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One year ago Apple finally decided to get into the smartwatch game. Nobody was surprised that it happened, but the reaction it inspired has caught a few off guard. Some were shocked that it failed to explode on the scene with the same ferocity as the iPhone or iPad. Others have been amazed at how it has stubbornly clung to life, like the Apple TV did for years.
The Apple Watch has been somewhat divisive, even around the Engadgetcompound. Some of our editors ordered theirs on day one, others became converts later. Many still wear and like their Apple watch, while others are wondering how much they can get for it on eBay. Let’s see how seven Engadget editors feel about the Cupertino’s first stab at wearable now.
I regretted buying the Apple Watch. And while I haven’t resold it, it’s not something I wear every day. The best features (message notifications, music player controls and the surprisingly consistent fitness apps) aren’t enough for something that costs just shy of an entry-level iPhone — especially since you need the phone to make the wearable worthwhile and anyone that says different is kidding themselves. Then there’s the cost of everything else: You’d better not lose that charging puck-cable. And how do they get away with charging so much for plastic straps? (Although it is a particularly velvety-soft plastic.)
There’s been a weird side effect to it all, however. I’m constantly poring over watches and have added three more to my humble horological collection. Don’t get me wrong, the Apple Watch remains the most expensive purchase I’ve made — writing at Engadget doesn’t bring a timeless Omega within my budget. Well, at least not yet. But I do like the idea of wearing a watch, having the time there, something that looks nice on my wrist. The Apple Watch is a beautiful “smartwatch,” but that’s the problem — it’s still a smartwatch. It’s chunky and normal watches just look better to me.
When I bought the Apple Watch on launch day, I had no idea whether it would be useful. I knew I loved the way it looked, and since I use an iPhone, compatible wearable options were limited. So I spent the $400-plus on the Watch Sport. I liked it so much I’ve since swapped that for a stainless steel model with a black leather band — it’s much fancier.
I’m happy to say I have no buyer’s remorse. My favorite thing about the Watch is that it keeps me from taking my phone out of my pocket every time I get a notification. Plus, the reminders to stand up and walk around throughout the day keep my body from atrophying.
My one complaint: I wish the apps for it were faster. Sometimes they take so long to load that it’s actually quicker to take my iPhone out instead. Hopefully that will get addressed with the second-gen Watch.
Confession time: I didn’t want an Apple Watch. I only bought one because a notorious former colleague wouldn’t shut the hell up about it, and we eventually agreed it would be funny to send obscene doodles to each other. It was… for about a week. To my surprise, the Watch stayed on my wrist well after that first puerile jolt of novelty wore off, and not for any of the reasons Apple was so keen to talk about.
I never talk to Siri. My list of favorite friends is empty, so I don’t send anyone drawings or heartbeats. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used it for directions. Even getting notifications got to be sort of a hassle. In fact, most of the time I glance at a notification on my wrist, I regret it. That’s mostly due to the abhorrent state of my work inbox, but also because glancing at my watch mid-conversation makes me feel like a dick.
No, I like that it tells me the time. It’s a pretty accurate step-counter, too, and having all data that fed into iOS’s Health app to mingle with “calories Chris gorged on today” and “how much sleep I got” helps paint a picture of the state of my union. And perhaps best of it all, it’s nice to know if I have to put on a jacket before I go outside. For someone who slobbers over wearables on the regular, it turns out my needs are actually very basic. My low bar for features also means something eventually might slip in and replace the Apple Watch, but for now this setup is just the right amount of smart.
I stopped wearing my Apple Watch almost immediately after I wrapped my review last spring. It wasn’t until seven months later, at the start of CES, that I would put it on again. By that time, I had fallen into a funk, during which I all but stopped exercising and put on about eight pounds in as many weeks. I was just starting to cheer up when it came time for my annual, week-long trip to Vegas for the world’s premier consumer electronics show. I knew that I wouldn’t have much time on my work trip to go running on the hotel treadmill, so instead I brought my Apple Watch, with the idea that I could at least console myself with seeing how many miles I had walked around the Las Vegas convention center each day.
It wasn’t perfect — one day when I ended up crying in an hour-long taxi line after the Watch nudged me to “stand up” — but on the whole, it was helpful to see how much walking I was doing every day. Pretty soon, I was competing against myself. Sure, I walked seven miles yesterday, but what about today? I quickly remembered just how well-designed Apple’s fitness-tracking app is. Something about the color-coding and the animated rings and the different badges you can earn. Maybe I’m just a sucker for games.
Nearly four months have passed since CES. I’ve long since left Vegas, and I’ve lost all of my “sad weight” and then some. Barely a day has gone by that I have not worn the Apple Watch. I still won’t use it as a running watch due to the inaccurate distance tracking, which means that on days when I go running with my Garmin, I end up syncing the Garmin data to my calorie counter of choice, MyFitnessPal, and then I manually add my Apple Watch data by subtracting the Garmin calorie number from the larger Apple Watch one. I know, I know: Apple Watch can sync with various apps, including MFP. The point is that I’m trying to avoid having the same data sent over twice, since I tend not to take off my Apple Watch while going for runs. (I want to meet my daily step and calorie-burning goals, after all.)
