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Apple Watch

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star

What's Hot: Reasonably attractive, available in 2 sizes with several band and finish options. Fun to use, strong app selection, seamless integration with iPhone.

What's Not: It's fun, trendy and actually useful, but is that enough to get you onboard?


Reviewed April 27, 2015 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is finally here... sort of. It went on sale April 24, but constrained inventory means that you can't actually pick one up on a whim at an Apple Store, and there's a month long wait if you order one online. Apple has supposedly sold a million via pre-order on their website, and that would dwarf sales of competing Android Wear models. The Sport Watch starts at $350 with a very comfortable and hypoallergenic fluoroelastomer band that's available in 5 colors. Then there's the stainless steel "Watch" that starts at $550 (price varies by band) and the $10,000 and up Watch Edition with an 18k gold casing. We look at the Sport model in this review. Apple is the only company that's considered women by offering a slightly smaller 38mm model in addition to the 42mm model. We look at the 38mm model, and as a woman I have to say it's the first smartwatch that doesn't look gargantuan on my wrist.

On paper, the Apple Watch doesn't sound much different from the many Android Wear watches on the market; save for the addition of a speaker, WiFi (currently only the LG G Watch Urbane and Sony Smartwatch 3 have WiFi) and the ability to make and receive phone calls. Apple's digital timepiece requires an iPhone 5 or newer, and the watch and phone sync data for news, messages and email back and forth over Bluetooth. If both are on the same WiFi network, they can use WiFi to communicate, which vastly extends range compared to Bluetooth. Some of Samsung's Gear Tizen OS watches can use WiFi and the Samsung Gear S, like the Apple Watch can send and receive phone calls. Unlike the Gear S, the Apple Watch doesn't have a cellular radio and SIM card; rather it works as a Bluetooth speakerphone and mic for your phone (the upside is that your Apple Watch doesn't need a data plan).

Apple Watch

I say that Android Wear and Apple Watch seem very similar "on paper", because in actual use there's quite a difference. As you'd expect from Apple, they've taken an existing technology and made it more usable and fun. That doesn't mean the watch doesn't have a learning curve, particularly if you've never used a smartwatch before. Thankfully, Apple's Watch app on the iPhone includes several good videos to get you started with the watch, and the learning process is mostly fun. Like Tizen OS watches, the Apple Watch does more than Android Wear, from calls (even Skype!) to a photo viewer to fitness features previously found only on a higher end dedicated fitness band. Does that mean it's perfect and everyone need an Apple Watch pronto? Not so much. But it's the most promising smartwatch platform we've seen, and it's particularly promising thanks to the 3,000 apps available at launch.

Digital Crown, Contacts Button and Navigating the Watch

The watch has a "digital crown" that you can use to scroll through on-screen items without blocking your view (you can use the touch screen too if desired). It also handles zooming in the Photos and Maps app. Press the crown to go home to the watch screen. Press it twice in quick succession to go back to the last app used. You can set the watch to default to the time screen or to the last app used when you wake it up with a "look at my watch" flick of the wrist or by pressing the crown.

There's a dedicated contact button that brings up a screen pre-populated with your favorites from your phone. You can use it to pick a contact and send them a text, animated emoji, voice message over iMessage or call them. Yes, you can send them your heartbeat or a finger drawing too, but much as Apple hyped this, I suspect the novelty will wear off quickly.

As with other touch screen watches, you'll navigate with swipes and by using your finger to scroll through messages and "Glances" (bits of info that you select like weather, stocks, remaining power, physical activity monitor, calendar and 3rd party info like CNN if you've enabled it). To access Glances, swipe up from the bottom of the screen. Swipe down or press the digital crown to leave Glances. When a new piece of info comes in, the watch will "ding" with the iPhone default iMessage sound and vibrate. You'll see a little red dot near the top of the screen too. When the watch is locked, you'll see a blue lock and you'll see a blue crescent moon when it's in DND (Do Not Disturb) mode. When it's out of range from your phone you'll see a phone icon with a line through it.

Though the watch has a speaker, it won't play music through that speaker. You can sync a playlist up to 1 gig in size from your phone to watch, but to listen to that music via watch you'll need to pair it with a Bluetooth headset or speaker. The watch does use the speaker for notifications and alarms. Yes, you can use it as an alarm clock, and we have to wonder why Android Wear watches still don't have speakers (Samsung's Tizen OS Gear watches do have a speaker). You can also store up to 75 megs of favorite photos from your Photos library on your watch.

