Owning the Apple Watch: Hardware

We’ve reached Part II of my five-part Using the Apple Watch series. Last time out I offered my perspective on the three basic tenants of the Apple Watch: timekeeping, activity tracking, and communicating. Here, I focus on something even more fundamental: the hardware itself.

In case you missed them:

Part III: Software

Part IV: Fitness

Part V: The Future

My Bulova next to my Apple Watch. I haven't had to charge my Bulova in a while, but it's keeping excellent time.

My Apple Watch next to my Bulova. I haven’t had to charge my Bulova in a while, but it’s keeping excellent time.

My Model

I opted for the 38 mm Space Grey Apple Watch Sport. It’s got a nice, clean finish that I really admire. I decided not to go for the larger 42 mm because, to me, it looked too much like a screen on my wrist rather than a watch. I had the same feeling about the silver Sport models; the design seemed too loud to me, even though for the past few years I’ve been wearing a silver watch with a black face. I also feel like the space grey may dress up a little bit nicer, but I may end up being proven wrong on that later once I get some other bands. I decided to go with the Sport model primarily because it costs less; I’d rather not pay a crazy amount for a Generation 1 product. The Sport models all come with the sport band, and I don’t really have any complaints about it. It’s a little weird to put on the first time, but it’s pretty comfortable. Grime, dirt, liquids, or anything else don’t bother it at all. The strangest part of the adjustment process to me is how light the Apple Watch is. My Bulova is pretty heavy, and it has been odd wearing a watch that lacks heft and doesn’t slide around my wrist like my Bulova does. The Apple Watch is smaller than it seems it would be on the website, especially the 38mm. Design-wise, the device itself is a pleasant boxy, yet soft and round shape that feels good on the wrist.

I think it fits my wrist perfectly, but I'm also used to having a small watch.

I think it fits my wrist perfectly, but I’m also used to having a small watch.

Interface Buttons

Here you get a nice view of the side buttons.

Here you get a nice view of the digital crown and the side button.

The Apple Watch has two physical buttons: the digital crown and the side button. The digital crown is what is primarily used to interface with the watch. It is used primarily to go to the home screen and pull up Siri with a long press. Like the whole enclosure, the digital crown is smaller than one would think, but it works well. Twisting the crown is used for scrolling and zooming. Scrolling can be done with a finger on the touch screen, but I’ve found that I use the crown all of the time to scroll—you simply can’t see anything on the screen if you use your finger. The crown spins nicely, and has a good bit of resistance to it. The side button is used for three purposes. A single press brings up the friend circle, while a double press brings up Apple Pay. A long press brings up the options to lock, enter Power Reserve (a mode that limits the watch to only display the time {only digitally, unfortunately}), or turn the device off.

I have very mixed feelings about the side button. As I mentioned in my previous article, I feel as though having an entire button solely devoted to contacting 12 of my most-used contacts is, frankly, slightly ridiculous, especially on a device with such limited screen real estate for on-screen controls. I do appreciate having the quick access to ApplePay, and that behavior makes sense, especially as ApplePay continues to roll out across the country. Ideally, the Apple Pay and Friend Circle behaviors would be the behavior only on the watch face and the home screen. I think certain applications would really benefit from having a hardware button. I’m never going to be running for time and want to call my mom on my watch. Having to pause mid-run is infinitely more likely. This is the same as the volume up shutter button function on iOS devices. If you didn’t know, you can use the volume buttons as a shutter button in the camera apps on iOS. Needing a stable way to take a photo is much more likely than needing to turn up the volume while needing to take a picture. I know that opening the side button to other uses on the Watch is opening a can of worms, but I think many watch users would happily make that trade of function and complexity at the expense of consistency. If not in watchOS 2, I hope third-party developers get access to the button via watchOS 3.

Alerts

There are two key elements of the watch not available to the naked eye: Force Touch and the Taptic Engine. Force Touch is another way to interacts with applications. Similar to the Force Touch trackpads on the recently-updated MacBooks, the Apple Watch’s display is now pressure sensitive, and can determine when extra force is exerted on the screen. This allows for additional options to appear, such as a “Clear All” button on the notification screen. It feels weird to tap, and then press harder into the screen, but it certainly works. The Taptic Engine is, in my opinion, the ‘killer feature’ of the Apple Watch. Whenever you receive a notification, the watch just taps you. You can’t hear it. No one else will know but you. And sure enough, as you raise your wrist after that tap, there’s the new notification, waiting for you to act on it. It’s awesome. Because of this, I see no reason not to keep the Watch on mute at all times.

