• Hands On with Apple Watch

    As someone that normally holds out from new Apple product launches, even I’ll admit that Apple’s recent introduction of the Apple Watch left me somewhat intrigued. I hadn’t even considered wearing a watch until recently, having become accustomed to the idea of occasionally checking my phone for the time or new notifications, something that throws back to when I first started using the iPhone.

    Watching Tim Cook introduce the watch in September 2014 raised even more questions in my mind. What does this device do that my phone doesn’t already? I remember watching the iPhone introduction in 2007 and knowing immediately how it would improve my life and workflow. I watched the iPad introduction in 2010 and knew several instances in which it would be useful. This time, I wasn’t so sure.

    It became apparent early on that I was clearly not in the intended audience for this one. I’d never needed my technology to be this personal, never considered checking my phone to be an inconvenience and never considered having a digital device to monitor my health. I’ve finished off a block of dark chocolate while writing this article alone, so frankly I’m not sure I actually want to know what my heart rate or health stats are.

    Still, curiosity prevailed. I decided that who better to review an Apple Watch than someone that has absolutely no reason to own one?

    That, and someone here had to do it.

    Somewhat hazy after a sleepless night, charged on considerable amounts of caffeine and armed with nothing more than an iPhone 4S camera, I booked an appointment at the Rundle Place Apple Store here in Adelaide to see just what all the fuss surrounding this new product was all about.



    An Overview

    The Apple Watch is available in three distinct models - an aluminium and glass Watch Sport, the stainless steel Watch and the 18-karat gold Watch Edition. All three models are available in both 38 millimetre and 42 millimetre versions and each come with a plethora of band options to customise and personalise the Apple Watch to your hearts content. It’s difficult to appreciate just how many different combinations there are until you see them all set out in front of you.




    The Watch Sport (www.apple.com/au/watch/apple-watch-sport) is the lightest and most affordable of the three, with a matte-finish anodised aluminium enclosure and strengthened Ion-X glass that Apple claims is especially resistant to scratches and impacts.

    The Sport comes in ten different colour and size combinations, with a choice of a Silver aluminium case with a white, blue, green or pink Sport Band, or a Space Grey aluminium case with a black Sport Band. All are available in both 38 millimetre and 42 millimetre versions.




    The Apple Watch (www.apple.com/au/watch/apple-watch) is Apple’s standard model watch, with a polished stainless steel enclosure and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal display cover. It offers impressive and sophisticated styling that wouldn’t look out place against even the most elegant of ensembles, with a wide range of bands to suit a number of styles and tastes.

    There are twenty separate configurations of the Watch, available with a choice of Sport Band (White / Black), Classic Buckle (Black), Milanese Loop, Leather Loop (Black, Bright Blue, Stone, Light Brown), Modern Buckle (Black, Midnight Blue, Soft Pink, Brown), Link Bracelet or Space Black Link Bracelet. All bands are available in both 38 millimetre and 42 millimetre versions, with the exception of the Modern Buckle (38mm only), and the Leather Loop (42mm only). The Space Black colour is available only when purchased with the Space Black Link Bracelet.




    The Watch Edition (www.apple.com/au/watch/apple-watch-edition) is Apple’s premium model and therefore the most expensive, with an 18-karat gold hardened alloy enclosure in yellow or rose gold and a scratch-resistant polished sapphire crystal display cover.

    There are eight separate models of the Watch Edition. The Yellow Gold Watch Edition is available with a choice of Black Sport Band (38mm and 42mm), a Black or Midnight Blue Classic Buckle (42mm only) or Bright Red Modern Buckle (32mm only). The Rose Gold Watch Edition is available with a choice of White Sport Band (38mm and 42mm), or a Rose Grey Modern Buckle (32mm only).

    This one will set you back anywhere between $14,000 and $24,000 Australian dollars before AppleCare. Thinner and lighter seems to be the trend with Apple products, now you can have it extend to your wallet too.




    Despite the difference in materials, all Watch models are functionally identical, offering the same internal hardware and the same 18-hour battery life. Choosing a model comes down entirely to your particular preference and how much you are willing to spend.

    A detailed overview of the various Apple Watch models, sizes and band combinations with pictures is available from the Apple Watch Gallery on the Apple website.



    Trying It On

    The overall experience is rather unique for an Apple product. Fifteen minute sessions to try on the Apple Watch are available via advance booking on Apple’s website. You are limited to trying only two or three bands per session, and because of the sheer number of different size and band combinations, it does help to have some idea of which models and bands you want to try on before your appointment. I was invited over to a table specifically set for trying on the watch, where an Apple Specialist showed me how to use the watch, all the various controls and gestures and how to use some of the buckles and clasps on the various bands.


    Watch Sizes & Cases

    I decided to try on both the 38mm and 42mm versions of the Stainless Steel watch. My wrist diameter is somewhere around 170mm, so I had been advised online that the 42mm watch would be a better fit. While I tend to agree that the 42mm version more closely matched my wrist proportions, it felt a little on the bulky side to me, and I soon found myself leaning more toward the 38mm version.



    38mm (Left) and 42mm (Right) Watches side-by-side.


