Apple Watch Review, Is It Hot Hardware?

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Hardware: Design, Comfort, and Battery Life

My wrist has been graced by the Moto 360 of late, which is arguably one of the most stylish smartwatches on the market today. Considering that it boasts a circular screen, the 360 still looks like more of a watch than the Apple Watch. Apple decided on a rectangular display rather than a round one, likely due to challenges with LCD manufacturing, software quirks associated for developing apps for a round display, and the like. Even the 360 has a cut-out on the bottom of its display, giving the world a peek at just how tough it is to truly pull off a perfectly circular panel on the wrist.

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Still, the Apple Watch is stately and stylish in its own right. In my testing, I utilized a 38mm Apple Watch Sport model, which is the smallest and lightest of the bunch. There's a 42mm model for larger wrists, but outside of a few more pixels and a slightly larger battery, the internals of each size are the same.

Wearing the Apple Watch

If you read my Moto 360 review, you'd know that I wasn't much on watch wearing prior to the arrival of smartwatches. I found most watches to be irritating after extended use when typing for long periods, and I was so routinely in front of a phone or laptop display that I rarely needed a clock nearby for the purpose of telling time. I evaluated the Apple Watch from that same perspective. I asked: "If someone weren't into watches already, would they be into the Apple Watch?"

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The Sport model that I selected has a fluoroelastomer band, and just so happens to be the least expensive of the bunch at $349. It feels like a sleek polymer, but it has the unique quality of being stretchy without being grippy. Those with plenty of hair around their wrists will understand why that latter tidbit is important. Even the Sport bands won't grab the hairs on your wrist, so you don't have to worry about that. Putting the watch on was fairly standard, on my medium-sized wrists I found the 38mm model to be ideal. The 42mm model will dwarf all but the largest wrists, and considering that it's a rectangle, you'd notice those long edges poking out. (If you're unsure which size would fit you best, you unfortunately have a schedule a "fitting" at a local Apple Store, at least for the time being as supplies are limited.)

I have to say, the Apple Watch is comfortable to wear. The 38mm model is smaller than the Moto 360, so it didn't draw my mental attention as frequently. It's light enough that it never burdened me, and not once did I consider removing it simply to be without the heft for a bit. Apple's band selection is quite robust, and while it doesn't support standard bands from other manufacturers, its mechanism for sliding old bands out and new bands in is very elegant. Hardcore watch wearers may consider a variety of bands for various social settings, but judging by the asking prices on some of the bands, that's a hobby strictly for those with plenty of disposable income.

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The Apple Watch was very comfortable while typing, and not once did I feel the urge to remove it during the course of a typical workday. It fits well, it's light, and it's comfortable. Which is exactly how any good watch should be described.

Build quality

In typical Apple fashion, the Watch is finely crafted. The curved screen edges blend masterfully into the metal surrounding it, and the screen itself is resistant to scratches. Apple dubs it a Aluminum Ion-X Glass Retina Display, with a 272 x 340 resolution underneath. That doesn't sound like much, but when viewed at a typical distance, you can't make out the individual pixels. The blacks are deep and rich; they're as good as any high-end plasma television I've seen.

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Arguably, the watch's underside is the most beautiful aspect. There, you'll find  a specially designed sensor that uses infrared and visible-light LEDs and photodiodes to detect your heart rate during workouts and when using the Heart Rate Glance. On the side, there's a Digital Crown and what appears to be a power button ripped from the side of an iPhone. The former is interesting. It's greased in such a way that the tactile feel of scrolling it exudes a very premium touch. It's tough to describe, but it's wonderfully done. The button beneath has a nice, clicky feel to it, with a single press bringing up 12 contacts of your choosing in a wheel format, while double clicking brings up Apple Pay.

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The display's viewing angles are exceptional, as is the overall touch accuracy and response. I was wary that I'd have to be quite careful in pressing such a small screen, but the Watch nailed every icon I was intending to press with no special care on my behalf. Apple also introduced what it's calling a "Taptic Engine," which enables the Watch to vibrate in such a way that it feels as if someone is very lightly tapping you on the wrist to get your attention. In practice, this is a subtle but effective way of notifying you that there's something that needs your attention.

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There's also an inbuilt speaker for audio notifications, as well as a microphone in the event that you want to take a call right on your wrist. If you're curious about its ability to shun water, here's the deal: it's fine to sweat on the Apple Watch, but don't go swimming or hopping in the shower with it. It's not waterproof, so be careful to remove it before plunging into a bath or washing the dishes.

Battery life and longevity

Ah, battery life -- the Achilles' heel of all smartwatches to date. Can the Apple Watch thrive where others have faltered? In my testing, I had no issue with a full charge lasting me from 8:00AM until 10:00PM with moderate use. On days where I tested more heavily, I made sure to drop it on the contact charger when I hopped in the shower (as Apple Watch isn't waterproof) for a quick midday boost. I'd say that most wearers won't have any issue getting a single day of use per charge, but you will absolutely have to juice it back up each night or give it a mid-day boost when sitting at your desk if you use it heavily.

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Apple includes a magnetic charger pad that latches on to the bottom of the Watch, but it's a pretty spartan solution. Twelve South has introduced a product (HiRise for Apple Watch) that acts as a charging stand, and that's more along the lines of what we had in mind. Even Motorola throws in a basic stand with its 360. At any rate, you'll notice that most everything that runs on Apple Watch has a black background, and we're guessing that's to save on battery life. Moreover, the screen turns itself off pretty quickly after you look away as another battery-saving measure.

Overall, Apple Watch seems to outlast most Android Wear options in moderate use. There's a Power Reserve mode if you get desperate, but I don't consider battery life to be a detractor or deal-breaker.

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