by Kathleen Henning
I received my Apple Watch this past Thursday. I chose the space grey Apple Watch sport with the black band, which was worth the wait. It’s fairly subtle, with one person (okay, a kid!) thinking it could be a real watch. Overall, I am impressed with its performance, especially for a v1 device with limited connectivity options. Powered by my iPhone 6, even on LTE instead of wireless, there is very little lag in most apps. However, the remote app has some issues connecting to iTunes libraries. It’s fantastic as a remote for the Apple TV, but very limited and challenging to sync with my computer’s iTunes library.
Performance at home is fantastic. I was able to leave my phone in my bedroom and wander all over my apartment with the watch. I made calls on it of durations between 30 and 40 minutes with no problems. I will say the speakers could be a bit stronger, though. It’s hard to hear people if they’re speaking quietly, or also on speakerphone. Messages and alerts come through in real-time, though. Pleasantly, if you’re interacting with an app on another device you do not receive an alert on the watch. While this makes sense, it isn’t true for the iPhone/iPad, so it was a great software addition that should come to more devices in the family.
I was deeply impressed with its performance in transit. Using Bluetooth, the watch is still connected to your phone so you can change music or get activity updates while underground with no cell service. Where there is cell service, it will push notifications to you. I was expecting the watch to be fairly useless while traveling, but that is certainly not the case.
It’s useful while at work. Again, the performance over LTE has few noticeable lags for any app, apart from maybe 5-10 seconds sometimes for NYT updates. The calendar alerts are fantastic. They pop up 10 minutes before your meeting and let you scroll through all of the meeting details. There’s even an option to email the meeting creator, which is the only email option I’ve seen on the watch so far. The dictation is good enough that I wish they allowed text responses to emails. It would be a really useful update. My biggest frustration while using it at work was when I went out of range for a meeting in a far conference room. I didn’t bring along my phone because the watch was a great substitute, but it didn’t alert me as I was exiting its range. Some sort of notification would be helpful, as it’s challenging to gauge distances, especially inside buildings.
The messages app is delightful to use. Being able to dictate messages makes it extremely functional. However, the feature could be improved by making it easier to edit these messages. I’ve definitely found myself canceling messages and re-dictating them due to one or two incorrect words in places that would make overall comprehension challenging. I would also like to be able to send the messages without having to touch the watch. There currently isn’t a verbal command that lets you send a message. Despite these usability challenges, I still found myself sending the majority of my text messages this weekend using the watch. It’s the easiest way to send text messages I’ve seen so far, though it would definitely be improved by easier (or any!) editing capabilities and a way to send without touching it.
Email is surprisingly functional on the watch. Initially, I assumed it would be just notifications, but you can scroll through the entire email. Not everything renders on the watch, especially graphics, but you can see the entirety of provided text, which is very useful. My biggest pain point when using the email feature was how difficult it was to delete emails. When I clicked on a notification, I had to scroll through the email to get to the delete option. In your mailbox you can swipe for a trash option, but as a notification that only gives you the option to clear notifications. Being able to delete from the notification without scrolling through the whole thing would be a useful addition.
My largest gripe centers around Apple Pay. Figuring out how to add a card to the watch was NOT intuitive. It kept directing me to my phone, but I assumed it was the regular Passbook section. I tried re-adding my card, but it didn’t let me. I had to Google how to do it to find out it was in the Apple Watch app on my phone. Even then, I had to re-verify my card for the watch by calling my credit card company. When I tried to use it at Whole Foods by tapping the button twice it kept telling me it was ready, but ultimately it was unable to make the payment. Obviously, this was pretty frustrating. I ended up using my phone. Seeing as the watch is likely one of Apple’s best chances at making Apple Pay catch on, it’s a shame this was the least intuitive watch experience I had all weekend. This experience should definitely be improved. The Apple Pay on-boarding would have been easier with a diagram clearly illustrating where to go on the phone. The BEST solution would be letting me choose on the watch whether to add the credit cards from my phone. I don’t see why I need to go through the phone. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work in stores, but that’s definitely a huge issue that needs to get fixed.
The native activity app is interesting. I’ve given it a small amount of information and it’s been making attempts to inspire me to greater efforts. I personally am not a super active person, but what I like about the activity app as it exists currently is that it works with you. It’s not being overly critical or alerting me too frequently, both of which would result in me turning it off. It’s sitting there in the background letting me know when I’ve hit a goal or reminding me when to stand up. I don’t listen to every stand reminder, but I’ve listened to more than I’ve ignored. I’m curious to see if it changes my behavior over time. It’s definitely a much better way to interact with this information than the Health app on the iPhone, which I’ve always found oddly buggy.
Of the 3rd party apps I’ve interacted with so far on the device, I’m most impressed with the New York Times app. They’ve done a wonderful job of creating a new kind of article specifically for the watch. Some articles feature just a headline, some have pictures, and some have 1-2 sentences. It’s a fun surprise to scroll through them a few times a day. I do hope in the future it’s possible to read full shorter articles on the device, but I understand their choice and think it makes a lot of sense for the watch that exists today. 95% of my interaction with the NYT iPhone app is through notifications, so NYT on the watch is an ideal match. Now I actually get more information with the brief articles and images. I prefer the tablet for actual reading, but again I would be interested in having a more email-like experience for the NYT.
While I was initially unimpressed with the battery life, it was fine over the weekend. It does drain my phone battery faster, BUT it means I’m spending significantly less time on my phone so that evens it out for the most part. Like all Apple devices, I would appreciate a longer battery life, but I will say it survives a 12-hour day much better than the iPhone. Having the two devices has made it possible to have weekend days without airplane mode or constant recharging. Speaking of charging, I wish it were possible to wear the watch while charging it. One of the best use cases for me so far has been using the watch to act as an Apple TV remote. I do most of my Apple TV watching at night, so it would be great to be able to plug it in and continue using it. I’m also curious about the watch’s potential as an alarm, given that the taptic feedback might be a more pleasant way to wake up.
At this stage, I would rate the Apple Watch as a ‘nice to have’. If you, like me, own the whole family of devices and upgrade pretty regularly, go for it. It’s an awesome addition to the family, and you’ll find a lot of unexpected uses for it. I think it needs to be able to stand alone, ideally by v2. However, it’s still challenging enough to use that I wouldn’t recommend it to my parents just yet. I do think it will get there, and I will definitely be keeping mine and not returning it. Its best uses for me are: messaging, Apple TV remote, email, and keeping me off my iPhone (supposedly the #1 secret purpose). Those are important enough things in my life that I find value in a device that improves my access to them.
Note to Apple: I would be happy to put a $5 data share plan on it so I could leave my phone behind while at conferences, meetings, bars, parties, etc.