John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Apple watch review

I’ve played with a number of Android smartwatches, as well as a few Garmins and often wondered what I might be missing about the Apple watch. So a friend had made the switch from Apple to Android and had an Apple watch he wasn’t using so he let me play to try and see … The watch is a Sport 38mm 1st Gen running 3.2.3 (updated to 4.1) to be specific. I was able to find out the version of the watch I had by entering it’s serial number into the Apple check coverage web site.

Android wear works on an iPhone but the functionality is so limited as to wonder why they even bothered. So when I moved to an iPhone my Android wear watch became a whole lot less functional.

The 38mm is shockingly small. I was REALLY surprised how small it is. And super light as well. The 38mm would be perfect for women, and people with super small wrists, otherwise the 42 is the way to go.

The Apple watch charges by magnetic induction charging, which is amusing given Apple have only recently (iPhone 8) embraced wireless charging on the iPhones. The wireless charger does not draw a lot of power, like .2A so it can be plugged into almost any USB port, even an older USB 2 port. Charging time from a 100% dead watch appears to be about 84 mins based on a charge rate of about 1.2%/min. I tried putting the watch on a standard Qi wireless charging base and it didn’t work. Apple have provided a lollipop that magnetically sticks to the bottom of the watch.

If you prop your watch on it’s side while charging it can be used a “nightstand” clock. It then dims and comes on when jiggled/prodded. The only thing missing in this mode is a way to have it stay on all night which for me would have eliminated the need for a clock. And when you unplug the watch, the cord falls to the floor. I’m a surprised Apple did not create more of a cradle to hold the watch/charge it on it’s side like say the moto 360 does. Fret not the aftermarket has them. But be aware do not have the charger themselves they use the Apple one. I bought an Orzly on Amazon

The 1st series watches do not have a GPS in them, so they can not be used as stand alone exercise tracking.

Initial setup is super smooth and easy, just as one has come to expect from Apple. Watch apps are often extensions of iPhone apps. As such when I first setup the watch with my phone there were a PILE of watch apps to be loaded. In addition to the 17 built in Apple apps, 26 of the apps on my phone had watch apps that loaded onto the watch. The initial sync took quite a bit of time to complete. It does give you the option to not install the watch apps, and you can add the ones you want later.

Apple have done a nice job of making it super easy to manage a bunch of the settings, and app installs/uninstalls from the phone itself (rather than on the watch). This is pretty well done. Or they can be uninstalled from the watch if you prefer. By contrast, my Garmin for example has to be setup on the watch itself, so your futzing about with little buttons on a little screen through pages of menus to find the setting you want to change. It’s not impossible, but not elegant either.

A PIN can be setup on the watch and anytime you take the watch off and then back on the PIN has to be entered. A nice feature should you misplace your watch.

Apple include an Emergency SOS button a nice feature!

Messages received can be read on the watch and replied to using canned replies as well as using SIRI to dictate. Android wear had this, but my Garmin does not.

There are number of canned watch faces you can choose from, and each can be thoroughly customized. The biggest limitation here being screen size and your vision πŸ™‚ Apple includes a Face Gallery for easily finding more watch faces. These can be easily added to the watch from the phone as well as activated from the phone. The number of watch faces available pales in comparison to the dizzying array available for Android wear through Facer/Watchmaker. And with Facer/watchmaker anyone can make there own simply and easily. I don’t see an easy way for a user to make their own watchface. This is one area where Apple is a serious let down compared to other smartwatches. Very little choice and not a lot of pizzazz to their watch faces.

The watch’s firmware can easily be updated from the phone. Updates are downloaded while on WIFI to the phone then onto the watch. Firmware updates are around 500MB in size. I do not believe the watch has WIFI and don’t see other ways to update the firmware other than this. Downloading this amount of data over bluetooth takes some time, so it’s best done when your not in a rush. Even installing a new version of the update took over an hour to complete (after it was downloaded). The whole process took over 2 hours.

Apple Pay can be setup so you can use the watch to pay for transactions, however it requires a passcode be setup on the watch. This is one area Apple really blazed trails. Fitbit and Garmin years later are only now adding this. Paying with the Apple watch is SUPER convenient. But there is one catch … you still end up digging out your phone or wallet for your loyalty card.

Music can be stored directly on the watch and can be played/paused etc from the watch. And the watch shows you what is playing. From the watch you can completely see your phones library and pick music from that library. This is the most complete set of remote controls I’ve seen on a watch to date. Music can very easily be added to the watch from the phone. The watch can then play music directly to a bluetooth paired headset when without the phone. For people that like to workout without their phone this is a fabulous option and pretty easily setup. Well done Apple, although not something I would bother with. When I workout (kayak/mountain biking etc) I want my phone with me for emergencies anyway. While playing music a now playing comes up which I think is awesome. How many times have you heard a song and wondered the name or artist it was?

