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5 things I learned after I stopped wearing my Apple Watch

Apple Watch Ultra sitting on a yellow bench.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends / Digital Trends

This past March, I did something I never imagined I would do: I stopped wearing my Apple Watch. After owning and wearing Apple Watches since 2017, I decided I was ready for a change. I strapped a Garmin smartwatch on my wrist, put my Apple Watch aside, and dived into the deep end of a non-Apple Watch world.

To say the very least, it’s been a fascinating experience. I’ve had a lot of fun exploring a completely different smartwatch ecosystem, Garmin’s approach to health/fitness has been hugely beneficial, and I haven’t had a big desire to go back.

But that’s starting to change, at least just a little bit. While a Garmin watch remains my primary wearable, I’ve occasionally started wearing an Apple Watch Ultra on my second wrist to keep myself familiar with the platform — especially as watchOS 10 is just on the horizon. And in doing so, I’ve been reminded of a few Apple Watch features I dearly, dearly miss.

Good notifications are so important

Notifications on the Apple Watch SE 2.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Notifications are one of the most critical aspects of any smartwatch. Being alerted when you have a new text, email, or anything else should be timely, reliable, and easy to act on.

My Garmin smartwatch delivers notifications very quickly. Less than a second after a notification pops up on my iPhone, my Garmin delivers it right away. The problem, though, is that there’s very little I can actually do with those notifications. I can easily see a new email or Microsoft Teams message, but aside from dismissing those notifications, I have no control over them.

This is something the Apple Watch absolutely nails.

When I get a text message, for example, I can use the Apple Watch to type out a reply, send a funny GIF, or use my voice to dictate a reply. If I get a new email, I can easily reply or delete it right from my wrist. I get alerted for all of these things just fine on my Garmin watch, but if I want to act on them in any meaningful way, I have to pick up my iPhone.

Do I tirage my entire inbox or reply to long emails from my Apple Watch? Of course not! But for simple replies or quickly deleting a spam message, the Apple Watch handles these quick interactions beautifully — all without ever requiring me to pick up my phone.

I use voice commands more than I thought

Siri voice command on an Apple Watch.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I never realized how much I relied on voice commands on my Apple Watch. That is, until I stopped wearing one every single day.

Since moving to a smartwatch that doesn’t have voice commands, I’ve quickly realized how difficult it can be to live without them. From checking the day’s weather forecast, sending a text to my partner, controlling smart lights, opening an app, etc., Siri on the Apple Watch is extremely useful. I can perform quick, mundane tasks by bringing the Apple Watch toward my mouth, spouting off a voice command, and then going about my day. It’s quick, simple, and an invaluable tool to have.

Siri on the Apple Watch is still quite limited with more complicated commands, but it excels at simple things. “Send a message to Zack that says see you in a bit.” “What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?” “Turn on the living room lights.” These aren’t difficult tasks, and I could reach for my smartphone to do the same things. But whether I’m driving, have my hands full while cooking, or something else, there’s a wonderful simplicity in being able to issue these commands from my wrist — and I’ve missed this terribly since departing my Apple Watch.

Apple’s watch faces are unmatched

The Apple Watch Ultra with the Solo Loop band attached.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Since its release, the Apple Watch has received a lot of flak for not offering third-party watch faces. You can only use the official watch faces Apple includes in its Watch app, and if you don’t like what’s offered there, you’re out of luck. It’s an understandable pain point — and one I’ve often been annoyed by. But in the months since I’ve been without my Apple Watch, I’d give anything to go back to Apple’s curated collection.

My Garmin Forerunner 265 has multiple watch faces to choose from, and you can customize the colors/data for each one. Some of them look OK, but almost all of them are completely forgettable. I’ve found one that I like, tweaked it a little bit to show the health stats I care about, and I haven’t touched it since.

This is partly due to the lackluster selection of watch faces Garmin provides, but it’s also because customizing watch faces is a horrid experience. Rather than allowing you to edit watch faces in the Garmin app, you have to do it on the watch itself — which means navigating through a series of confusing menus and button presses. You can download third-party watch faces from the Garmin Connect IQ Store, but most of these are locked behind paywalls and have even worse customization UIs.

None of these problems exist on the Apple Watch. As much as I wish Apple would let third-party developers create their own watch faces, the selection we have today is pretty damn great. There’s no shortage of great Apple Watch faces to choose from — ranging from classic analog ones, excellent digital options, and watch faces that are way too charming and cute than they have a right to be (I’m looking at you, Micky Mouse watch face).

Apple also perfected how you can customize its watch faces. If you do so directly on the Apple Watch, it’s a smooth, seamless process with very clear and easy-to-follow instructions. And if you want more room to create the perfect face, you can browse and edit all of them on your iPhone.

Simple audio controls make the difference

Music controls on the Apple Watch Series 7.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

If I’m doing dishes, making dinner, or cleaning up my apartment, I almost always have a podcast or YouTube video playing on my iPhone for background noise. While these usually play uninterrupted, there are times when I need to quickly pause or adjust the volume of what I’m listening to.

When I’m wearing my Apple Watch, this isn’t a problem at all. If my phone is in my pocket or in another room, all I need to do is tap the play/pause button on the watch or use the Digital Crown to adjust the volume. It’s that simple.

On my Garmin watch? Well … not so much. It is possible to control media playback from my phone, but the process is quite cumbersome. Instead of having controls automatically appear on my watch the second I start watching or listening to something, I have to press and hold the Down button on the watch and then press the Start/Stop button to pause or resume. That part’s fine, but it’s the rest of the experience that falters. My Garmin watch keeps counting down the seconds after something is paused, making it look like the song/podcast I’m listening to is still going when, in reality, it’s not. And if I want to adjust the volume, I have to press three buttons just to find the volume controls. The controls work, but they’re nowhere near as seamless or easily accessible as the way the Apple Watch handles them.

I miss my apps

Apple Watch Series 8 showing its App Library.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

I never thought I would say this, but I miss having apps on my smartwatch. I’d frequently become overwhelmed with all of the app icons on my Apple Watch. There were apps for iMessage, Apple Music, some of my banking apps, ESPN, Apple News, etc. It was too much!

But being on a watch with very limited app support has made me realize just how useful smartwatch apps can be.

When I’m out traveling, being able to scan my boarding pass with the Delta app on my Apple Watch is fantastic. While driving in a new area or walking around NYC, getting turn-by-turn directions on my wrist from Apple Maps makes things so much easier. There’s even something to be said about being able to quickly look at my email inbox from my smartwatch.

I still think there are a lot of unnecessary Apple Watch apps, but some of them are genuinely great. And I miss them.

The Apple Watch gets so much right

Someone holding the Apple Watch Ultra.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Does all of this mean I’m going to leave my Garmin behind and go back to the Apple Watch full-time? It does not. As someone who’s trying to seriously improve my running performance and strength, Garmin’s health features are still far and away better than what Apple offers. And, at least for me, that outweighs the conveniences mentioned above.

However, if you aren’t as focused on in-depth health statistics as I am, it’s easy to see how much the Apple Watch gets right. None of the things mentioned here are new to the wearable, but having been away from it for so long, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for some of the things I overlooked after years of wearing one 24/7.

I love my Garmin and intend to keep wearing it for the foreseeable future, especially as I continue my health/fitness journey. But there’s no denying how excellent of a smartwatch the Apple Watch is, and I can’t help but miss it.

Joe Maring
Joe Maring is the Section Editor for Digital Trends' Mobile team, leading the site's coverage for all things smartphones…
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