Thanks to luck and dedication (hitting refresh every 5 seconds when the pre-orders were going live at midnight on April 10th) I managed to actually receive an Apple Watch on release day, April 24th. Which means I’ve been using it daily for just over a month now (including a serious test of using it for fitness tracking during a full marathon). Plenty of time to really settle in with it and form some solid impressions.
The quick, high-level impression: I’m loving it! It’s definitely got a few downsides, but overall, the benefits easily outweigh the cons. It’s not as revolutionary as the original iPhone, but that’s mainly because smartphones at the time were terrible, whereas watches are actually pretty good.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dig in a little deeper.
An Extension of my iPhone
I’ve always continued to wear a watch for its “at-a-glance” convenience. And the Apple Watch fills that role perfectly, except for much more than time.
I’ve frequently read about how cell phones got people to stop wearing watches, because they could just check the time by looking at their phone. But that always seemed annoying to me. Why would I want to have to dig into my pocket to see what time it is? So even though I had been an early adopter of cell phones, I’ve always continued to wear a watch for its “at-a-glance” convenience. And the Apple Watch fills that role perfectly, except for much more than time.
The best way to think of the Apple Watch is as an extension of the iPhone. Do you know those flip phones that have a screen on the outside of the case to show things like the time, or missed calls? The Apple Watch is kind of like that, except much nicer and most importantly, on your wrist, so it’s only a quick glance away.
Think of the difference between using a pocketwatch vs. using a wristwatch and you’ll start to get the convenience.
Throughout the day, I get plenty of notifications on my phone: text messages, phone calls, getting tagged in Facebook posts, meeting reminders, upcoming bill notices, and on and on. Only a scant few actually require any sort of timely follow-up, yet I’m pulling out my phone for each one (or feeling anxiety about it possibly being important.) But now, with the Apple Watch, I can see what it was just by lifting my wrist. Think of the difference between using a pocketwatch vs. using a wristwatch and you’ll start to get the convenience.
Here are just a few scenarios I’ve already encountered where the watch was a vast improvement over just having an iPhone:
- I received a phone call during a meeting and my phone had inadvertently been switched to ring mode instead of being silent. Sending the call to voicemail and silencing the ring was just a quick tap on the wrist.
- A few minutes into the start of a marathon, I got a text from a friend wishing me luck. I was able to check it and send a quick “thanks” response, all from the watch while running.
- Have paused, played, and adjusted music volume from my wrist without needing to take the time to unlock the phone.
- Set a cooking timer by talking to my wrist - Dick Tracy style. We’re clearly living in the future!
All of these things were done within just the first three days of use; helping the Apple Watch prove itself as a remarkable convenient addition to my iPhone.
Oh, and Apple Pay is sweet. I used it just recently at Staples, and not having to take out my wallet was impressive. Again, it felt like living in the future!
The iPhone has always proved to be faster and more robust, with the only downside being that it wasn’t on my wrist. That’s basically solved now with the Apple Watch.
As you’ve probably guessed from my mentions of using the Apple Watch during a marathon, I’m a bit of a runner. As such, fitness tracking is pretty important to me. On runs, I tend to use MapMyRun on my iPhone for tracking and either keep the phone in my hand or check it on a regular basis to see time and distance. But now, the phone can stay put away and stats can be checked on my wrist. And before you mention dedicated GPS tracking watches, I used one of those for a while and hated how long it took to find the satellites. The iPhone has always proved to be faster and more robust, with the only downside being that it wasn’t on my wrist. That’s basically solved now with the Apple Watch.
The watch also provides great all-day tracking of basic activity and I love its reminders to stand up at least once an hour. Again, I’ve used the iPhone and a FitBit in the past for similar purposes, but nothing is beating the convenience of having the stats on my wrist. The iPhone is a chore to check and the FitBit went through the wash a few too many times (it was one of the small, pocket ones that was easy to forget about it.)
Plus, there’s a heart-rate monitor. I’ve never used one in the past since they tend to require a chest strap (which seemed like a big annoyance). With the Apple Watch’s ability to do this right from my wrist though, I’m finally able to begin leveraging one of the fitness tracking tools I’ve wanted to, but found too inconvenient to bother with.
