Apple Watch: Its time will come

After using the Apple Watch for a month, I can say it has a few moments of early brilliance but will need more apps before it's a must-have.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor and  Dave Cheng, Contributor

The Apple Watch offers a lot of promise for what a truly integrated smart watch could be.

Prior to getting the Watch Sport to review, my previous smart watch experience had been with a first-generation Pebble. Other than that, I've seen a few Android watches up close, and have had friends tell me persistently when I point out an Apple Watch feature that the feature also exists on Android watches.

So my views on the Apple Watch should be taken with a heavy dose of Your Mileage May Vary, and I'm aware that features or functions on the Apple Watch were not necessarily invented by Apple.

The few weeks I've had the Apple Watch I've been wondering to myself: Is it the kind of thing I would fork out that much cash for?

The answer for now, is eventually.

The look

The Apple Watch Sport is effectively the 5C of the Apple Watch. It does all the same stuff, just looks a bit cheaper. If you're going for this, it is not for the luxury of a designer watch, but the practicality of a smart watch.

That is something I am absolutely fine with, though I would have chosen a band that wasn't bright blue for my personal watch because my eyes; the goggles do nothing. The band itself is easy enough to change, thankfully.

And because I'm left-handed, I needed to flip the watch around to wear it on my right arm. This is also simple to do by flipping over the wristband, and changing a setting the Apple Watch app. The digital crown sits on the bottom left of the watch, rather than the top right.
(Image: Dave Cheng/ZDNet)

The Apple Watch Sport is more impressive in person than I had expected. The brushed silver aluminium body and face look and feel nicer to use than any watch I've owned. The 42mm watch face is responsive, and just as good as the iPhone screen. The watch itself locks onto the wrist fairly easily.

I chose for the practical modular watchface rather than the many, many aesthetically pleasing faces, including the Mickey Mouse watchface, and the watchfaces with actual videos of jellyfish or butterflies.

Apple allows you to customise what particular functions you see in the modular face, and the colour the text and time appears in.

CNET Review: A beautiful, bold watch, with complications

The Apple Watch Sport is most definitely identifiable for what it is. And you'll know because people will persistently ask you about it when they see you wearing it. From retail staff to federal MPs, I've had more questions about the Apple Watch over the past two weeks than I ever did about the Pebble in the entire time I had it on my wrist.

It's a bit like the joke about vegetarians: How do you know if you have an Apple Watch? Don't worry, someone will point it out to you.

The set up

Setting up the watch is simple. It is easily paired with your phone through the latest app that Apple won't let you delete from your iPhone.

You can set up the apps to appear on the Watch, the types of notifications, the intensity of the noise and vibration on the watch, and all the fitness settings.

The security measures for the Watch mean you can set a pin to open the Watch when it is not attached to your wrist, or alternatively open your phone in the general vicinity of the Watch and it unlocks.

The first thing you will want to do is turn off notifications for everything you don't want to be buzzed about on your wrist all day.

While I'm happy to get phone notifications from TeeVee that Mad Men has just aired, I don't need immediate wrist updates.

Notifications that appear on the watch are easily dismissed though.

You'll also want to set what apps you want to appear on the Watch itself. It's easy to navigate through the different apps on the watch using the touch screen to move around, and the digital crown to zoom, but it can get crowded.

The apps

Start with the most-used apps, and work your way out. For the purposes of reviewing with an Australian slant, I downloaded a bunch of Australian apps in addition to the ones I use already.

Answering calls on the Watch feels a bit like being in Inspector Gadget the first time you do it, but quickly becomes the most convenient way to take calls when on the move.

Responding to text messages works best with Siri, but only after it develops an understanding of your particular responses. The default replies could improve significantly. The unique emoji, heartbeats and drawings Apple Watch users can send to each other are nifty, but are more for show than having a practical function for now.

I've never been one to use Siri all that much -- when my phone is already in my hand, it is much easier just to find what I'm looking for myself. But with Apple Watch, often the faster way of finding something, or replying to a text message is through Siri.

