TECH

Apple Watch Review: Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

19/05/2015 15:53 BST | Updated 19/05/2015 16:59 BST

(Image Credit: FiftyThree/Danurigom)

The Apple Watch is proving to be something of a conundrum for both tech journalists and consumers.

While Android Wear has set the scene for the smart watch, the Apple Watch has been heralded as the product that takes things a step further.

I do however feel there's a problem with our expectations of smartwatches in general, which is that we're looking for things that don't need to be there, extra functionality that actually makes a product worse.

The Apple Watch is the smartwatch that shows us the best and very occasionally the worst of what this new gadget category can become.

Let us explain:

Design

apple watch

As with all of Apple’s products you can’t fault the build-quality. The Watch is expertly built. It’s a fascinating collection of little decisions that when put together, feel incredibly natural. The straps are endlessly comfortable, the glass sensor feels natural on your wrist. Most importantly, it hasn’t yet become uncomfortable on hot days. It’s a little published but widely accepted phenomenon that there’s nothing worse than a sweaty watch on a hot day.

Apple has fully embraced the curve. After the razor sharp edges of the iPhone 5 and iPad 2, Ive and co. have moved into a more gentle school of thought.

As I stated in an opinion piece a few months back, the Apple Watch feels like a real turning point for the company. In terms of design it’s the first Apple product since the Mac Pro that caused the connections between my eyes and the ‘generally quite positive’ bit of my brain to pause and head to the ‘thoughtfully impressed’ part instead.

apple watch

This is where the first reality comes in: Not everyone is going to like it, and that’s a good thing. For some reason, the only personal gadget that has to some degree managed to transcend our desire to be individuals is the smartphone, and even then we plaster them in cases.

Watches conform to this ruling even less so, and while Apple’s myriad of straps suit all different tastes I can still see some people not liking it. Which is good. If a company makes a product that 100 per cent of people approve of I can only assume it’s either boring, or enchanted.

I wasn’t sure if I liked it, however as with all products that actually make you think about what you’re seeing you find a side and I was ultimately won over.

Watch OS

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This is where my second reality comes into play: Developers need to stop making apps for the Apple Watch.

Just because you have an extra screen, doesn’t necessarily mean that your service needs it.

The Apple Watch is a momentary device - it’s for glances, quick interactions, not endlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed while you’re sat on the train. For starters you look ridiculous, and secondly it’s Instagram - a service about pictures, on a Watch that has a screen no bigger than a matchbox.

apple watch

This also then has a detrimental effect on the user experience. I’ve found that in almost all cases where people have complained about the Apple Watch taking too long to load, it turns out it’s in relation to an app that in my opinion shouldn’t be there in the first place: Instagram, Twitter, Feedly, Amazon.

It’s not all bad news however, Apple’s own apps are excellent (even if we find the photos app a little silly) and indeed there are some third-party examples which have nailed it.

Nike’s Running App is simple and easy to use - simply open it up and push the big red button. The same goes for Uber, Shazam and National Rail, all of whom offer condensed, simplified services that require a few taps and then the occasional glance. Citymapper has precisely the right idea but it’s just too laggy at the moment.

apple watch

It’s clear that many of the apps will improve over time, and as Apple tweaks the OS and opens up more of its features the ecosystem will become more and more akin to the user experience that Apple wants.

Hardware

There’s no two ways about it, the Apple Watch’s screen is beautiful. The Retina display is small but stunning and it’s precisely the reason the Moto 360 only won half the battle with me.

To compliment it Apple has created a small but incredibly well thought out selection of watch faces. While I find the dial-based options a little dull there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t glance at my Watch just to see a jellyfish float across the screen.They’re beautiful, and I want more of them.

apple watch

In terms of speed, the Watch is fine 98 per cent of the time. If you start speedily switching between apps or suddenly change your mind it’ll get a little laggy but honestly, it’s not that noticeable.

Wrist raise responsiveness is a little slow, however Apple does get points for the fact that we’ve found accidental activation to be far lower than with other smartwatches, thus removing the socially jarring effect of having to explain why you’ve just blinded the person opposite you.

Force Touch is a technology that allows the Watch to detect the difference between a light press and firm one. These two actions can perform different functions. It takes a while to get the hang of but in the end you’ll be annoyed that other devices don’t have it.

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Taptic feedback is another innovation that’s new, it’s essentially a type of haptic motor that mimics the feeling of being gently tapped on the wrist. Oddly I found that it’s only engaged for Apple’s own apps, every other notification just gets a normal buzz. Is it a game-changing feature? It’s more a refinement of what notifications should be, so in that sense yes.

Battery life is more than acceptable, we’re not sure why other reviews have suggested it’s below par but as of writing it’s 22:00 and the battery is at 63 per cent. If I go for a run this drops down to around 40-50 per cent.

Fitness

apple watch

Fitness is a major part of the Apple Watch and it’s also one of the reasons I wear it without fail every single day.

Apple has devised a devilishly simple way to stop you from keeling over: It tracks your active movement, normal everyday movement and then the amount you stand up.

We’re all stuck in offices now and unless your office is the International Space Station, there are going to be days when you just end up glued to your screen without even realising it. That’s terrible for your mental and physical health, which is why the Apple Watch tells you to stand up.

That’s right, it tells you, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

The simple yet advanced tracking makes exercise a breeze and because it doesn’t hog most of the sensors, you can still run with your third-party app and at the same time complete your Apple Activity targets for the day.

I know that some will be disappointed the Watch doesn’t come with GPS, or that it doesn’t open up the heart-rate monitor to third-party apps. I wouldn’t say they’re deal-breakers though, GPS is unbelievably battery intensive and I find it hard to imagine Apple won’t open up the heart-rate monitor in an update.

Communication

Apple Watch lets you talk to people in range of different ways, from handsfree calls, to sending sketches and even your own heartbeat.

apple watch

While the sketching and heartbeat are for Apple Watch users only, the smartwatch does come with a new range of animated smileys you can use to terrify your contacts with over iMessage. It doesn’t come with the ability to reply to WhatsApp or third-party messaging apps yet, however we can’t imagine that’ll remain the case for long.

I really thought sending my heartbeat was going to be a gimmick, and the deeply annoying thing is that it is, but I love it. I fully embrace the idea for what it is; a deeply personal way of just saying hello. Does it change the way I use my technology? No of course not, but it adds enough that it makes me want more people to have access to this feature.

Verdict

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(Image Credit: Fifty Three/Tristan)

As far as I can tell, not once has Apple called the Apple Watch a replacement for the iPhone, and that’s the key point here. You can’t approach it as anything more than what it is; a beautifully premium personal assistant.

It sets timers for you, reminds you when to turn left, discreetly informs you that your friend has called six times already and even lets you pay for your coffee. It isn’t a gaming device and it’s not meant for Instagram or Twitter.

It bothers me only when it needs to and I bother it only when I have something quick to check. I don’t ask of it anymore than I’d expect and in return I’ve found it to be the closest thing to a PA without actually paying someone to read my mind.

Apple Watch might be a highly advanced piece of technology but the name kind of gives it away: it’s a watch, only smarter. And just like a watch it has become as essential to my daily routine as my phone and my wallet.