Apple Watch review: now superseded by Series 1
Apple's smartwatch, called the Apple Watch is an extension of your iPhone, allowing you to get up-to-the minute notifications, news and even map directions on your wrist. Here's our Apple Watch review.
Also see: Best Black Friday Smartwatch Deals
Update 8 September 2016: Apple has announced two new Watches, the Series 2 and the Series 1. The latter is a direct replacement for the original Apple Watch reviewed below. It costs a little more in the UK than before (£269 vs £259) but has a significant upgrade: a new processor. This is said be be 50 percent faster, and with a graphics chip that's twice as fast. This addresses one of the main complaints about the original Apple Watch. For more details on the new Series 1 (and the Series 2) see our guide to the new Apple Watch. If you already own an original Apple Watch, you will be interested to know that you can get the update to watchOS 3 on 13 September. On a side note, Pokemon GO will be made available on the Apple Watch (both versions) later in 2016, this will allow Apple Watch Pokemon GO trainers to see nearby Pokemon and access PokeStops straight from their watch. The biggest news around Pokemon GO is the ability to track and hatch eggs through Apple's fitness tracking (which doesn't use GPS tracking).
Update June 2016: At WWDC, Apple revealed watchOS 3 which is set to make the wearable "feel like a new watch". Whether watchOS 3's Autumn release is timed to coincide with an Apple Watch 2 launch is debatable, but watchOS 3 should get existing Watch owners excited and make the device a better buy.
Update March 2016: The entry-level Apple Watch Sport is now cheaper, starting at £259 for the smaller 38mm version, and £299 for the 42mm model. Apple also launched new straps made from woven nylon. You can find out more details in our complete Apple Watch buying guide.
Apple Watch review: price
NOTE: You can no longer buy the original Apple Watch from Apple. It has been replaced by the Series 1. We would advise buying this new model - or considering the new Series 2 - if you are about to buy an Apple Watch.
The cheapest Apple Watch is the Sport version which, as we've said above, costs £259. However, you can find it cheaper from retailers such as John Lewis, where's it's £249.
Prices vary depending on whether you want the aluminium case (the Sport version) or the stainless steel model, which is tougher but pricier. There's a full list of models, colours and prices in our Apple Watch buyer's guide.
Apple Watch review: design
Apple has always paid particular attention to the design of its products, and has built a reputation as a fashionable and stylish brand. When it comes to smartwatches, design more important than ever. It's wearable technology, after all.
Even though it's not circular, the Apple Watch is a pleasure to look at. With 38 different styles to choose from there's bound to be something that suits you. There are three different Apple Watch models. The first is the Apple Watch Sport, which comes in at the bottom of the wide price range starting at £259. Next is the Apple Watch, which is the middle-of-the-range smartwatch starting at £479. Finally, the Apple Watch Edition is for those with cash to splash, starting at a hefty £8,000.
As the name suggests, the Apple Watch Sport is designed with exercise in mind, made with strengthened Ion-X glass for maximum durability and anodised aluminium to reduce the weight. It's worth noting that the Watch Sport screen is not immune to scratches - it's tough, but we've managed to scratch ours by accidentally scuffing it on a wall.
It's available in Space Grey, Silver, Gold and Rose Gold. You get the choice of colours: black, white, yellow, red, apricot, royal blue, antique white, midnight blue, lavender and stone in the standard rubbery Sport band. The new woven nylon band is available in Gold/Red, Gold/Royal Blue, Royal Blue, Pink, Pearl, Scuba Blue and Black, and the prices are the same: £259 for the 38mm Watch and £299 for the 42mm.
It's worth noting that the Sport Bands get grubby quickly but they're also very easy to clean.
The Apple Watch (a distinct model that's different from the Apple Watch Sport) has a Sapphire glass display rather than the Ion-X used in the Sport, and a Stainless Steel case rather than aluminium, and comes in silver or Space Black. There are plenty of strap options from the classic buckle and leather loop to the more expensive modern buckle, milanese loop and link bracelet.
