Apple Watch Review Roundup – One Wearable To Rule Them All?

apple-watch-white-side

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.

apple-watch-black-side

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.

apple-watch-black-back

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.

What the critics think of the new Apple Watch

AplWatch-Hero-Tumble-PRINT-resized

Apple had two big announcements at its Cupertino event – the new iPhone, of course, and somewhat surprisingly, the Apple Watch. It’s been finished at last. Well, it hasn’t been finished – it’s not going to be available until early 2015 at the earliest, but it did have prototypes on show and successfully worked an audience from foaming anticipation through to raucous applause and tearful whooping with a rather cool video showcasing its smooth lines.

It’s the Apple Watch, not the iWatch, and in coming to market now (soon) with what could be the next big thing, Apple has done what Apple does – wait for someone else to create, market and sell a product, watch carefully from the sidelines and then come in with something bigger, better, sleeker (and more expensive). It’s a strategy that has worked well in the past but allows little room for error, as seen in the Smartphone market where it has been overtaken in both technical innovation and platform share.

While the job of the iPhone6 is to play a serious game of catch-up in this well-established arena, the new Apple Watch is well poised to take advantage of a (relatively) slowly building interest in wearable tech. Could it be the device to start smartwatch fever by perfecting that awkward blend of functionality and comfort?

TIME magazine seems to think so – its writer says that:“having gotten to wear and play with the device, one thing is for certain: The Apple Watch is a beautifully designed piece of technology with enormous potential”, and goes so far to say that “In fact, I’d say it’s the most exciting gadget since the iPad, from Apple or any other company.”  This seems to be a lot to do with the design, which feels solid yet lightweight and fits on the wrist naturally. It looks “more like a piece of jewellery” than a typical smartwatch due to the curved, bezel-less screen, which establishes a slightly feminine quality. Other platitudes include it not feeling showy or intrusive to the point where you could even forget you’re wearing it.

TechCrunch delves into the features. NFC and Apple’s new “Secure Element” for storing payment information will allow you to use Apple Pay (currently only available in the US) to make purchases. Other quirks include “the new paired communication mode that Apple demoed, which allows one user to connect directly to another for real-time sharing of hand-drawn messages, customized animated smileys, heartbeats and more”, and “Taptic” feedback, that makes it feel like someone is gently tapping your wrist – far subtler than “the jarring notification vibration of Android Wear smartwatches”. The range of bands available also get a mention, with the sports band appearing as though it’d be comfortable during exercise and the link bracelet offering quick adjustments for size.

When it comes to operation, Wired highlights the “digital crown”, a side-mounted dial used to control some of the functions. What’s interesting about this, it says, is the fact that “an analogue flourish blends a physical, and, in today’s Apple portfolio, unconventionally mechanical, interface into the otherwise high-tech digital proceedings.” Used to rotate through menus or options, or to return to the home screen at a push, it complements the touchscreen interface though early reports seem to indicate it offers little or no feedback response, spinning perhaps a little too freely. When it comes to the interface itself, it’s typically minimalist. For example, there are no words on-screen to help you recognise apps – “Logos for the applications each icon represents have had to be designed to communicate meaning without a helping hand from the alphabet.” The only potential issue with this, it suggests, is introducing a learning curve for techno-phobes. Other highlights here include the ability to use the screen as a viewfinder for an iPhone camera, an IR function for TV control and maps that vibrate left or right to tell you the way.

AplWatch42-Sstl-RbrWht-PF_iPhone6-Svr-PF-PRINT-resized

Perhaps the biggest issue the Apple Watch will have to overcome is well described here – how “smart” is it really? The author suggests that for the high price of purchase:

I don’t want another screen to just see notifications on, or to pause a song, or to see whether the sun has got his hat on. I want it to be intelligent, decide certain things for me, disturb me only when it knows I’m likely to find a disturbance both convenient and necessary.

Alongside questions over battery life, an area that was deliberately side-stepped during the initial presentation, the fact that there’s no headphones port despite the ability to store media and no built-in WiFi (you’ll need to use a paired iPhone) it’s clear that this isn’t a feature-packed all-in-one, it is an accessory, and we’ve seen those already. Will comfort and looks be enough to convince people that a smartwatch is now a must-have? Sadly we’ll have to wait until next year to find out.