The Watch is here
I was on the train, and I felt a tap on my wrist. I looked down, and it was a message from my wife asking if I'd be home soon. According to SG NextBus, my bus was on time, so I used Siri to send her a reply saying that I'd in fact be early. Ignoring the curious glances from fellow commuters, I then went back to Overcast to resume the podcast I was listening to earlier.
Now if I remember correctly, that episode was the longest continuous interaction I've had with the Apple Watch that day. In fact, I don't remember doing stuff on the Apple Watch much since getting it two months ago.
Does that sound like I don't like the Apple Watch? On the contrary, I think it's great.
Choices, and more choices
Before I go on to explain how I use the Apple Watch, let me recap on the Watch's hardware. While the Pebble Time is Pebble's third smartwatch and the Gear S Samsung's sixth, the Apple Watch is Apple's first.
To cater to different tastes, Apple has come up with three collections: Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, and Apple Watch Edition. In a nutshell, all three feature identical components under the hood and share the same software features; the main differences lie in the different materials used for the front and back covers and the watch case. Add size differences (38 or 42mm; measured vertically) and the type of band you've chosen in the collection that you want, the price of an Apple Watch can balloon from S$518 to S$25,500.
There's really no point in arguing whether Apple is overcharging consumers with the 38mm 18-karat rose gold Edition Watch with a rose gray or bright red Modern Buckle. Apple clearly sees the Edition as a piece of jewelry or fashion accessory as much as it a smartwatch. And in the realm of high-end fashion wares, it's all about perceived value. If you don't think it's worth that much, or if you simply can't afford it, move on and see if you like the other collections. That was what I did.
For most of us salaried men and women, deliberating between the (regular) Watch and Watch Sport makes sense, however. The most often cited reason for going for the former is that it uses sapphire crystal to protect the watch face. Versus the glass cover on the Sport, sapphire is way more scratch resistant. If you're the clumsy sort who often brushes your watch or arm against walls or railings, then you might deem the premium worth paying for.
For me, I got the Watch Sport, for reasons entirely personal. One, I wasn't sure at the start if the Watch would be useful for me. So to minimise buyer's remorse, I went for the most affordable model. It happens too that I've always preferred a dark colour for my gadgets, so I had no hesitation settling for the model with space gray aluminium case and black Sport Band. I then cajoled myself to get a blue Leather Loop.
I reckon many people would have the same thought process as me, and with the Apple Watch going on sale here today (June 26), the most important question now is: After two months in, do I regret my choice?
For the most part, no. But I've a couple of observations that are common sense really, but which I didn't think too much of when I got the space gray Watch Sport. One, versus the stainless steel Watch, it's more difficult to find bands that look good on the gray Sport. And that's primarily due to the colour and texture mismatch between most of the bands' shiny lugs and the matte gray watch case. For the Sport, I found that the best-looking bands are the Sport Band and Leather Loop due to their one-piece design and covered lugs.
Now, don't be too fast to think that you won't be changing bands. With tons of third-party bands on the horizon (okay, there are already plenty on Amazon, eBay, and Taobao) and the fact that Apple has made it so, so easy to swap bands, the urge will come sooner or later.
Also, polished stainless steel watches get scratched all the time, period. If you can't live with that, buffing with a bit of metal polish will remove light scratches and give you back the mirror-like finish. But don't ever try this on the aluminium case or the space black stainless steel case as you'd make matters worse.
Lastly, the Watch Sport is the lightest among the three collections. When paired with the Sport Band, it feels extremely comfortable on my wrist. During exercises, that's pretty important. While I've heard of people returning the Watch Sport for the Watch because they regretted and now think the latter looks nicer, I've also heard of people going the other way because they couldn't stand a heavy watch.