And if you're wondering why the Apple Watch Edition is so expensive, that'll be because of its 18-carat gold case available in yellow or rose gold. You'll even get a fancy leather box that doubles as a charging cradle. Bands for the Watch Edition include the White Sport Band, Black Sport Band, Black Classic Buckle, Midnight Blue Classic Buckle, Rose Grey Modern Buckle, Bright Red Modern Buckle.
Phew. That's a lot of options. And even more confusing is that some straps can't be purchased with certain sizes of Apple Watch. For example, the Modern Buckle isn't available for the larger model, and the Leather Loop isn't available for the smaller model.
You can swap straps in seconds and Apple sells the Watch straps separately in the Apple Store and third-party accessory makers will be selling their own too.
All three models come in two different size options. The first is designed for more dainty wrists, at 38mm high. The larger option has a 42mm high screen. You'll notice quite a significant difference between these two sizes, so we'd strongly recommend popping into an Apple Store before you buy to try on both sizes and see which suits you best.
We were surprised by how small the 38mm model looks, and many people have commented that it's smaller than they had imagined. Some people will consider that a good thing, but it does make it somewhat tricky to use, as the text, icons and apps are very small. It does mean that it's really light on the wrist, though, so you'll hardly notice it's there until you want to.
The Apple Watch is water resistant to the IPX7 standard, which technically means that the device shouldn't be damaged if it sat in up to one metre of water for up to 30 minutes, but Apple doesn't recommend trying it. Instead, Apple describes the Watch as "splash- and water-resistant but not waterproof" and suggests that you could wear it in the shower but don't take it swimming.
We think that the Apple Watch is a stunning device, but we are slightly disappointed that it isn't circular. We love round smartwatches from the likes of LG, Motorola and Huawei, because they blend in as an ordinary watch better. The Apple Watch is quite obviously a piece of tech stuck on your wrist, and that won't appeal to everyone (yet, but this is Apple we're talking about so we'll probably all be wearing them in a couple of years and won't think anything of it).
We do like the fact that there are so many different options, even if it does get a bit confusing. Knowing that there are loads of different options makes the choice you make even more personal.
Apple Watch review: Specifications
The Apple Watch's display has a resolution of 272x340 or 312x390 depending on whether you choose the 38mm or 42mm size option. Screen quality is excellent, and even at medium brightness, is easy to read outdoors.
The Apple Watch is powered by an Apple S1 processor, and we have found that it can be a little slow on occasions, particularly while using third-party apps. It's one of the main reasons we're keen to see if the putative Apple Watch 2 solves the performance issues.
There are several sensors in the Apple Watch that enable the fitness tracking features. There's a gyroscope, an accelerometer and a heart rate monitor. There's no GPS, though: the Apple Watch relies on the iPhone for that part. That means you'll need your iPhone with you if you plan on tracking a run, which is a bit of a shame.
Apple claims the battery will last for 18 hours of normal use. What this translates to is basically 1.5 days between charges, but you'll end up popping it on the wireless charger every night. This also means it doesn't track your sleep like most fitness trackers.
Here's a list of tips that should help you make the Apple Watch battery last longer.
Charging takes around two and a half hours, and works with an inductive magnetic charger that snaps onto the back of the Watch itself.
There's no camera in the Apple Watch, but it can be used as a remote for the camera on your iPhone.
Apple Watch review: watchOS
You're going to need an iPhone 5 or later in order to use the Apple Watch, and you'll use the dedicated Apple Watch app included in iOS 8 or later.
Update June 2016: watchOS 3 shows that Apple definitely isn't giving up on smartwatches. The major update solves quite a few problems and inefficiencies, although we'll have to wait until we've used the update before we can confirm this.
Here's a summary of the updates in watchOS 3:
- The Side Button now brings up a new dock (above left). This contains your favourite apps for quick access.
