The Apple Watch has taken the wearable market by storm. In our Apple Watch Review, we take a look at the Sport model to see what all the fuss is about
If you haven‘t already noticed, technology is taking over the world. Yesterday‘s mundane analog products become tomorrow‘s digital gadgets. Just look at the simple watch, a time keeping device that had its origins in the 15th century when the first spring-loaded mechanical watches were first invented. We have come a long way since then, smartwatches are now the norm ““ but do they still offer the style and refinement of a good wristwatch? If you had to put your money on a company producing a quality smartwatch who better than Apple? In our Apple Watch review, we investigate exactly that.
In an effort to redefine the smartwatch industry as they did with the smartphone industry in 2007, Apple introduced the Apple Watch in 2015. The usual Apple “œhype-and-marketing-train“ left the station on full steam and the company claimed to have produced the perfect smartwatch. Is it though? Bandwidth Blog takes a look at the supposed messiah of the smartwatch world (my top tech moment of 2015) in our long-awaited Apple Watch review.
Design: A thing of beauty
There are now four variations of the Apple Watch (Hermes being the newest addition to join the Sport, Standard and Edition line-ups), available at a range of very different price points (with quite a drastic difference). The actual watch experience is exactly the same across all four models, only your style changes. Whether you go for aluminium, stainless steel or rose-gold ““ you get the same core functionality. The watch does however come in two sizes, the 38mm and the 42mm, which loosely translates to a his and her setup. There is a price difference and apart from having a slightly smaller battery capacity, the 38mm functions exactly the same as the 42mm.
Like it or not, you will struggle to find a more premium looking smartwatch on the market.
The model we reviewed is the 42mm Sport with a black sports-band. Even though this timepiece is technically the “œcheap“ model, the watch oozes premium all over the place. I can only imagine what the stainless steel and gold versions must look like. Every nook and cranny has been expertly designed to adhere to Apple‘s strict quality policies.
Not wanting to conform to the “œsmartwatches-need-to-be-round-to-be-premium“ crowd, Jony Ive and co has designed an elegant elongated rectangle void of any sharp edges. The only two buttons on the watch is a carefully crafted crown (which acts as navigation and button) and a rounded rectangular button which opens up the Friends menu. On the back you will find the heart-rate sensor and small cavities for the microphone and speaker. There is also quick-release buttons for the watch straps to allow you to easily swap between straps (if you can afford more than one!). Like it or not, you will struggle to find a more premium looking smartwatch on the market (Apple Watch price-list).
The black sports-band on this particular watch is an amazing fitness companion. The rubber material sticks to your skin once it becomes sweaty, allowing the heart rate monitor to do its thing. You can swap out your sports-band with anything from a stainless steel link strap to a casual leather number. I would opt for 3rd party products as Apple‘s products are ridiculously expensive. An important fact to note is that the Sport model comes with Ion-X glass and not the famed Sapphire material, so you would probably be less cavalier with that particular model.
Software and Performance: Form follows function
Apple embedded their intuitive software design into the Watch OS. The setup was very straightforward. Upon choosing your language, tap the ‘Start Pairing’ option on your Watch and a dancing point cloud (like a QR code) appears. Point your phone’s camera at the Watch’s screen, and once the point cloud forms itself into a circular rosette you are done!
The watch uses the “œshake-to-wake“ function as seen across the smartphone landscape. A flick of the wrist displays your custom designed watch face. You can choose from fourteen different faces, from a militaristic chronograph face to an animated wacky Micky Mouse. Each face can then be further customised (when “œforce touching“ the watch face) to show battery life, sunrise/sunset times, date, world clocks, temperature and even moon phases. If tapped, some of these on-screen stats navigate you to the actual app, like activity, weather etc.
I found, during my Apple Watch review, that one of the key ways to interact with the device is through Glances. These are best seen as shortcuts to an app that allow you to quickly see what’s happening. Swiping up from the bottom of the watch face reveals your Glances, with left and right swipes then cycling through them accordingly. They can include anything from your heartbeat app to displaying distance to the on Hole19 (a golf-gps app).