The Charger and the Battery

This is one of the major sticking points of the watch. Let’s get this out of the way early: You’re going to have to charge this every night maybe, and every two nights definitely. For me, it’s certainly nightly. I’d say that, on average, I have between 10% and 25% battery left over (wearing it from about 0630–0000 every day). There have been a couple of times where it has dipped below 10%, but these were very long days. A big part of the battery drain is working out. As you might imagine, using the heart rate monitor on the back takes some juice, so the more you workout with it, the faster it will drain. However, if you turn it off altogether and don’t really use it for fitness tracking, I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted for two days. Note that all of these numbers are for the smaller one, which has a smaller battery capacity than the 42mm. Battery life isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either.

The Watch is charged via a magnetic inductive charger, bringing to mind memories of the MagSafe charger on MacBooks. The cord is a solid 2 meters long it seems, so you won’t have any issues reaching the bedside table with it. However, the watch just begs for a stand, and I’ll soon be investing in the TwelveSouth HiRise for Apple Watch. I don’t want to get my first scratch on this thing by haphazardly knocking the thing off of my desk at 0530 in the morning.

Watch + Water = ?

The Apple Watch and water get along great, pretty much. I wear it in the shower every day (gotta get credit for that standing goal!) and have had zero issues with it. Hand washing? The watch shrugs it off. Attacked with a hose? The watch sneezes in its general direction. Heck, even Siri and dictation work in the shower. I’ve sent text messages in the shower, and yes, it is the future. The main caveat? Capacitive touchscreens don’t work in water. This gets us back to the “it would be great to use the side button for something other than seeing tiny pictures of my close friends and family” discussion, but there’s nothing that can be done with that at this point. For a far more in-depth look at the Apple Watch and water, check out these super cool articles. Both do an excellent job at putting the Apple Watch through its paces (or laps, as it were), and it does better than you think it will:

Durability

The Apple Watch Sport can really take a beating. You can find any number of torture tests on the internet, but none of those are really realistic for everyday use. Two weeks in and my watch looks spotless; no scratches on the glass or on the aluminum body. I’ve heard that the stainless steel scratches pretty easily, but that isn’t really a surprise to me. Scratches on stainless steel is one of those ‘character-building’ type things, like wrinkles in leather. However, if the thought of scratches scare you, there are already cases out for the watch, and of course stainless steel can be buffed.. I certainly will not be getting a case, though I may get a screen protector before I report on board my ship next year. Please don’t be that person with a case on their watch.

Bands

Just press the button, and the band slides right out. Piece of cake.

Just press the button, and the band slides right out. Piece of cake.

One of the best things about the Apple Watch is how easy it is to take on and off bands. I only have one right now, but I am certainly looking to get more later on. Third Party companies (and China) have already started making them, so finding knockoffs of Apple ones or crazy new designs is only a click away. The main issue that I have with the bands is that most of the ones for the 38mm are too small for my wrist. I use the Large sport band, and I’m right between the 4/7 and 5/7 holes for it. Apparently, that’s slightly too big for the vast majority of Apple’s other bands for the 38 mm. Based on Apple’s sizing chart, my wrist won’t fit in the two bands that I want the most: the Milanese Loop and the Modern Buckle. I really, really hope that Apple eventually makes bigger bands for these, but I won’t be holding my breath. (I have to struggle to slip the Milanese loop over my hand, but it is possible. I’m thinking about getting it anyway.) I’m hoping that there will be some high-quality third-party alternatives, but I’m seeing too many cheap-looking knockoffs on Amazon right now to feel comfortable purchasing one. Still, the modular nature of the band clasp and the ability to quickly switch bands is fantastic, and I look forward to getting nicer ones down the road to dress up the look of the watch a bit.

A Note about Apple Care

Get it. Don’t even think about it, just factor it into the cost of the watch upon purchase. Why? Because if you break the screen without AppleCare, the replacement cost for the display panel is around $280 for the Sport, and $315 for the standard model. Basically, the cost of the thing. With Apple Care? A much-easier-to-swallow $59. Just get AppleCare. Even the employees at the Apple Store were surprised at the cost of the repair fee, and overwhelmingly recommended it.

Overall

The Apple Watch is not cheap, and it is not cheaply constructed. I can’t speak to Apple’s other bands, but the fluoroelastomer Sport Band feels nice to the touch and is both well designed and durable. Both buttons click cleanly and satisfactorily, and the digital crown has the perfect level of spin. The screen is vibrant and easy to read, and responds to every touch and flick of the finger. The device is light, yet sturdy, and smooth to the touch. I can unequivocally call the Apple Watch a fashion and engineering success.

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3 thoughts on “Owning the Apple Watch: Hardware

  1. Pingback: Owning the Apple Watch: The Basics | The Office of The Doctor

  2. Pingback: Owning the Apple Watch: Software | The Office of The Doctor

  3. Pingback: Owning the Apple Watch: Fitness | The Office of The Doctor

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