- Apps can now run in the background (including Workouts) and therefore launch instantly. They can also update in the background.
- Apple Pay can be used within Watch apps to pay for things such as an Uber fare.
- Range of new watch faces, some of which incorporate activity rings (above right).
- Ability to share your activity rings and compete with friends.
- New Beathe app (above middle) to "help you stay more healthy".
- More expressive messaging.
- Like the old Palm Pilot with its Graffiti, you can draw characters on top of each other to compose replies and messages.
The Apple Watch runs Apple's own software, Watch OS, with some familiar elements taken from iOS in addition to many new ones. Interacting with the Apple Watch is an all-new experience, with new Force Touch technology that helps it determine when you're tapping and pressing, a physical button called the Digital Crown that can be pressed and scrolled, a second button that takes you to the Friends screen and also voice control using Siri.
Siri can be used to search, set reminders, dictate messages, get directions and more. It's as easy as raising your wrist and saying "Hey, Siri" followed by your command.
There's also Taptic Feedback, which uses vibrations that'll tap you on the wrist for alerts, directions and more. You can even send others your heartbeat and they'll feel it tapping on their wrist (sickeningly romantic, isn't it?).
With all of those ways of interacting with the Apple Watch, it's certainly going to take a bit of getting used to. You'll need to spend some time getting to know your Apple Watch to figure out whether you need to tap, scroll, swipe, push or speak to get the job done. You'll find lots of Apple Watch tutorials in our sister site Macworld's Apple Watch section.
Apple Watch review: Notifications
While wearing the Apple Watch, you'll get notifications for emails from VIPs, text messages, social media alerts and more. Apple has designed the Apple Watch interface with little snippets of information that the company calls 'Glances'. They're mini versions of apps that aim to let you get the information you need within seconds – Apple says you shouldn't need to spend more than 10 – 15 seconds looking at your watch at a time.
If you are the kind of person who likes to constantly check their iPhone for notifications, then the Apple Watch could be a time saver, as you'll simply need to glance at your wrist. But equally, if you'd prefer an occasional bit of peace and quiet away from the digital world filled with Facebook and Twitter and email, getting tapped on the wrist every time a notification arrives is probably not a good idea, so we'd suggest that the Apple Watch (or any smartwatch, for that matter), isn't going to be for you.
Apple Watch review: Apps
Apple's Apple Watch apps include Messages, Mail, Weather, Maps, Calendar, Passbook, Music, Photos and more. Apple doesn't intend for you to use the Apple Watch for web browsing, though, so Safari is notably absent.
Maps is among the most useful of Apple's apps, bringing turn-by-turn directions to your wrist. It's much more convenient than getting out your iPhone and by using the Taptic feedback to tell you whether to turn left or right, you won't need to look at a screen anywhere near as much, and can concentrate more on what's going on around you.
You can use the Apple Watch to answer and make phone calls thanks to the built-in microphone and speaker, but we doubt you'll want to, particularly if you're outside or in a public place where everyone will be able to hear both sides of the conversation. If you're somewhere quiet you might find that it works well, but the quality isn't great at all.
There's also the ability to reply to text messages using smart responses or dictation, which we found worked well but again, only if you're in a quiet place and only if you speak very clearly.
Third party developers have been busy creating apps for the Apple Watch, incorporating Glances and the 10 – 15 second idea into the design. Apps range from hotel apps that let you use your Apple Watch as a key to apps that help you find your car in the car park. There are even games designed for the Apple Watch, though we don't image we'll spend much time using our Apple Watch for gaming. Facebook, Twitter, Shazam, CityMapper, TripAdvisor and more have confirmed that they're creating Glances for the Apple Watch.
It's such third-party apps that'll make the difference between whether it's worth buying or not, and it'll differ between each and every individual. Before you decide to invest your £299 or more in the Apple Watch, it's important to think about what you plan on using it for. Do you want to use it to remotely control various internet-connected devices around your home, for example? If yes, you'll need to check whether there's an app available to let you do that to find out whether the Apple Watch is worth buying for you.
