It’s finally here. Well, almost. After months of speculation and anticipation the Apple Watch has become available in the UK for pre-order. Will it revolutionise another market? Will it change the way we live our lives? Will it turn us all into fitness gurus? Only time will tell. Always predestined to become the biggest selling smartwatch due to its hordes of loyal followers it almost seems like a nailed on success already. But for less dedicated Apple fans and those who have been sitting on the fence when it comes to a wearable investment, it’s probably worth finding out if it’s any good.
Let’s get a quick reminder of the specs. It’s available in two sizes and resolutions – 1.5” (272×340) and 1.7” (319×390), and has a whole range of different straps from colourful plastic to classic buckle – in total in fact there are 34 different combinations. It runs on Apple’s S1 chip, has 8GB of storage with 2GB for music and Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi built-in. There’s also IPX7 waterproofing, which is the fairly basic one that safeguards it against “short durations of immersion” at a depth of less than a metre.
The battery, which we’ll come back to later, is claimed to last 18 hours, or 3 hours talk time, 6.5 hours audio playback and 48 hours if you just check the time. Through inductive charging it claims to boost 80% in just an hour and a half, with a full charge taking an hour longer.
Of course many of these specs don’t mean a great deal at this stage – it’s all about real world use. And for this we go to a number of lucky journos who have already got their hands on this year’s most desirable gadget.
The Telegraph can kick things off by gushing over an area that seems in little doubt – the looks. It’s “a luxurious, even beautiful fashion accessory” and “from the clever magnetic strap to its understated design, it has attracted attention for all the right reasons.” The fashion test is declared “passed” here, the range of strap and face combinations makes for an interesting degree of personalisation and the face itself adds a whole new layer of control – it’s described as “almost infinitely customisable”.
When it comes to actual operation the Apple Watch is quite accurately described as a “filter for your phone”. This is both good and bad, as while notifications and alerts are now sent to the more accessible area of your wrist, having too many appearing can result in “an irritating blizzard of notifications that I quickly started to ignore altogether.” Core functions like making calls can be done through the watch, or if you don’t want to talk into your wrist and are wearing a hands-free set you can answer and reject calls from the wearable’s display. Text messages can be replied to with intelligent, contextually aware phrases, and a music app lets you control what’s playing on your phone – there’s no headphones port to listen directly via the watch but it can stream via Bluetooth if you have a compatible headset.
Interacting with all this is a mixed experience. There’s an initial learning curve for what seems like overly complicated controls that often require what seems like one button press too many.
“It takes two clicks of the crown to get the device to turn on then move from watchface to apps. It’s hard to see how to do it better, but it’s imperfect nonetheless”.
It also comments on the fact that the apps are generally easy to find, but rarely feel properly developed. Overall The Telegraph concludes that Apple fans should perhaps think twice about rushing out to buy, history does after all tell us that it takes a second or third generation device to iron out a lot of the creases.
CNet has given the Apple Watch a full review, and awards it 3.5/5, which is hardly the stellar result many die-hards will have been hoping for. It also likes the design and construction and lauds the range of features, but the battery life has been given a test here and predictably doesn’t come out too well – just 5/10 for this sub-category in fact.
A thorough test of the features offers some examples of how it can be used:
“I’ve tracked walks and measured my heart rate, paid for lunch, listened to albums while exploring parks without my phone, chatted with family, kept up on email, looked for Uber cars, kept up on news, navigated on long car trips for Passover, controlled my Apple TV with it and followed baseball games while I was supposed to be watching my 2-year-old.”
But despite cramming so much functionality into its first generation device, “the Apple Watch still leaves plenty to be desired.” One fairly central reason is that it needs the iPhone to do just about anything – or rather it needs to be within 30 feet or so unless connecting over Wi-Fi. Then there’s the battery life – despite best efforts it still never lasted longer than a day, and “hit 50 percent or lower in battery capacity by around 2-3 p.m. pretty regularly.”
And finally it can be a little awkward to use – “there are so many features that I felt a little lost at times.” Knowing whether to swipe, click, touch or speak can be a dilemma, and issues with lost notifications, nested interfaces and managing the pairing process can be frustrating. On the plus side it has a positive mention for Siri, which seems to be a fair bit more useful on a watch as “a catch-all way to speak and do things in ways that can cut through the menus and swipes.”
Finally, The Verge has given it a particularly fancy looking, extensive review and awards it 7/10, calling it “easily the nicest smartwatch available” but goes on to cite issues with performance, notifications and price. It’s described as “kind of slow”, stuttering with notifications and struggling to pull data wirelessly, with apps that take a bit too long to load. Apple promises software updates to help address these issues. The display is terrific though, “easily the best smartwatch display on the market”, and the interface is nicely customisable with app icons that can be rearranged to make them easier to prioritise and access.
One feature that does seem to work well is the activity tracker. This is split into Activity and Workout, with the former being “beautiful, but extremely basic” and allows you to manage goals and calories during exercise and standing, which are displayed with three concentric rings and prompts for you to stand up or get a bit of fresh air if needed. Workout has a series of presets for cardio that again work nicely on the whole, though it’s noted that there’s no social element here for sharing data with friends and the heart rate monitor did struggle at times for accuracy.
Other features such as Digital Touch – the ability to send drawings, heartbeats and taps seems fairly gimmicky – in fact being described as:
“all remarkably small-time. It’s cute, but it’s a weird thing to hype as much as it’s been hyped, especially because it has such a deep network effect problem — it’s only useful if you know other people with Apple Watches.”
So what to make of the Apple Watch so far? Bloomberg seems to sum it up quite nicely in an article entitled “Apple Watch Review: You’ll Want One, but You Don’t Need One”, and this seems to be the general consensus.
Pricing starts at £299 for the small “Sport” version, which is built of anodized aluminium instead of stainless steel. The regular models cost between £479 and £949 with the price difference amazingly just based on the type of strap – and the most expensive isn’t studded with diamonds, it’s just a black stainless steel link bracelet. And let’s put a shout out to the 18-carat gold edition, which will cost you between £8,000 and £12,000.
If you’re still determined to splash the cash and can’t wait for the second or third generation, you’ll still have to wait a bit longer for the first. Apple’s initial shipping date for the Apple Watch was April 24th, though we’ve been hearing it has been delayed in some areas so you might want to find out more before you get too excited.
For more information visit Apple.