The Apple Watch is an expensive productivity play toy.
This was a necessary purchase in order for me to experience the complete Apple ecosystem working in unison; or so I thought. After my stellar experiences with the paper-thin Macbook, the iPhone 7 Plus did not match my high expectations; and thus I treated the Apple Watch as a one-time luxury purchase that I would not be giving in to again. Surprisingly, the Apple Watch does have moderate value.
Warning: Long review ahead!
Design & Construction
My Apple Watch is a Series 2 Aluminium 42mm, with a Gold body and dark brown strap. In contrast to Google and the rest of the OEMs, Apple played the safe card by restricting its watches to be strictly square in design; this allowed the Apple Watch to circumvent many display issues that are currently present in the Android Wear watches, like the Moto 360, where certain text on the screen are cropped off by the round display. Thus, you’re left with a more consistent experience but on a square face, which is a matter of personal preference – I think the Apple Watch itself is attractive and reliable enough from a design standpoint.
The Apple Watch varies in prices from S$400 – S$2000++ depending on the series and the watch body and strap materials; and my watch has already suffered a dent at the bottom left corner of the watch body. I expected a little more from Apple in terms of sturdiness, but oh well. Weight-wise, the Apple Watch is heavier than all the other watches I’ve owned, but I got used to it after a while.
The inclusion of the digital crown is one of the smartest, but ill-executed decision from the folks over at Cupertino. This provided a sense of familiarity to watch wearers and made me feel more like I’m actually tinkering around with a proper watch; however, I find the user experience a little unintuitive. The speed of the digital crown adjustment often did not match the rate of change on the elements of the screen, leading to a frustrating situation of trying to get the correct minute for my alarms. Nevertheless, it is a familiar concept on a modern device like this.
Display and Basic Use
Having owned an LG G Watch for a week last year, I know the definition of a sunlight-illegible screen; basically, on a hot sunny afternoon in Singapore, you need an extra hand to cover the watch face to see anything at all. Impressively, the Apple Watch does not have this problem – the screen remains effective under direct sunlight, and I haven’t encountered any situations where I couldn’t read the screen, except in cases due to reflection on the glossy surface, or.. when the screen did not light up as I twisted my forearm.
One of the biggest annoyances I have with the watch is with the inconsistency of its raise to wake feature. This is especially apparent when I have a non-standard posture (such as a semi-lying position) and flicks my wrist without moving my arm. Granted, these positions are not exactly the standard use cases of looking at a watch, but it does get frustrating when I have to use the other hand to tap the screen, or to repeatedly flick your wrist in an attempt to see the time – and I do look like a retard in the process.
Also, do yourself a favour and apply a screen protector if you decide to buy the Apple Watch. Three weeks in and I already have a large scratch on the top right corner of the Ion-X Glass. 😦
As a Watch
Unreliability aside, the Apple Watch is a fun and customizable device to own. You get a variety of watch faces, from the standard analog and digital presentations to their latest additions of Mickey and Minnie telling you the time with their hands. The colors of the watch hands or digits can be chosen from the Apple-curated color palette. The changeable shortcuts on the home screen is an intuitive feature to suit your personal needs, and I found the alarm shortcut the most useful, as it also shows the of the next alarm beside the shortcut icon.
Previous grievances about the Apple Watch centered around its sluggishness in user interface navigation. From my experience, the Apple Watch is smooth enough for normal, non-smart usage, though launching many apps takes a really long time – the amount of time it took to search for a place and navigate on the Maps app was enough for me to take out my phone and do the same. Also, there is a slight but noticeable delay between pressing the digital crown and the app returning to the home screen – not that it impacts usage, but still slightly annoying.
The home screen with the app bubbles looks nice, but is honestly difficult to navigate. Most of the time I either have no idea where my app is, or I just don’t have enough apps I want to use on the watch (more on that later).
As a Smartwatch
The biggest strengths of the Apple Watch comes in the form of notification mirroring and Apple Pay.
