A mix of fashion and function makes Apple’s debut smartwatch the best yet
THE APPLE WATCH is the company’s first delve into the wearables space and has already become the most talked-about smartwatch yet, despite previous efforts from the likes of Motorola, Pebble, and Samsung.
While in the past wearable devices failed to generate as much hype as the Apple Watch, its late entry into the wearables market means it’s joining an already-crowded market. Perhaps with this in mind, Apple has taken a different approach to its competitors, making its smartwatch as much about fashion as it is functionality.
Setting up the Apple Watch is incredibly easy, as long as you have an iPhone 5S (or newer) running iOS 8.2, which will have stuffed an Apple Watch app onto your smartphone.
Switch Bluetooth on, open the app, scan the face of the Apple Watch using your iPhone’s camera, and you’re pretty much done.
Your iPhone will then ask for a few details – such as your Apple ID, whether you’ll be wearing the Apple Watch on your left or right wrist, which apps you want to install on your smartwatch, and whether you want to set up a passcode – which you definitely should do.
After this, the two devices will sync – a process that took two to three minutes during our trial.
Design and screen
We don’t like to boast (we do), but we’ve been reviewing the 42mm Apple Watch with Milanese Loop, a stainless steel mesh strap that wraps around the wrist.
The strap is more jewelry-like than Apple’s rubber and leather strap offerings, perhaps making it a little feminine. However, of all the straps available it is perhaps the one that goes best with the stainless steel body of the Apple Watch, giving the device an all-around premium feel, especially when compared with the likes of the Moto 360.
The strap is of such good quality that you won’t be too worried about it picking up scuffs or scratches, but having said that, the mesh-like material can easily pick up dirt, grime, and, er, cake. The stainless steel Watch body appears plenty tough enough too, and the screen has so far proved resistant to any cracks or nicks thanks to its Sapphire glass coating.
We’ve yet to build up the courage to put its waterproof credentials to the test but will be sure to update the review when we have.
The Apple Watch is by no means as bulky as some of its competitors, such as Motorola’s and LG’s latest Android Wear efforts. We found the strap a little too big, with our abnormally small wrist perhaps better suited to the 38mm offers. But the 1.7in screen felt by no means cumbersome and sat comfortably – if not a little weightily – on the wrist.
This screen is one of the device’s standout features. Apple has branded the 1.7in 332ppi screen a ‘Retina display’, despite switching out LCD for OLED. The display is impressively crisp and vibrant and features all the displays you’ll find on Apple’s Retina-equipped iOS and OS X devices.
Another good thing about the screen is that unlike the ugly thick border you’ll find on Pebble’s smartwatch efforts, for example, it’s largely bezel-less, meaning apps look great and fill the screen.
If you thought that’s all we could possibly say about a 1.7in display – you should be right, but you’re not.
Force Touch, which reportedly will be coming to the iPhone 7 later this year, is another stand-out feature and means the Apple Watch is capable of detecting the difference between light and hard presses on the screen.
The Apple Watch screen comes paired with a Digital Crown, a modern take on the traditional crown, and a unique approach compared to the touch-based navigation on Android Wear. A tap of the button or a flick of the wrist will launch the watch face, and you can push to jump to the app home screen or hold down to activate Siri.
The Digital Crown’s most useful function, however, is navigating around Apple’s specifically-designed WatchOS software, which we found much more pleasant than navigating using the tip of our finger and squinted eyes.
We’ll talk more about WatchOS on the next page.
Apple’s WatchOS software, although designed from the ground up, is oddly familiar but still takes a little while to get used to.
Our first few hours with the smartwatch were a nightmare – we’d swipe the screen when we should have pressed, changed the watch face while trying to check Twitter, and, well, you get the idea. After a while, however, we soon became comfortable using the software – and while a little irritating and clunky to navigate at times, the Digital Crown makes it much more pleasant to do so than on an Android Wear device, for example.
While familiar – with its drag-down the Notifications bar, for example – the app home screen is different from the software you’ll find on an iPhone or iPad, for example, with Apple having designed WatchOS from scratch to better utilize the small screen.
For example, there’s a pint-sized version of Apple’s Messages app. Messaging on the Apple Watch is a little fiddly, and we’ve so far responded to most we’ve received on our wrist with the phrase ‘Absolutely‘, one of Apple’s pre-installed quick replies.
However, the Messages app is more intelligent than we initially gave it credit for, as it intelligently works out what a message you have received is asking. For example, somebody texts you asking whether you want to fish or chips, it will bring up ‘Fish’, ‘Chips’ or ‘Not sure’ as your options.
Of course, Siri is also an option, and the voice-dictation accuracy really is impressive, getting the right message nearly every time.
You’ll find other standard Apple apps onboard too, such as Passbook, Calendar, a Knightrider-style Phone app, and Maps, which uses the Taptic Engine under the hood to buzz your wrist when you need to turn a corner, a feature that has caused us to ditch the iPhone alternative for navigating around London.
There are some new ones, too. The Activity app has proved an early favorite, with the onboard fitness features among the best of the WatchOS software.
While we’re not so keen on the Apple Watch prompting us to stand up when we’re busy at work, the smartwatch – much like many others on the market – will record your exercise, calories burnt and heart rate, using the built-in sensor on its rear. We found the readings to be impressively accurate, more so than those we’ve seen on other wearable devices.
There are plenty of third-party apps already available for the Apple Watch, too. Twitter, for example, offers you a teeny wrist-worn version of your Timeline, Instagram a shrunken-down feed of your friends’ lunches and Uber lets you book a cab straight from the smartwatch.
One bad thing about the Apple Watch’s software, for now at least, is that it must be connected to an iPhone to properly function, meaning you won’t receive Messages if you pop outside and leave your phone on your desk, for example.
However, Apple will rectify this with WatchOS 2.0, which will be rolled out to the wearable later this year.
One of the better things about it is Glances, which are accessible by swiping up from the Watch Face. There is a number to choose from, essentially a stream of widgets pulled in from Watch apps. Glances allow you to easily check your heart rate, have a quick look at what’s trending on Twitter, or ‘glance’ at the weather forecast before you leave the office.
Performance and battery life
Under the hood, the Apple Watch packs Apple’s own S1 processor, and we’ve noticed no issues in terms of swiping through screens or firing open apps, impressive for a first-generation product.
We’ve yet to put the Apple Watch fully through its paces, but battery life has so far been much better than our admittedly low expectations. After a day of using it perhaps far too much, the Apple Watch has used around half of its battery, meaning those using the device more casually will likely get two to three days’ use out of the device.
We’ll update this review when we’ve tested the battery fully.
The Apple Watch, though not without its flaws, is undoubtedly the best smartwatch we’ve tested to date. Apple’s approach for the device to be as much about fashion as functionality pays off.
However, while it trumps its Android Wear rivals, we’re still not convinced it’s worth the hefty price tag, and we’d definitely consider the device a luxury rather than a must-have gadget – especially given the Apple Watch’s current lack of support for native third-party apps.