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One year with the Apple Watch

Posted by NATIVE UNION | Arthur Maitre on

Can you name any MP3 players that were released before the iPod? Most people can’t. You can probably picture what it looked like, but not what it was called. I expect the same thing to happen with the Apple Watch in the smartwatch industry.

Can you name this MP3 player? I didn’t think so...

A decade from now when smartwatches are as common as the smartphones we all use today, the Apple Watch will be thought of as the watch that kickstarted the mainstream acceptance and use of smartwatches. Apple wasn’t the first to create a smartwatch, just like it wasn’t the first to create an MP3 player. The extra steps Apple takes to look at a product category in its infancy and shape it to seamlessly become a part of your life is just one element that has given them the power to bring a product like the Apple Watch from “geeky” to “mainstream”.

I first started wearing a smartwatch in 2014 with Pebble Steel. When I ordered it online, I figured it would be useful in a small handful of use-cases. To me, this was just my inner-geek trying to come out and see what the hype was all about, but I never expected to grow so attached to a smartwatch. In 2015, I had to choose between Pebble Time and Apple Watch - I chose the Apple Watch, and I have yet to regret my decision.

Since its release on April 24th 2015, the Apple Watch has been reviewed by every writer or blog that considers themselves even slightly technologically-inclined. Some call it “revolutionary”, others call it “ridiculous” - so which one is it?

The answer really depends on your lifestyle (and which model you buy). The Apple Watch isn’t for everyone. In fact, no one needs a smartwatch. It’s very nice to have, but far from a necessity.

Here’s my take on what I consider to be the most important elements of the Apple Watch:

Notifications:
We’ve all felt this way at least once: your phone vibrates, you dig through your pocket to pull it out, all to find out that you had to go through that excruciating effort for some useless notification (I’m looking at you Candy Crush). If you’ve ever worn pants that are a bit too tight, you know the struggle is real. Yes, it’s the first-worldiest of first-world problems, but with the increasing number of notifications we get every day, that time and unnecessary frustration adds up. This is what smartwatches are all about.

Gone are the days of having to dig through my pockets to check every single notification. All I need to do is glance at my wrist and I know what’s happening. Ever felt like your phone vibrated, when in fact, it didn’t? (AKA Phantom-vibration syndrome), that’s a thing of the past when you have a smartwatch. All it takes is a raise of the wrist.

You can even interact with your notifications without taking out your phone.

Significant other texts you while you're in a meeting?
Send a pre-written reply (that you can customize) in two taps, without pulling out your phone and looking rude.

Received an email while it's pouring rain, and don't want to get your phone wet?
Hit “reply” and just talk to your watch. Apple Watch’s dictation works like a charm.

Believe me, I know how ridiculous these things sound, but getting rid of those small frustrations in life makes a big difference.

Siri:
I never talked to Siri much before getting an Apple Watch, but now, I’m addicted. Just hold the crown button down, or say “Hey Siri” and your virtual assistant is listening.

“Hey Siri, set a timer for 10 minutes"
“Hey Siri, what does the weather look like for tomorrow?"
“Hey Siri, what time is it in San Francisco?"

I’d use my phone for these actions in the past, all of which require finding and opening the right app, and a few taps to get the information you’re looking for. Talking to Siri through Apple Watch is simply a better experience than manually finding information on your phone, or even using Siri on iPhone.

Apps:
Installing apps on the Apple Watch is simple. When you download an app on your iPhone that has an Apple Watch “companion app”, it automatically gets installed on your Apple Watch (you can turn this setting off in Apple Watch settings).

It's easy to tell which apps come with an Apple Watch companion app.

It's easy to tell which apps come with an Apple Watch companion app.

Using apps on your Apple Watch is easy. When you press the crown button, you’re taken to the home-screen which neatly displays all the apps saved on your watch.

You can zoom in and out on your home-screen by scrolling with the crown.

You can zoom in and out on your home-screen by scrolling with the crown.

The usefulness of Apple Watch apps really depends on the app in question. iPhone apps such as Evernote and Uber have fantastic Apple Watch companion apps that are easy to use and take your app experience to a new level. With Evernote, you can open saved notes on your watch and edit them on the go - this is especially useful with to-do lists or shopping lists. With Uber, you can request an UberX with a single tap.

Since creating a positive user experience is so tough with so little screen space, not all Apple Watch apps are created equal. There are thousands of compatible apps out there, but some are just too difficult to use, or give up on certain pieces of functionality. Twitter, for instance, lets you read recent tweets from your timeline and top trending hashtags, but doesn’t allow you to actually tweet from your Apple Watch.

Since your Apple Watch needs to be linked to your iPhone via Bluetooth, most Apps won’t work if you’re outside of Bluetooth range. Even when you’re connected to your iPhone via Bluetooth, some apps take 5-10 seconds to load, which can quickly make a time-saver turn into quite the opposite.

