I did everything I was supposed to do.
On the night of April 9th, I stayed up late like a big boy and placed my order for the Space Black Apple Watch. Despite the higher price tag, I was convinced this was the watch for me. It had that Darth Vader look, and as I mentioned previously, black is usually the better choice. I ordered the watch from the Apple Store app on my iPhone, which has traditionally been the most surefire way to ensure that I always had Apple’s latest and greatest piece of glass on launch day.
And yet, close to two months later, I still don’t have that Watch. I do, however, have a different one. Like all good gear acquisitions that have taken place over the past 11 years, it happened on eBay.
Early Saturday morning I was browsing eBay for sorta-cheapish Watch deals. The scalpers were (are) out in force, and most of the Space Gray models carried price tags with a near 50% markup (some even rising to the lofty price of $800). As a devout Apple user, even I knew that was too much. For kicks, I decided to sort the listings by distance. Aha! One listing looked promising: less than 5 minutes away from where I lived.
I made an offer, and going against every eBay policy ever, decided on a shady bank parking lot deal that afternoon. When we met face to face, the seller was courteous enough to suggest I open the box and verify its authenticity. He hadn’t even opened the shipping box from Apple. It was indeed legitimate. I spent about fifteen minutes in the parking lot inspecting my prize. Success.I have had the watch for about a day and half. While that’s not a whole lot of time to fully experience everything it has to offer, it is a sufficient amount of time for first impressions.
This box was heavy. For all the poo-pooing I saw on Twitter regarding the disparity in packaging between the Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch collections, I was pleasantly surprised with how substantial the thing felt. The Tweetosphere wasn’t wrong about one thing though: there are about 14 layers of plastic/paper/plastic between that precious piece of glass and the environment. Ultimately, the packaging shouldn’t matter. But, less anyone think Apple has cut corners with packing on the Apple Watch Sport collection, I thought it was important to share.
I spent some time with the Watches in April, but no amount of Apple Retail Store employee fumbling with my wrist is a replacement for actually wearing it for a while. The Space Gray Watch is very, very sleek. At my try-on session, I think I was so enamored by the Watch collection to give due attention to its ‘lesser’ siblings.
The strangest bit at play here is Apple’s seemingly inconsistent use of the “Space Gray” moniker. Looking at Rene Ritchie’s Instagram photo above, it should be apparent that the Space Gray on the Apple Watch is much grayer than Apple’s other available Space Gray offerings (here, the iPhone 6 Plus, the iPad Air 2, and the new MacBook). Don’t get me wrong—I have no complaints about the Watch’s darker hue. In fact, I wish all of Apple’s Space Gray aluminum looked this shade.
Color inconsistencies notwithstanding, everything about the watch is what I expected. Fit and finish, even for a version 1.0 product such as this, is excellent. Most impressive is the fluoroelastomer band fastener. I initially struggled to don the dang thing, but after I followed Apple’s ‘How to put this on’ for dummies guide (included in the packaging), it was effortless.
The Watch is just as enjoyable to handle as any of Apple’s other hardware offerings. No surprises here.
Based on John Gruber’s recommendation, I immediately switched to “Bold” mode. The San Francisco typeface seems easier on the eyes in this heavier font. And from normal viewing distances, the display is what you’d expect on a modern Retina-equipped Apple device. It won’t win any pixel-pushing wars, sure. But it does the job well. Riding out in the sun wasn’t a total disaster, either. I was able to discern most everything happening on the Watch face.
The OLED display technology shows. Instead of having to light up every pixel, the Watch can keep most pixels turned off (unless viewing a photo or something). I also turned off transparency in the Accessibility section, and that coupled with the OLED’s naturally black background, made for an extremely black presentation.
This has to be the most frustrating part of the whole package. Much has been said about the sluggishness of third-party apps on Watch OS. I expected that, and to be honest, it wasn’t even that disappointing. With the exception of a few must-have apps like Overcast and Dark Sky, I rarely delve deeply into the current crop of third-party Watch apps. They’re just not responsive enough. This is true even for Overcast. After accessing the app from the Glance or from the Home Screen, and after selecting the podcast, I immediately switch to the Now Playing Glance. I’ve found that the Glance does a significantly better job depicting my the time intervals on my customized skip buttons. Moreover, the Glance is just that much faster at pausing and re-playing the content.
Apple has crippled the third-party app experience on the Watch, likely because they were unsure what developers might do to the battery life. I think version 1.0 of Apple Watch must have shown Apple that they favored battery life just a little too much, and I’m certain the generation with a native SDK will make for a much snappier third-party app experience. Therefore, I am willing to give third-party apps a pass for now.
