Apple Watch First Impressions

My Apple Watch showed up yesterday. A week earlier that I expected, and oddly sudden. I got an email on Thursday afternoon that it had shipped. It showed up Friday at noon. UPS didn’t know enough to track it until Friday morning. It certainly built the excitement to a grand crescendo.

The first oddness was the box. I expected a cube-ish watch box, the watch wrapped around a circle. Not the case. The Apple Watch Sport ships in a long rectangular box, more like a box for crackers than jewelry. I ordered the 42mm Space Grey (read black) Sport Watch, but changed to 38mm after seeing them in person. I’m glad I did. Big, gawky watches aren’t my style. That said, I don’t think the 42mm will be big and gawky. I am struck by how small the watch was on unboxing. I wouldn’t call it dainty, but it’s certainly a size I’m comfortable with.

I built up this moment in my mind into something it just wasn’t. “Oh. So that’s it,” I thought when I saw it. I was still excited, but not quite the level I was expecting. The 38mm watch ships with a small/medium band attached, which was too small for my gorilla wrists. Swapping the band for the medium/large part was simple. Apple Sport bands ship with three pieces of band. One piece of ‘anchor’, which has the clasp and two pieces that have the holes that the clasp fits into. These two pieces are either small/medium or medium/large.

Working the clasp was a learning experience. I’ve been wearing my Citizen watch for months now, getting used to having a watch again. It’s a metal link bracelet, and doesn’t have a clasp per-se. I’ve seen a lot of electrons spilled on reviewers gushing about how good the sport band feels. For me it just disappears. I don’t notice it, which is what a watch band should be. Maybe I’m just ignorant of high-class watch bands and the silky experience they impart on your wrist.

I will be interested in seeing 3rd party watch bands. It’s not that the sport band is bad, but it doesn’t feel right after wearing a link bracelet. I’m not happy with the price of Apple’s link bracelet, or the colors, or the texture. What I really want is an black, anodized, brushed aluminum link band. Those don’t exist yet. I’m hoping they will.

Set up is easy. You point your phone’s camera at the watch to establish that pairing and then go through a set up process on the phone. It’ll be easy for anyone that can use a smart phone. I had apps with Watch components and the phone set those up automagically. I looked through the App Store for other apps I’d like to have on the watch, but few really tripped my trigger. That said, I ditched ‘Dark Sky’ for ‘Yahoo Weather’ for my watch. Yahoo has the best design aesthetic for the watch, even better than Apple in my opinion.

Picking a watch face, what shows when the watch is just being a watch, took some fiddle time. Ultimately I don’t like any of Apple’s pre-defined watch faces. I don’t like analogue faces, I can’t tell what hour it is at a glance. I want more information showing than is available in the ‘HUGE TIME’ face. I settled on the modular face, but would have preferred the time to be the most prominent data on that face. As it is the time claims the upper right corner of the watch.

And then… it became a watch.

Granted, these are initial impressions based on an afternoon of use, but really the watch has disappeared from my consciousness unless it taps me. Since the watch mirrors the notification on my phone, and I have been obsessive about reducing the number of notifications that pop up at me on my phone, there isn’t much that will get my attention. Instant Messages can, and did. Other notifications that are less obtrusive wait until I glance at the watch for a different reason. I set the watch to ‘silent mode’ during initial set up. The fewer bleeping bleeps in my life the bleeping better.

The taptic engine is exactly what I am looking for. It’s subtle. It’s unobtrusive. It’s just a little tap to get your attention. It’s not a buzz. I used to jump out of my seat when my pager went off on vibrate. Yes children, I’m old enough to have had a pager. This is nothing like that.

The first instant message I got was while I was driving. The app was good enough to respond easily at a stop sign. I’d probably have let it fly past while I was driving, but at a stop sign without traffic, and my hand already on the wheel, it was a single tap to respond with an emoji. I don’t get a ton of messages, but it’s good to be able to respond without the bother of pulling the phone out. I completely ignore messages on my phone while driving. Maybe the watch is more dangerous in that regard.

Siri is a bit odd on the phone. I’m used to Siri keeping my grocery list, telling me when movies are playing, what the scores are for NHL games. The ‘Hey Siri’ function of the watch doesn’t seem to work well for me. I don’t mind. I’d rather click the crown to wake Siri up than sound like Scotty trying to get the computer’s attention. Also, there’s no audio feedback from Siri, which is odd. I’m used to Siri responding in a Male British voice a la Jarvis. Only seeing words on my watch took me out of that magic conversation with Siri. Things still work, but there’s no back and forth when I ask Siri to add something to the grocery list, or ask about the Collins Road Theater.

I haven’t dealt much with the fitness bits yet. The watch has told me to stand up, and that’s what I’m looking for. The step tracking seems fine, but I’ll need a week at work to get a sense of how it’s different from the phone. I do like having the additional data point of heart rate. I also need to do a lot more cardio.

So. It’s not quite what I expected. It checks all the marks on the list in my mind, but it doesn’t quite feel like the revolutionary device that the iPhone or even iPod were. It feels like a remote for my phone, with a nice subdued notification system built in. That’s fine, but hardly the shepherd to the brave new world I was expecting. On reflection, this is as it should be before a robust SDK for developers to realize that brave new world with.

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