Thoughts on the Space Gray Apple Watch Sport Versus the Space Black Apple Watch

When I look at both models side by side it's hard to see the Sport as anything but quality hardware.
When I look at both models side by side it's hard to see the Sport as anything but quality hardware.

Preamble

A few days ago, the Watch whose absence I have lamented for weeks finally arrived on my doorstep. Unbeknownst to that highly engineered Space Black masterpiece, I had already decided to return it (without even opening it). The reason? My eBay encounter last weekend yielded a somewhat less impressive—though still quite exquisite—chunk of aluminum and glass: Apple Watch Sport in Space Gray. The Sport model was everything I had hoped an Apple Watch would be: a great fitness tracker (and motivator), as well as a handy gadget for gadget-y scenarios. For whatever reason, I decided to open the box from China anyways. After all, I had two weeks to play with it before returning it. What could it hurt?

It took about ten seconds for me to completely change my mind. In short, I am keeping the stainless model and re-selling the Sport model.

The Look

Space “Black”

It’s black. Just not that black. More like ‘super dark gray.’ Yes, the Space Black model is definitely blacker than the regular ol’ stainless version Apple sells for $100 less.[1] Now, since my recollection of the Space Black model in the Apple Retail Store was rusty, the only visuals I had were in the form of pictures shared by Rene Ritchie of iMore. The photographs he shared with his followers always showed the watch as black. The Space Black Watch is, in my opinion, somewhat less black than what most of his pictures portray.

Two different takes on black
Two different takes on black

Thinking ahead: if there were a color option in between Space Black and the regular stainless version Apple offers, that would be the ticket.[2] Imagine the Space Gray color of the Apple Watch Sport, but a polished version. That’s an offering I could get behind 100%. I’m happy with the Space Black as is, but I hope the next version comes with a lighter shade of black.

Sitting at my desk at work the other day, I glanced over to my left wrist and saw the light reflect off of the brushed black links. What a sight to behold.

How much longer until I have to get up and do work again?
How much longer until I have to get up and do work again?

This is the reason I can’t let go of the Space Black watch. I don’t care so much for the case color. The link bracelet is what makes the Space Black Watch a desirable package. Apple claims the link bracelet takes nine hours for a human to construct. I don’t doubt it. Have you ever seen a modern Porsche 911 up close? Say, a 997 model? Or perhaps a modern M-car from BMW (though less so)? The panel gaps on those automobiles are nothing to scoff at.[3]

The ‘panel gaps’ on the link bracelet are likewise very small. The individual links come together with clean butt joints, not the typical interlocking-style link connections on most metal bracelets. And thus, the overall esthetic is one smooth and clean surface, broken only because the band must curve around the wrist. Some have questioned Apple’s choice to leave the outer and inner surfaces (though not the edges) of the band brushed, and not glossy like the watch case itself. This was likely to minimize the amount of visible scratches after prolonged usage. Although I can’t say I disagree with their choice, it might have made more sense to just polish the whole band, so it would match the case perfectly. Not a deal-breaker.

The Feel

DLC

Speaking of Rene Ritchie: he was recently on an episode of The Talk Show with John Gruber. On that episode they discussed the feel of the diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating. They couldn’t quite bring themselves to admit it felt like plastic. I, however, would say that it does. That’s not an inherently bad thing, either. The coating is no doubt the strongest stuff Apple has ever used on any of their products, and I’m sure it will take quite a beating before breaking down. It doesn’t feel cheap or bad, it just doesn’t feel like metal.

Fit

I can also say that without a doubt, the Sport band is more comfortable than the link bracelet, at least at first. I phrased it this way because, after twenty seconds or so, whatever differences in feel between a metal link bracelet and a soft ‘rubber’ one disappear. After that short amount of time, wearing the link bracelet and the Watch feels the same as wearing the Watch Sport and its fluoroelastomer band. If you like the way link bracelets feel, this won’t be a noticeable departure.

Issues

Changing Straps

Switching between the link bracelet and the sport band couldn’t be more cumbersome. I’m not sure if it’s due to the DLC coating or what, but removing the link bracelet isn’t a trivial task. It’s almost like the link ends are too big for the slots they slide into. Note that insertion isn’t nearly as difficult as removal. That said, neither operation is as easy as with the Sport bands. This could be, as Greg Koenig said to John Gruber, due to the fact that some link bracelets were bound to have been manufactured ever so slightly on the bigger end of Apple’s spec. Maybe Gruber’s and my particular watches had bigger band attachments (or small case slide-in areas) than the average setup?

This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s noticeable. Even something this insignificant can be made significant when done twice daily. After all, I’m not sure how comfortable it would be using the link bracelet while at the gym. I haven’t tried, nor do I intend to try.[4] I remove the link bracelet when I’m ready to go to the gym, and after finishing my workout, I usually replace the link bracelet and put the sport band in the drawer.

Fingerprints

It’s not as bad as I imagine the regular Apple Watch would be. Still, the polished black surface does make me reach for a microfiber towel way more frequently than I did with Apple Watch Sport.[5] This isn’t a huge knock against the Space Black model, just something I noticed.

Final Thoughts

Today I packed up the Apple Watch Sport and prepared it for sale on eBay. Am I making the right decision? Hard to say. The Space Black isn’t the perfect Watch, but it’s the best one for me, right now at least.


  1. The Black Tax™

  2. I seem to recall that in last year’s September event, the Space Black watch was not nearly as black as it is now. Am I crazy?

  3. And, moreover, imagine just how much more the panel gaps are finessed on this 911 ‘model.’

  4. I have been out and about with the link bracelet while it was hot enough that my wrist started to sweat. The link bracelet did stay put during that experience, for what it’s worth.

  5. Yes, I am that guy who compulsively wipes his screens.