I don’t use Apple maps much, but if you do, your navigation instructions come to your watch, including vibrations as you approach turns. This is quite well done. And one of the few wearables to do this!

Activity tracking has been implemented (step and heart rate tracking through the day, no stair counting though, it lacks a barometric altimeter) and customizable move reminders are there too! How long did it take Fitbit to add this feature? You also get resting heart rate for the day. Given that Fitbit have chosen to not add support for Apple health, this is another plus for the Apple watch. It integrates (as you would expect) very well with Apple health. Steps are pretty close to my Garmin Vivosmart HR, but as expected both translate that into calories and kms differently.

An actual workout tracking however, is fairly basic. I did a 30 min walk and it was recorded as 2.8KM Vs 2.9 on my Garmin Vivosmart HR. Average heart rate was spot on between the two at 115 BPM which is impressive. You do get a map of the workout (after the workout) inside Apple Healthkit which used the iPhone’s GPS to create, but I don’t see any easy way to share it. If you did the workout without the iPhone I would presume you would loose the map. I don’t see a way of seeing graphs of your speed, heart rate data etc after the workout. I see no way to create waypoints and navigate to those waypoints (other than using the Maps app). I also see no way to see on a map where you’ve been during a hike for example. Or a way to follow a previously defined route. External bluetooth heart rate monitors can be paired with the phone for better accuracy during workouts. I don’t see a way to export workouts either, nor do I see a interconnectivity to things like Strava or MyFitnesspal etc. In this particular area Apple are way behind and this is a CLEAR statement to me that the Apple watch does not stand a chance (nor did I expect it to) to replace my Garmin Fenix 3 for things like hiking, biking, snowboarding, kayaking etc, basically sports.

The Apple watch actually gives you your estimated VO2 max (only available after a workout is recorded on the watch), something even my Garmin Fenix 3 doesn’t do. How accurate it is, who knows. To get a VO2Max number you track an outdoor walk for 10 mins+ and then it shows up in the Apple health data, just search on VO2. They call it a sub-max exercise prediction. I tried an outdoor cycle but this doesn’t create a VO2 max.

They also include heart rate variability (done during a breath session, and workout), but don’t tell you what parameter they are displaying or how to interpret it, so a one hour support call and they told me the parameter they are displaying is SDDN (No RR, rMSSD etc.). And again, no idea how accurate it is. With this you can compare the results with other aps like EliteHRV. If you want to learn more about HRV I have a post on How to use HRV as well as one on HRV Tools.

Apple also included heart rate recovery, something I only recently discovered. Heart rate recovery is how quickly your heart rate comes down after an exercise is complete. The main issue is that Apple do not tell you it’s doing this and if you are not completely still during this time the number is inaccurate … by a LOT. By the way my Garmin does the same and is measuring recovery rate without your knowledge. For goodness sake just put up a counter and say measuring recovery rate. And Apple tell you your heart rate at the end of the exercise, then at 1 min and 2 mins. They do not do the simple math to give you your actual recovery rate. And your recovery rate is not put in Apple healthkit. And what is really important in this stat is how it is trending. IE are you getting in better heart health or worse. A higher number is better. So to give an example, before I knew it did heart rate recovery it showed a recovery rate at 1 and 2 mins of 112-100 = 12 and 112-100 = 12 because I was not still. After I knew to stay still I showed a recovery rate of 138-104 = 34 and 138-99 = 39. So quite a difference. By the way the heart rate recovery can be found in the workout inside the Activity app by sliding to the right of the heart rate graph. Super hidden and so not obvious.

The Apple watch can be used to make and receive phone calls. You talk to, and hear from the watch. Something neither the Android wear watches, nor my Gamin can do.

There’s both a stopwatch as well as a timer feature on the watch. The timer is a little clumsy to setup but is easy to use with Siri. This is a super basic feature but something I use ALL the time. Whether timing cooking, baking etc.

Notifications on the watch are extremely well done and easily customized. They include both an audio as well as a vibration, both of which can be customized. You can even go back and see previous notifications. Overall this is probably one of the best, most comprehensive notification systems I’ve seen to date. Fitbit by comparison is one of the worst when paired with an iPhone.

You can use Apple maps on the watch and directions requested on the phone show up on the app on the watch. Quite impressively done.

From iCloud you can remotely play a sound (to help find it) and even erase the watch. You can not add a message to the watch (say something like call me yadda yadda) and the location of the watch is not displayed, not even it’s last seen location. This is an area where others have done better to help you find your missing watch. Interestingly enough location was shown correctly on a newer Series 1 Gen 2 watch, so this seems to be a limitation of the 1 Gen. Of course all of this functionality would ONLY work if the watch is in bluetooth range of your phone.

