Toby is back as a guest blogger to tell us about his user experience of the Apple Watch! A little on his background, Toby – as you might already know from his previous guest posts – really knows how to enjoy life and demands for a work-life-balance! He’s also, as I like to call him, a Gadget Anthropologist – I guess this title is quite self-explanatory! So here’s the first part to his user experience of the Apple Watch.
Apple Watch is not a necessity. However, it is a nice notifier, assistant, and fitness companion. It is nice to have, and if you wear a watch everyday, you should seriously consider it.
Anna has invited me to write a blog post about the Apple Watch (I am probably her only friend who bothered to get one). I hope you’ll enjoy it and not mind my endless biased praising of my favourite company (lol). I hope the post also help fashion-minded readers of Anna’s blog to learn more about this exciting one-of-a-kind smartwatch on the market right now.
How it began… Apple Watch is not my first smartwatch (because I am a geek lol). For the past year, I have been wearing a Pebble smartwatch — the smartwatch that was regarded as the first successful ‘modern’ smartwatch. It has a monochrome e-paper display that is easy to read in sunlight, with a backlight for viewing in dark environments, and connects to an iPhone or Android phone using bluetooth. I mostly use it for forwarding notifications (e.g. new messages, new mail, phone calls etc.) as it was the only feature that it does well — besides telling the time of course.
Although this is a review of the Apple Watch, I decided to start off by introducing the Pebble because it slowly influenced the mindset that I needed a smartwatch — although truth be told a fanboy like me would’ve bought an Apple smartwatch anyway. For the past year, I really enjoyed the small moments when Pebble notifies what I receive on my phone, such as a new Whatsapp message, a new e-mail, a calendar appointment, a reminder etc. It is most useful in times where taking out your phone is inconvenient (e.g. when washing the dishes, while going to the toilet, in a crowded train), or when taking out your phone is rude (e.g. in a meeting at work).
The Apple Watch however, took this to a whole new level, plus added functionality. For the rest of the review, I will discuss the Watch’s functionality as a notifier, assistant, and fitness companion. At times I will compare it with the Pebble to demonstrate how much better Apple has solved many of the ‘first world problems’.
Let’s first start with the Outlook:
The Apple Watch comes in three lines. They all perform the same functions and are differentiated in the size (38mm or 42mm screen by height), design, the watch bands (which are interchangeable), and the materials used.
Apple Watch Sport is the introductory model of the Apple Watch line. The watch body is made from aluminium and has a glass screen — just like the iPhone and iPad. It is not the most durable of all models but it is the lightest. The Watch Sport comes with plastic bands in five colours, and the soft touch plastic is very comfortable. All Watch Sport models have a silver body with the exception of the most expensive Sport model — the space grey alumnium body paired with black sports band. Ranges from HK$2,728 (£299) to HK$3,088 (£339).
Apple Watch is the middle-tier model. The watch body is made from stainless steel and has a sapphire screen. Durability is a mixed-bag here, because the stainless steel body is reportedly susceptible to scratches — just think of the scratched backs of early iPod models and the first three generations of the iPod touches. However, the sapphire screen is the star here, because it is literally ‘unscratchable’. Sapphire is the second hardest material on Earth, and only diamond (the hardest material) can scratch it. In terms of weight, it is also heavier than the Sport models but still relatively light. The Watch is paired with different choices of watch bands, made from plastics (the sports band), leather, and stainless steel, and in various colours. All Watch models have a silver body with the exception of the most expensive Watch model — the black stainless steel body paired with the same coloured link bracelet (You see the trend here? ‘Black’ is exclusive and more expensive). Ranges from HK$4,288 (£479) to HK$8,588 (£949).
Apple Watch Edition is the top-tier model. ‘Top-tier’ does not justify its luxuriousness because the watch model is made from an alloy infused with 18-karat gold (for added strength) and also has a sapphire screen. The Watch Edition comes in two body colours — gold or rose gold, and some comes in exclusive watch bands that cannot be purchased separately. Unlike the watch bands that may be purchased separately, the bands that comes with an Watch Edition has matching gold components. For instance, the clasps and pins on the watch bands comes in the same tint of gold alloys. The Watch Edition also comes in an exclusive leather velvet-lined box that doubles as a charging stand. Ranges from HK$78,800 (£8,000) to HK$115,800 (£12,000).
When presented with so many options, I had a hard time to decide which watch to get. When I tried the watch in the Apple Store, I knew right away 42mm is the better fit for me, as well as most guys. For girls, it’s really down to preference. In terms of which line of Watch to get, the logical choice would be the Sport models, as all Watches essentially do the same things and is likely to become obsolete in a year or two. However, the Pebble that I had been wearing is primarily plastic and looks like a toy. I wanted to step up my wrist wear to something that is more mature and would look nice with my work outfit/suit. At the time, I was deciding between the space grey Watch Sport model or the black stainless steel Watch model. I picked the latter in the end because it is somewhat exclusive (who doesn’t like that?), and getting the Watch Sport meant paying extra for some nice watch bands anyway (they don’t come cheap!). Moreover, the black stainless steel link bracelets are not sold separately.
