Apple takes on the watch

  • Apple
  • Wednesday, 13 Jan 2016

Elegant: say what you will about it being too expensive, but the stainless steel Apple Watch really looks very nice in real life

The Apple Watch is finally in Malaysia, almost a year after it was launched in the United States.

Before writing this article I debated whether I should be contributing to the already sizable number of Apple Watch reviews out there. However, having had one for awhile now, I decided to do a review based on my long term usage of it.

Since this is my personal watch, I opted for the 38mm stainless steel Apple Watch with a leather strap.

Dial it in: Apart from touch, the only physical controls on the Apple Watch is a multifunction push button (for turning it on and off or to launch your favourite contacts) and the digital crown for scroling and selecting.
Apart from the touchscreen, the Apple Watch comes with a single button and the so-called digital crown.

If the variety of shapes and straps wasn’t enough, the Apple Watch also comes in a number of different boxes depending on the Apple Watch you buy – the Sport edition comes in a simple white elongated cardboard box, for example.

The stainless steel version has a nicer presentation, as it comes in a white plastic box with felt lining on the inside.

The Apple Watch that is sold in Malaysia is identical to the one released in Singapore and Hong Kong – besides the standard magnetic charging cable, the three-pin charger for these regions has an all-new collapsible design different from the one that comes with the iPhone.

Instead of a charger with fixed pins, the new one allows you to fold down the pins flat in the body of the charger when not in use.

The charging cable that comes with the Apple Watch is also extra long. At 2m long, it’s much longer than the standard Lightning cable that comes with the iPhone.

Smaller than it looks
In terms of size, the 38mm Apple Watch is small – you may have seen photos of both the 38mm and 42mm Apple Watch online, but I can tell you that none of those photos (nor mine for that matter) actually convey how much smaller the 38mm model actually is in real life.

That’s not to say that it’s TOO small. In fact, with my infamously tiny wrists, the 38mm model actually fits perfectly and looks very elegant.

That’s another thing the photos won’t convey – despite the rectangular design, the Apple Watch actually looks very nice and, dare I say, more elegant than any other smartwatch on the market.

In fact, the design brings to mind the Reverso from Jaeger LeCoultre, which is one my favourite rectangular watches of all time.

Quick switch: The most brilliant thing about the Apple Watch is how easy it is to remove and attach different straps — TAN KIT HOONG/The Star
The most brilliant thing about the Apple Watch is how easy it is to remove and attach the straps.

One other notable feature is that Apple’s interchangeable strap system for the Apple Watch is actually brilliant – it’s incredibly easy to remove and change the straps.

I have two sets of straps – in addition to the leather one that came with my watch, I also got the soft elastomer model which I use for exercising.

Set me up
Setting up the Apple Watch is actually very easy. Once you turn it on, you’ll be presented with a twisting animated pattern on the watch.

If you have an iPhone 5 or newer, with iOS 8.3 and up, you just have to launch the pre-installed Apple Watch app and point the camera at the pattern and the pairing will happen automatically.

I’ve not seen many reviews mentioning it, but you can actually customise the Apple Watch display for your right or left hand.

In fact, if you prefer the buttons on the left side, you can also rotate the display around to suit that as well.

Watch faces
There are a variety of watch faces preinstalled on the Apple Watch, many of which allows for some customisation.

Even the straps can be installed in reverse – the part meant for the top of the watch can be installed in the bottom and vice versa.

The current firmware update for the Apple Watch is watchOS 2.1. This update allows the Apple Watch to install third-party apps natively.

These third-party apps are also allowed access to many of the watch's sensors, like the heart rate monitor and vibration, which means you don't always need to have your iPhone with you to run the app.

This is especially useful for exercise apps like Runtastic which will work even when you don't have your watch, though of course, while you will get heart rate monitoring you won't be able to track your progress using GPS, which is still only possible if you have the iPhone with you.

You can also passcode protect the Apple Watch. As it's a watch you don’t want to constantly enter a passcode every time you want to do something and Apple’s solution is quite novel.

For one thing, the watch only asks you for a passcode once when you put it on – as long as it’s on your wrist it won’t ask you for the passcode again.

If you find tapping a passcode on the tiny watch screen a hassle, you can actually enable a setting in the Watch app so that you can unlock the watch when you unlock the iPhone.

Setting it this way is by far the best way to ensure at least some security on the Apple Watch without sacrificing convenience.

Watch me
So now that I've had it for about six months, how is it as a smartwatch?

Now I know there are a lot of polarizing views on whether the Apple Watch is actually a useful device to have or even whether the interface is too complicated.

Well I have to say that having lived with the Apple Watch every day for months now, I only have pleasant things to say about it.

Sure, it’s definitely not an essential item like your smartphone, but then even a regular analogue mechanical watch can’t be considered an essential item for most consumers today since we can simply glance at our phones to tell the time or to time something.

Once you actually do wear it on a daily basis, however, you’ll start to appreciate how convenient it is to check your notifications and even to answer calls on the Apple Watch.

Why not just pull the phone out of my pocket to do these things? Well, sometimes, it’s not convenient to answer messages or calls. For example, when I’m washing the dishes, I don’t want to take out my phone with my wet hands just to answer a call or check a message.

Monitor your workouts: The heart rate monitor on the Apple Watch operates continuously when you are running a workout app, and sporadically when you are not
The heart rate monitor on the back of the Apple Watch runs continuously when you are using a workout app, and sporadically when you are not.

Similarly, when I’m going for my daily jog, I have my iPhone encased in a waterproof pouch and strapped to my arm so it's not easy to access it.

On the water-resistant Apple Watch however, it’s a lot easier and less risky to answer calls and dictate messages when I’m engaged in these activities.

