Apple Watch review

UPDATED: The definitive verdict on Apple's wearable debut
Apple Watch

It's sometimes easy to think of Apple as a miracle worker – the brand with a Midas touch. There's nothing the company can't turn to gold. But with the Apple Watch – its first foray into wearables, two years after Pebble smashed the market wide open – Apple faces its toughest challenge yet.

Apple has the opportunity to define the smartwatch – something that Android Wear, Pebble and Samsung have largely failed to do. But it's faced with the same challenges of screen size, battery life and user experience as everyone else – so can it work another miracle?

Essential reading: Best Apple Watch apps

Read our definitive Apple Watch review to find out.

Apple Watch: Design

Whether you find the Apple Watch a terrific example of fashion blending with tech, or a square boxy abomination is a question of taste. But for our money, it's the best looking smartwatch made to date.

The build quality is superb, and the footprint of both the 38mm and 42mm watch is much smaller than you'd expect – and it goes some way to excuse the thickness of the design.

Apple Watch review

We tested a 38mm watch with a green silicon band – noteworthy because it's the cheapest of the line-up at $349. At 38mm the watch is rather dainty, and most men will certainly prefer the 42mm band, which also benefits from a larger battery.

Read this: Every Apple Watch design in one place

The main elephant in the room is that price tag. With a basic 42mm Apple Watch Sport clocking in at $399 and the main Apple Watch $599, it's a staggering premium even for Apple. And when you compare the price of the best Android Wear devices – $299 for the Sony SmartWatch 3 in Steel or $349 for the LG Watch Urbane – it's hard to qualify exactly what you're getting for the extra money.

Part of the appeal is the 340 x 272 pixels, 290 ppi screen (390 x 312, 302ppi for the 42mm one), and while it's not quite as sharp as the Samsung Gear S, it's one of the most vibrant we've seen from any smartwatch to date and shows off the deep colour palette of watchOS 2.

The bands themselves are the first true indicator that you have an Apple product on your wrist. The silicon feels reassuringly weighty, and the unique design means the excess strap slips through a hole, so you don't get that accidental flapping that's all too common with cheap watches. What's more, the extra straps feature the same attention to detail. The Milanese number, which has been much lauded, fixes magnetically with a pleasing snap.

The straps are easily changeable using a typically Apple proprietary mechanism, but that means you can't use any old 22mm strap off the shelf – and Apple's straps are eye-wateringly expensive.

Essential reading: The best unofficial Apple Watch straps

Underneath is an optical heart rate sensor, which bulges from the rear, just out of sight. The whole thing is IPX7 rated, which means it's splashproof, but not waterproof – meaning you can shower with it if you must, but don't take it for a swim.

Apple Watch: Features

Apple Watch review

Two schools of thought have emerged in smartwatch design: less is more, which means filtering out digital noise; and more is more, which means giving you access to every conceivable feature.

The Apple Watch is all about more.

Answering the question "what does it do?" is a little like defining the iPhone. Yes, the Apple Watch is a smartwatch, but with the addition of its app store, it can do anything developers decree. And that's really exciting.

But for the benefit of the uninitiated, the Watch connects to your iPhone, and is effectively impotent without it. It uses that wireless umbilical connection to display any notification from your phone, flashing up anything from texts to WhatsApp messages, tweets, Instagram likes, Gmail alerts, calendar reminders, annoying SkyBet notifications and pointless push messages.

You can trim notifications and stop the less relevant ones from being displayed on your watch using the iPhone companion app, so in some way there is a filter. However, you can't dig further in and only allow messages from certain people or conversations onto the wrist.

The missing manual: Apple Watch super guide

You can also make calls from the Watch (the leg work done by your paired iPhone, although you'd never know) and reply to messages using your voice.

Other key features include tracking steps, standing time and daily activity, prompts to remind you to stand up regularly, and of course, the tracking of sports.

In short, Apple has built in all the features you'd expect from a smartwatch and let its developers create the experiences that give the Watch the opportunity to define the market. So far so good, but does it do those core things well, how good are its apps, and is it the best smartwatch to date?

This is where the test really begins.

