Tech Test: The Apple Watch

Scout spends some quality time with Apple’s new wearable watch.

Since the iPhone debuted, Apple has had a knack for making highly desirable gadgets that infiltrate your everyday life. Not since that original iPhone have we seen them blaze so thoroughly into unchartered waters...until now. The Apple Watch certainly borrows lots of design cues from previous Apple devices but it feels firmly planted in new ground, from the moment you first strap it on your wrist to the fuzzy moment that it blends into a normal part of your life.

There’s been lots of discussion over the design of the watch and the myriad choices for straps and bands that make for something like 40+ different available variations. If you’re interested in finding the one that suits you, just go to Apple’s site and see them for yourself. Our magnetized leather band and 40mm watch face proved to be a perfect middle-of-the-road way of putting the Apple Watch to the test.

On first glance, the user interface is familiar enough. Pairing the watch with our iPhone was as simple as scanning a QR code. Several watch faces are available but, after trying most of them, we preferred the one that delivered the most information at a glance. That meant forgoing the classic analog and chronograph hand-based options for the digital alternatives that give us the time, the temperature, our calendar, the date and also a world clock (because we need to know if friends in London are up to play a round of FIFA 15.)

Notifications quickly came into focus as a main reason to use the watch. Default settings, controlled by the Watch App that is now on all iPhones, mimicked notification settings from our phones. We immediately found those to need tweaking, mainly by scaling back the amount we received from gmail to VIPs-only. We also opted for rumble-only notifications from the Apple Watch. Even though it does offer sound, we found that undermined the point of a discrete notification system on your wrist.

Furthering the discrete mentality is the simple way the screen turns on by holding your wrist in a position where the screen is viewable. Pausing in that position doesn’t just give you a quick glance at your notifications, it also rolls that notification to the message itself. When it came to texts, we quickly grew accustomed to reading and responding to our text messages right on the watch, using the handful of pre-canned messages or custom ones we added ourselves. When those wouldn’t suffice, the Apple Watch’s Siri capabilities came in handy, Siri’s voice dictation has never been put to better use.

In fact, Siri might be better suited for watches than phones. The watch’s small face and the cluster of apps can sometimes making navigating difficult, even with Apple’s innovative crown rotator. We’ve often found that asking Siri to get us where we’re going is a faster solution and yields pertinent information faster. Siri is also more easily accessed on the watch than on iPhones. Simply saying “Hey Siri” after raising your wrist will have her flying into action, ready for your question or command. In watch form, Siri is an even more personal assistant.

Rounding out the major functions of the Apple Watch is Apple’s emphasis on health tracking. The green-glowing underside of the watch employs a heart-rate monitor, accelerometer and even GPS to make it an accurate way of getting the details of your health each day. On the watch itself, you’ll be notified of steps taken, calories burned, time spent sitting and standing and how much of your active time was actually counted as exercise. All of this information can be used in conjunction with notifications and alarms so you can make sure you’re reaching daily goals or you can go into deeper analysis because all the info is shared with your phone to look for long-term patterns and make improvements. We’re pretty happy with our level of daily activity, but we can definitely see the value for anyone looking to make specific improvements in their habits and have an easy way to track and adhere to them.

Novelty and popularity aside - after all, Apple Watches are still sold out in most stores - this is the most compelling wearable we’ve seen to date. Compared to the Android offerings in the same category, Apple has offered a richer experience on the wrist, even for a device that is complementary by nature. We’re not saying we minded the added bonus of it being a conversation starter for anyone who recognized it, but there really is more value here than that. If you don’t mind being an early adopter and you fully acknowledge that this really is just the first step in what’s likely to be a lasting category for tech makers, Apple’s Watch is one of the most innovative devices we’ve seen come from Cupertino in quite some time.

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