I’ve been skeptical about wearables for some time as I figured that they were some sort of fad. But seeing as everything from fitness trackers to more sophisticated devices are popping up on people’s wrists, it made me start to take a closer look at them in general. I soon zeroed in on the Apple Watch as I have an iPhone 7 Plus and the two are made to work together. So, a trip to the Apple Store and 45 minutes of consultation led to this:
This is the Apple Watch Series 2 in space grey and with the sport band. You get two choices in size so that it fits your wrist perfectly. Mine is the 42mm model, but you can also get a smaller 38mm case as well. You can customize the color and the bands to get the look that you want. In my case, I wanted something plain and ordinary as I wanted it to fly under the radar a bit. It doesn’t feel heavy and I barely notice it on my wrist. It also looks classy regardless of whether I am in a suit or something more casual. One thing to note is the screen does NOT attract fingerprints which helps with the classy look, and is very bright and visible in all lighting conditions. It also has haptic feedback which is very well done. For example, when an alarm goes off it feels like an old school ringing alarm clock. Or if you are using maps and you’re going to make a turn, it mimics the clicking of a turn signal in a car. I found that very useful in the car as it was an extra cue to ensure that I stayed on course. The watch faces have some degree of customization and you can load some apps from your iPhone for use on your Apple Watch. More on that in a second.
Now if you do get an Apple Watch, the Series 2 is the one to get as it has these features that the original Apple Watch doesn’t have:
- A water-resistant design that includes a “wet mode” which locks the display and disables touch functionality when activated. It also has functionality that uses sound to ensure that the watch is water free after a swim.
- A GPS chip
- A swim tracker
- A much faster processor
All of this means that it should be able to be used without your iPhone to a limited degree. For example, if you want to go on a run and track your route. I should note that the watch does have WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) built in, but it is limited to WiFi networks that the iPhone knows about and aren’t highly secure such as ones that require certificate authentication. That adds to the limited independence that the Apple Watch Series 2 has. I say that, because most apps on the Apple Watch still a connection to your iPhone to work.
The fitness aspects are one thing that really caught my attention. For example I now use the Activity app to ensure that I move around to burn calories, exercise for at least 30 minutes, and stand and move for at least 1 minute an hour over a 12 hour period. Realistically though, I only accomplish the first and third goals most of the time. The Breathe app is something else that I use daily. In short, it makes you spend a minute to focus on relaxing by guiding you through meditative breathing exercises using visual and haptic cues. It also tracks your heart rate while doing it as well. It’s a great way to give yourself permission to take a minute for yourself. Both of these features I have to admit are making me marginally more active. At least for now as I wonder if the novelty will wear off after a while. I’ve extended the fitness functions of the Apple Watch by using Runtastic Pro and Strava. When I tested the former when nordic skiing, I found the functionality to be flaky as I was able to start recording my ski on the watch, but the app on the watch either stopped or crashed. But the entire 8km route was recorded on my phone. The downside was that I lost heart rate information about 4km in when it presumably crashed. The results were better with Strava as I was able to start a bike ride record it with hear rate info on the watch, and then upload it to my iPhone with no issues. That was very impressive.
Apps on the Apple Watch are kind of hit and miss. The Starbucks app for example allows you to see your star balance and pay for coffee using your Apple Watch. The Domino’s pizza app doesn’t really do much other than allow you to track a pizza that you’ve ordered to see when it will be delivered. Skype does allow you to respond to instant messages and answer a call from your Apple Watch. The built in Messages app uses a combo of pre-canned responses along with the ability to allow you to scribble a response letter by letter, which for anything above two words is too much work in my humble opinion. Finally, the CBC News app for Apple Watch allows you to see top stories. But to read the details, you need to go to your iPhone. Ditto for the CNN and BBC News Apple Watch Apps. As you can see, the app situation largely depends on the apps that you use. However, The Apple Watch Series 2 also comes with Apple Pay which means that you don’t have to whip out your iPhone to pay for something. Though, I will warn you that every time you use your Apple Watch to pay for something, you’ll get a thousand questions as it will floor people that you can actually pay for stuff on your watch. Ditto for using something in Apple Wallet. There is Siri support on the Apple Watch, though you don’t get to hear her voice and you need to be in range of your iPhone to make it work. Oh yeah, answering the phone with the Apple Watch and using it to talk to people is going to make you look like Dick Tracy and attract some quizzical stares. Having said that, an unexpected benefit to having an Apple Watch is that when notifications appear (which are the same ones that show up on your iPhone), you can discreetly look at them on the watch rather than whip out your phone which attracts way more attention. Ditto for e-mails on your VIP list. That’s handy when you don’t want to attract too much attention, but still see if you need to respond to something.
Battery life is impressive. Daily usage left me with about 75% charge remaining at the end of the day. Meaning I could go at least three days between charges. If I did something athletic like running Strava or Runtastic Pro, I’d drop to about 60% to 65% of a charge remaining which is still impressive. To be honest, I was not expecting battery life to be this good.
So, what’s the downside to the Apple Watch? There are several. I’ve covered the app situation which limits how independent the watch can be. On top of that, only iPhone users need apply to get an Apple Watch. Seeing as even Android Wear devices have token support for the iPhone, the fact that the Apple Watch only works on iOS may be seen as a negative. The last downside is price. My Series 2 Apple Watch cost me $529 CDN which is not cheap. And like a luxury car, the price can escalate very quickly depending on what band you want or what color you want. If that price tag scares you, the original Apple Watch which is now called the Series 1 is still available at a much lower price point as you lose GPS and waterproofing among other items. So if you’re into sports, that’s likely not an option. But if you simply want a wearable, and it must be from Apple, you have a choice.
The bottom line is this. The Apple Watch Series 2 is the Apple Watch that you should get if you want a wearable that works well with your iPhone. But keep in mind that the Apple Watch is still evolving as a platform. Thus the value beyond impressing a few people is going to be one of those “your mileage may vary” things that may get better in the future, but not offer you what you might be looking for right now. For me, I’ve found a few fitness and lifestyle related items that makes it a worthy purchase for me. But I suspect that you’ll have to consider what your use case is before you put down your credit card for one.