If that sounds complicated and tedious, it’s because it is. But such is life when you like the Apple Watch as a fitness tracker and not as a running watch. I think my willingness to deal with that every day is a testament to how much I enjoy the UI of Apple’s Activity app, even if I can’t trust it to accurately track my workouts.
I also enjoy the Watch for its notifications but only to a point. I’ve been accused on multiple occasions of being one of those people who’s on their phone too much, and having a smartwatch makes me seem… less rude. Glancing at my wrist is a more subtle gesture than pulling out my handset, and I get just enough information from the notifications to sate my curiosity. It’s been a trial-and-error process figuring out which notifications I actually want (hell no, Tinder and Slack), but I think I’ve landed on a setup that’s useful, not distracting.
All that said, the unit I’m wearing is one I have out on a long-term loan from Apple. Would I have paid my own money for this? A year ago I’d have definitively said “no.” Now I’ll upgrade that to “probably not.”
The best thing I can say about the Apple Watch is that I still wear it. And that’s more than I can say for other wearables — even those that I truly loved, like the Jawbone Up 2 and Misfit Shine. Once the novelty and joy of obsessively tracking your activity wears off, it’s pretty easy to give up on a typical wearable. But the Apple Watch has managed to make itself a key part of my daily workflow: it’s the main way I track my many appointments, view and respond to texts, and deal with a plethora of other notifications. I’ve grown to appreciate how it helps me cut through the never-ending onslaught of electronic noise (ironic for an expensive gadget, I know).
There is, of course, plenty of room for improvement. Apple needs to make future Apple Watch models more independent, and less reliant on being tethered to an iPhone (recent rumors suggest it might include cellular data connectivity). I’d also like some faster hardware to get rid of those interminable loading screens. They’re annoying enough on phones and computers, when you’re trying to quickly glance at your wrist load screens are absolutely infuriating.
I still can’t recommend the Apple Watch. It’s a device for a particular lifestyle of digital addiction. By its very nature (and price), it’s just not for everyone. But I wouldn’t call it an outright failure, as so many have. Analysts estimate Apple has sold around 12 million Watches over the last year, twice that of the iPhone’s inaugural year. It might not completely reshape the digital landscape, as the iPhone did, but there’s clearly a market out there for a smartwatch that helps you survive the digital hellscape.
Straight-up: the Apple Watch feels like an essential part of my body at times. I can certainly go without it if I have to. But I’m so used to turning to my wrist for notifications and apps that I miss the Watch when it’s gone. For someone who gets dozens of work-related emails every day, it’s a lifesaver. It’s also doing a lot to improve my fitness routine — there’s an almost Pavlovian urge to go on runs just to hit my fitness goals. Apps like Swarm and Transit are that much more useful when I don’t have to fish my phone out of my pocket.
Having said that, this is very much an early adopter gadget in the vein of the original iPhone. For one, it’s slow… horribly so, on occasion. Native app support in watchOS 2 made life a lot easier, but there are still times where I’m left staring at my arm while an app loads. And while I’ve grown to appreciate the Watch’s design, its thick body still screams “gadget” a little too loudly. Also, I’ll be honest: many of the things I appreciate can also be found in Android Wear or Samsung’s Gear line. It’s Apple’s implementation that makes the difference for me more than the features. I just happen to prefer its approaches to things like app navigation and haptic feedback.
For year two, I want to see Apple focus on speed above all else. I want interactions to be so quick that I rarely stop to think about reaching for my phone. That doesn’t just mean faster processors and data links, either. Frankly, Siri feels underused on the Watch — it’d speed things up if I could command any app with my voice, not just a handful of official programs. If Apple can make it so that the Watch is almost always the quickest way to get something done, it might appeal more to the everyday person, not just tech-savvy types willing to put up with a few flaws.
I got my Apple Watch more than 6 months after it launched, so I was well aware of both its good sides and bad. As such, I’ve been quite happy with it — I thought a lot about whether it could do the things I wanted, and by and large it’s been as good or better than I expected.
Fitness tracking is by far my most-used Apple Watch feature. For my purposes, it’s as good or better than most Fitbits I’ve tried, and the fact that I like the Watch’s physical appearance means I’m more likely to keep wearing it and get better data. I’ve quite simply been a lot more active since I got the Watch — part of that coincides with the time when I started focusing on running more, but the Watch has definitely helped me with that goal.
I do wish apps worked better, but I never really thought they were going to be a killer feature, so it hasn’t been a deal-breaker. And while getting all of your phone’s notifications on the Watch is a horrible way to live, if you take the time to set it up, you can get actually useful and timely info pushed there. All in all, I don’t regret my purchase at all and expect I’ll keep wearing it for a good long time.