On the eve of the eagerly anticipated Apple Watch, reviews have begun trickling out like clockwork. The verdict? Apple’s first smartwatch does some things spectacularly, some things rather poorly, and everything with a measure of unwieldiness not unlike that which typified the earliest iPhones.
“The Apple Watch is far from perfect,” Farhad Manjoo writes for the New York Times. “[It] works like a first-generation device, with all the limitations and flaws you’d expect of brand-new technology.”
“There are rough spots,” Joshua Topolsky of Bloomberg Business concedes.
Appearance: The best-looking smartwatch around
But the device has its high points. Yahoo Tech’s David Pogue compliments its design, writing the Apple Watch is “smaller, sleeker, and more beautiful than any other smartwatch […] It’s the difference between wearing jewelry and strapping on a little phone.”
Lance Ulanoff of Mashable goes a step further: “Everything about the Apple Watch whispers craftsmanship,” he writes. “[The Apple Watch] is gorgeous, smart, fun extensible, expensive […] and an object of true desire.”
Taptic Engine: More than just hype
Reviewers seemed universally impressed with the Apple Watch’s Taptic engine, which notifies of iMessage notifications, emails, and reminders with distinctive vibrations. “It’s the wildest, strangest thing,” Pogue (Yahoo) writes. “It’s subtle, but un-missable, especially when accompanied by the silvery audible ping and chimes that designate different notifications.” Topolsky (Bloomberg) calls its oscillations “strikingly realistic,” like “a bell tapping on your wrist.”
By Manjoo’s (NYT) estimation, “If such onbody messaging systems become more pervasive, wearable devices can become more than a mere flash accessory to the phone.” He opines, “The Apple Watch could usher in a transformation of social norms just as profound as we saw with its brother, the smartphone — except, amazingly, in reverse.”
Battery Life: As promised, if not better
That sounds a bit hyperbolic, but at least the Apple Watch will last you all day.
Apple’s battery estimations appear to be on point. “Battery life may have been the best surprise of all. Almost every single day I used the Apple Watch I ended the day with at least 30 percent power left – even when I turned up the brightness to 100 percent,” Ulanoff (Mashable) writes.
Other reports are more measured, but still positive. Lauren Goode of Recode says the Apple Watch’s battery life “is not nearly as long-lasting as some other wearable devices, but it’s better than I expected.” According to Geoffrey Fowler of The Wall Street Journal, it “lives up to its all-day billing, but sometimes just barely. It’s often nearly drained at bedtime.”
Fitness: Surprisingly intelligent and deep
Other Apple Watch characteristics in the plus column? The fitness features. “Apple’s beautiful and frictionless approach to teaching people about exercise habits is a leap in the right direction,” says Topolsky (Bloomberg).
Pogue (Yahoo) was particularly taken by the accuracy of its measurements. “The watch soon learns how much distance you cover with each footstep – it even differentiates between the quicker footsteps and slower ones,” he writes. “That is slick.”
Remember that demonstration of the Apple Pay on the Watch? It’s apparently as awesome in practice as it looked on video.
Manjoo describes it as “magical.” Goode says it’s “pretty cool.” But more importantly, it’s “incredibly easy,” according to Ulanoff (Mashable). “Maybe a bit too easy,” he reflects –“[i]t made the act of spending money feel like a routine magic trick with no consequences, even though the funds were definitely coming out of my bank account.”
Next page: Notifications, apps, ease of use, and whether it’s worth the money
Notifications: Difficult to manage
Conveying glanceable, actionable information is where the Apple Watch seems to fall a bit short.
Reviewers agree the so-called “Complications” (a watch industry word that means data on watch faces like the date, weather, and battery life) are “one of the most useful parts of the watch” (Topolsky, Bloomberg), but “Glances” are less so. Intended to deliver swipe-able pages of information from third-party apps, they’re “clunky and overwhelmingly useless” (again, Topolsky), hindered by slow and inconsistent performance.
Third-party apps: A big let-down
That inconsistent performance, at least the case of third-party applications, is unfortunately pervasive.
“Third-party apps are mostly useless now,” Manjoo (NY Times) declares; Ulanoff (Mashable) reports that they “took forever to install” and worked only “sporadically,” often crashing or inexplicably requiring reinstallation. They were also Fowler’s (WSJ) biggest disappointment — “The map app […] is so slow it makes me want to pull out my paper Rand McNally,” he says.
Luckily, Apple’s native apps appear plagued by no such jankiness. Their usefulness seems boosted by the Watch’s previously unrevealed ability to connect to known Wi-Fi hotspots — it can “perform the most essential online functions even when your phone is completely dead,” writes Pogue (Yahoo).
Of the limited first-party app library, reviewers note that Siri is good … for the most part. “[It’s] more useful on your wrist than on your phone,” writes Manjoo (NYT), but “still just as hit-or-miss.” Better is the messaging app, which offers canned responses in reply to texts to “absolutely amazing” effect, says Pogue (Yahoo).
Interface: Takes some getting used to
Getting to those features can be a chore, though. The Watch’s software has a definite “learning curve,” says Manjoo (NYT), and necessitates “fiddling.” And notifications can quickly become “very distracting,” writes Topolsky (Bloomberg). But the degree of difficulty wearers have will ultimately depend on their technological comfort level.
Conclusion: It may not be for you
“The Watch is not suited for tech novices,” writes the NY Times. “It’s not for everyone,” says Recode. And even folks eagerly anticipating its arrival may be disappointed by its limitations.
Expressing a number of writers’ sentiments, Topolsky of Bloomberg writes that the Apple Watch is “not essential.” Yahoo’s David Pogue puts it succinctly: “It’s a luxury. You might buy it to bring you pleasure — and it will — much the way you might buy a really nice car, some really nice clothes, or a really nice entree.”
That’s not to say it doesn’t exude quality that might justify the price for some. But if, like Fowler from WSJ, you were hoping for a “gatekeeper to [your] digital life,” you won’t find it in the Apple Watch — at least not yet.
No one has really cracked the wearable conundrum, and while it seems Apple’s come the closest, it’s up to developers to justify those bulky electronics we’re meant to slap on our wrists. Until then, the Apple Watch will remain more accessory than useful smartphone accoutrement.
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