Battery Life:
Apple says that the Apple Watch has an “all-day battery”. From my personal experience, this is 100% accurate. I often get home after work with over 50% battery. That being said, power-users that use their Apple Watch for daily fitness tracking and heavily use watch apps could struggle a bit with keeping their watch charged throughout the day. It’s all up to how much you use your watch.

When you get below 20% battery, your Apple Watch will ask if you want to turn on “power reserve”. This effectively turns your smartwatch into a classic watch that displays time (no more notifications and apps), but significantly preserves battery life. If you’re a power user or plan to be one, this functionality will definitely help.

Models:
There are three main Apple Watch models: Apple Watch Sport; Apple Watch; and Apple Watch Edition. These all vary greatly in price, ranging from US$299 for the Apple Watch Sport 38mm to US$17,000 for the Apple Watch Edition 38mm 18-karat gold.

In terms of functionality and software, every model is the same. Your US$299 Apple Watch Sport can do everything the US$17,000 Apple Watch Edition does. The only difference is the metal used for the watch, and the material used for the screen.

Apple Watch Sport features “Ion-X Glass” which is stronger than Gorilla Glass. Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition use stronger Sapphire Crystal which is a lot more resistant.

I’ve had my Apple Watch Sport for over a year now, and the Ion-X Glass has taken some minor scratches. If I had the opportunity to swap out my Apple Watch today, I’d go for the Apple Watch in Stainless Steel, which features the more resistant Sapphire Crystal screen. However, I have heard that the Stainless Steel model gets scratches on its metal casing.

If you’re having a hard time deciding between the Apple Watch Sport and the Apple Watch, the question you should ask yourself is “ Would I rather have scratches on the screen, or on the casing of my watch?”.

If you’re thinking of buying the Apple Watch Edition, the question you should ask yourself is “ Is my name Kanye West?

Accessories:
Much like the iPhone, owning an Apple Watch opens up a wonderful selection of accessories that complement your purchase. There are tons of charging docks, straps, and cases on the market - but how do you choose which is best for you?

Charging Docks
Apple created an awesome magnetic inductive charger for the Apple Watch - a small puck-shaped charger that magnetically snaps to the back of your watch.

Although the charging cable is great, it makes it difficult for you to see your watch’s screen while charging, and fails to take advantage of WatchOS2’s “Nightstand mode”. 

This is why a charging dock makes a big difference. Nightstand mode enables your watch to turn into a classic alarm clock when it’s rotated on its side. You can press the crown button to snooze, and the side button to turn off the alarm.

I’ve been waking up to an iPhone alarm for years. When Apple finally released WatchOS2, I replaced my iPhone alarm with an Apple Watch alarm, using my DOCK for Apple Watch horizontally for Nightstand mode. I prefer being able to press physical buttons on my watch rather than pressing the “snooze” button when I’m half awake and hoping that I didn’t accidentally swipe right in my morning haze.

If you’re going to pickup a charging dock for your Apple Watch, make sure you can lay your watch on it horizontally, which will allow you to take advantage of Nightstand mode. As a completely unbiased Native Union employee and #1 fan, I highly recommend the DOCK for Apple Watch.

Straps
In terms of bands, Apple has a diverse selection and keeps releasing new designs. These tend to be pretty pricey though. Over the last year, many third party manufacturers have released their own Apple Watch bands that are more affordable and just as premium. I’ve been using HyperLink, a stainless steel Apple Watch band that costs US$69.95 (compare to Apple’s stainless steel band that starts at US$449). If you’re going to buy a third party Apple Watch band, make sure it’s coming from a reliable company. There are many “budget friendly” options out there that cost less than US$20, but you can’t really rely on those to keep your precious Apple Watch safely on your wrist.

Cases
From my experience, the Apple Watch can take a bigger beating than the iPhone. I’ve dropped my Apple Watch Sport (with the weaker Ion-X glass) quite a few times, and the screen has yet to crack. Naturally, you’ll sometimes brush your Apple Watch against a wall or rough surface, and this may scratch the screen.

Quite a few Apple Watch cases are out there, from cheap rubber casings like Spigen’s Slim Armor to more pricey high-intensity protection for extreme sports like LUNATIK’s EPIK Aluminum Case. I haven’t been able to test either of these cases, but I’m sure LUNATIK’s EPIK case does a great job of adding protection to your Apple Watch. Beware though, the strap is integrated so you can’t use the other straps in your collection.

Conclusion:
The Apple Watch is definitely a neat piece of technology. On the rare days I forget to take my Apple Watch with me, I realize how attached I have become to wearing a smartwatch. I get notification anxiety without it! Now, when I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket, I instinctively raise my wrist - even when I don’t have my watch on (quickly followed by hoping nobody saw me do that). The Apple Watch does an incredible job of becoming a part of your daily routine and lifestyle.

I’ll say it again: no one needs a smartwatch. However, if you have some spending money, an Apple Watch is definitely worth the purchase in today’s world of constant notifications and reliance on smartphones.

Leave your phone in your pocket - get an Apple Watch. If it’s out of your budget, get a more affordable Pebble or Android Smartwatch - you won’t regret it.