I got an Apple Watch — and took it back

To start: I’m a nerd, and I love Apple. A few weeks ago, I woke up at 2:00AM CST to pre-order an Apple Watch. I waited a few weeks for it to arrive, then eagerly waited for a brown shirted UPS delivery worker to show up at my front door. Last Monday, I became the proud owner of a space gray 42mm Apple Watch Sport.

I wore it for a few days, but once the initial excitement wore off I started noticing that I really didn’t like the watch. Don’t get me wrong — it’s certainly a well designed, fairly good looking piece of technology, especially when compared with existing smart watches. Even the steady design hand of Jonny Ive, however, wasn’t enough to overcome the device’s limitations.

Shockingly, battery life was not an issue. Not even close. In the week that I wore the watch, I never once had it die or go into Power Reserve mode on me. I was certainly a very heavy user. I think this has been overblown as a problem; Apple certainly made sure that the Watch would get through even the heaviest day of use.

The biggest problem, which has been covered by plenty of other folks, is the overload of notifications. The first time I turned on the Watch I began by turning off most notifications, as advised by every review I had seen. That still wasn’t enough. I felt like my wrist was constantly tapping me, and if using my phone less was the ultimate goal, that failed miserably. If anything, I was more of a slave to my notifications and my phone.

A shockingly disappointing feature of the Watch was the workout function. Apple has played this piece up as a major feature, but it fell far short. The Workout app assumes you want to do some form of cardio workout — running, walking, elliptical, or rowing are basically your only options. I tend to mix and match interval workouts, which forced me to pick an “open” workout with no goals whatsoever. Once the workout began, the Watch could never properly calibrate my heart rate. Within the same minute, it would tell me my heart rate was 58 bpm, and then within another reading was 140bpm. I’m no doctor, but that doesn’t seem likely. To listen to music from the Watch, you have to use Bluetooth headphones. This meant yet another item I needed to purchase, and another thing to keep charged. Not to mention the worse sound quality and the inability of the buds to stay in my ears during vigorous workouts.

Lastly was just how miserable most 3rd party apps were on the Watch. Be it developers not having access to the actual hardware or the SDK or both, the apps were slow to load and often useless. One example was Transit. I used their glance to check when the next train was departing when deciding when to leave work. By the time the data was updated, I had taken my phone out and gotten the information. This isn’t to say that the watch won’t be great for certain things in the future, but as of right now it’s not even close to worth the $423 that it cost.

So for $150, I bought the Fitbit Charge HR, and couldn’t be happier. The battery life is multiple days, it does automatic sleep tracking, and it has been excellent at tracking my workouts. The heart rate monitoring is much more stable than the Watch, and I am only notified of incoming phone calls (which is the only thing I wouldn’t want to miss anyways). I’m not distracted by yet another screen, and I don’t have multiple new devices to charge.

My biggest misunderstanding with the Watch is this — if the Internet of Things is the next big trend in technology (which a lot of smart people say it is), then why do we need yet another screen? The rise in cheap computing should mean more devices and less interaction from the user. The future is your devices working without any input from you, not adding more screens. Perhaps future versions of the Watch will answer this question. But for now, I’ll keep my $423.