Apple Watch: a few weeks in…

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I’ve been using my new Apple Watch daily for a few weeks now, so I thought it would be useful to reflect how it’s been going. In case anyone out there is still wondering what it’s like to use outside of an Apple Store.

If you can’t be bothered to scroll to the bottom, let me summarise here: I really, really like it and find it extremely useful. On the other hand, it’s not life-changing and is in no way a necessity. I like gadgets and I’ve used a smart watch (the Pebble) before. So I’d already decided that getting mobile notifications on my wrist is something I actually want.

Basically, the Apple Watch is aimed squarely at people like me. If you’re not sure what brand of mobile phone you use (or couldn’t care less), I don’t think the Apple Watch is going to be for you.


So far?

So I had over 6 months of life with the Pebble smart watch to get used to the idea of a watch that communicates with your phone. And my time with the Pebble (which isn’t gathering dust somewhere, by the way – it’s gone to a good home) demonstrated to me that smart watches are “a good thing”.

I get so much information on my Apple Watch that my iPhone 6 plus spends more time in my bag or jacket pocket. This is helpful, due to its size, but also due to its ability to draw me in and distract me. Now, I only look at the phone when I want to, so I’m less likely to get distracted by other apps.

You know what I mean? “Let me check my email. Interesting… let’s click that link. Oooh cats! I need to share this on Twitter!”. Repeat ad nauseum. Now, I get a notification on my wrist and I actively decide if it’s useful or necessary to get my phone out and do something about it. Far from being an additional distractor, for me at least, the Apple Watch has proved less of a distraction. And my iPhone battery is lasting even longer as a result!

What else…?

Activity & Health

Many of the reviews of the Apple Watch that I’ve read go into great deal on the Activity functionality. For my part, I find it really interesting. I probably use the Activity app more than any other. Up until recently, I tracked my activity (steps taken) using a Fitbit, which was faithfully attached to my trouser pocket every morning. Using the Apple Watch to track my movements (as I have such a sedentary job, this is important!) means I’ve left the Fitbit on my bedside table for the last couple of weeks.

The periodic Activity reminders (hourly reminders to “Stand up and move around!” and summary updates every four hours) actually make me want to move more. Mostly because I’m competitive and want to complete the three “circles” that summarise your daily activity. I’d like to be able to compare myself to friends on this front – just like Fitbit or Nike+. Perhaps Apple will introduce this in time.

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I’ve yet to use the Workout app for structured exercise. I much prefer to use Nike+ to track my runs and on this front, I’m really pleased. I like to run with my iPhone 6 plus (crazy, I know!) carried in a pouch on my arm. This isn’t just for Nike+ run-tracking, but also for safety. I want to have my phone with me in case I have an epileptic seizure while far from home.

Anyway, starting a run and listing to a podcast at the same time has always been a faff. I’d have to start the podcast running, switch to Nike+ app and secure a GPS signal. Once that’s done, I’d start the run, frantically pack the iPhone back into the pouch and strap it to my arm, all while trying to start running. You can imagine just how stupid I looked.

Now, I leave the phone on my arm and control everything from the Apple Watch. It’s great to be able to control what I’m listening to via my watch, rather than needing either headphones with a built-in remote or to remove the iPhone from its pouch. That said, I was able to control music and podcasts via my Pebble and, in fact, its physical buttons were far easier to use than the Apple Watch’s screen. Basically, if I want to do anything even vaguely complex, I need to slow down to a walk and start tapping carefully. Which can be difficult when you’ve been running all guns blazing – shaking hands don’t cooperate with such a small screen.

My other observation using the watch while running is that the rubber strap does get sweaty. This is inevitable and not really a problem, but worth pointing out. I’m human. When I exercise, I perspire. But all the same, I’m going to invest in a spare rubber strap, so I can periodically swap them out and keep them clean. On that front, I’m glad it’s so simple to take the straps off.

Running aside, I’m finding it very interesting to have my heart rate tracked via the Apple Watch. I’ve never done this before as I’ve not seen the need for even more running equipment to wear while I’m outside. Looking back over heart rate data after a few days is especially interesting. For example, there was a very extreme spike during the voting for the Eurovision semi-final! More so than any of the runs I’ve completed in the last week.

(Either the Eurovision voting had me incredibly excited or I need to push myself more when I’m running. Probably a little of both, if I’m honest…)

Reviewing the Health app on my iPhone is also proving useful for the first time ever. It pulls in information from various sources: movement, heart rate and exercise from the Apple Watch and Nike+, diet and calories from MyFitnessPal and weight/body composition from my Fitbit scales in the bathroom.