    I want to take this opportunity to address one of the common statements I’ve heard around the web over the last week, and that is the 38mm version of the watch is a “women’s version”, more suited to female wrists while the 42mm is more suitable for males. Whether the pre-order figures confirm some truth to this remains yet to be seen, but ultimately it comes down to wrist size and personal preference. Personally I prefer the more compact size and would opt for the 38mm version, but two Apple Specialists I spoke to both preferred the larger 42mm version. There is only one way to be absolutely sure which version best suits you, and that is to schedule a try-on appointment and check the watches out for yourself.

    I should also mention that having tried on both models, the aluminium Watch Sport is noticeably lighter than the Stainless Steel Watch. While I preferred the lighter weight of the Watch Sport, the stainless steel does have a slightly more substantial and premium feel to it.


    Watch Bands

    The five bands I selected to try on were the Sport Band, Classic Buckle, Leather Loop, Milanese Loop and the Link Bracelet. Because of time constraints and try-on limits, I had to book a couple of appointments for this.




    The Sport Band is the standard issue band for the Apple Watch, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked compared to some of the higher end options. The material, which Apple describes as a “custom-developed high-performance fluoroelastomer” (in other words, a durable temperature and chemical resistant synthetic rubber), is soft to the touch and rather comfortable to wear with superb grip on the wrist. For overall appearance and style there are better options, but the Sport Band looked surprisingly good for a standard option, and the customisability when it comes to colours will make this band an appealing option to both casual and style-conscious buyers alike.




    The Classic Buckle follows conventions of traditional watch bands, made of a soft leather material with a metal loop and pin to secure the band in place. Adjustments are limited to the preset notches in the band, so finding a middle ground between being too loose or too tight on the wrist was difficult in my case. The contrast of black leather against the stainless steel case was without a doubt one of my favourite combinations, being stylish and tasteful with a hint of sophistication. The leather felt quite nice to the touch, but I should remind our readers that I’m hardly a watch connoisseur. The benchmark for a nice feeling material in my case is anywhere above the texture of duct tape.

    I suppose that last remark could be misconstrued.




    The Leather Loop is one of the more surprising bands when you first try it on. I wasn’t overly fond of its appearance from photos I had seen online, but was assured that if I tried it on, I would have a different opinion of it. I wasn’t disappointed. The quilted leather material has a great feel to it with adequate grip and is designed for comfort. The band is easily adjustable, even in small increments, making it ideal for most if not all wrist sizes, and the magnetic clasp is strong enough to not have to worry about it coming loose despite the magnets having to act through several layers of leather. The appearance is still a case of “you either love it or hate it”, but looking at it in person and up close was enough to change this band from one of my least preferred options to easily one of my favourites.




    Moving on to the first of the metal bands, the Milanese Loop is one of the more popular bands for the Apple Watch and one that I had to experience first hand to appreciate. The stainless steel mesh is soft and feels quite nice on the wrist. It also has the added benefit of being adjustable in fine increments, making it easy for the watch to have just enough grip on the wrist without being too tight. The magnetic clasp held firmly, and I had no concern that the band would slip, but it was still easy to remove when I wanted to remove the watch or make adjustments. Perhaps the only drawback to the Milanese Loop for some is its appearance. You either like it or you don’t, and after thinking about it, I didn’t like this one as much as the others.

    The Link Bracelet was the most impressive of the three from a design and engineering standpoint. It was comfortable to wear and the precision machined links certainly do give it a stylish and modern appearance. I didn’t have another link bracelet to compare it against so I can’t vouch for its quality or feel compared to other high end bracelets, but it seemed fine to me. You do need to remove or add links to make it fit correctly, but Apple has made this simple with a release button on the link, so no special tools are required. Operating the butterfly clasp one handed was somewhat fiddly at first and took some practice, but after a couple of tries it seemed easy enough. The main drawback to this bracelet is its cost, being a few hundred dollars more expensive than the other watch band options in the range.


    Haptic Feedback

    No sooner than I had slipped the watch onto my wrist, with one swift tap it reminded me of one feature I had almost forgotten about. The Taptic Engine provides a new method of communicating information to the wearer, such as new notifications and alerts, by delivering a firm but gentle tap to the wrist. The feedback was clear and easily felt without being obtrusive, and even when I least expected it the sudden tap wasn’t enough to startle me, but just enough to get my attention. It’s definitely a viable alternative to sound alerts, especially in situations where silence is preferred.

    Like fifteen minutes into a movie for example. You know who you are.

    It’s difficult to accurately describe what this feels like. I suppose one thought that comes to mind is that we’re used to clicking on buttons and icons to interact with our computer, but until now I never knew what it would feel like to have my computer click me back. Now I do.


    Conclusion

    Overall, wearing the watch was a pleasant experience. Compared to some offerings in this space, in terms of feel the Apple Watch delivers a good balance of size, weight and functionality. The execution feels solid and well thought out. This most definitely isn’t a reduced smartphone strapped to your wrist; the wearable element, complete with the inherent style and comfort that is important in a device of this nature, takes priority with functionality built around it, and it clearly shows.