The watch also supports Apple Pay, but since Apple Pay isn’t yet supported in Malaysia, we can’t say how this will function in the Apple Watch.

As for the apps, there are a few that I've installed on the Apple Watch which I find quite useful such as Microsoft Outlook, Shazam, Runtastic Pro, XE Currency, BBC News and a calculator app called Cruncher.

Outlook is actually better than the Apple Mail app on the watch because it not only gives you a focused Inbox, but also allows you to see the entire HTML page if you want to, while Apple Mail strips all the HTML out and presents you with plain text.

Cruncher is a notable calculator app as it minimises the number of buttons by grouping together numbers and functions so you only get six buttons onscreen at any one time, making it easier to tap on the tiny screen.

Over time, I've found the watch to be quite useful in daily life, especially when you want to set yourself a quick reminder or alarm – you just bring the watch up, then tell Siri to remind you or set an alarm.

Calling, messaging, running
So this brings me to the inevitable question – what is the experience like when calling someone or dictating messages on the Apple Watch?

You’d be surprised, but both work really well, especially since installing watchOS 2.1.

While the maximum volume level could be higher, voice calls on the Apple Watch are loud enough that you can always hear clearly what the other person is saying, unless you’re in a very noisy environment (in which case you should just answer with the iPhone instead).

What really surprised me was how accurate the voice dictation (speech-to-text) feature is – I’ve tried it extensively over the course of two weeks and I have to say that the Apple Watch gets it right about 90% of the time, even for words that are quite uncommon.

Even if the watch gets it wrong, you can opt to send the message as an audio message instead of text so it really is quite convenient.

By the same token, using Siri is also very convenient on the Apple Watch. It's a lot more convenient to just bring up the watch and say, “Hey Siri, set an alarm for 3pm” or “Hey Siri, remind me that I parked in Basement 3 at 5pm” than to do it on the iPhone.

Using Siri on the Apple Watch is the same as using it on the iPhone, EXCEPT that Siri doesn’t talk to you – you just get text responses from Siri.

Talking about notifications in general, you really need to aggressively manage notifications that are allowed to display on the Apple Watch. By default, all notifications that appear on the iPhone are set to appear on the Apple Watch as well.

However, I’ve found that you should turn off as many as you can or risk getting inundated by notifications every few seconds.

Instead, I opted to turn on notifications only for SMS, iMessage, Whatsapp, Line, tweets, Google Maps and a few others.

Even notifications from my email are turned off, since I tend to get a lot of email messages and it’s actually more convenient to check those on my iPhone instead.

Fitness tracking on the Apple Watch is pretty good – while it can work independently of the iPhone if you go for a run, it’s still better to carry the iPhone with you if you want to get more accurate GPS tracking or answer messages, since these features rely on the watch’s connection to the iPhone.

The watch itself has two apps built in for fitness tracking – the Activity app which shows you an overview of your activity for the day, and the Workout app, which is where you can track specific exercise activities.

The Activity app on the Apple Watch shows your current calorie burn in red, your more strenuous activities in green and your less strenuous activities in blue.

The Workout app has quite a good list of indoor and outdoor exercises which it can track, and on the whole it works well and displays very clear and relevant information when you are working out.

The heart rate monitor on the Apple Watch actually works at irregular intervals throughout the day – apparently after watchOS 1.01, the watch detects when you aren’t moving that much and measures your resting heart rate.

When you start one of the exercises in the Workout app, however, the watch turns on the heart rate monitor continuously so that it can measure your heart rate accurately for the entire duration of your workout.

By the way, if you are interested in listening to music while working out, Apple gives you 1GB to store music on the watch and use Bluetooth earphones to listen to music so you can put your phone in the locker.

Battery life
So how’s battery life? Well, Apple says that you’ll get “all day battery life” on the Watch.

On the first day, however, the battery only lasted me from 10am till about 9pm before I was forced to go into Power Reserve mode, a special low-power mode that turns off everything except the time.

Now this may be because I was playing around with it a lot or perhaps because the battery needed a few charges to reach its full capacity.

Whatever the case, though, I got much better battery life on subsequent days, with the watch lasting well past midnight with about 12% of battery life left, even on heavy-use days when I used the Workout tracking feature which has the heart rate monitor on continuously for the duration of the workout.

This means that from the moment I take it off the charger at 10am, I can use the Apple Watch from morning till 5pm (messages, answering calls, checking my calendar and playing a game) and then turn on the exercise tracker for one hour and still have battery left when I charge at 1am, all without having to resort to Power Reserve mode.

And this is from my 38mm model, which has a smaller battery than the 42mm Apple Watch.

The final word
Whether the Apple Watch meets your expectations or not really depends on what you expected, actually.

If you were thinking of a device that will change your life and offer some features that will knock your socks off, you’ll likely be disappointed.

However, if you want a nice, elegant-looking timepiece which also happens to be able to receive notifications and track your fitness, then you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

As for the price, even the cheapest aluminum Apple Watch Sport isn’t particularly cheap if you compare it to other smartwatches on the market.

You do get what you pay for, however – I have to say that the stainless steel and sapphire crystal Apple Watch that I have looks more elegant than any other smartwatch out there.

The watch really met my expectations in terms of functionality and exceeded it in terms of looks.

Pros: Nice design; nice fitness tracking apps; dictation works very well

Cons: Expensive.

Apple Watch 38mm

Apple S1 system-on-chip
1.32in (272 x 340 pixels) OLED force touch display
Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi 802.11b/g/n
Accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate sensor, light sensor, compass, Apple Pay NFC
38.6 x 33.3 x 10.5mm
4/5 stars

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