Apple Watch: UI and interface

Apple Watch review

The joy of Apple's previous successful products, and the reason it's been so successful is simplicity. Your mum can use the iPhone. Your three year old can rack up thousands of dollars in micro-payments. It's so easy to use.

The Apple Watch? Not so much.

To conserve battery the screen turns off when the watch isn't in use. This is a common feature most smartwatches, but unfortunately, Apple hasn't nailed the gesture of turning on the screen when needed. It works okay when standing, but if you're sitting or lying down, the watch often fails to illuminate, which is pretty frustrating.

The long and short is that occasionally it's difficult to tell the time.

The control system also takes getting used to. The watch face is the main screen, as you'd expect and a tap on the Digital Crown takes you to that iconic spread of apps – just like the home button on the iPhone. You twiddle the crown oh so gently to zoom in and out of those apps.

Must have extras: Best Apple Watch accessories

Within apps, you can scroll through options and lists using your finger or the crown, and you tap to make choices. A long press (Force Touch) will bring up a context menu – it's a feature that's been lauded on the Apple Watch, but frankly has been a part of Android for years.

Using the Apple Watch requires a deft touch. The more apps you have, the more cluttered your screen will be, and that it requires concentration to hit the right one. Your finger will never feel so large and ungainly when trying to pick out that app you need. There's also strange lack of standardisation across the apps. Some have a long press option, some don't.

The most useful information is held in the Glances section, which is accessed by swiping up from the bottom when you're on the watch face screen. Here you can see battery life, calendar alerts, progress towards move goals among other things. You have to swipe through the cards to find the one you need, which can be a bit of a faff. What's more, if you're in the apps screen, you have to return to the watch face to use your Glances. Annoying. However, you can add or remove Glances and reorder them from within the iPhone companion app.

Apple Watch: Notifications

Apple Watch review

When notifications land on the watch, they're stored in a list, just like on the iPhone. Swiping down from the top enables you to recall them, and tapping one will open it up in full.

Smartwatch showdown: Apple Watch v Android Wear

This works well, but again, there's discrepancies in notifications. For all the 3,000 apps made for Watch, there are no dedicated ones (yet) for Facebook, Gmail or WhatsApp. That means for some notifications – Facebook in particular – alerts just tell you something has happened. Gmail and WhatsApp messages can be read, at least in part, but you can't read messages in full or reply.

More on that later.

While Apple has nailed the relatively easy task of getting notifications to your wrist, it does lag behind Google when it comes to preempting the information you need. We missed Google Now's cards, prompting you to go to your meeting, or telling you there's disruption on your way to work without you having to check manually.

You can reply to text messages and emails, using either stock replies or voice. Now watchOS 2 has enabled apps to use the microphone we wouldn't be surprised to see similar features come to Whatsapp and co soon.

Apple Watch: Taptic engine

One of the triumphs of the Apple Watch's design is the Taptic engine, which enables a different feeling for notifications. Rather than just buzz when notifications come through, the Apple Watch uses a series of different digital taps.

A notification feels like someone tapping your arm, rather than a dull buzz. And there's different feelings depending on the type of alert: left and right turns during walking navigation, move goals, standing prompts and of course Digital Touch. The latter is Apple's feature enables you to send heartbeats, sketches and taps to other Watch users – which is obviously a gimmick, but good fun for your first day with the Watch.

See also: Apple Watch v Pebble Time

The reality is however, that the Taptic engine is a huge part of the experience, and makes the watch feel so much more personal. The taps are much more pleasant to experience than a series of motorised buzzes you'll find on every other smartwatch out there, and it's the Watch's best example of that hallmark of Apple quality we've come to expect.

Apple Watch: Fitness, sports and heart rate

Apple Watch review

A big push for the Apple Watch is in fitness and sports, and Apple has been keen to market the device to the millions who are interested in fitness trackers and sports watches.

As a general fitness tracker that counts steps and pushes you to your daily goals, the Apple Watch superb. The built in Activity app is one of the best we've seen in terms of design, and you can look at results on the Watch and iPhone app quickly and easily. Progress towards your Move Goal is clearly shown by coloured circles – one for standing time, one for activity and the other for movement.

