PROS / The Apple Watch's scratch-resistant display has a higher resolution than any other smartwatch.
CONS / This smartwatch is relatively slow, and some applications take a long time to load.
VERDICT / The Apple Watch Series 1 is incredibly well-designed and stylish, but it's not without its flaws. Other smartwatches have better battery life than this smartwatch.
Editor's Note: On September 7, 2016, Apple announced that it was renaming the Apple Watch Sport to "Apple Watch Series 1." Apple has replaced the Sport's S1 processor with a brand new, faster S2 chip. The following review has been adjusted to reflected the change.
Apple is known for challenging the status quo. The Cupertino-based company forever revolutionized the personal computing, music, mobile phone and tablet industries. Now, Apple has entered the smartwatch category with its introduction of the Apple Watch. But is it worth your time and money?
First things first, all variations of the Apple Watch only work with the iPhone 5 and up. If you are an Android or Windows Phone user, you'll need to switch to iOS to use an Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch Series 1 is one of the best smartwatches available. It's powerful, well-designed and effective, which is why it earns our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award.
The Apple Watch is much more stylish than other smartwatches and comes in two case sizes: 38 mm and 42 mm (1.5 and 1.7 inches, respectively.) You can choose from silver, space gray, gold and rose-gold variants. Weighing just under 2.5 ounces, the Apple Watch is solid, but not heavy, and it feels nicer than any other smartwatch. The Apple Watch is beautiful, but despite Apple’s obvious attempt to transform it into a luxury item, it’s really just a one-inch screen attached to a fancy strap.
We tested the smaller Watch Series 1 model with a white synthetic rubber watchband. The included strap for the Apple Watch is one of the most comfortable bands. It didn't get dirty after wearing it for two months. Apple sells five additional watchbands, including some made of leather and stainless steel. They don’t run cheap, either. You can buy three ASUS ZenWatch 2 smartwatches for the same price as one Apple Watch link bracelet.
The Apple Watch's screen is elegant, polished and made of scratch-resistant Ion-X glass. The AMOLED display is higher in resolution than other smartwatches and handles deep blacks and bright colors nicely. Apple designed the user interface with dark backgrounds, which makes it easier to read in the sunlight. It also features a built-in ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the brightness.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a setting for an Always-On display mode, so the watch face is dark when it's not in use. If you lift your wrist, the display is supposed to illuminate, but this doesn't always work, especially if you are lounging on the couch or are in bed.
As for the watch case, it's made of a lightweight anodized aluminum that comes in silver or space gray. A stainless-steel variation of the Apple Watch is available for over $549. We like that Apple gives you the option to rotate the case to wear it on your right wrist if you are left-handed.
On the side of the watch, there is a digital crown you can use to scroll through messages or twist to zoom in on a map or photo. The crown also acts as a home button. Push it and it takes you to a grid where you find all your apps. Tap it again and it takes you back to your watch screen. If you hold it down, it activates Siri. Sounds confusing, right? It is.
The Apple Watch screen also doubles as a button. Apple has developed an input method called force touch, which triggers a menu when you press firmly on the touchscreen.
Directly underneath the digital crown is a button that brings up your contacts, and it's here where you can send text messages, place calls, or use Apple's new digital touch feature to send your fellow Apple Watch-owning friends a drawing, emoji, or even your heartbeat. This side button, though, reminded us of iPhone’s home button, which led to lots of accidental presses.
Using the Apple Watch isn't as fluid or intuitive as the iPhone. Between the scrolls, swipes, presses and lack of pinch-to-zoom functionality, the Apple Watch definitely takes some getting used to.
The Apple Watch is powerful, but it's not without its limitations.
It's outfitted with the Apple S2 processor, but Apple hasn’t disclosed how fast the processor is. Like other smartwatches, it is equipped with 512MB of RAM.
We wished the original Apple Watch Sport were faster since we were often greeted with a spinning wheel while data was being pushed to the watch. This happened often, especially when using anything that needs your location. The Apple Watch Series 1's faster processor doesn't experience as much lag as the original Sport model.
The Glances screen does just that, it gives you a glance of your favorite apps – you can check your heart rate, weather, traffic, Twitter and more. However, it doesn’t update in the background, so you have to wait for each card to refresh every time you bring up the Glances panel.
This smartwatch has Bluetooth 4.0 and supports Wi-Fi. It also has 8GB of storage, twice the space of Android Wear smartwatches. Apple says you can only store 2GB of music and 75MB of photos, which translates to roughly 200 songs and 100 photos. You can pair Bluetooth headphones or a speaker to the Apple Watch to play your stored tunes or use your iPhone’s speaker.