But as mentioned in the specs section, we found most third-party apps to be annoyingly slow and often buggy. We're sure they'll improve over time, but for the moment it can be particularly frustrating. So much for that 10-15 seconds at a time thing, Apple.
Right now, we don't think there's a killer app on the Apple Watch that would make us feel like it's worth the £299 or more it costs. We think that app will arrive eventually, but right now we're still waiting.
Apps are all downloaded by first installing them on your iPhone and syncing with your Apple Watch. Apps can be reorganised on your Apple Watch home screen using the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, too.
See also: Best Apple Watch apps
Apple Watch review: Fitness tracking
Apple has also come up with new Apple Watch specific apps for fitness tracking, something we've come to expect from smartwatches what with the rise in fitness and activity tracking wrist-bands from the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone.
The fitness tracking features are made possible thanks to the heart-rate sensor and accelerometer. As mentioned previously, GPS is also utilised but the Apple Watch uses the iPhone to gather that information – there's no GPS built-in.
The first of Apple's apps is Activity, which features three rings that represent Move, Stand and Exercise. Move shows you how many calories you've burned. Stand measures how often you get up off your bottom, and will prompt you to do so should you remain sitting for an hour without getting up. And Exercise measures activities that it considers to be as strenuous or more strenuous than a brisk walk. When the rings are full in the Activity app, you've met your target (which you can set with factors including calories, time or distance. Apple will use your sex, age, weight, height and general activity level to make target recommendations, but you can adjust them as you please) and you'll earn an achievement.
The Workout app takes things a bit further, tracking your workouts whether you're running, walking, cycling and more. It'll measure how far you travelled, how fast you moved and how long you were working out for. And for iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus owners, it'll also measure elevation thanks to the built-in barometer in Apple's latest smartphone. It'll keep all of this information in the companion app on your iPhone so you can track your progress over weeks and months.
The Apple Watch will monitor your heartrate throughout the day, even if you've not asked it to, which it does to help estimate how many calories you've burned and when you've been doing what it considers to be "excursive" but we're not convinced that it's completely accurate. We'll be carrying out further tests on the heartrate monitor soon and will update this review once we've determined just how accurate (or inaccurate as the case may be) the Apple Watch is.
Now read: Apple Watch vs Fitbit
Apple Watch features: Apple Pay
Additionally, the Apple Watch features an NFC chip that will allow you to use it with Apple Pay, Apple's secure mobile payment system. Unfortunately, though, Apple Pay still hasn't made its way to the UK so we might have to wait a while until we can use that functionality here.
When it does arrive, though, we imagine it'll be brilliantly handy not to have to dig around in a bag or pocket to get out our purse or wallet at the checkout in a shop. You'll be able to touch your wrist to an Apple Pay supported reader to pay in seconds.
Apple Watch features: Time
Of course, the Apple Watch can also tell you the time. There are lots of different (software-based) watch faces to choose from, some of which you can see below, and you can quickly and easily change it whenever you fancy. Our favourite is the modular face which best uses the screen to show the time, calendar appointments, the temperature, date and more: you can choose exactly which information you want to see from a decent list.
See also: How to use an Apple Watch
Apple Watch: Specs
- Requires iPhone
- Requires iPhone
We can't help but think that Apple has tried to do too much with this first generation Apple Watch. There are so many ways of interacting with it and so many different features and elements to get used to that the learning curve is surprisingly steep. It takes a lot of getting used to, and at times it feels counter-intuitive, something we're not use to with Apple devices.
That's why we'd struggle to recommend spending the £299 or more it'll cost you to buy this smartwatch. As is often the case, waiting for the second generation of the Apple Watch is likely to be a wise move, because Apple is going to learn a lot from this first generation smartwatch and from the customers and fans that are using it.