Apple Watch

Above: the Apple Watch Edition with a leather band.

Esthetics and the Competition

Watch collectors won't faun over the Apple Watch's looks. Even the crazy expensive Watch Edition shares the same design and internals as the "lowly" Sport Watch. I'd call the design unobtrusive and decent, but I'd describe the LG G Watch Urbane as stylin', at least if you're in the market for a man's watch. The Asus ZenWatch looks like a slightly bigger Apple Watch, and folks on the street stopped me for the two months before the Apple Watch release to ask if it was an Apple Watch. In other words, the ZenWatch is pretty decent looking too, and has a nice band of rose gold (not real gold) lining the sides. The $199 ZenWatch has bigger bezels and an easy to operate but not very supple or comfortable leather band. Apple's watchbands are uniformly supple and comfortable, though they're expensive ($50 for a Sport band and $150 or more for the metal and leather bands). Their bands are more comfortable than any of the many smartwatches reviewed, though with some smartwatches you can buy and use more expensive and potentially more comfortable traditional watchbands.

For those who prefer round, there's the Moto 360 that garnered a lot of attention at launch since it was one of the first round Android Wear smartwatches and it didn't look like a cheesy Casio (earlier smartwatches weren't good looking).

Three Models, Same Tech Inside

The Sport model has an aluminum casing and Ion-X glass. Aluminum is softer than stainless steel and it's also lighter. Thus it's potentially more vulnerable to scratches but it's lighter on your wrist. Ion-X glass is used in some sports watches and it's not easy to scratch... but this is a watch and they tend to get banged around, so I'd expect some scratches on the glass over the years. In over 10 years of reviewing phones I've never scratched or damaged one, but I have a knack for banging my wrist and watch into door jambs, faucets and gearshifts. I haven't put a scratch on our Sport model in a week, but only time will tell. The anodized aluminum surface is more durable than the iPhone's, and in it's favor that finish won't show micro-scratches as much as polished stainless steel.

The Apple Watch (not Sport or Edition) is the middle child and it has a stainless steel casing rather than aluminum, and a sapphire crystal rather than Ion-X glass. It's obviously going to be the more durable option and it will scratch less easily (particularly the glass), but it costs $200 more than the Sport. Since this is a tech product and a generation 1 product at that, I'd opt for the Sport model and hold onto my cash to see what the next generation is like. In other words, this is more like a smartphone than a watch, and you just might want the next generation model based on new features and capabilities. And that new model will probably be out before you scratch your first gen Apple Watch to cosmetic oblivion. In stainless steel's favor (at least for the bright silver version) is that it's easily polished by a jeweler, should the patina get too heavy.

Apple Watch

Above: the Watch (stainless steel) with Milanese band.

The Apple Watch Edition starts at $10,000 and extends to $17,000 depending on the band. This is not a Rolex or a Cartier, and it's unlikely it will hold its value, let alone appreciate as those traditional timepieces do. But for those who have the cash and want the 18k gold casing... well, it's there for you.

All Apple Watch models (Sport, Watch and Edition) have the same dimensions and tech inside (of course the 38mm and 42mm variants have different dimensions). Buying a more expensive model doesn't get you a smarter watch or one with more storage. All have the same lovely mini-"Retina" color touch screen. As with traditional timepieces, you're spending more money to get higher end casings and glass. Watchbands are interchangeable between models, so you could put a $150 Milanese metal mesh band on a Sport Watch. You do need to buy the right size band: 38mm or 42mm to match your watch size. All models are water resistant and have survived dish washing, the rain and reaching into the swimming pool to retrieve a dropped item. Obviously the sport bands and metal band are safe in the water but the leather bands require more caution.