Sports watch showdown: Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge

Unlike a Fitbit, the 'move goal' is measured in calorific burn rather than the number of steps, which is a sensible move, as it rewards you for getting out for a short run or more intense bursts of activity. You can change your goal from the Watch, and set a higher number of calories to try to burn off.

There's no sleep tracking built into the Apple Watch, presumably because you need to charge it nightly, but there are already third party apps in the App Store ready to fill this void.

Apple Watch review

While the Apple Watch is certainly somewhat of a Fitbit-killer, it's far from a complete sports watch.

Firstly, there's no GPS, which is a problem. You cannot accurately track runs without it. However, the Apple Watch can steal GPS data when running with an iPhone, so if you're willing to take both out, you're good to go.

Of course, there's hundreds of running apps for iPhone, and more on that shortly, but the Apple Watch has its own Workout app, that tracks runs, cycles, walks, indoor gym work and free exercise. When you start a session, the Watch will keep tabs on your heart rate, pace, distance and time, just as a running watch would do.

When you finish your run, it provides a simple text summary of the workout, but without any maps of your route, graphs of your heart rate zones, breakdowns of your pace. It's beyond basic. Your workout sits within the Activity app, the metrics are stripped out and it's not possible to compare sessions at all.

To illustrate the fact of how totally unfit for purpose the Apple Watch's Workout app is, we turned on a free workout, and sat at our desk for an hour. It reported that we'd burned 600 calories.

That said, the only really accurate part of our run tracking was the heart rate data, which stacked up against a Garmin chest strap admirably. While neither are scientifically accurate, both came back with similar data.

Apple Watch: Apps

Apple Watch review

Apple's selection of apps will arguably make or break the Apple Watch, and like so many products before it, Apple has provided a platform for developers to run with. And with the new watchOS 2 operating system in place which enables standalone apps that can access all the sensors and hardware in the Watch, it's in a strong position.

The line up of apps is now 10,000 strong although big name apps are only slowly filtering through. Google Maps has only just landed and features seriously limited functionality.

Our top picks: The best Apple Watch apps

Unfortunately it seems that Apple Watch apps are not made equal. Apple based apps work well on the Watch, and third party ones simply don't.

An example is Apple Map's walking directions, which use the Taptic engine to guide, which is a genuine wow moment. And despite the Workout app being flawed, it stays illuminated so you can check your run stats on the go.

On the other hand, CityMapper directions don't update live on the Watch screen and if you accidentally tap on the map shown within the app, you're whisked off to the Apple Maps app, with no way to return.

That isn't an isolated incident, and apps like Runkeeper – which basically just fire up the iPhone app and provide a mirrored display of the data – suffer the ignominy of the screen turning off and disappearing off into the background while running. A double tap of the Digital Crown will retrieve it.

Apps have improved under watchOS 2 both in terms of the variety and the speed in which they load. There's still a lot of work to do here, and developers aren't jumping on board as quickly as they have in the past.

Apple Watch: Siri and calling

Apple Watch review

Like Android Wear, voice is a big part of the Apple Watch, and of course, Siri is on-board. You press and hold the Digital Crown to summon Siri, and then ask questions, schedule meetings and the like. It works well, and the voice recognition works a treat – although the movement of bringing your Watch closer to your mouth can annoyingly dismiss Siri again.

Voice calling from the Apple Watch is also impressive, and in our test calls, recipients had no idea the call was made from the Watch. The only complaint was that the built-in speaker wasn't loud enough, which made calls in the car – an ideal time to use the Watch – hard to hear.

However, it's supremely easy to make a call by using the second button that brings up your regular contacts – and in select situations, wrist calling can be genuinely useful.

Apple Watch: Battery life


Battery life has been widely panned on the Apple Watch, and of course, it depends on your expectations. Definitively, the battery life is one single day. In our testing we had no problems getting through the day, and generally went to bed with at least 20% of charge remaining.

We also tested the 42mm Apple Watch with its bigger battery and found that we could just make it last two days, but no longer.

Of course, that means taking your proprietary charger away for weekends, which is really annoying. We're a bit miffed that Apple didn't opt to integrate iPhone charging somehow, perhaps with a double USB plug. Now we must use up another socket next to the bed for the extra device, which could have been avoided with a little consideration.

