Apple Watch Sport review: Apple sets high bar for smartwatches on first attempt

  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent
  • $600.00

Pros

  • Elegant design
  • Long battery life
  • Fantastic display
  • Large app store
  • Well constructed bands

Cons

  • No GPS receiver
  • Expensive body and bands

apple-watch-outside.jpg

I'm a fortunate man: I've had the opportunity to test and use many dozens of mobile devices across all operating systems. I've used my Pebble smartwatch and a couple of different Android Wear devices with these smartphones. I had every reason to expect that the first generation Apple Watch would follow the iPhone model of refining what's already been done before.

It turns out I was wrong.

The Apple Watch is similar to the iPhone with a focus on an exhaustive collection of apps. However, Apple did a great job in making the Apple Watch a companion that has allowed me to use my iPhone 6 Plus in smarter and safer ways. You shouldn't expect the Apple Watch to replace your iPhone and if you are spending half the day focused on the small Apple Watch display then you are using it in a way it was not intended.

If you don't own an iPhone, then the Apple Watch is something you cannot even consider. Likewise, if you own an Android smartphone then you should look at the Android Wear options. With the choice of various smartphones and smartwatches in front of me I choose the Apple iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch Sport the majority of the time.

Retail package and first impressions

I covered the unboxing experience and first impressions in my hands-on first impressions article last week so won't go into all of those details again here in this formal review. Needless to say, I was extremely impressed by the packaging, simple directions, and long cable for the charging stand.

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With just a day's usage, I was able to confirm that you can indeed run your Apple Watch without your iPhone and get pretty amazing results. I am very interested in hearing what ZDNet's Kevin Tofel thinks about his Apple Watch that just arrived yesterday.

Check out the full CNET Apple Watch review. The 7.8 rating was driven by a low score for battery life, which is actually one of the pros in my review.

Hardware

Even prior to touching the Apple Watch body, my fingers ran across the smooth finish of the blue sport band. The density of the rubber material caught me off guard and impressed me. It feels like it will last forever and my opinion of the $50 band charge quickly changed to one of acceptance.

My original intent was to purchase a black model with black band, but I didn't get in on the pre-order race and bought this particular model from a guy on eBay. My wife loves the blue band and I actually like that it pops a bit as it serves as a good conversation starter and has allowed me to share my experiences with many people. I've had a USCG security guard, TSA agent, store clerks, and other random people ask me about the Apple Watch in just the last week and a half.

It is extremely easy to swap out bands on the Apple Watch. You simply press in on the buttons on the back side of the watch on either side of the heart rate monitor and then slide the band out of the slot. Kevin Tofel wrote about the possibility of using the hidden port under the band connection for charging, but Apple's new band guidelines do not provide for that functionality.

The Apple Watch Sport model I have has a brushed silver aluminum body. There is not a single scratch on it after a week, even when my Sony SmartWatch 3 was rubbing up against it during a one hour run through Virginia.

I look forward to connecting the watch body to a Milanese loop band for wearing in the office and out on the town. While the blue sport band is nice, it's a bit showy for more formal settings.

The heart rate monitor is on the back and my experiences indicate it does a great job of capturing my heart rate at regular intervals and during exercise. I did have to turn my Apple Watch off and then back on again after I noticed it initially only captured my heart rate once when I first charged it up. However, it has performed flawlessly since that first hour or two.

There are speaker and mic openings on the left side of the Apple Watch. Surprisingly, phone calls sound great on the Apple Watch and people on the receiving end said I too sounded just fine. I never expected to really use the Apple Watch for phone calls, but it's a great way to take a call while driving and keeping both hands on the wheel. It's also handy when you are carrying things and don't have another hand to hold your iPhone.

I had serious doubts that my fat fingers would ever be able to manipulate the digital crown on the upper right side, but once again Apple designers did a great job and it is quite easy to use. You can spin the crown, press it in, double press it, and even press and hold for different functions. A double press takes you back to your most recently used app while a press and hold launches Siri.