What it Does

Those of you who've tried the 2014 Pebble Watch, Android Wear or a Samsung Gear smartwatch will be somewhat familiar with the basics. The watch tells time, even if it's not wirelessly communicating with your phone. Most everything else requires a wireless connection, and Bluetooth is the primary connection mode between your iPhone and watch. Right now, the Apple Watch's WiFi sets it apart from most smartwatches: if the phone and watch are out of Bluetooth range but are connected to the same WiFi network, they can still communicate. This sounds like a small geeky detail, but it's huge. My house and our office space are large. With my personal Asus ZenWatch and Nexus 6, I'm often wandering out of Bluetooth range (I leave the phone on my desk to charge and walk to the other side of the house). Boom! No more messages, notifications or other handy info on my watch. The weather and stocks info get stale. This gets old fast. With the Apple Watch, I'm free to wander away from my phone, and isn't that part of the point of having a smartwatch? To be less tethered to my phone. Bluetooth range is surprisingly good with Apple Watch, and I've gone 45 feet and more without losing connection. That allows me to leave my phone in my gym locker and use the exercise machines while still getting messages, info updates and health data transmitted. Sadly my gym lacks WiFi, but my home and office have it. How does Apple Watch know my WiFi passwords and trusted WiFi networks? It syncs them from the iPhone.

The Apple Watch can pipe message notifications, be it email (including Gmail from the Gmail app), iMessages or social networks from your iPhone to the watch. You can read snippets of the message on the watch and if it's an email or text/iMessage you can dictate a reply using the watch. You can also send new messages to contacts or call them using the watch's speaker and mic (this works surprisingly well).

The watch lacks a GPS, but it uses your phone's GPS (as do Android Wear watches) to get your location. You can bring up a tiny map on screen if you ask Siri "Where am I", and you can request directions. The GPS also works with the fitness tracker when you're hiking, running or biking so it can track distance covered. And yes, Siri is built into the watch, though you won't hear her voice over the speaker. Instead she'll respond with text on-screen. Android Wear watches stress using voice to interact with the watch (it's really too small for a keyboard), but with the Apple Watch, it's just one of several ways to interact. I actually prefer not having to talk to the watch at all times--it simply looks weird and rude when you're with friends or in a crowd. That doesn't mean you can do everything without saying a word, for example there's no way to ask for directions without using your voice... unless you have an address on screen; then you can select the address and request directions using the touch screen.

Deals and Shopping:

Apple Watch Video Review


Apple Watch

Apps, this Could be Very Cool

As with the iPhone, apps took a good product and made it great. Given keen developer interest in Apple Watch, we have 3,000 apps available on April 24th (launch date). Likely we'll see many more if sales of Apple Watch continue to do well. Even at launch, many 3rd party apps are high quality titles like Skype, Instagram, CNN, New York Times, several fitness and health monitoring titles and even games. That means you can get CNN news updates on your watch complete with photos, your favorite baseball team's scores and more via MLB at Bat and dictate new notes into Evernote (which works quite well).

Apple includes a core selection of apps including the time app with several customizable faces, a stopwatch, timer, Photos, music, Activity Monitor, Workout, Weather, Maps, iMessages, remote iPhone camera control, Calendar, contacts and a dialer.

It's Not Perfect

Particularly in the first two days, info took too long to move from the phone to the watch. The Stocks and Weather glances took 5 seconds or more to present the latest info. The Maps app on the watch sometimes took even longer, as did CNN to load a series of story snippets. After two days things got inexplicably quicker, though the watch didn't get any firmware updates (some of the apps on phone and watch did get updates). We expect a watch to give us info instantly, and the Apple Watch isn't always instant. In fact, it can be a little slower than Android Wear to pull the latest updates. Likely future OS and app updates will improve data updates and thus perceived watch speed.

Screen on time isn't adjustable. The watch screen stays lit for around 5 seconds, and that feels 2 seconds too short. Apple was likely trying to conserve the watch's battery, but they went overboard.

You can only sync a music playlist to the watch when the watch is charging. That's not the end of the world, but I bet many won't read the fine print and will wonder why music isn't transferring to their unplugged watch.

We didn't really expect video playback--that's simply not standard on a smartwatch for a reason: it consumes lots of battery power. But I'm sure plenty of you will want FaceTime and Skype video chat on your wrist-- that would be kinda cool, no? And no, there's no Netflix video player on your wrist either, and I doubt there will be .... maybe in a few more years.

You have to charge it every night or every 1.5 days. That takes dedication.

Not that you'll have reason to completely turn the watch off, but if you do the boot time is shockingly long at over 1 minute.

It's a 1.0 product, even if it's from Apple. Some of these issues will be fixed, others might not.