Day to day

Fitness and health-tracking aside, day to day I’m finding the notifications useful. My advice to anyone getting an Apple Watch would be to only add notifications from the apps you’re interested in hearing from. Otherwise your watch just won’t stop beeping and/or vibrating. I only hear from my watch when I get tweeted at, get a text message, when there’s an activity reminder or a preset reminder from ToDoist. That and the regular reminders to keep moving. I also get the odd news alert from the BBC and Guardian apps.

When I consider the number of apps on my phone, I would be horrified (and then quickly bored) if each sent a notification to my wrist. Notifications would quickly lose their impact and I’d start to ignore my wrist as well as my pocket.

In terms of what others think, it took a while for the watch to be noticed by someone else. Which I was relieved about. I didn’t want to call attention to it, which partly influenced my decision to get the darkest option, with a black strap. Even I forget I’m wearing it, until I receive a notification. Which is how I want it – I don’t want it to be so heavy or uncomfortable that I’m constantly aware I have an Apple device strapped to my wrist.

One of the first people to notice it was one of the security team at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. When leaving London, I’d walked through security at London City airport with the watch on my wrist. I’d genuinely forgotten I had it on, but dutifully emptied my pockets of everything else that could conceivably set off the scanner I had to walk through. Not a thing. Only afterwards did I realise what I’d done.

On the return leg of my journey, a week later, I intentionally left the watch on when waling through the security scanner. Which, helpfully, buzzed. I got a frisking and a rescanning, after which the security guard pointed at my wrist and asked “Maybe it’s your fancy new Apple Watch?”, with more than a smirk on her face. I took it off, handed it to her and walked through the scanner again. Clean.

I tried explaining that it hadn’t set off the scanners in London, but she wasn’t interested. The reminder of the passengers at the departure gate were, however, and more than a few pointed and tried to get a closer look. I often wear my sleeves rolled up, which makes it more obvious. I was a little self-conscious at first, but it’s only really obvious to others when it’s illuminated. (Or when it’s pointed at, by an airport security official).

When someone does notice it and wants to know more, I’ve found it hard to demonstrate any of the functionality. You have to manoeuvre your arm and wrist into all kinds of contortions and get pretty close. I’m not keen on handing it over for a closer look, so a few taps on the screen and some leaning in is all that gets done.

What else? In my experience, the functionality that allows you to share your heart beat with another Apple Watch users seems to be a bit of a gimmick. I think I’ve done it twice. Or maybe I’m just not romantic? Maybe the next iteration of the OS will introduce something useful in this space.

Battery life

The battery on the Apple Watch is exceeding my expectations. I have to say that it was one of my main worries when it arrived. I still take it off each evening to charge and I’d love to get 48 hours out of it to before another charge.

From what I can tell, using the watch to track exercise seems to drain the battery much faster. But what i usually do is pop it on the charger while I’m showering after a run anyway. And despite what i’ve read online, the watch definitely doesn’t come into the shower with me. But in general, I’m going to bed with about 70% of the charge left.

That said, I bring a charging cable with me when I have to travel. I definitely wouldn’t get more than 24 hours out of it and so I’ll stick to the nightly charging habit. It’s no chore and actually gives me peace of mind.

All in all?

All in all, I like it a lot. It’s become part of my routine and has been truly helpful on more than one occasion. It has made me more mindful of daily exercise. It has helped me be more mindful of how I use my iPhone. And it’s a nice piece of kit – definitely more solid and well designed than the pebble. It looks more like a grown-up’s watch and less something you wear while engaging in sport.

It is, all the same, a luxury. But in the same way an iPhone is a luxury. Even if you need a mobile phone, do you really need a smartphone? And does it have to be from Apple? I have both of these out of choice, because I like them. I’m clean on the benefits I’m getting from each and don’t really think everyone else out there should have one.

If you have a clear idea of what you might get from an Apple Watch, I’d say go for it. As long as the price doesn’t mean you’ll miss any important bills or go without food. If you’ve previously had a smart watch (e.g. the Pebble), then you’ll know what I’m talking about when I describe the utility of on-write notifications.

I don’t need an Apple Watch, but I’m very glad I got one.

2 comments on “Apple Watch: a few weeks in…

  1. Great review, really nice to read an unbiased all round overview of the watch


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