The watch uses the “œshake-to-wake“ function as seen across the smartphone landscape. A flick of the wrist displays your custom designed watch face. You can choose from fourteen different faces, from a militaristic chronograph face to an animated wacky Micky Mouse.
Of course the biggest reason for getting a smartwatch is the way it handles notifications. In my Apple Watch review, I found watchOS follows an intuitive approach where when notifications are viewed on your Watch, you won‘t see them on your other iOS devices (they will still reside in the notification centre). A swipe down from the top of the watch face gets the full list of notifications with the ability to close them one by one or to clear them all via a force touch on the screen.
The notifications function as a “œquick view“ of what is happening and allows you to either open the full message or continue on your phone. For text messages the Apple Watch allows you reply to them either with a series of suggested one word replies, or by dictating via Siri as either text or voice message. You can also customise which notifications you want to see and those you don‘t (*cough* WhatsApp group chats *cough*).
The Watch comes with a lot of native Apple apps. You will find world clock, a stopwatch, Weather, Photos, Passbook, Activity Monitor, Maps, Music, and Siri, and remotes for Keynote, Apple TV, and one for your camera that lets you see and snap from the Watch. Third party apps on the Watch is really a hit-or-miss affair. Some developers have put in a lot of thought as to how to effectively use the Watch (e.g. Strava and Hole19) and others haven‘t really bothered.
Apple also introduces the Friends function. Press the dedicated button (below the crown) at any point wherever you are and you’ll be whisked into a screen that looks like an old fashioned phone dialler. The centre dial gives you a picture (where available) of your chosen friend, while the smaller surrounding circles give you each friend’s initials. Using the digital crown to highlight them and then your finger to select them specifically, you can then either opt to call them, text them, or if they’ve also got an Apple Watch send them a special emoji only reserved for Apple Watch owners. During my Apple Watch review, I found the experience is playful and fun, but with such a small screen you don’t have much space, even if you can use multiple colours (another WatchOS 2 update) for drawing.
Taking a call is possible on the Watch but as you might imagine, incredibly awkward. You’ll look like you are performing some sort of dance as you wave the watch between your mouth and your ear. When in the car, however, one hand on the steering wheel, it is just about okay. The speaker is just too weak to hear the other person from a meter away. It does however have merit, especially when your phone is in the boot!
In my Apple Watch review, I found the device’s battery performs as expected. There has been a lot of speculation around wheather the Watch would last a full day, but I have never ended the day without having some charge left (even with heavy usage). The battery will last around a day and a half with moderate use but comes with a “œPower Reserve“ function that disables all functions except displaying the time when the “œFriends“ button is pressed. Charging your Watch is made easy with a dedicated magnetic clip that snaps onto the back of the watch unit. It’s very forgiving for alignment too: you simply hold the connector near the back of the watch and the magnets cause it to snap into place automatically.
The Apple Watch is a powerful smartwatch with plenty of features on offer – from calls, to notifications, and thousands of apps all on your wrist. It doesn‘t really offer much more than other smartwatches currently but I do feel the interaction with the iPhone is much tighter than its Android counterparts.
Love it or hate it the design is sheer quality. Unfortunately, as with most Apple products, you have to pay for it – especially if you want the more fancy watch straps – during my Apple Watch review period, I used only the supplied band. Luckily third party accessory suppliers can help you out. It might be worth it to take up the Discovery Active Rewards offer if you really want an Apple Watch.
Admittedly the Apple Watch does not offer the revolutionary new experience that the iPod, iPhone and iPad (sort of) did when they first appeared on the scene. The Watch might have a larger impact as Apple refines the software and more apps become available. So the Apple Watch isn’t a have-to-have but a nice-to-have. The debate around whether smartwatches actually do serve a purpose is one that will divide opinion for a long time to come, but the geek in me loves it!
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