3 Things We Love About The Apple Watch & 3 We Don't

Wearing the Apple Watch for the first time was a lot like losing my virginity. That is, I thought it was going to be this big, transformative experience, but in the end, I'm still just me. Except in this case, I have a tiny computer on my wrist.

I’ve been waiting for the Apple Watch since before it was even announced. I’ve tried Fitbits, GPS sport watches, and other smartwatches, but with the might and vastness of Apple’s app ecosystem paired with Cupertino’s penchant for sleek industrial design, the Apple Watch was poised to be something different. 

And, it certainly is. The Apple Watch is easy to use; has a rich, super-responsive touchscreen display; and fits comfortably (and not altogether un-stylishly) on my wrist. After close to a week of using a $650 stainless steel Apple Watch with a Milanese loop band (and a sport band), I'm ready to share my impressions. 
Things I Like

Responding To Texts Is A Snap

By far, my favorite feature of the Apple Watch is how it handles text messages. A gentle vibration and audible “ping!” let you know you just got a message. You raise your wrist to check it, then you can choose to respond or dismiss. To respond, you speak into the watch, Go-Go-Gadget-style, and then you can either send what you said as an audio recording, or transcribed as text. I had only one initial issue with this feature: There’s often a noticeable multi-second lag between when you speak and when your interpreted text appears on the watch’s screen, so I spoke my message twice, and it was transcribed twice. I sent that message anyway, because the duplication was funny.

It’s A Good Fitness Tracker
If you’re looking to stop being such a couch potato or better optimize your time at the gym, the Apple Watch is a fantastic tool. Apple’s built-in Activity app tracks your general daily movement — how much you stand, how much you move around, and how much you actually exercise — and displays the data visually via a graph of three concentric circles. You can swipe to get a deeper breakdown of how much time and how many calories you’ve expended in each area. If you haven’t moved, it gives you a reminder to stand 10 minutes before the end of the hour. Funnily, at an event Tuesday, you could simultaneously hear the ping of a “Time to stand!” reminder from multiple Apple Watch wearers across the auditorium.

For actually tracking workouts, there’s the built-in Workout app, but third-party apps like RunKeeper, BodBot, and others actually do a better job. With a screen on your wrist, you can easily track metrics like your heart rate, the time elapsed in your workout, distance run or cycled, and calories burned. But, third party apps also give you notifications on when to start a high-intensity interval and when it’s time to slow your pace and recover (a feature first seen in the Microsoft Band last year). They can also help guide you through a pre-planned gym workout, and track the number of reps you do on a particular machine.

You Can Shower With It
“Have you showered with it?” a wide-eyed developer asked me after I’d had the watch a few days. It was, perhaps, the first time a dude had asked about my showering habits, and I 100% believed there were zero sexual undertones. 

Like the iPhone, the transition between the sapphire glass face and the steel body is tight and virtually seamless. The only places water could possibly seep in is through the mic, and perhaps in the minuscule crevice around the digital crown. While Apple veers to the safe side and only promises it’s “water resistant,” intrepid Australian Watch testers found the Sport version could safely be worn for a 15-minute swim in the pool. While I wouldn’t suggest doing that, it’s definitely good to know that if it falls in the toilet or your friend tosses you into the pool during a backyard barbecue, there’s no need to freak out that your $500 timepiece will quit working. Obviously, with a leather or metallic band like the Milanese loop, you would want to take it off before sudsing up. But, with a sport band (which actually looks a lot nicer in person than it does in photos online), you don’t need to stress about rain, sweat, or showers. 
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Things I Don’t Like

Setup Is Time-Consuming
To get your Watch set up, it takes time and patience — unlike other smartwatches I’ve tried. This isn’t because the setup is complicated. Quite the contrary: You’re walked through each step and the process is very smooth. It’s time-consuming because of the preparation and diligence required to tweak it just right to your personal needs, and at the outset, you may not know what those are.