My biggest complaint with Watch OS deals specifically with Messages on the Watch. For whatever reason, Messages notifications are not relayed to the Watch at the same rate as they are received by the iPhone itself. This could be related to some unknown Handoff bug. I can’t be sure. Still, nothing is more infuriating than attempting to send a message, only to witness that annoying message send failure notification on the Watch. Or, somewhat less infuriating, receiving a new message notification on the Watch for a message that had long been read in the Messages app on my iPhone. Is it a big deal? No. But it is still puzzling why such a straightforward interaction between the Watch and the iPhone is being executed so poorly.
My current watch face of choice is Modular. I tried the analog Utility mode, but I find the digital readout works better for me. I might switch it up at some point, but right now I am pretty happy with Modular’s balance of complications and ease of time-telling (it is still a watch, after all).
This is my favorite feature of the Watch. I went to the gym earlier today, and the gratification I received from monitoring my heart rate during the workout session made the shady Saturday afternoon parking lot deal worth it. If every other feature of the Watch was stripped away—time-keeping functionality included—but the fitness tracking remained, I would still think it a great purchase.
Activity is gamification at its best. The tasks for the day are simple: burn the amount of calories defined in the personal activity goal, accumulate at least 30 minutes of physical activity at or above a brisk walk, and stand at least one minute during an hour for at least 12 hours out of the day. Yes, I wish the activity and stand metrics were user-adjustable. I would choose an activity amount higher than 30 minutes, and I would choose to stand more than 1 minute for every hour (at least 10 minutes). Yes, it is possible for me to do those things without Apple Watch nagging me. Still, if the purpose of the Activity app is to motivate us to exercise, why not give us the ability to set more difficult-to-hit goals? Maybe this is planned for the version 2.0?
Today I biked to and from the gym, about 4 miles round trip. I used the Workout app in “Open” mode, for which the Watch will not prompt me to meet a calorie, distance, or time goal. Since the trip to the gym is relatively static, I’m less concerned with the distance and time measurements, and more concerned instead with keeping my heart rate above 160 bpm. My biggest gripe with the Workout app is that there is no Glance. My friend dutifully pointed out that while working out, the Workout app is probably what I’d be looking at anyways. In other words, no Glance should be necessary. And I can see the logic with that argument…
However, the scenario of using the Workout app via the Home Screen → Workout App method means that if I want to change a song or podcast, it’s going to take a few interactions:
- I have to depress the Digital Crown, which takes me back to the Home Screen
- Once on the Home Screen, I have to slide around to find the Music app (or podcast app)
- I have to tap on the app of choice, and then make my selection
- When I am ready to get back into the Workout app, I have to depress the Digital Crown again to exit the Music or Overcast app, and then navigate back to the Workout app
- Once there, I tap the Workout app and re-engage with monitoring my workout
This isn’t exactly a convenient way to change songs (or select a different podcast). Here’s hoping it gets better.
I didn’t even bother including the battery complication on my watch face. I used it for the better part of Sunday: waking up at 7 AM and going to bed around 10 PM. And after all that time, I stillI had ~10% battery life.
I think Apple way-overshot their battery conservation measures. It feels like the display turns off the instant I look away. I wish it was just a little bit longer before auto-off. I can’t blame Apple, though. Imagine all the complaints they would have gotten if the Watch died in the middle of the day like everyone feared after last year’s introduction.
This was a great purchase. If for no other reason, I am engaged in working out (again). And beyond that, notifications and iPhone media controls on my wrist are an added benefit. Is it perfect? No, not by a long shot.
I didn’t have the first iPhone. But if any of the stories I’ve heard about its launch are true, the original iPhone was way behind Apple Watch as a version 1.0 product. I liken Apple Watch’s lack of GPS and third-party SDK analogous to the original iPhone’s similar lack of GPS and video-capture.
It will only get better.
Now, typically I wouldn’t recommend such a thing. There were, however, several factors at play, factors that all but guaranteed both my safety and the authenticity of the deal. Firstly, the seller appeared to be a medical student at the local university, and also seemed to hail from Idaho, so said his LinkedIn page. These two circumstances certainly seemed to decrease the likelihood that he was an axe murderer posing as a coveted Apple hardware dealer on eBay. Secondly, the seller had included photos of the unopened (!) shipping box straight from the UPS on Apple’s behalf. ↩
Remember, Apple calls them “collections,” not “models,” which would be, you know, totally easier to use in print format. ↩
“watchOS”? (I am writing this on WWDC eve) ↩