watch, so Apple has surely created a Grand Watch here.
Apple Watch Glances
Glances are information that you can glean from the screen with just an upward swipe on the watch face. Tapping on a Glance will generally take you to other screens for additional information. You can customize the glances in your iPhone. You can choose up to 20 glances. You use Glances to see the information that is important to you. You can glance at the amount of battery left in the watch, see and control what music is playing, look at your calendar and much, much more. Any app can have a glance mode if the developer builds it into the app so more of these will be coming soon. Several apps are already incorporating Glances. While some Glances like Stocks and the Word of the Day are quite useful.
Unique Features of the Apple Watch
As I use the Apple Watch, I find more and more things to like. For instance, in the Settings, which can be brought up in a Glance, you can Ping the iPhone to help you find it. This is quite useful because you will hear the ping even if your iPhone is in vibrate mode. Another cool feature is that if the watch rings when you are in a meeting, you can very quickly silence it by placing your hand over the watch face. Even taking a screen shot is easy with the Apple Watch. Just press the digital crown then press the secondary button.
The Apple Watch is good for tracking fitness, as well as for alerts and alarms. It is also wonderful for driving directions. Being on your wrist and having minimal information on the screen, you can quickly raise your hand in front of you for a quick glance while you are driving. It even gives you a slight tap when it is time to turn.
Text Messages & Calling with the Apple Watch
The bottom button on the phone brings up your most used contacts. This OS 2 version allows you to have a dozen contacts listed and also allows you to create contact groups.
Texting is a dream on the Apple Watch. You never miss a text because the watch will tap you on the wrist when a text comes in. To answer you can choose from pre-determined answers like “yes”, “no”, “great”, “later”, etc. You can also press on the microphone button and respond verbally. To initiate a call or text, just choose any contact and choose whether to Text, Phone, or FaceTime with them.
Unfortunately, the watch is not as good at calling as it is at texting. It worked fine in a quiet room, but I found it impossible to use for talking on the phone through the watch when there was noise in the room.
Drawbacks of the Apple Watch
There are a few drawbacks to owning an Apple Watch right now. First, the quality of voice conversations needs to be improved. Also, although the watch has some functionality when your iPhone is not in the vicinity, many of the features will not work unless your iPhone is nearby. Ironically, you can use Apple Pay on the watch without having your iPhone with you. Luckily, in this software version, the watch automatically locks when you remove it from your wrist and it requires a passcode to reactivate. Last, but not least, while many apps work on the watch, we need more to take advantage of glances and complications.
You may not need an Apple Watch right now, but with a little better call quality and a few more fun apps and watch faces, you may want one before very long.