One major downside for fitness tracking however, is battery life. While in general, it’s been great, I did manage to drain it during the Marathon. It was my first time doing a full Marathon and I took it rather slow (5 hours and 8 minutes). Plus I had the heart rate monitor on, had done some texting with it at the start, and had tracked my warm-up 1.5 mile walk from my place to the race start beforehand. What I’m saying is that I was really pushing it. And even then, it did manage to make it most of the way, working just fine up until about mile 24 or 25 before it had to drop down into Power Reserve mode. (Power Reserve mode is nice - it basically lets it continue to tell the time and nothing else, greatly extending the battery life.) I’m sure it could have lasted all the way if I had done any one of these things: not tracked the warm-up walk, not texted with it, turned off the heart rate monitor, or best yet: been faster ;-)
The hardware is gorgeous and feels great. There’s really no other way to put it. I got the 38mm stainless steel case with Milanese Loop band and am loving everything about it. The Digital Crown in particular feels great for scrolling. After using it and switching to my phone for something, I found myself reflexively reaching for a Digital Crown on the phone for scrolling -- it felt that great on the watch. (Granted, I think it would be impractical on a phone: looking silly and snagging on things, but it really does work amazing well on a watch.)
The Milanese Loop style band is tremendously fun. I love the infinite adjustability instead of having to rely on the imprecise nature of traditional bands. It’s also insanely cool-looking and unique.
The interchangeable nature of the watch bands is a major benefit as well. I just recently received the black sport band to use in addition to the Milanese Loop. It feels fantastic: nothing like the rubber or plastic bands that you get with cheaper watches. It’s remarkably soft and comfortable and has been great when running. It’s so nice being able to easily swap out the bands as conditions (and especially fashion) dictate. It’ll be like having a collection of different watches, but only really needing one!
I also just love touching the screen. Swiping across it feels so smooth; truly a pleasure to use.
I know that these thoughts have been pretty glowing thus far, but it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t throw in a few of the downsides.
First and foremost, having to charge it nightly it is a major downside. That’s the issue I was most leary of initially and is where the Apple Watch is much weaker than a standard one. In fact, the only time I didn’t use it daily was during a camping trip a few weekends ago. Since I was out in the woods for four days with no electricity, the Apple Watch stayed at home and was replaced by my old Timex. (In retrospect, I think I actually should have brought it along to try out charging it via my car, as that would have been a good test, and I was really missing the fitness tracking during the hikes I went on. Oh well…)
Overall the charging has at least turned out to be less of an issue that I thought, because the magnetic charger is so easy to connect. It’s a simple matter to set it down on the nightstand before bed (like I used to do with my old watch anyway) and have it get charged. It’ll just be annoying to have to bring another charger along when traveling.
But really, most other downsides are pretty simple and not as big a deal. Here’s a few:
- Can occasionally be difficult to read in very bright, direct sunlight. Still pretty good, but not as clear as a normal watch. (But at least viewing in the dark is way better!)
- Apps can be a little slow to load. Not enough to be a hassle, but enough to be noticeable.
- Siri (Apple’s voice-based assistant) doesn’t provide any audio feedback like it does on the iPhone.
- Screen can be pretty aggressive in how quickly it turns off.
- In certain positions (lying down especially), getting the screen to turn on by moving your wrist up can be a bit finicky.
One additional downside is a societal one that we'll have to be wary of. We currently have an issue with people constantly being glued to their phones, and while I think that smartwatches will help curtail that a bit, we'll be replacing it with a new annoyance: people constantly glancing at their watches. We'll have to learn to fine tune our notifications and how we handle these interactions, otherwise we'll all seem like the most impatient society to have ever existed. But then again, maybe that's just an accurate reflection of reality?
Even though the Apple Watch has a few downsides when compared to a normal analogue wristwatch, the benefits easily outweigh them. After one month, I find myself wearing it daily and have no desire to go back to my old watch. I’m loving the look, the build quality, the added functionality over a standard watch, the interchangeable bands, and most importantly, the fact that I’m taking my iPhone out of my pocket less.
For the sake of full disclosure, I wanted to note that I do own a few shares of Apple Stock, although I've certainly tried not to let that influence my opinions.