Apple Watch

Deep-dive review: The Apple Watch after a month of use (video)

According to our reviewer, if you're an Apple fan, chances are you'll want one -- eventually.

Apple Watch

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Working with the Watch

I was looking for the Watch to do two things: Be a fitness accessory/advisor and a notification system for important alerts. But what I didn't expect was that I would be using apps on it as much as I have.

The Watch fits into the existing Apple ecosystem, of course, including support for controlling and communicating with other Apple products; the day the Watch launched, there were already more than 3,500 apps in the App Store. As expected, third-party software quality varies from great to useless.

My advice for new users is to focus on familiarizing yourself with the Watch and then add third party apps and Glances, tweaking the parameters later. Over time, you'll figure out exactly which apps you want install, which apps should have a Glance and how to arrange the home screen to quickly get to the apps you use most frequently.

I find that the Watch works best for me when it's acting as a filter for important data; for that reason, it helps make me less stressed throughout the day. If your phone is constantly ringing with texts, emails, alerts and other distractions, you'll want to use the Watch to weed out and alert you to only the important data. More signal, less noise.

I've already written about my first couple of days with the Watch, but this is the type of product that grows on you with use. A month in, I'm using my iPhone for different reasons now. While extended text conversations still happen on the phone, 90% of my overall text conversations take place on the Watch, mostly because text transcription through Siri works really, really well.

The Watch is a great controller in the age of the Internet of Things. I use it to control my Avea lights and my thermostat, and I've used the Watch to frame and take pictures from the iPhone's camera about a dozen times.

I use the Remote app to control my Apple TV -- it's nice not to have to fumble for a misplaced remote, as the remote is already being worn on your wrist. I also use the Watch's Music app to control an iPhone plugged into my entertainment system, swiping through my music and selecting tracks with ease. I'm really looking forward to trying out HomeKit support, which will allow me to control my entire home (my locks, lights, garage door, pool, etc. are already wired with Insteon devices) from my wrist. (We're likely to hear more about HomeKit today at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).)

I use the Workout app all of the time and Activity for monitoring my daily fitness goals. When I first started using it, I found that the Watch wasn't calculating the distance I walked properly; however, that was remedied by a calibration process (set the Workout app to Outdoor Walk and Outdoor Run, and walk/run for 20 minutes while carrying the iPhone).

Apple Watch tracks steps taken and while it has built-in Workout and Activity apps, I'm also using third-party apps to guide me through exercises, like the one aptly called Six Pack, which walks you through ab routines. The app even uses the iPhone as a speaker to announce workouts, rest periods and the rep count, while the Watch itself displays animated examples of the exercise you're about to perform, as well as keeping track of reps.

Another app I use all the time: MacID, an app for the iPhone and Watch with a companion app on the Mac. Using Bluetooth, the Mac app will activate a screen lock when the paired phone is out of range. When you return, instead of entering your password on the Mac to log back in, you launch the MacID app on the Watch and touch the Watch screen, and the Mac unlocks for you.

I love using the Watch in the kitchen. There are numerous kitchen/recipe apps that walk you through cooking recipes while also giving you countdowns to the next time you have to flip that steak on the grill. And using Siri, you can do things such as set timers when your hands are full.

Also, Apple Pay makes it so easy to trigger a payment (by pressing the Favorites button on the side of the Watch twice) that I've been applauded by excited store employees after completing my transaction.

One of the last features I'll mention: Maps and the Watch's ability to give directions. When you ask for directions using the Watch, the iPhone stays silent. Instead of audible alerts from the phone, the Watch taps your wrist when it's time to make a turn. If you have to turn left, the Watch taps six times (feeling like a heart beat on your wrist), it taps 12 times for a right turn. (If sounds are enabled, the Watch also plays two distinct tones, one for turning left and one for right.) It's actually very cool; you can be guided to a destination without audible feedback, giving the impression that you always know exactly where you are, even when you don't.

Nothing's perfect

Over the past month, I accumulated a pretty extensive list of complaints, including interface oddities and weird behaviors. Then on May 19th, Apple released the 1.0.1 update and most -- but not all -- of the major problems went away. For example, apps and Glances load faster than before, but still, sometimes the display will turn itself off before they're finished loading. That is annoying.

There's also no native way to track sleep. The Watch should be able to detect that level of inactivity automatically.

The iPhone tracks elevation and coordinates automatically, and it would be nice if we could see the results of that data factored into workout results, the same way third-party apps like Run Keeper do. After all, the iPhone is collecting that data anyway.

One major area that needs to be fixed involves heart rate monitoring. As of version 1.01, heart rate checks are accurate when performing workouts that involve running, jumping or exercises in which your arms are waving about. I tested Watch's readings to other fitness monitors like the Microsoft Band as well as comparing results with professional workout equipment. In all of those cases, heart rate monitoring was spot on.

However, a workout involving pushups -- or the motion one makes when lifting weights --doesn't always trigger a proper reading. It seems the lack of arm movement has a lot to do with this; this has been confirmed by Apple support reps. The readings aren't just off, but really off: after a set of weights, my heart is usually beating at 120-140 beats per minute, and the Watch would report results in the 70 bpm range.

With the recent 1.01 update, the device's behavior changed: Now, if the Watch senses arm movement and it's not in Workout mode, it skips the attempt to get your heart rate. I found this disappointing: I would much rather that the Watch should automatically check for increased heart rate when it detects movement -- that would give a more accurate reading of the day's activities and calories burned.

Interestingly, there was one aspect of the Watch I didn't expect, and that involved the negative social implications inherent to checking for a Notification, especially when someone is speaking to you. It feels ruder than with the Microsoft Band, which is easier to discreetly check because you can keep the Band display on the inside of your wrist.

Bottom line

I consider the Watch a breakthrough product -- but that doesn't mean it's for everyone. It's a relatively expensive accessory for the iPhone rather than a necessity, and as a fitness tracker, there are alternatives that are much cheaper yet do the same things -- some even offer features the Watch doesn't include, like live UV sensor and proper water-proofing.

Overall, the Watch is well-designed, well-executed, fits perfectly into the Apple digital lifestyle, and offers access to an entire ecosystem of apps, hardware accessories, and media that Apple has spent over a decade building up. Over all, after a month of use, I'm very positive on the Apple Watch, but the folks at Apple have a much larger audience to convince. Time will tell if the combination of functions and fashion will be enough to lure even more users than the rush of early adopters.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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