Apple Watch Review, Is It Hot Hardware?

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Summary and Conclusion

Nearly five years ago to the day, I reviewed the original iPad. It was clearly the start of something new, but it was too early to tell how developers would evolve to fully exploit the new platform. I'd say the Apple Watch is similar in that regard. This release obviously signals a new direction for Apple, but it remains to be seen if it's a platform with longevity. The Apple Watch is the first real timepiece to interface with iPhone (Pebble and the MS Band notwithstanding). Unless Google develops an Android Wear app for iOS, this is your only option for a full-featured smartwatch if you're dead-set on an iPhone as your daily driver. So, to some degree, you don't have any options here -- you either own the Apple Watch, or you don't.

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So, given that, the question isn't about which iOS-compatible smartwatch to choose, but whether or not a first-generation product from Apple is worth splurging on. The cheapest Apple Watch is $349, but curiously, none of the more expensive models offer faster innards. Because of that, you could reasonably spring for the cheapest model to see if it's a fit for you, without worrying over a more expensive model offering better performance or additional features.

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If you're not currently a watch wearer, the Apple Watch is a comfortable timepiece that is quite stylish. Some of the more elaborate models are fit for a night out, and I'm sure Apple will have some success selling to those who value fashion over technology. But for the purposes of this review, it's safe to say that style isn't a problem. It looks good, it feels good, and there are enough band options to match just about any wardrobe.

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As has become the norm for Apple, the build quality here is exceptional. Even the $349 model feels every bit of that, with premium materials, a sharp Retina Display, and a sophisticated sensor arrangement on the rear to capture your heart rate. On the software front, it's the most advanced and easy-to-use watch operation system that I've seen to date. Android Wear is colorful and has lots of potential, but it can feel kludgy and rough around the edges in spots. The Apple Watch has a refined user interface that's drop-dead simple to navigate and genuinely useful. The only major nitpick is the slow loading of Glances -- something that will almost certainly be improved on the second generation (or via a firmware update), assuming the next model has a more robust battery to support background refreshes.

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Do you need the Apple Watch? No. Your iPhone is a powerful tool, and it's quite good at tracking runs, presenting notifications, and the like. But I've found that owning the Apple Watch enables me to keep my phone in my pocket longer and more frequently, which keeps me "present" and less likely to open my iPhone for one notification and accidentally letting extra minutes slip away. If Apple figured out a way to make the device a more advanced fitness tracker, there might be broader appeal for a wider audience. As it is, it's a great tool for runners and walkers, but it won't present much useful data for lifters or CrossFit types, beyond heart rate and calorie burn estimates.

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Apple loyalists will no doubt enjoy the Apple Watch and appreciate its value. For everyone else, it's worth waiting until these are available to test in Apple Stores, and perhaps even for a second generation with better battery life. I'll commend Apple for thinking through a first-gen product well enough that it's generally better than most wearables in the market. The Watch is meticulously engineered and really does complement iOS in a multitude of ways (including giving Siri the home she's been longing for).

It'll be interesting to see what devs do to take advantage of Apple's new platform in the months ahead. If you're on the fence, pay attention to work in this space, as a killer app could dictate whether or not it's worth you pulling the trigger. 

  • Eye-catching, high-quality design
  • Works seamlessly with iPhone
  • Enables you to stop looking at your phone so much
  • Great third-party app support thus far
  • Fitness sensors are only tuned for cardio
  • Not waterproof
  • No charging stand included
  • Modest battery life

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