Apple Watch 42mm
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Apple Watch: Should you buy it?

For anyone to buy a first generation Apple product, you have to be a big enthusiast with money to burn – and the Apple Watch is no exception. If you're looking for the best smartwatch, this is certainly a front-runner along with the Sony SmartWatch 3, which boasts great sports features, the best of Android Wear but a distinct lack of X-factor.

Read this: The best Android Wear smartwatch you can buy

Sports fans should avoid the Apple Watch for now, or risk serious disappointment, but if you love your iPhone and want some of the best looking wearable tech on offer today – the Apple Watch is for you.


Apple Watch
By Apple
While the Apple Watch does a lot right, the battery life and usability issues show the company couldn't quite muster up a miracle of smartwatch design. However, there's no excuse for the poor sports features. With new native apps the Apple Watch is growing into a decent device, although not a world beater yet. What Apple has achieved is genuine wearability, and despite its flaws, the Apple Watch could be the first wearable that's actually a pleasure to wear.

Hit
  • A pleasure to wear
  • Great straps
  • Good app selection
  • Taptic engine is a revelation
Miss
  • Fitness features are useless
  • Third party apps poor
  • Battery life is minimal
  • Expensive


40 Comments

  • db4ip says:

    The guy who wrote this must have fallen asleep during parts of the presentation. It is the Link bracelet NOT the Milanese Loop bracelet that will bring cost of stainless steel Apple Watch to as much as $1099. The stainless steel model with the Milanese Loop will cost $699. Please get facts right before you unnecessarily disappoint people.

  • macfinest says:

    David,

    thanks you for a great written review.

    apparently Apple watch is going to be a fashion Icon as well, in addition to be best tech as I read earlier at http://www.theguardian.com.

    Thomas.

    Macfinest

  • tomewatson says:

    Where's mine? The celebs get their's first. Some of them are real clowns too. It's OK. I have the stock. BUY! BUY! BUY!

  • Gadgety1 says:

    It's thick, rectangular and has extremely wide bezels. Probably the most disappointing Apple product ever. I'll never wear one, unless a solid gold, free version is given to me. I'd wear it just to take a picture of it and then it would be off to ebay.

    • xToddrick says:

      Why would you want a round display on a device that displays data, images, and video?  Is your monitor round?  Do you write on round paper?

      • AndrewAntonio says:

        you burned that retard. Good job. You can tell he's a retard when he said take a picture and then off to eBay. Lmao.

  • wrmarco says:

    Just want to know if the tracking test is done with an iphone or not. It seems the apple watch require running with an iphone a number of times to calibrate the tracking function. 

    • j.stables says:

      Tracking was tested with an iPhone and was still way out. 

  • heymikey9999 says:

    I still don't get it. You're paying $500 for the privilege of not taking your phone out of your pocket? You're paying $500 to replace your $50 fitbit? You're paying $500 for a watch that can't even make it a full day without the battery crapping out? So how many people are saying "ooooohhhh" and how many are really thinking "sheeple with WAY more money than brains"?

    • AndrewAntonio says:

      it's $349 you retard. That's what most people buy. You don't have to buy it so don't try to find something to birch about to fulfill your boring life. 

      • AndrewAntonio says:

        bitch*

  • hypernetec says:

    Slightly confused by the rating. How does one of the two 'best' smart watches rank below lesser watches with higher ratings?

    • j.stables says:

      Which ones are you referring to? The problem with scoring the Apple Watch is that it's currently not performing to its full capability, even as a first generation Apple device.

  • starchute says:

    Crapple does it again!  No built in GPS -- garbage IMO.

    • starchute says:

      The Sony watch seems to be much superior if not better looking . . .

  • sophie says:

    great job -thanks!

  • Sulcus says:

    It is a piece of JUNK.  Save your money.

    A. Sulcus

    • poop says:

      you're a piece of junk

    • treydrier says:

      Its not junk but it is a total rip off.  $500 for the cheapo version.  And you need to be tethered to the battery charger.  