Impressive Health and Exercise Tracking

We've reviewed several fitness bands as well as smartwatches. You have to buy higher end fitness bands to get features that exercise nuts like me find necessary. I mean the sorts of fitness activities that involve a gym, be it a home gym or L.A. Fitness. The Apple Watch's workout app handles not just running, biking and hiking but also stationary bike, rowing machines, treadmill, StairMaster and elliptical machines. For weight lifting, you'll have to choose the "Other category", which is better than nothing and still beyond what other smartwatches and many fitness bands track. I took it to the gym and left my iPhone 6 in the locker to see how well the watch managed on its own (as it turns out, the Bluetooth range was very good and it actually stayed connected to my phone). That said, it doesn't need the phone unless you're engaged in an activity that requires GPS like outdoor running, cycling, walking or hiking. I rowed for 20 minutes, lifted weights on 10 nautilus machines and used the recumbent bike for 20 minutes. Before each activity, I selected the activity (rowing, other, indoor bike) and selected from time or calorie goals (optional). It did a good job of tracking these activities, and the calories burned matched what the rowing and bike machines reported. How did the Apple Watch manage to be this accurate? It monitors your heat rate and accelerometer to extrapolate surprisingly well. It also uses the accelerometer to measure active and resting calorie burn (for activities where that makes sense).

The Apple Watch uses the optical sensor on the underside of the watch to measure your heart rate approximately once per hour. When exercising, it measured my heart rate as often as once per minute, once I'd turned on the workout measure function. This certainly gives a granular report on cardio workouts, and it's recorded in the Health app on the iPhone (the watch pumps the data back to the watch). The downside is that an hour of actively monitored exercise uses the watch battery like nothing else.

Security and Apple Pay

Apple has experience making products that folks want to steal. Compound that with Apple Watch's built-in Apple Pay, and you'll want to make sure no one else can use your watch. When you set up the watch, it will prompt you to create a PIN. Do not skip this step! The watch knows if it's on your wrist thanks to the sensors on the underside, and if you take the watch off, it will lock and require a PIN code to unlock. It won't automatically unlock if you put it back on your wrist, because the watch can't tell your wrist from a thief's.

To enable Apple Pay, you'll first turn it on and then choose a card(s) you wish to use with Apple Pay on the watch. You'll have to enter the card's security code even if it's a card you already use with Apple Pay on your iPhone.

Battery Life

Rumors said that the Apple Watch's battery life would be atrocious. Reality says that it's just fine, at least if you compare it to Android Wear and Samsung Gear watches. The Pebble Steel outruns them all thanks to its low power monochrome e-Paper display (we'll see how the color model does when we get it in May 2015). Apple claims 18 hours on a charge, and in our tests, the battery routinely had 50% charge at 11pm when we put it on the charger. I wore the watch from 8am to 11pm daily for several days and that was consistent. Exercise reduces that by quite a bit. I don't mean the standard activity tracking that keeps track of your heart rate hourly, counts steps and how often you stand up. When you use the workout app to track running, biking and stationary exercise machine use it will hit the battery hard--up to %15 to 20% an hour.


Do you need an Apple Watch? Probably not. Will you want one now? If you're an iPhone user, the answer is maybe. Fewer folks wear watches these days, and a compelling smartwatch has to look good, feel good and actually offer features that we find compelling. The Apple Watch is the most comfortable smartwatch we've reviewed so far, and it looks good, though I wouldn't say it's a truly sharp looking watch. It does more than Android Wear (and I say this as a ZenWatch owner) and it works more seamlessly than Samsung's very full-featured Gear watches running Tizen. I have a feeling that clever and useful 3rd party apps will make the Apple Watch even more compelling, fun and useful over time. You might not need one, but after a few days using one, it's a hard habit to kick if you're a messaging and info addict. I pulled my phone out of my pocket only a fraction of times I normally would, and at a discrete glance knew whether or not a notification really required my attention. Taking calls on the watch? Priceless. Especially when my phone was locked away in a gym locker or sitting safely inside while I did yard work. Is it a first generation product? Yes. But it shows a great deal of promise... if you think you need a smartwatch.

Price: starting at $350


Related Reviews:

Apple Watch Series 2 Review

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus Review

iPhone SE Review

Samsung Gear Fit 2 Review

Microsoft Band 2 Review

Moto 360 (2nd gen, 2015)

Huawei Watch Review

Asus ZenWatch Review

Moto 360 Review (1st gen)

Samsung Gear S Review

FitBit Flex Review

iPad Pro Review (12.9")


Apple Watch




Apple Watch

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