One of the greatest features of the watch is to be able to use Siri without ever pulling your phone out!! But Siri does require your connection to your phone. You can also use siri to “take a note” which makes this quick and easy!

The Apple watch is NOT waterproof, only splash resistant. So from an exercise point of view better hope to not get caught in the rain.

I tried to sleep with the Apple watch, mistake. I put it in do not disturb mode. At some point it took itself out of do not disturb and woke me a couple times for notifications. One of which was to tell me to stand up and move πŸ™‚ And even with that it did not track sleep. Now given the battery life of the watch this is not a loss but be aware.

On every other smart watch I have played with the wrist detection has been hit and miss. So much so I have considered always on a MUST. Apple have actually perfected this, it’s rare for it to miss your wrist being raised to see the time.

On day one I had the watch on for 11 hours and still had about 25% of battery left with light use through the day. So this is definitely a charge ever day device. You can completely power down the watch so if it’s not going to be used for a bit you come back to a charged device. Like most wirelessly charged devices, while being charged it is on. Fitbit continue to leave out the ability to power off their devices. Surely your going to wear it every day right?

Apple wisely made it pretty easy to swap bands by designing a unique way the band locks into the watch. The aftermarket stepped in and adapted Apples lugs so they take more standard bands. And there are a cornucopia of bands available on Amazon/ebay from leather to metal. And who doesn’t like to accesorize their gadgets πŸ™‚ There are two colors of Apple watches, a flashy silver and a gun metal grey. Be sure and grab a band with the right color lugs to match your watch!

Apple have included something they call power reserve. But this puts the watch in such a deep sleep mode as to be useless. Even seeing the time took pushing buttons. If you need to save power the easiest way is simply to put it in airplane mode which cuts the watch off from everything, dramatically improving battery life. But then it’s just a watch rather than a smartwatch. In airplane mode you will get DAYS of battery life. Oddly it seems move reminders stop when in airplane mode.

Because of the smooth edges on the watch I have not found it catches on sleeves like pretty much every other smart watch!

If there is one place I think Apple really missed the mark it’s the user interface. Which is bizarre because Apple are usually stellar at it. Samsung’s current generation using a dial around the watch to control it, brilliant and elegant. With Apple you get this melage of tennie tiny icons you have to find the one app that your looking for. If you have large fingers or bad eye sight this is a challenge to say the least. Numerous times I found myself starting the wrong app.

There is a dock that’s much easier to use for your most commonly used apps but even this is not what I would call elegant. I personally found the UI complex enough I had to read a manual/watch a youtube video to get started.

Summary:
In the end, outside of Apple pay, the Apple watch didn’t really innovate, they more perfect/iterated. However, if your going to carry an iPhone the Apple watch is pretty much, hands down the best, most complete offering to date. For me it’s a product drag rather than draw. I wouldn’t convert to an iPhone to use an Apple watch. Given there are now 3 series of watches in the market you can pick up a Series one pretty inexpensively on ebay/Kijiji. I found a 42mm still under warranty for $250 so the entry point now is low enough, and the functionality high enough, I bought one! While there is not a chance the Apple watch could ever replace my Fenix 3 … it can also be said the Fenix 3’s smartwatch features don’t measure up to the Apple watch for day to day.

Apple Watch complete beginners guide

Update:
I bought a few accessories you might find useful:

This is a super convenient dock to make it simple to charge your watch. It’s inexpensive and works well. It does not include the charge cable itself. There are more elaborate ones you can buy. Amazon link. I highly recommend this dock.

Bands:
This one is my fav band. It’s super comfortable, light, soft, and is very stylish. The price is excellent, unfortunately it only comes with silver lugs which look bad on the dark grey watch. The clasp is easy to do up. As it’s aging it’s looking better and better.Amazon link

This is great metal band. It has the fine length adjustments in the middle like normal watch bands. it’s light, easy to adjust, includes a tool to adjust it and looks nice. The lugs are a solid piece so that the screws can’t fall out. It’s a JETech 42mm Stainless Steel Strap Wrist Band Replacement w/ Metal Clasp (Black) – 2106. Amazon Link. I can highly recommend this band, and is a very reasonable price.

The Apple Milanese band looks nice and is comfortable and light. It’s a bit of a pin to get done up, the magnet keeps liking to stick in all the wrong places. And the band could easily be one of the more effective hair removal tools. I’m not sure I would recommend this one. Apple link.

This black leather band is nice and soft, comfortable and fits well. Price is very good. If there’s any complaint it’s that it’s kind of bland and stylish, innocuous. Amazon link.

If you have a band that just happens to be the right width you can use these lugs to adapt onto the Apple watch. And if the band you buy comes with the wrong color lugs then this is also a good option, and is inexpensive. It comes with the driver for the screws. But be ware that the screws easily be stripped and do not come with spare screws. Amazon link.

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November 21, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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