Hands on: Apple’s Watch changes everything. Or does it?

To see one smartwatch is to see them all: rectangular, chunky, too-big, plasticky. Why the heck would I wear that, much less plunk down a few hundred bucks for it?

Apple’s new family of smartwatches are both the exact same thing and something completely different.

No, they aren’t round, nor do they wrap around or curve or flex or look like any of the countless fan-boy drawings you’ve drooled over for the past three years, hoping and praying that Apple would transform this space once and for all. Instead, Apple’s entries – Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, and Apple Watch Edition – are rectangles that look at first blush exactly like every other watch from LG or Google or Asus.

But that’s from a distance; get closer and you’ll see that Apple’s Watch (And why isn’t it the iWatch? Come on, Tim!) is substantially smaller than, for example, the Samsung Gear Live I’ve been wearing around for the past week – mostly to howls of derision. The Watch Apple showed off at its Tuesday event at the Flint Center in Cupertino was 1.5 inches, compared with the 1.63-inch screen on the Live.

A 1.65 inch version is almost the exact same size as the Gear Live, however, and a perfect match to the newly released LG G Watch. Sure, it’s from Apple. But it’s also hardly the stunning work of art some had hoped for. Truthfully, the just-released Moto 360 wins on looks.

Sure, it’s from Apple. But it’s also hardly the stunning work of art some had hoped for.

I didn’t see the larger version of the Watch in the brief demo I was allowed at the event, but the 1.5 inch model did feel very smart on my wrist. I tried on three different bands, of the six available. The plastic band on the Apple Watch felt nice against the wrist, while the Leather Loop version clicked securely together with magnets. Sure, the bands are nicely designed, down to the clasps. And the Watch felt far lighter overall than I expected. I’ve gotten used to having a chunk of whatever on my wrist; Apple’s model felt similar, though a touch smaller and slicker – was that just because I never saw the larger, 1.65-inch model?

It’s in the interface that the real differences come out, of course. The interface consists of a dial and a button, a sparseness that calls to mind the stripped down controls on the original iPod and iPhones. The dial, called a “digital crown” after the technical term for the wheel on an analog watch, turns smoothly and lets you navigate the software on screen, whether that’s launching apps or setting menus.

It all looked impressive enough, but Apple didn’t allow anyone to touch the watches themselves. The versions I wore were set to demo mode – I could feel buzzes when simulated friends sent me simulated messages, but heaven forbid I send one myself. I watched several Apple reps step through the software, which appeared smooth and fairly intuitive. Push the digital crown in, for example, and you’re carried back to a homescreen, just as the button on the iPad does – welcome relief for those mixed up by menus, no doubt.

Apple Watch hands on 13

But what’s it actually like? Who knows? I wasn’t even allowed to open the clasp on most of the watches, though one rep did surreptitiously allow me to push the two tabs together to detach the Watch from my wrist. Spoiler: It opens fine.

Apple announced a wonderfully smart and complete package for the Watch family, including the ability to make payments at a variety of stores with the watch alone, and a beautiful interface to health functionality. And the Watch seems packed with innovations, including a new type of sensor to detect the pressure of your finger. Again, I couldn’t test this or even touch the screen. I’ll reserve my final judgment until we get a model that we can actually touch. With a release date in “early 2015,” that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

For now, let’s wait and see what other manufacturers can come up with. Like a poker player watching the action from a seat in the corner, Apple’s shadow has loomed over this market. Now that the company has shown its cards, will the Watch prove an ace? Time will tell.

Product Review

What do you do with 187 megapixels? The Lumix S1R is glorious overkill

The Lumix S1R is one of the most capable cameras ever made, from its robust build to extensive feature set. But its key feature, a 187MP high resolution mode, is something few customers will have use for.
Product Review

2019 Volkswagen Jetta offers German refinement and tech at an affordable price

With enough tech to make villains jealous, the Volkswagen Jetta punches above its class as a forward-thinking sedan. Spacious, comfortable, and efficient, the Jetta is a refined offering. German refinement comes with a serious attitude.

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Product Review

Fitbit’s trimmed-down Versa Lite still has all the smartwatch features you need

Fitbit trimmed some of the features it bundles in its popular Versa smartwatch to keep the price low on it newest smartwatch, the Versa Lite. Does this strategy work? Read our review to find out.

Garmin Marq series offers stylish performance for those willing to pay for it

Garmin had been around for 30-years and is celebrating its anniversary with a big announcement: The Marq, a new series of premium adventure smartwatches designed for consumers who want stylish performance and are willing to pay for it.

These are the best smartwatches for everything from fashion to fitness

Tempted to buy a smartwatch? If so, then the growing number of great models available means you've got plenty to choose from. But which one should you pick? Here is our list of the best smartwatches.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Even older Apple Watches could be effective at spotting heart conditions

The Apple Watch Series 4 is known for detecting heart conditions like atrial fibrillation thanks to having an electrocardiograph feature. It turns out that older Apple Watches could be effective at tracking AFib, too.

It’s time to check out the best Apple Watch deals for March 2019

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.
Home Theater

Here are some common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.

Spring is here, and Apple’s beautiful new Watch bands will help you celebrate

Apple knows that seasons matter in the fashion world, and has refreshed its most popular Apple Watch bands to celebrate the arrival of spring. See them all, including our new favorite teal versions, here.

Fitbit Versa Lite tips and tricks to get started with your new smartwatch

Got your hands on a Fitbit Versa Lite? The smartwatch may be the pared down version of the more expensive Fitbit Versa, but there's still plenty for you to tweak in the settings. Here are our Fitbit Versa Lite tips and tricks.

Garmin adds a splash of spring color to its Instinct hiking smartwatches

Just in time for the spring season, Garmin is refreshing its Instinct GPS smartwatch with a fresh coat of paint that brings three new colors to this outdoors-focused watch that debuted last fall.

Apple patent suggests Apple Watch bands could have built-in fitness indicators

Apple may be exploring ways to make Apple Watch bands a little more useful. A new patent has been filed by Apple that suggests Apple Watch bands could eventually have indicators for things like fitness goals.