Lorenzo Villani

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Apple Watch, The three months review

Oct 8, 2015

Countless words have been spent on reviewing the Apple Watch, I won’t pour more words to describe the hardware and the software. What follows is a collection of thoughts about the product.

I just “happened” to be around the Apple Store on day one (that was in the last days of June here in Italy) with the intention to turn around should a huge mass of people be there waiting to spend their hard-earned cash on “The Watch”.

But… lo-and-behold, almost nobody was there!

There were just around ten people waiting in queue and, since I didn’t want to wait, I scheduled a pickup later that day. After that, the web form went dark, telling people that no more stock was available. Phew.

By lunch I had the watch on my wrist, fully set-up and I began playing with it. Except that… there isn’t much to play with in the first place. The device doesn’t do much more than tracking activity and displaying notifications. For that, it’s excellent. For anything else it fades in the background. Unless you raise the wrist, it’s just like a regular watch with a screen that it’s oddly turned off.

Power management is probably the biggest issue of this first-gen product and Apple is perfectly aware of that, since they wouldn’t keep the screen off most of the time otherwise. Battery lasts around one day. One day and a half if you don’t use it that much. This means that unless you strategically schedule a recharge, you won’t be able to use it for, e.g., sleep tracking.

By doing some planning 1 you can, however, wear the watch during the night, with the added benefits that you can then enable silent alarms, so that the watch taps on your wrist instead of making an unpleasant audible sound that has the potential to wake up your neighbors.

I really, really like the fact that I can turn off all sounds and have the Taptic Engine 2 on the watch gently, and discretely, buzz on my wrist to notify me that I got an important message (and I know it is important because I generally turn off notifications for all apps except for email, messages, work and family IM).

Bluetooth range is decent and that gives me the freedom to leave the phone on my desk, while still being able to receive notifications while around the office. In some cases, I can even quickly respond right from the notification, except WhatsApp, since it hasn’t been updated to take advantage of this yet.

Another thing I like is activity tracking, which is probably the main reason I bought the Apple Watch in the first place.

The Activity app shows you three circular rings. The outer red one counts the active calories you have spent during the day and is the only one you have control of. The middle ringer is green and completes once you complete at least thirty minutes of light activity, such as a brisk walk. The inner circle requires you to move for at least one minute during each of at least twelve hours during the day.

Apple designed the thing in such a way that you feel compelled to complete all three rings every single day. It also gives you awards from time to time to keep you motivated. I am way more active than before and I lost a fair bit of weight and I guess I have to thank the Watch for that.

Another issue I found with the watch is that third party applications are really slow to load. When they load they seem to often have trouble communicating with the phone (remember that most applications are just thin shells that relay commands to the phone to perform any business logic). Even when they work properly, I found little reason to use them anyway (besides the Overcast app, which I use a ton).

As a developer I found the lack of reliability delivering commands to the phone to be maddening. Thankfully we have watchOS 2.0 now, that allows for applications to run on the watch and perform more functions over there, that should improve the situation quite a bit.

There are no killer apps for the apple watch and there is no strong reason to prefer it to other smart watches. The only discriminant is your phone. If you have an iPhone: get an Apple Watch, if you have an Android phone, get an Android Wear watch. Many higher ends Android Wear watches have an heart rate monitor and match (or slightly exceed) most of Apple Watch features (except for its user interface) but they all do mostly the same things: notifications and fitness tracking.

For a first gen product the Apple Watch is good, not exceptional, and it doesn’t do anything that your phone doesn’t. If you don’t mind getting your phone out of the pocket when a notification arrives, or don’t care about all-day fitness tracking, there’s really no reason to get it at the moment. It is an expensive toy that will surely trigger buyer’s remorse unless you are OK with the price and the lack of distinctive features.

  1. To wear it all day, and be useful to perform sleep tracking, you should follow David Smiths’ advice on an unobtrusive recharge pattern that allows for that. 

  2. The Taptic Engine on my watch is, however, fairly weak. Even on its strongest setting. I’m not sure if it’s a problem with my unit or it’s intended to be like that.