I found notification mirroring especially useful when I’m occupied with things – carrying heavy objects with both hands, or when in a meeting such that I do not want to use my phone as it is an intrusive action. The notifications allow me to take a quick glance and respond if necessary, and I found the most success in this when I am in a dance rehearsal, where my phone is definitely not with, but near me. Furthermore, the ability to customize which apps on the iPhone mirror notifications to the watch is a great plus, meaning I only allow, say, non-work apps to ping me on my wrist.
However, one shortcoming of the mirroring system comes when I get spammed by chat app notifications when in the middle of doing something with the watch, like setting the alarm. The notification popup on the Apple Watch reminds me of the iOS 3 days, where the entire screen is covered by the notification and basically I have to keep swiping them up to ignore them. It gets irritating at times, and I do hope Apple can figure out a solution to intelligently make them less intrusive when I’m using the watch.
The issues aside, I’ve grown really accustomed to receiving alerts on my watch, and I feel weird whenever I’m not wearing it and need to take out my phone to check for notifications. I guess that’s the magic that Apple does.
Apple Pay, on the other hand, just works. Double tap on the side button, and you’re ready to pay – easily a comfortable and convenient experience in payment. It’s too bad that contactless credit card payment adoption in Singapore hasn’t reached saturation point, but I can imagine Apple Pay working really well in places like Australia.
Due to the slowness of the apps mentioned above, other apps’ features are honestly not worth mentioning in the review. They are just too slow for the experience to be anything but frustrating – let’s just wait to see if Apple can fix this problem, but meanwhile, I’m happy with the Apple Watch being not as intrusive. Meanwhile, if you would like to play around with Apple Watch apps, here’s a curated list to get started.
As a Fitness Tracker and Health Monitor
Apple has been touting the fitness capabilities of the Apple Watch Series Two – with Tim Cook going as far to call the Apple Watch a device “for a healthy life”. Personally, I enjoy the passive tracking of my movement, exercises and standing times through the Activity app – they provide a non-intrusive reminder of the daily requirements for a healthy lifestyle, and the gamification factor provided by the goals and badges is a nice touch that encourages me to complete them.
The Workout app, on the other hand, doesn’t really provide a lot. It calculates the calories burnt, and.. that’s it? I’m not entirely sure how that helps, maybe a record of my daily workouts would be nice, especially to health-conscious individuals who control their calorie intake every day. I don’t really see a point in recording them, though. (This is strictly personal opinion.)
The Breathe app is a nice addition to the fitness capabilities of the watch, reminding you to practice mindfulness through focusing on your breath for small periods every day. I find the length of each breath too short to my liking, though, and there seems to be no way to customize that at the moment – only the total duration of the breathing exercise.
I never needed to use Power Reserve. Photo credit: apple.com
I actually think the Series 2 watch has good battery life. On long days with a reasonable amount of workout calorie counting, I can get home late at night with about 50% battery remaining. That’s far better than my expectations, but of course it would be nice to have multiple days battery life so that the watch can actually track your sleep (or act as your morning alarm) for once. For now, I try to charge it the moment I reach home, then wear it to sleep – I really love the vibrating alarm as it is non-intrusive and as I am staying with housemates in the same room.
Photo credit: apple.com
So is this worth the S$600? No. That’s half the price of the 128GB iPhone 7! As of now, I believe that Apple has not found the right combination of software and hardware to provide an intuitive, integrable experience on the watch to complement one’s daily life in the Apple ecosystem. While the watch has executed certain use cases flawlessly (Apple Pay for the win), watchOS is still an immature platform that needs time to figure things out. Until then, hold your horses on this one, unless you won the lottery and have some extra cash to spare or something – and as long as you’re willing to admit that this is a luxury product that you would like to own (like a mini Rolex), you would be surprised and appreciative of the little conveniences the device brings you.
Featured photo credit: apple.com