First Impressions of the Apple Watch

After several months spent in India, which is not currently selling the Apple Watch, I finally got back to the States and tried one in person. This isn't a full review of it, but rather my impression of it after testing it in store and using friends' Apple Watches. I hope this will be helpful in deciding if it would make sense for you, my esteemed reader.

The Good

  • Fantastic physical construction. It's extremely well-crafted. As someone who is a fan of mechanical watches from companies like Rolex, Omega, and Audemars Piguet, I was surprised to see that the quality of the watch is exceptional. Though they're actually quite small and still a bit "gadgety," after trying on the aluminum sports edition and the more expensive steel edition, it feels solid and you can tell it's well-built and will last.

  • Many nice watch bands. You might not think this makes a huge difference, but it does for both personalization and comfort. There are an impressive number of watch bands: steel links, milanese mesh bracelets, various styles of leather straps, and even "fluoroelastomer" bands (read: synthetic rubber).

  • It doesn't replace your iPhone (that's a good thing). Instead of being able to do everything through the Apple Watch, it really only serves as a quick notification center and a window into some of your apps. The limited functionality means you can tailor the notifications that you see to be the most important ones instead of every Facebook or Instagram like that you would otherwise get on your phone. That way if your watch gives you a tap (which is much more of a tap on the wrist than it is the kind of vibration from your iPhone) then you know it's important and non-trivial.

  • Fitness tracking. It has the usual step counter, a game-like goal tracker that celebrates milestones, and even reminders to tell you to stand up if you've been sitting for too long. It's primarily useful for running right now, but they'll soon add more ways to track weight training and other non-cardio exercises with future updates. The built-in heartbeat sensor can even tell when you're doing strenuous activity and counts that towards your daily exercise goal (as opposed to more passive activity like time spent walking, sitting, etc.). Though the step counter is a little barebones right now, you can easily see how it will be an even better run tracker once they add GPS to the watch.

The Bad

  • It needs your iPhone to do just about everything. This means that any watch apps that aren't made by Apple aren't running on the watch, but rather are running on your iPhone and simply being displayed on the watch. Native watch apps will be coming out soon with watchOS 2, but it will still need to be tethered to your iPhone to go online and get new data.

  • Some of the touted features are gimmicks. Things like sending your heartbeat to someone or sketching a silly drawing are described on Apple's site as "new ways to connect," but in reality they have limited use. First, you can only send these to other Apple Watch owners, which greatly limits who can receive it (unless your whole friend group has Apple Watches). Two, it's a bit repetitive as the Apple Watch's small screen only allows for the simplest of drawings like a smiley face or a sad looking flower. They seem cool for the first five minutes, but ultimately you forget about them.

The Ugly

  • You know it's going to get dramatically better in the next few years so you might as well wait. This is the biggest reason I see for someone not getting an Apple Watch if they have been on the fence. Much like the first couple generations of iPod and iPhone, the Apple Watch is one day going to transform from its current form to something much thinner and even more functional. In a few years, with a thinner case that has GPS and a wireless antenna for connecting to cell networks, it will become a more standalone device. While that hopefully near-future incarnation of the watch will be great, right now, it's a first generation product. A good first generation product, but a limited one nonetheless.

I'll conclude by attempting to answer the question friends keep asking me: should I buy one? I can't definitively say no, because, for a version 1.0, it's pretty functional. But I also can't say that you should instantly buy it since I can clearly see how much better a device it will be down the road. Once the watch no longer needs to be paired to an iPhone and can function independently via GPS, Wi-Fi, and (hopefully) it's own cellular data connection, it will be extremely powerful. Until then, I would say that you should get one only if you understand that the Apple Watch is a supplement to your iPhone, not a wrist-bound replacement for it.