There is a large button below the digital crown that is used to launch your Friends app or power off your Apple Watch. I have yet to shut my Apple Watch off, except for the one time to get my heart rate monitor working again; and I have not had it reset or lock up on me after nearly two weeks of daily usage.

The display looks fantastic and the only other watch that impressed me this much was the Moto 360. The lift and twist to turn on the display has worked flawlessly, unlike the Moto 360, and I have no need to have my smartwatch display on if I am not looking at it. It goes on when I look at it and off when I put my arm back down. You can always just tap on the display to turn it on or cover it with your hand to turn it off or silence it.

You can swipe up, swipe down, tap, or force touch on the display to perform different functions. Make sure to try out the force touch, a tap and hold with additional force, and you will discover a few other options in certain apps.

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iOS Apple Watch application

Apple rolled out the Apple Watch iOS application a month or so ago across all compatible iPhones. The iOS app is very useful and allows you to set up everything for your Apple Watch, except for the watch face. I would like to have watch face support as well, but I guess if it is only on the watch you can actually see how everything you select will look on the Apple Watch.

I highly recommend you use the iOS app to set up the app layout for your Apple Watch. It's easier to move and manage all of your apps on your iPhone screen and have the layout synced over rather than working with tiny icons on the small watch display.

You can set up notifications, glances, brightness, text size, sounds, haptics, passcode, and many specific app settings right from your iOS device. It's interesting that you have to specifically add in cards for Passbook support for the Apple Watch. The cards you already have set up on your iPhone do not translate over to the Apple Watch automatically.

You can control which apps get installed to the Apple Watch from the iOS application. Upon initial setup I chose to install apps later so I didn't see every single app that supports Apple Watch load up their conduit app on my Apple Watch. I went in later to the Apple Watch iOS app and then toggled whether or not apps appeared. You can also toggle on the glances from the iOS app.

You can view helpful videos and find even more apps to install on your Apple Watch right from within the Apple Watch iOS application.

Apple Watch software

It will take you some time to navigate around the Apple Watch and figure out how all the different buttons, screen interactions, gestures, and settings work together. I was comfortable using the Apple Watch after my first day, but I have also spent lots of time with operating systems such as BlackBerry 10 that have similar gesture mechanisms.

The very first thing you are going to want to do is set up your watch face. I was a bit surprised to see Apple set up the modular watch face by default. That watch face has plenty of data, but doesn't look as cool as the jellyfish or Mickey Mouse. I've now customized each of the 10 available watch faces -- a couple don't have any options -- and I switch about every other day, with my favorites being Mickey Mouse, utility, and modular.

After getting your watch face exactly how you like it, you should select the apps you want to see from the iOS app. Then organize those apps, select which ones you want to see in glances, and go through all the other settings in the iOS app.

Notifications appear and then can be easily accessed by swiping down the Apple Watch display. You can view, dismiss, or respond to various notifications. You can just force touch to clear them all at once too.

I don't have a ton of apps loaded on my Apple Watch, but continue to add and remove apps on a daily basis as I further refine and perfect my Apple Watch experience. I was amazed that Trivia Crack is actually very playable. I don't intent to play many games on my Apple Watch when a perfectly large iPhone display is available, but some games are just fine for wrist play.

Some apps have little utility so I have removed them. Keep in mind that most developers only had the SDK to work with so application refinements will definitely be made in the first couple of months as people get the Apple Watch into their hands.

I saw that people were able to pay for Starbucks and flash their airline boarding code, but I couldn't get either of these to happen within their respective apps. It turns out you need to send this data to Passbook and then use the Passbook app to show these particular bar codes. It would have been nice if this was better explained in these apps.

My most used apps are Workout, Activity, MLB At Bat, Wunderlist, Evernote, Yahoo! Weather, TripIt, and Passbook. There are a few thousand advertised Apple Watch apps with many more coming as well.

Daily usage experiences

A smartwatch is designed to be used as a companion device, not as your primary mobile device. While most of us will dive right in and spend a lot of time the first couple of days getting to set up and know the Apple Watch, I'm now getting closer to using it as the companion it was designed to be.

