First Impressions Wearing an Apple Watchapple apple-watch smart-watch tech
After getting a ton of gift cards for Christmas, I bought an Apple Watch SE since it was on sale. I’ve only had it on for a few days and I’m already enjoying it, although I’m struggling to feel like I’m utilizing it to its fullest potential. I thought I’d post about my feelings using it so far.
This isn’t my first smartwatch, I originally wore a Pebble 2 for a year or two before it physically fell apart (well after the company went defunct). I forgot how much I missed having notifications go to my wrist instead of my phone. I always liked how much nicer it was to pull up quick glances of information on my watch, such as my calendar for the day, alarms, timers, quick news bytes, etc. My phone will probably never have its vibrator or ringer on again. For text input, having voice dication again is a welcome return from when the service discontinued on my old Pebble, as well as scribble where I can write the letters with my finger. Scribble is a lot faster than you’d think it would be.
Its main selling point, at least for Apple, is its fitness tracking. I’m always getting reminders, goals, and health data pinging to my wrist. It tells me to stand at 50 minutes past the hour if I haven’t stood in that time already. It tells me to meditate before bed, it tells me how long to wash my hands when I start washing them. Then, of course, there’s the activity rings. One for active calories burned, one for minutes of exercise, and one for “standing minutes” which marks one if you’ve stood up during an hour. On one hand, counting all these metrics is an interesting way to track how active I am, but on the other hand, at times it feels invasive and downright annoying. I bet it will wear off the more seriously I take my physical health though, I really do need to get up and move around more. The standing minutes thing, while annoying, is very necessary since I spend a lot of my time seated in front of a computer screen. This is one of those things that you will need to tweak until it’s just the right level of intrusiveness to get you to form a habit without looming over you like a monster in your closet. Sleep tracking is nice, but the battery life forces you to charge the watch as soon as you wake up in the morning, and the haptic alarm is too weak so I sleep through it, unlike my old Pebble.
As for apps, the Apple Watch ecosystem is less a standalone thing, and more a companion to the apps on your phone. You usually have to install the app on your phone, and it will automatically install the companion app by default (but that can be disabled). The app layout is a bit clunky though. The default hexagonal style grid lets you see more apps at once on the screen, but there’s no rhyme or reason to the layout, and although it can be rearranged, it’s difficult to make any semblance of organization with it. There’s also the list view, which would be far more useful if it would start at the top of the list every time you opened it, instead of where you left off some of the time which is a bit disorienting. However, the apps themselves don’t try to everything, only the basic things you would want to do from a watch. Banking apps show your balances, Apple News shows 5 headlines and lets you save for later reading. My favorite use so far is to control other devices. Mainly, using my phone to play music. It can pair the phone to a bluetooth speaker and control its volume seamlessly. I also have the Roku app which lets me control my TV without having to get my remote, or pull my phone out of my pocket to use that remote, which is even better.
By far, my most favorite thing about this watch is being able to use NFC payments a lot easier. In a world of masks and face-unlock only smartphones, it’s a massive pain to pay for things. But, on my watch, I don’t need a mask. I don’t need a fingerprint either (there’s no fingerprint sensor). You might ask “how is this secure?”. I’d respond with, it probably isn’t, but it prompts for a passcode when you put the watch on, and it detects when it’s in contact with your skin, and locks back up the moment you lift the watch body off of your wrist. That amount of trust, that you’re the one wearing it, and that it never leaves your wrist seems to be the threat model. So much so that if your phone is nearby, it will unlock your phone. If your phone is unlocked and your watch is on but still locked, your phone can unlock your watch too, which feels a bit less safe. Either way, just double click with the side button and put your wrist by the reader. In the case of people in cities with actual transit, you don’t even need to press the button and it will automatically use the transit card you set for it at the turnstile.
My biggest gripes come from the watch band. By default, mine came with the sport band, and had a Medium and a Large half. I have thin wrists, and the Large size is snug and on the outermost hole. Due to the design of the watch not having actual spring bars, I can’t use a NATO strap, which I prefer since it’s fabric and more breathable, and is easier to put on. I thought I’d find a fabric band for it that was in an XL size if available to give my wrist a bit more breathing room, but the bands are $99. I bought the watch itself for ~$220 (normally ~$270, this is the 40mm aluminum GPS only model). How can a cheap piece of fabric the size of a bookmark be worth nearly half the price of the watch itself? The locking mechanism? Apple really needs to change the way they sell their watches so that the bands that are most accessible and comfortable aren’t marking up the price of the watch. It’s far cheaper to buy a higher priced model just for the different sized default band than it is to replace the regular rubber sports band after the fact, unless you get one from some sketchy Amazon third party seller. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that, since a watch band failure is something that people don’t really think about, but is usually catastrophic (another reason I like NATO bands because they’re designed to hang on if one of the spring bars fails, as long as it’s properly installed).
In any case, would I recommend one? Probably, only if you have an iPhone. Just because of the walled ecosystem. I can’t stress how much basic smartwatch features make life easier and less distracting funnily enough. However, although some Android smart watches can be paired with an iPhone, the integration is far worse and a lot more janky. Conversely, if you have an Android phone, pairing an Apple Watch is impossible.