Apple Watch review: Does it live up to expectations?

As a self-confessed gadget fan, I have to admit, I’ve been excited about the Apple Watch ever since the hype started.

I’m no ‘Apple Addict’ (only started using an iPhone 18 months ago, have never purchased music from iTunes and I don’t own a Mac) however I ordered the Apple Watch two minutes after the advance ordering opened… And now it has arrived - so the question is, will it live up to my expectations?

Why did I want one? I thought it would be another disruptive piece of tech, introducing new ways of doing regular things as well as opening our eyes to new horizons (such as the pressure firm touch – expect that to appear on iPhones soon).

As you might expect, first impressions were excellent. The presentation was impressive, everything was neat and felt ‘reassuringly expensive’. Before I’d even turned the watch on, there are two very clever things worthy of note:

  • The UK three pin plug with foldable pins. This makes packing it and travelling so much easier, especially with the expectation that it would need regular charging
  • The strap. It’s just one simple push to change the straps completely. How has no one reinvented the watch-strap fitment until now?!

The watch is smaller and lighter than I had imagined. The screen is also bright and clear. The quality of the build is of course, superb.

Apps

I started with the same apps as I have on my iPhone - initially I didn’t go hunting for anything specific for the watch.

Some apps worked really well, particularly those built by Apple such as calendar reminders and messages (though there is no keyboard so this is limited to preset messages or Siri). The sensor for pulse, heart rate and the general workout seems reasonably accurate (more below) and even the nagging to get up if you have been sitting for an hour isn’t too annoying!

Interestingly, email works to alert you and show the message, but cannot display anything web content related (HTML format shows as plain text). There is no ability to reply to an email, only flag, delete or mark as unread/read.

For most of day one I was finding my way around. As I was working, the watch notified me of emails, tweets and calendar appointments – all undeniably useful but not exactly life changing!

I’m a regular user of the Trainline.com app, which doesn’t appear to work reliably through the watch. It did at first, but now just offers up a blank screen. BBC News apps are also a problem - I haven’t received any wrist notifications for the last few days although they have been displayed on my phone.

I discovered a restart of my iPhone fixed these apps so clearly there are some ’first version’ niggles to be fixed (hardly surprising as so few organisations have had a watch to test against). There is still no Facebook app, but you do get notifications as you would on the iPhone.

Battery Life

The battery life is also better than expected. For Day One, it was down to 40 per cent after 12 hours, so 5 per cent an hour means 18-20 hours should be achievable.

In fact, this is a device that is designed to conserve battery when it’s not being used and to display notifications by detecting a movement – like raising your arm to check the time!

Siri

To get the most out of the watch, you have to re-familiarise yourself with Siri - not something I was used to.

Sending tweets or iMessages require you to speak into your wrist - something I won’t be doing in public! You can of course answer the phone in this way too - but again, not something I would do on the train to work.

Usage

Given that my first play with the watch was over a long weekend, my usage wasn’t in line with my normal work pattern.

On Saturday afternoon I motorcycled 100 miles. The notifications were not obvious when riding, so offered no distractions. My heart rate was steady and surprisingly the watch did think I had burned a few hundred calories, though.

Sunday was spent decorating. The watch clearly doesn’t understand the physical effort of moving furniture, sanding, filling and general prep work for painting - nine hours of it and I was tired, but the watch decided I'd burnt a measly 400 calories!

Monday brought about the first workout test. Two hours of mountain biking and half an hour of football with my son, totaling over 1000 calories burnt. I wasn’t sure which activity to select for football, so I used ‘outdoor run’ which whilst average speed was obviously low, I was surprised at having covered 1.5 miles.

The cycle report was fairly accurate on the miles covered, but not on the average speed, as we had a 20 minute stop while a friend fixed his tire. My cycle computer doesn’t count this in the average speed, but the watch does.

Heart rate over the day was impressive, ranging from a relaxing 42bpm (or nearly dead as my wife puts it!) to 178 (given I am 42 years old that is bang on the recommended 220 age workout max) and the average for the morning was ~120bpm. As with most fitness bands, the real value is in relative comparison between days/ workouts rather than absolute accuracy.

Business Use

If your average business day consists of the usual mix of meetings, calls and emails then the Apple Watch can be useful for checking notifications during a meeting - less intrusive than checking a phone or laptop, but not massively impactful.

It all started to make sense when I had to attend a meeting across town – navigating to an unfamiliar location using the Maps app (sadly Apple not Google) is worked via the subtle taps on the wrist for next turn approaching and a quick check of the wrist to see the instruction. The navigation feature seems to be most of use to me at the moment.

Pros

Over the weekend I was able to get to grips with the applications a little more.

Controlling your Apple TV from the Apple Watch is great and avoids hunting for the remote. When listening to music through your phone, you can change tracks and volume through the watch.

I have discovered few interesting features:

  • Shazam quickly identifies that song I heard at the hairdressers (not a regular salon bunny)
  • PowerPoint advances slides being AirPlayed to my TV (from my phone) – very useful whilst rehearsing my upcoming speaking slot at Information Age SDX conference
  • Battery life easily lasts a leisure or work day - now I’m settled into a less intense routine with it, it is often still on 40-50 per cent when I put it on charge at the end of an 18hr day
  • No plug sockets needed for charging - just lay it on the charge point

Cons

As expected, many of the version 1 apps have bugs – largely around performance and/ or stability. These will of course get addressed and was something I expected.

It is very much a ‘content consumption’ device, acting as a second screen to the iPhone. This is not a bad thing, but I recall that when the iPad first came out, most of its use was viewing and consumption (and games!) whereas now it is common to write emails, edit documents etc. So I imagine, the Apple Watch app ecosystem will evolve, as it did with the iPad.

What next?

There are a few things you either cannot seem to do (I’m still learning!) or that I haven’t tried out yet:

  1. Inability to check your iPhone’s status – why no visibility of the iPhone’s signal strength/ type (you need 3G for most of the watch features) and battery strength?
  2. You can use Siri to send/reply to messages (and even send tweets) but not for replying to emails
  3. You can only see a 7 day view on the calendar
  4. I would like to use Sonos controller app on the watch to manage my music around the house from my wrist – seems like I’m not alone as an entire discussion thread has started on the Sonos support site!

Final verdict

And lastly…….the biggest test of the Apple Watch was always going to be my wife’s verdict - would this be yet another pointless gadget or something she would also desire? The verdict is in – a 38mm Apple Watch Sport has been ordered!

Kevin Linsell, Director of Strategy & Architecture, Adapt