  • treydrier says:

    Wow this watch is a complete failure.  Lets start with the pathetic battery life, worthless fitness features and incredibly expensive price tag. How disappointing. The taptic engine sounds cool but again its version 1.0.  I bought the Samsung Gear 2 for just over $100 (brand new refurb) and its amazing.  3rd party apps are great and work beautifully. The battery lasts 4 days.  You'd have a be a complete moron to buy the iWatch knowing that version 2 will be out shortly.  

    • xToddrick says:

      Battery life more than covers your waking hours in a day, taptic works just fine, Gear 2, version 2 is round which is an inefficient choice for a device that displays data, images, and video.

  • Coaster says:

    I agree about there Apple Watch, I have one and its not compelling enough currently. I think the mistake all smart watches are making is making them the same format as a watch...

    What I'd like is to get rid of the phone and have a longer rectangular watch/device on my wrist, say 2-3 inches long. A rechargeable ear bud and ditch the phone. This is the next evolution in my humble opinion. I do not need a phone to do all of this and I'd buy this format in a heart beat. Yep I know the camera is important but I'd forgo this for a quality device like this. It's about the 80/20 you genius Jony, in this case its the 90/20. 90% of the time I want the core features, phone, texts, email.

    All this would be wonderful on a larger, i.e. longer device on my wrist so I can lose the phone. Yes Apple you will bite in to your most successful product ever but if Google and Android vendors really get this sorted you will lose phone sale revenue and not replace it with a really functional Apple Wrist Device, the iWrist. Calling these things watches illustrates the type cast nature and therefore the rigid design parameters currently being adopted.

    • AndrewAntonio says:

      can you tell me wtf is a "rechargeable ear bud"? Wtf?

  • anaidabasit18 says:

    Smartwatches are now on sale only at BestSmartwatchOffers .com

  • dferrier says:

    I find it difficult and a lot of times impossible to read reviews of Apple products.

    It is not that they are bad products, but often the reviewers use language as if Apple is some kind of deity and anything they do or touch are holy relics. I mean just take the first sentence of this review for example: "It's sometimes easy to think of Apple as a miracle worker – the brand with a Midas touch. There's nothing the company can't turn to gold.".

    And how about these quotes: "Apple has the opportunity to define the smartwatch – something that Android Wear, Pebble and Samsung have largely failed to do", "can it work another miracle?"

    So again we see the language of worship here, no one else can do it, but Apple can work miracles, just as if the Apple deity comes down from on high and works its magic.

    And how about this: "The build quality is superb, and the footprint of both the 38mm and 42mm watch is much smaller than you'd expect – and it goes some way to excuse the thickness of the design."

    So just because it is made by Apple the fact that is is big and square and heavy and clunky doesn't matter and we can just excuse all that away because it is Apple.

    Honestly I couldn't read anymore. This was just barely into the review and all this apple worship language turned my stomach.

    Why not use hard hitting terms like clunky and ugly and bad interface just like reviewers use for all the other smart watches? Why not offer an honest review without all the oh so obvious Apple mania tied in with the review?

    I honestly don't have anything against the Apple brand itself other than the fact it is way over priced and way over hyped. They often do innovative and sometimes even surprisingly good tech, but they are not any kind of deity and they do not deserve such accolades.

    • j.stables says:

      It's a 3.5 star review, hardly gushing.

    • AndrewAntonio says:

      They can say it however they want. Get the fuck off the review if you don't like. And how about you STFU 

  • TMimar says:

    I bought one on the first day of sale. However, I found it had a display layer separation, and Apple wanted to charge me $329 to fix their defect. In reviewing other people's experiences I also found out that even a 3 feet drop would cause a complete shattering of the display with a spider-web pattern. A normal watch such as Tag Heuer is much more resilient, and after paying about $1,085 for this, I would not want to be concerned it may break very easily, it is not water proof, and you have to take it off every day to charge it. It seems Apple’s product quality is going down after Steve Jobs. I decided not to buy two more for myself and my daughter.

  • Natg says:

    The watch is a good idea only if you have unlimited funds and are fanatic about gadgets.  First, you need to charge it nightly.  Second, it is not waterproof.  Third, if you drop there is a very good chance the crystal will shatter and it's $300 to replace unless you have Applecare and then it $69. Finally, it does not do much.  The health apps a confusing and almost useless if your sports are not included in Apple's activity app.  Like tennis - they never heard of it.  So unlike other Apple first generation products, Save you money!