Apple recommends updating all of your apps before getting the watch, so that any Watch-compatible app automatically bubbles onto its homescreen. This takes some time, especially if you, uh, forgot to do this before you got your Watch. Once that’s done, you may realize that you don’t actually want all of those apps on your Apple Watch, so you need to head into the Apple Watch companion app on your phone and start customizing which ones actually show up on your watch, and where on your homescreen. Deciding on an optimal homescreen layout is something I still haven’t settled on and continue to tweak. 

According to Apple's stats, there are over 3,000 watch apps available. What if there is an amazing app you aren’t using? Time to search and download some new options to see if this will make the new experience better (we saved you some trouble on that front). Then, you get to decide which apps you want conveniently stowed in your Glances, accessible with an upward swipe of the clock interface, and tweak notification settings to your liking. My default levels for notifications actually left me wishing I were getting more — I want the Watch to remind me to practice happier thinking habits, to let me know when a change in weather is approaching, and, perhaps, even when a close contact is nearby. 
Many Actions Require One Too Many Taps
This seems to be a fundamental issue with the Watch experience right now: Everything takes just one or two too many taps. To dismiss a notification, I have to swipe, then tap dismiss. To Shazam a rad song playing on the loudspeakers before a conference began, a tap to open the app, and a tap to start Shazam-ing. On the watch, actions should be performed quickly and efficiently — it’s supposed to save us from our smartphone obsession, not replace it, after all. 

I believe that this could be a baby step for a future watch experience. For now, I'm still just learning the ropes, and may tap and swipe things accidentally as I learn our way around the interface. Perhaps with the next version of iOS, Apple will take off the training wheels for more fluid, seamless interactions. 
It Makes Me Feel Self-Conscious
I wear jewelry fairly regularly and have worn a number of other fitness trackers and smartwatches. But, for some reason, with the Apple Watch on my wrist, I feel self-conscious, and at times, vulnerable. While getting a milkshake and fries at a fast food joint in California’s Central Valley the other weekend, I was instantly uncomfortably aware of the object shining on my wrist. I grabbed a jacket and threw it over my arm to hide it. And again, while riding public transportation around San Francisco, where tapping around on a smartphone is commonplace, I felt self-conscious checking some recent notifications on the Watch. Was everyone looking at me? I pulled my sleeve down over the watch.

Perhaps I’m just a weirdo. I’d imagine wearers of expensive jewelry, nice watches, or even engagement rings probably wouldn’t feel this way. But, I realized that if a thief noticed the watch on my wrist, they know not only that I’ve got a $350-plus product on my arm, I’ve also got a $650-plus smartphone on me somewhere. While the iPhone kill switch has successfully deterred thieves from targeting iDevice owners as they did in the past, I still felt vulnerable wearing it in plain sight.

The Big Picture

The Apple Watch feels like a stepping stone for something bigger, better, and more transformative in our personal computing experience. Right now, there is too much phone in the watch — it’s doing too much to act as a phone replacement, from the home screen of circular icons, to the way many watch apps function. 

Paired with my iPhone, my watch should be better able to anticipate my needs, rather than simply offering a smaller-screen form of addressing them. Here, actually, Google Now on the Android Wear platform shines over Apple’s solution of Glances. I envision less time poking around the screen, a more deeply integrated Siri, and smarter, more anticipatory notifications.

But, this transitional period is absolutely necessary. If the iPhone had offered everything it can do now at the outset, we would have been completely overwhelmed. The technology would not have taken root as it did. Same with the Apple Watch. It’s familiar, but different, something that Apple can build on over time into a completely unique and complementary experience to a larger phone or tablet. 

Buying the Apple Watch at this point is three things: It’s a fitness tracker. It’s a communication device. And, it’s a buy into a promise — a bet that in the future, it will evolve into something that really does free us from staring at our phones. For now, it’s just another screen to manage. 
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