Battery life can make or break a smartwatch. Apple claims the watch battery lasts 18 hours. We were able to get a full day of use during testing, but depending on how often you fiddle with the watch, its life varies. Sometimes the iPhone 5S we were using died before the watch did. The smaller Apple Watch is fitted with a 205-mAh battery. The larger comes equipped with a 246-mAh battery. To conserve precious battery life, Apple offers a power-reserve mode that disables notifications and activity tracking. When this setting is enabled, the Apple Watch only displays the time.
It takes 2.5 hours to fully charge the Apple Watch. The included charging cable uses magnets to automatically snap into place on the back of the watch. It's so easy to attach you can even do it in the dark without worrying about misalignment. The cable is also long enough to set on your nightstand.
We wish the Apple Watch’s MagSafe charger was more like the Moto 360’s charging dock though. With the 360's dock, you rest your watch on it sideways and as it's charging, it displays the time and battery percentage. The Apple Watch displays the time when charging, but despite being more expensive than the Moto 360, the watch doesn't come with a charging dock – only a USB cable and AC adapter.
The average person checks their smartphone 150 times a day. While the Apple Watch has enough built-in features so you can use your phone less, don't expect it to solve your distraction problem. We don't recommend turning on all the notifications; you should filter out the unnecessary ones.
It's cool and convenient that you can take calls and respond to messages using Apple Watch's built-in microphone. We found that Google Now on Android Wear smartwatches was more accurate than Siri at answering our queries. For phone calls on the Apple Watch, the speaker is very faint and, frankly, talking to your watch still looks and feels strange, so it's doubtful you'll use the feature frequently. For texting, the microphone sometimes struggles to accurately transcribe precisely what you are saying. After repeating ourselves three times, we ended up taking out our iPhone and using the virtual keyboard since the Apple Watch lacks one.
There are currently more than 10,000 apps available in the App Store. Apple's app ecosystem is definitely more expansive than any other smartwatch, and as time goes on, this number will surely grow. Our favorite Apple Watch apps are Activity and Workout, which are both used for fitness tracking.
The Activity App helps measure steps, track burned calories and reminds you when you've been sitting too long. The Watch shows your progress throughout the day, plus it monitors your movement and checks your pulse every 10 minutes with the built-in heart rate sensor, accelerometer and gyroscope. During our tests, we learned that if you have wrist tattoos, the heart rate sensor can't calculate your heart rate.
The Workout app has several presets for various cardio workouts, including walking, running, cycling, rowing and even using a stair stepper. We would have liked other presets for playing sports, lifting weights or doing yoga, for example. We also wish that the Apple Watch had a built-in GPS radio like Sony’s SmartWatch 3, which accurately maps runs without the need to carry your smartphone.
If you work up a sweat when exercising, don't fret; the Apple Watch is IPX7 water resistant, but you can't shower or swim with it. We wore the watch while washing dishes and in the rain, and it ran just fine.
Although the Apple Watch Series 1 lacks GPS, it has NFC (near field communication), a rarity among smartwatches. This chip is what Apple Watch uses to make mobile payments using Apple Pay. Some other cool futuristic applications include accessing your boarding passes using Apple's Passbook, controlling your Apple TV or using your watch as a key card at some hotels. It'll take some time for additional features like these to catch on, but they are really cool and make us excited for the future.
Another feature we are intrigued by is Apple Watch's taptic engine. This feature alerts you to various notifications using different haptic vibrations. A text message feels different than a phone call or alarm. After using the smartwatch for a month, we even began to feel phantom taptic responses that never happened, sort of like when you imagine your smartphone is vibrating in your pocket.
Help & Support
Apple is known for its phenomenal support. The Apple Watch Sport comes with one year of AppleCare, which includes phone, email, live chat and in-store support.
So is the Apple Watch worth your time? Well, as much as we hate to say it, it really depends. For now, the Apple Watch is for early adopters that enjoy exploring the latest and greatest technology. If you have an iPhone, always want to be connected, deal with lots of notifications, and want a personal accessory that helps you keep in touch with friends and loved ones, consider going with an Apple Watch.
Even though it's the lowest-grade model, the Apple Watch Series 1 is still one of the most expensive smartwatches. It doesn't have the best battery life, is relatively slow and has a steep learning curve.
Despite these few flaws, this watch is the best smartwatch available. It's incredibly well-designed, comfortable and helps you obsess less over your phone.