    Using The Watch

    Although the functionality of the Apple Watch is rather simple in nature, interacting with it can be an interesting experience. While it borrows some common interface elements and methods of interacting with the device from the iPhone, it introduces a number of new methods that are unique to the watch, making it somewhat confusing at first even for seasoned Apple device veterans. There were several occasions where I found myself staring at a screen not knowing whether I should swipe up, down, left, right or whether to tap or push to make the watch do what I wanted.

    Some on-screen elements lack visual cues to know what actions can be performed or how to perform them. For example, had I not had the watch demonstrated to me first, I would never have known that a force touch press was required to change the current watch face as it isn't indicated on the screen. Without that assistance, it would have taken some trial-and-error to discover this feature and learn my way around the watch interface.




    Apple’s in-store demonstration models are paired with interactive guides that make learning the Apple Watch a little easier.


    However the experience was much like the first time I used an iPhone. Once I understood how to interact with it, some of the actions started to make sense, and using the watch became a pleasant experience. A simple downward swipe is all it took to display the most recent notifications, while an upward swipe showed me small glances of useful information, like weather, stocks, the currently playing track or my current heart rate, among others. Scrolling through information is as simple as swiping across the display, and launching applications from the home screen is as simple as tapping the icon.

    In addition, the Digital Crown can also be used to perform many of these functions. Turning the crown allows you to scroll through lists, zoom in to photos and content and even launch applications by turning the crown to "zoom in" to the currently centred icon on the home screen. Using the watch in this manner resolves the issue of fingers obstructing the screen on a device this small. Pressing the Digital Crown performs the same behaviour as the home button on an iPhone, closing the notification centre or glances to return you to the open application, or returning you to the home screen.




    Pressing the side button displays a simplified list of your favourite contacts.


    Pressing the side button below the Digital Crown opens a list of your favourite contacts. The Watch provides several methods of communicating with contacts, including a traditional call or text, or some completely new methods that are unique to the Apple Watch. You can choose to tap the wrist of a friend through haptic feedback, draw and send small pictures from the watch screen or even send your own heartbeat.

    I was somewhat limited in what I could test as the in-store watches weren't paired with an iPhone, meaning that several key functions like the phone, messages and passbook were inoperable. This was a shame since responsiveness is something that has been repeatedly mentioned as an issue in reviews, particularly when retrieving information from a paired phone. I suppose this is something we will have to wait and see as the initial few units make their way into the hands of reviewers and early adopters. Apart from this, the overall responsiveness of the device in the applications that did work seemed fine, with no animation stutter or significant lag.




    Video not working? Watch on YouTube.


    For a more extensive look at the capabilities of the Watch, Apple has made a number of Guided Tours available highlighting the individual features that are worth taking a look at.

    Creating a user interface for a device as small as the Apple Watch is no simple task, and despite some of the initial quirks and the learning curve, I have to commend the design and engineering effort here. While it isn't perfect in some areas, it comes extremely close, and with a few refinements it should prove to be one of the best user experiences in a wearable device.



    Verdict

    Considering that Apple Watch has yet to make it into the hands of consumers, it’s difficult to determine exactly how well the watch will fare in daily use. From first impressions it looks promising, with a sleek, simple to use interface and an industrial design that I believe will set the benchmark for smart watches and wearables in general as they move from the realm of the technically minded to that of the fashion-conscious consumer.

    From a practical standpoint, I can see the scenarios where the Watch would be useful, particularly for those who depend on their phone to manage their schedule or quickly retrieve information. Having the watch notify you of upcoming appointments in the calendar, reminders and even new messages directly from your wrist is a convenient way to remain informed and up-to-date without being overly distracting.

    One question remains though. What does this device do that my phone doesn’t already?

    The Apple Watch is a complement to the iPhone, intended to provide you another means of accessing information quickly. It moves the focus from your phone to your wrist, and for some this alone will justify the cost of admission. For everyone else, it isn’t immediately apparent what there is to be gained from the Watch. It's a nice device for sure and the execution is solid, but I still find it difficult to consider the Apple Watch a "must have" device.

    Perhaps this is something that will change once third party developers start releasing apps for it that demonstrate its full potential. Until then however, I’ll remain a holdout for this one.


    Acknowledgements

    I would like to extend a special thanks to everyone at the Apple Store, Rundle Place. Without their knowledge and expertise this article would not have been possible.





    Apple Watch


    Price

    Between $499 AU - $579 AU (Watch Sport)
    Between $799 AU - $1,629 AU (Watch, Stainless Steel)
    Between $14,000 AU - $24,000 AU (Watch Edition)

    Website

    www.apple.com/au/watch/

    Available From

    Pre-order from Apple Online Store - store.apple.com/au/watch


    * The Apple Watch requires an iPhone 5 or newer model running iOS 8.2 or later.





    About The Author

    Michael Brice is a former Apple technician from Adelaide, South Australia. He has worked on most Apple machines from the Apple II to the latest iMacs and still contributes to fixers communities and online resources from time to time. When he isn’t attempting to stumble his way through social interactions out in the real world, he’s either taking something apart or telling someone else how to take something apart, along with the occasional foray into writing or producing crudely written code for a number of projects.
  • Dropdown