For the most part, a well-thought-through UI
The Apple Watch is a watch, and a watch is used for checking time. As a digital watch that syncs with the iPhone, I've no reason to doubt Apple's claim that it's an "incredibly accurate timepiece". But being a digital timepiece also means that it can do some time-related things that mechanical timepieces can't, like browsing your calendar and easy checking of sunrise and sunset times. The OLED screen looks great too, with blacks that blend in very well with the black bezels so that the frame doesn't look comical. And the new San Francisco Compact system font contributes a lot to ensure legibility on a screen this small.
Unlike the Pebble smartwatch however, the Apple Watch doesn't have an always-on display. Which means that even for the simplest of tasks like checking the time requires you to turn your wrist into a position that the Watch thinks you're looking at it. (Talk about wasting time to check the time.) Even then, the screen turns off after about 6 seconds. I was irritated by this at first, though I came to realise that this aggressive behaviour is to minimise battery drain as one moves his arm throughout the day and unintentionally wakes the display. If I know I need more time, instead of flicking my wrist, what I do these days to activate the display again is to tap on the screen or press a button. Such user-intended action makes the display stay on for about three times as long.
Speaking of watch faces, there are nine built-in ones on the Watch. Some show more details (complications) than the others, but overall, they're all tastefully done. For what it's worth, I, like many others, like the Utility face, which is a practical face that offers quite a bit of customisation. I can add complications like a battery level indicator, a world clock, and see my upcoming appointment, etc. That's the face I use at work. During weekends, I swap out the Leather Loop for the Sport Band, and switch the watch face to one that's called Mickey Mouse. This face is simply a foot-tapping Mickey Mouse pointing to the hour and minute with his arms. I've also removed all complications in this face. Again, the reason for this choice is entirely personal: I want to be able to point to Mickey on the watch and tell my kids, "Hey guys, it's 3pm. Look, Mickey says it's time to go."
Several reviews have painted the Watch as being difficult to use, especially in the UI/controls aspect. I don't find it so. In broad strokes, there are only three cardinal rules to remember:
- Turning the (digital) crown lets you scroll through lists or zoom into things
- Pressing the crown returns you (eventually) to the app home screen or watch face
- Pressing the button below the crown brings you to a list of people you can connect with.
Most other controls are intuitive too, assuming you aren't new to the iPhone. Like, how do you power off the Watch? Yes, there are two physical buttons on it, but you know, only one resembles the pill-shape power button on the iPhone. The method for taking a screen shot is discoverable too, because like the iPhone, it involves pressing two buttons - and the Watch only has two buttons. How do you get to pending notifications? You guessed it - swipe down from the top when you're in a watch face.
Of course, not all iPhone controls can be replicated on the Watch; but when you make intelligent guesses, chances are you won't be far off. Need to increase the volume? There are no volume buttons on the watch, but there's only one button that turns, so try that. Need to return to the previous app? On the iPhone, you double-click the home button to display recently used apps - why not try double-clicking the digital crown?
Yes, some controls aren't that discoverable. Like how do you force quit an app? The answer: click and hold the side button in the rogue app, and when the power off screen appears, click and hold the same button again.
Then there's Force Touch, a feature that senses if you're pressing harder on the display. If you're trying to do something and have resorted to different button combos to no avail, try a hard-press on the display. For example, how do you clear all notifications when you're in Notification Center? Try force-touching it. How do you select a different watch face when you're in the Clock app? Try force-touching it. How do you compose a new message in the Messages app? Try force-touching it. Simply put, when in doubt, just force-touch the display.
The Taptic Engine is another feature frequently seen in an Apple Watch review, usually when talking about notifications and Force Touch. In a nutshell, this is the component that gives you a tap (i.e., haptic feedback) on your wrist when a notification comes in or when you successfully activate a force touch. The vibration is unobtrusive, which is one way of saying that it's on the gentle side. Since I mute my iPhone and Watch all the time, there were a few occasions where I missed a notification because I didn't feel the tap. As such, these days, I've this habit of looking at my Watch, not to look at the time, but to see if there's this red dot on the watch face, which tells me that I've a missed alert.