Unboxing the Apple Watch is not that different from other Apple products (with the exception of the lavish Watch Edition I suppose). The packaging is simple and plain, and the layout and seals are so delicately designed. The middle-tier Apple Watch comes in a cube-shaped box. Pull off the cover and you’re greeted with a white acrylic box. Take off the lid and the Watch sits there in a velvet-lined box. Truth be told, this is not the nicest box I’ve encountered for a watch this price, but it probably is the best packaged smartwatch so far.
Under the acrylic box are the documentations and charging accessories. The Apple Watch is charged using a proprietary MagSafe connector that lightly clips to the back side of the watch body. There are no visible pins and connecting points as the watch charges using induction charging (like electrictoothbrushes). The connector, which looks like a small puck, is made out of stainless steel (it is plastic for the Sport). Apple also included a new UK-socket USB power adapter that has folding legs for easier storage and travelling.
The Watch is Apple’s first smartwatch but its attention to details and innovation on making a good watch really shows. For instance, unlike conventional link bracelet steel watches, where the links has to be taken out by pushing pins on the side using tiny screw drivers (or usually performed by a technician), Apple has cleverly implemented small push buttons that takes out links with a simple push and pull. Only Apple could do something so elegant and well executed. Other watch bands that I have tried also carries the level of attention and innovation, such as magnetically clasp leather and linked bands, or the plastic band that tucks inside instead of out.
Once you power on your watch, you’re greeted with a screen to pair with your iPhone. As the screen lights up, you notice the colours pop and the blacks are deep – it feels like the display is integrated with the glass. Pairing starts by launching the corresponding Apple Watch app on the iPhone, and to point the camera at the screen showing a dynamic pattern. This pattern, which looks like a moving ball of molecules (sorry any science conscious people with my terminology haha), contains a hidden code that is decoded by the app. Pairing only takes place the first time, then the Watch seamlessly and automatically connects whenever Bluetooth is turned on and the phone is within range.
After the initial setup, the Watch is functional and ready to be used. Unlike other Apple products, there is a slight learning curve for the Watch, because interactions are different with the use of new tools. While the capactive display is still the primary means for input, Apple introduced the Digital Crown, one that looks like the crown on conventional watches for adjusting the time, and Force Touch, a force-sensitive touch layer for the display.
The Digital Crown serves multiple purposes — scrolling, making selections, zooming in/out, and acts as the ‘home button’. While scrolling is still possible using the display (by flicking the finger — just like on the phone), Apple justified that the Crown is better because it does not cover the content, which is very thoughtful for a display this size. Similarly, the use of the Crown enables nimble selections, such as choosing the time for an alarm or timer. Finally, the Crown is used for zooming in/out because the pinch-and-zoom gesture we are all accustomed on the iPhone/iPads is silly for the Watch’s small display (not that it is technologically impossible). Movement using the crown is smooth and fluid, and responds to inertia — the faster you scroll the faster the moment. This is not an ordinary ‘jog dial’.
Force Touch, a technology that Apple has first implemented on the Watch, shortly after on the trackpads of its MacBook line, and most likely for the iPhone/iPad someday, enables an extra layer of the user interface. On the Watch, it is most useful when there are no more room to display buttons and selections. It also provides contextual menus, just like the ‘right click’ on the computer. For example, a ‘force touch’ or hard press on the watch/time face shows other selections; a hard press on the music playing screen shows options for repeat and shuffle etc.
Both of these technologies are brand new and shows how much thought Apple has put in their attempt in making the best smartwatch on the market (let’s not be conclusive now). Other smartwatch makers (Samsung, Android Wear watches by Motorola, Sony etc.) are less considerate and more or less scale down a phone user interface for a small screen. Unfortunately these users would have to suffer with usability issues (such as scrolling on a small screen while the finger covers half the content).
I am sure this is already too much to cover in one blog post. I will continue with the second (and maybe third!) post on typical scenarios based on my personal experience and preference with using the Watch. They are: reading the time, receiving notifications, daily activity monitoring, sports and fitness tracking, connecting using Digital Touch, and Siri. The Watch can actually do more than this but so far these uses interest me the most, or because the other features are not so well implemented in this first generation product — for instance, third party apps are a huge disappointment.
If you have any questions regarding the Watch, leave a comment and I’ll try to cover that in the next review. Bye for now and thanks!
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