Hands on with the Apple Watch: My first impressions

After Tim Cook demoed the Apple Watch at the Spring Forward event two months ago I declared I should want an Apple Watch - but I don't.

Despite being an iPhone owner and a watch wearer, I felt the new device was an "unfocused mess" and features like talking to your wrist and sending drawings to fellow Watch-owning friends just didn’t appeal. They were something only a ten year old would be interested in.

The way Watch was being retailed - online only, with crazy delays - didn’t impress me either. In fact, I called Apple’s launch a brand-damaging botch job. I still stand by that statement, but here’s the thing. Despite all that Apple Watch negativity, after I went into an Apple Store to look at the device I ended up buying one. I know, talk about easily swayed.

The dispatch date for my device (which had to be ordered online, remember) was given as July, but my purchase actually arrived yesterday morning. I received multiple emails and text messages in advance, so I was ready for it.

I opted for the 42mm Apple Watch Sport in Space Gray with the Black Sport Band. I would have expected to have chosen an Apple Watch with a metal band, but actually up close they didn’t really appeal. I also didn’t fancy paying more than I had to for a device which I wasn’t completely convinced I’d like, and which clearly isn’t as polished as it will be in time.

This being Apple, the Watch comes packaged smartly in a plastic case inside a long thin cardboard box. You get a magnetic charging cable, USB adaptor, an additional half strap (for thinner, or ladies’ wrists) and the Watch itself.

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Getting started is a matter of turning the device on, waiting for it to load (which takes quite some time) and then pairing it with your phone using the Apple Watch app that the tech giant forced on all iPhone users in a previous iOS update. You can pair it using your phone’s camera (point it at the pattern on the Watch’s screen) or manually by entering a code.

Once paired, it will look for Apple Watch versions of apps on your phone and install them. You can choose which apps you want, and uninstalling unwanted apps is easy enough and done on your phone. I knew there was an update pending, so I installed this before going any further. The update couldn’t be applied without connecting the Watch to the charger first (you just lay the back onto the circular magnetic disk) as the remaining charge wasn’t enough.

Once updated, I secured the device with a passcode (Watch automatically locks when you take it off your wrist), and began exploring what it has to offer.

I like the interface, but it’s not what I’d call intuitive. It’s easy enough to work out what the digital crown does (acts as a home button, and is also used for scrolling and summoning Siri), and launching apps is straightforward, but working out how to change the default watch face isn’t quite so obvious (you press down on the existing face, and a selection of alternatives pops up). The quick start leaflet does explain how to do this, and all of the other common tasks, so as long as you bother to read it, which obviously I didn’t.

First Impressions

The device itself is quite chunky, and not particularly stylish, although it's far from ugly. The screen is blank until you move your wrist to look at it, and the time, or the app you were last using, pops into view. You can choose which apps to have as Glances (the information you require is shown "at a glance"), and these can be accessed by swiping up from the watch face screen.

The first Glance screen shows you that Watch is connected, and lets you toggle airplane mode, do not disturb or silent modes on or off, and also ping your phone, handy if you’ve misplaced it. Scrolling right takes you to the music player (control the music on your phone), followed by the heart rate monitor, then the battery remaining indicator (you can switch to power reserve here if the juice is too low), the activity monitor (which shows Move, Exercise and Stand progress), the calendar, weather, maps, world clock, and any other glance-friendly apps you’ve installed.

If you don’t want to move your wrist to see what’s on screen, you can set it so a tap will wake things up.

Most of Watch’s functionality is linked to your phone, which is a smart move as it means you can do more with the device. If Watch can’t handle something you can handoff to the phone, and the larger device will take it from there. Some of the Watch apps are basic, but useful. The Camera app acts as a remote snapper for taking photos with your phone, and there's a 3 second delay option to avoid you having lots of shots with your wrist in front of your face, while Photos lets you view images on your phone, but seemingly only ones you've favorited.

Despite thinking using the watch to place calls, and asking Siri questions, would be stupid, it’s actually quite useful. I can ask Apple’s personal assistant to play a song as I’m driving just by saying "Hey Siri" and speaking my request. The whole process is quite slow, but you soon get used to that.

The two phone calls I’ve made with Watch so far have been clear enough, and the process has worked well. How often I’ll use this feature remains to be seen (my phone already syncs with my car, so I can make and place calls while driving without ever touching the handset anyway, and the calls made that way are clearer). If I ever find myself dangling by my fingertips from a bridge, I could use Watch to call for help via Siri, so that's good to know. I’m joking, obviously, but I’m sure there will be times when it will be easier to take and make calls using the watch and not my phone.

One thing I’ve realised in the time frame I’ve been using Watch is I get way too many notifications throughout the day. During a business meeting my watch beeped and tapped my wrist relentlessly, informing me of texts, emails, health related details, and other things. Seeing what a notification is for means glancing at your wrist, which makes it look as if you have somewhere urgent to be!

There’s currently no app for Facebook - which is a major absentee - but you still get notifications of comments on the social network. Obviously I get all the same notifications on my phone, but they aren’t as pressing as ones delivered to your wrist. I’ve cut down the notifications I receive now and it’s much better. I’ve already become very conditioned to checking my wrist the second I get an alert, which is impressive given I’ve not had the device all that long.

Apps can be glacially slow, which is another downside. Better get used to that spinning wheel... Maps take an age to load when you’re out and about, Feedly isn’t speedy, and messages in the HipChat chat app I installed update quite slowly. Responding, by voice, to messages in HipChat requires you to be quite quick before the screen shuts off, but it's an art that's easily mastered.

Assault on Battery

Battery life is unquestionably an issue and I’ll have to get into the habit of charging the device every night as I do with my phone. Talking of which, my phone’s battery life seems greatly reduced now Watch is connected to it.

Naturally I’ve not had much time to learn everything Watch has to offer, and the experience has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. I’ve enjoyed much of what it has to offer, but then been disappointed occasionally by Watch’s limitations. There’s are no killer apps, and I’ve yet to find any I really want to download, which is disappointing. The lack of a Facebook app is very surprising (I was aware of this prior to buying the device, fortunately), and its absence will definitely limit Watch’s usefulness for some.

I think overall I will grow to like Watch, maybe even love it, but it’s going to be about working out how it fits into my life, and understanding, and tolerating its shortcomings. Just because it can perform a task, it doesn’t mean it should. Some actions, and apps, will always be better on the phone. Watch complements the iPhone, but it certainly doesn’t replace it. Not even close.

Every review ever talks about Watch having potential, and that’s unquestionably true. What it can do right now is great, but what it will be able to do in the future will be amazing.

Obviously 24 hours isn’t long enough to formulate a proper opinion, but I wanted to get my initial thoughts out, and then report of my experiences after I’ve lived with Watch for a far longer period of time. Will I love it? Will I have grown to hate and resent it? Or will it simply have become part of my daily tech life without inspiring either extreme? We shall see...

Photo Credit: Wayne Williams