I often check notifications, glances, and watch face data throughout the day. I rarely spend more than a minute in any one app during the day while I do send and receive quite a few text messages every day. I enjoy sending my daughters hearts and other emojis. You can only send handwritten sketches and heart beats to others with an Apple Watch.

By the way, the Apple Watch offers up dynamic quick text message responses based on the text conversation you are carrying out with others. This is very cool and was a fun way to quickly interact while my phone remained in my gear bag. You can also send voice text messages if you don't want to use a prepared response or use Siri to voice to text a response. Siri works very well at voice-to-text and as a voice control program on the Apple Watch.

The advertised 18 hour battery life greatly concerned me when I was weighing whether or not to purchase an Apple Watch. But my battery life experiences have eliminated that concern.I pull my Apple Watch off the charger at 4:45 a.m. and at 10 p.m. I am regularly seeing 30 to 40 percent remaining battery. When I went for a one hour run, both in phone connected and airplane mode, I only saw battery drain of about 10 percent.

The Apple Watch has helped me keep my head up and eyes looking around me, rather than aimed down at at a phone in my hand while walking. My iPhone stayed in my pocket or gear bag. I prefer this experience and hate seeing people walk around and focused on their phones, oblivious to what is going on around them. The Apple Watch helps you be a bit safer when when walking around the city as my experiences in the cities of Seattle, Washington DC, and Las Vegas demonstrated.

The haptics with Apple Maps directions is a wonderful experience too. I was notified to turn by different vibrations sent to my wrist and could stay focused on the sidewalk and street when navigating in unfamiliar territory.

I always get to the "end" of Google Now notifications on my Android Wear device and hate having to dive down to find apps or use voice navigation to launch something. Apple flawlessly provides me with notifications, let's me quickly get the information I want in the glances, and provides me with plenty of usable apps.

Sometimes apps have a spinning icon as the Apple Watch communicates with the iPhone app, so there is some speed optimizations that Apple can work on. Other than that, I look forward to putting the Apple Watch on daily and letting it help me function without having to pull out and use my phone every time.

Pricing, availability and conclusions

The Apple Watch Sport Edition is available for $349 and $399. I have the larger 42mm model and actually paid $599 for it on eBay. With sales tax it ended up being a $150 premium over the Apple Store. However, the Apple Store models show shipping dates in June and July.

Other models of the Apple Watch start at $549 and go up to $17,000. Some people really value having a watch so get the model that fits your lifestyle and budget.

I don't have a single regret about purchasing this Apple Watch Sport Edition and actually think the silver color will go better than the black model with my ordered Milanese loop band that should be shipping in the next month.

Specifications

Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyro sensor, heart rate
Vibrating Alert Yes
Body Material stainless steel, zirconia ceramics
Protection splashproof
Preloaded Software Mail, Stopwatch, Calendar, World clock, Messages, Remote Camera, Alarm, Phone, Photos, Maps, Stocks, Weather, Siri, Music, Timer, Passbook, Remote, Settings, Activity, Workout, Apple Pay
Communications
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11b/g/n
Environmental Parameters
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Humidity Range Operating 5 - 95% (non-condensing)
Max Altitude Operating 16400 ft
Battery
Run Time (Up To) 18 sec
Recharge Time 2.5 hour(s)
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple Watch
Model Original
Packaged Quantity 1
General
Size 38 mm
Wearing Style watch style
Clock Display Yes
Integrated Components heart rate sensor
Tracking Data activity, calories burned, distance, heart rate, steps taken, time
Audio Output Speaker
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Band
Name sport band
Size S/M/L (fits wrists 130-200 mm)
Fits Wrist Size 130-200 mm
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyro sensor, heart rate
Dimensions & Weight
Width 1.3 in
Depth 0.4 in
Height 1.5 in
Weight 1.41 oz
Case
Case Details stainless steel
OS Provided
Type Watch OS
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Battery Life Details
Run Time (Up To) 3 hour(s), 6.5 hour(s)
CPU
Manufacturer Apple
Connectivity
Wireless Interface IEEE 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0

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Where To Buy

Apple Watch 38mm Stainless Steel Case (Red Sport Band)

Part Number: APPLE-MLLD2LL/A

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