    • R2D2 says:

      Why do you guys complaint so much? you want an optimal watch, with no flaws, that does everything you want for as cheap as you want. Always complaining about whats wrong with tech, well... guess what, it's tech, always innovating and upgrading, is never the same, why? because we are always looking for something better. If you are a tech guy and like gadgets, go for it, enjoy it, it's cool to have and use new technology, but don't expect it to be perfect, nothing is, heck... no one is perfect. But of course you feel the need to express yourself criticizing every gadget that comes out to feel better about your boring life. So please stay away for making harsh comments. If you like it, buy it, if not , well... keep looking. I am amazed how some of you pay $1,500 + for a watch that does absolutely nothing else but give you the time but complain about a $350 watch because it can't track your calories while playing chess. Please keep your words in you Facebook worthless wall. Good luck. 

  • atastrophic says:

    I stopped reading when he called Forced Touch as long press. Ridiculous.

  • lucy13 says:

    I've been using the Apple Watch since September last year. I love it but it has a major flaw!

    If you are into running, then I strongly suggest NOT to get the Apple Watch. The Garmin is much better for runners!

    After a 5km run, I find it almost impossible to stop the activity app and stop the timer. Instead of pressing a button to stop the timer, you spend ages tapping on the screen to no avail.

    When you are sweaty, your fingers just don't seem to work tapping on the screen.

    You should be able to start and stop the activity by pressing one of the buttons instead of tapping on the screen which is doesn't work when your sweaty.

    Hopefully Apple will fix this major flaw!

  • dislikeapple says:

    Sorry for being negative i brought one and it carked it in 2 weeks. It weighed a ton and it looked nothing like the photos. so dont buy one :(

  • adrianacusco says:

    I got an Hermes apple watch for my Christmas gift and it broke after less than 3 months of use. Took it to the store where it was purchased and send it in for repair. After chasing down the people for the store, not receiving even an email back or a call, I had to call several times. They are telling me that I have to wait 6 months for the piece to be repaired. FOR A PIECE THAT I DIDN'T EVEN GET TO WEAR FOR THAT LONG!!! I feel robbed. I thought Hermes was a luxury brand, but it's just a rip off. DON'T BUY! 

  • Billcamera says:

    This is a five star toy and a one star heart rate monitor.  Contrary to Apple comments, the heart rate monitor, especially with mobility, I.e. Running, walking elliptical,  exercises where arm movement is I the little leagues compared to the same type sensors as in Garmin, and Fitbit.  i am consistently off 30-70 bum.  And, yes I know to use a HRM.  Hopefully Apple will fix this, but then do they really listen?

  • SmarterThanMost says:

    "Brand New" does not mean "refurb"......lookup the definition.......it means "Completely New", the term brand new means that the product has never been used or even touched by anyone other than for manufacturing...

  • SmarterThanMost says:

    Does anyone here use spellcheck?, I cannot stand those that don't proofread their posts and/or comments.  Please spend a few moments and make sure that you don't sound like a moron, it really is not that difficult to ensure that you complete tasks properly, etc.

  • jaylo says:

    Great watch. 

  • jaylo says:

    Great watch!

  • dadssusie says:

    I have had my watch for a year and 2 months.  I put it on the charger one night and in the morning I took it off of the charger and the back came off.  I put the back on and clicked it in place and the very same thing happened every time I charged it.  I called Apple and was asked the most unusual questions...did I ever wear it in a pool or shower.?..NO, do I wear it to exercise?..YES (duh), do I wear lotion or sun block on my wrist?...no I ALWAYS wear long sleeved shirts...what brand of sunscreen do I wear...I just told you I wear long sleeves with SPF protection (skin cancer).  Have I ever dropped it...the watch back came off when I took it off of the charger not after being dropped...The person I spoke to at Apple said I could send it in for repairs for $199.00.  I thought that was ridiculous..a new watch is $299.00. By the way I have been buying and using Apple products exclusively since the early 1990's.  

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