Navigation is where I found myself truly thankful to have an Apple Watch. When driving through the maze of streets that is Canberra, the Watch became indispensable as my guide through the streets of our nation's capital. I was able to quickly ask Siri for directions and be guided at every turn by clicks and vibrations depending on whether I was meant to turn left or right.

(Image: Dave Cheng/ZDNet)

If I needed to know which street I was turning down, a flick of the wrist is much easier, and safer than looking at my phone. For those that still have a fear of accidentally driving off a pier due to Apple Maps, Google Maps doesn't appear to be an option, just yet.

The fitness app is good at guilting me into at least attempting some physical activity every day. The use of the circles on the watchface to show how many calories you've burned, how long you've exercised for, and many standing breaks you've taken is an effective way of pushing people to try to meet their daily fitness goals.

The Workout app comes with a range of exercise options that you can run while doing a workout, from treadmills, to elliptical machines, and even an "other" option for a workout -- like say weights -- that you want to account for.

The Apple Watch will allow you to store up to 2GB worth of music from a playlist on the Music app and then allow you to play music to wireless earphones without needing to be with your phone. This is ideal for the gym or going for a run. Unfortunately as someone who doesn't use the music app, and instead uses Spotify for music, and Pocketcasts for podcasts, this is somewhat limited for now.

The remote app could also be an eventual replacement to the awkwardness that is the Apple TV remote. The camera app is useful for taking shots with your iPhone remotely, but I have yet to use it for any reason other than testing out the app.

Evernote allows you to take dictated notes from the Watch, which is something that could eventually be amazing for, say, journalists who need to quickly transcribe press conferences.

Transport apps like TripView seem ideal for the Watch. TripView is able to quickly determine which trains or buses I want to catch based on my location and pre-saved trips. The app also handily pulls up information on how late my bus or train is at that point in time from the real-time data provided by the NSW government.

Another ideal use of the Watch is for scanning tickets when getting on a plane. The watch brings up QR codes through the Passbook app. Unfortunately when I tried this on a recent Qantas flight, the Qantas ticket scanners are not designed to fit wrists inside them, and the screen turns off when the watch is removed from your wrist, so I couldn't scan my watch, much to the confusion of the flight attendant.

I also tried one of the early release games for the Apple Watch, Lifeline. This text-based, choose-your-own-adventure style game is perfect for the Apple Watch and an excellent sign of what may yet come from game development for the Watch platform.

Many of the third party apps available today feel like the developers have yet to find the perfect use for the device. News apps aren't useful yet -- no one wants to read an article on their watch. The Woolworths app is basically just a shopping list.

Twitter and Instagram just feel like miniturised, awkward versions of their phone apps. Facebook only allows notifications, even though the expectation is that the Messanger app would act no differently to the text messaging app.

Similar to the phones themselves, smart watches will live and die by the apps. While Apple has nailed the functions of its own apps, most third party apps leave much to be desired.

The vibe

(Image: Apple)

Apple states that you can get about 18 hours battery life per day on the Watch, and I have found that to have been the case, even with heavy use. I only ever set the Watch to charge before going to bed, and it has always lasted a full day.

Despite this, the daily charge is one of the downsides to the Apple Watch because it is yet another charger you need to bring with you when traveling, in addition to your phone charger.

One of the things I noticed when I had a Pebble watch is how it changed social interactions. At that time, no one knew what a Pebble was, so when I received a notification, people often interpreted my looking at the watch as a sign I was wanting to leave, or I was checking the time.

This changes with the Watch, due, rather predictably, to people knowing what it is. It also removes the social faux pas now of checking your phone. You can easily and discreetly dismiss calls and alerts to the phone directly from the watch.

The Apple Watch is impressive, and it has easily integrated itself into my daily routine, but it has yet to have an app or function that I couldn't live without. Once the ecosystem develops, it will definitely become something much greater, but for those unsure about whether to be an early adopter, I would advise to bide your time.

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