So we went to Australia just to get our hands on the new Apple Watch which has officially rolled out on Friday. To get a better idea what options are available, we visited an Apple Store in Sydney to have a hands-on with the entire range.
The Watch comes in 3 different models – The Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition, which varies greatly in pricing and type of materials used. To suit people with different wrist, it is available in either 38mm or 42mm sizes.
As this is Apple’s first wearable device, we try to find out what’s the big deal and most importantly is it any good as a smart watch? Read on for our first impressions.
Design & Usability
Let’s start with the design of the watch piece. The Watch gets a square display but they made it look less boxy with its curved round edges and corners. This comes as a refreshing approach for a square smart watch considering the competition like the Pebble Steel, Samsung Gear 2 and LG G Watch quite boxy with sharp edges.
As you glance upon the display, there’s very little distraction from the frame or bezels as the screen dominates the front entirely. The dark background throughout the interface helps to hide the borders of the actual screen, giving an illusion of an edge to edge display.
At the back, it gets a large sensor that looks quite bulky in the promo pics but during our try-on session, it doesn’t feel protruding or uncomfortable at all. We give credit to Apple for taking an effort to make the back aesthetically pleasing unlike other smart watches that place their heart rate sensors haphazardly. Since the Watch uses a magnet guided induction charge, there’s no unsightly charging ports or pins around the device.
Standing out from the rest is the digital crown which tries to mimic the look of traditional watches. This is mainly used for zooming and scrolling, which is a substitute for pinch to zoom function that’s going to be a chore on a smaller screen.
In terms of feel, the digital crown scrolls very loosely and personally we felt that it could use some friction like a radio dial on Hi-Fi systems. Pressing the crown button brings you back to home while the secondary button next to it gives you access to your favourite 12 contacts.
The heart of the watch is the home screen which is very different from anything we’ve seen so far. Instead of the usual grid of icons or list of apps, you are greeted with an explosion of icons that gives you a bigger picture of what the watch has to offer. Moving around this interface is like going through a map where you can browse around by zooming in and out and you can jump into a function by tapping on the icon.
To access menus or extra options, the Watch uses Force Touch which is basically a stronger tap on the screen. In a way, this feels easier than to press and hold or having an extra settings icon which is tough to tap on a small screen. There are a number of high resolution watch faces to choose from but unfortunately there’s no option to add 3rd party ones for now.
To view notifications, you can pull it down by swiping from the top, like how you would normally do on a smart phone. To take a peek on the things that matter to you, swiping up from the bottom brings you glance. This is basically a collection of widgets that give you bite size info like the latest weather update, next calendar appointments, stocks and more.
For communications, the Watch works as an extension to your phone and you can make and receive phone calls as well as handling messages. There’s no on-display keyboard which is really impractical for this size but you do get the option to dictate your reply or select from a list of pre-defined replies. On top of that, the Apple Watch tries to offer new ways of communicating such as sketching with a finger, sending taps and even let the other person feel your heart beat recorded from the sensor.
Getting started with the Apple Watch Sport
Beginning with the basic Apple Watch Sport, the base model gets an aluminium body which comes with a smooth matte finish along with a choice of colourful rubber straps. We tried on both 38mm and 42mm versions, and for a guy, we prefer the 42mm size which offers a larger display. For the front, it is toughen with Ion X, which is stronger than normal glass but it lacks the scratch resistance of its more expensive Apple Watch and Watch Editions.
While it gets a lightweight aluminium body, the design is exactly the same as its more expensive models. The straps are removable too and it latches off easily by pressing its unlocking button at the rear of the watch pieces. Although it is sold only with the rubber strap, you can change this to other options as an add-on since it uses the same mounting mechanism across the range.
For the sports rubber strap, it feels similar to the original Pebble watch but it feels thicker feel with rounded edges. Out of the box, the rubber strap actually comes in 3 pieces. A single main strap with the buckle while the secondary piece with the holes come in 2 sizes to match different wrist sizes. The Apple Watch Sports costs A$579 (RM1.6K) for 42mm and A$499 (RM1.3K) for the 38mm version.
Moving up to the Apple Watch
The “Apple Watch” is their mid-tier range and with a higher price tag, it gets a more appealing stainless steel body with a reflective mirror finish. This puts it on par with its more mainstream stainless steel watches, and even including the Pebble Steel to a certain extent.
Also upgraded is a Sapphire glass at the front which is more resistant to scuffs and scratches. The Apple Watch with the cheapest Sports Band option costs A$799 (RM2,230) for 38mm and A$879 (RM2,460) for the 42mm size.
On top of that, it has the widest range of straps available – the Rubber Sports Band, Classic Buckle, Milanese Loop, Modern Buckle, Leather Loop and Link Bracelet. The Classic Buckle which is available only in 38mm has an interesting mechanism that is more than meets the eye. At first it looks like a typical leather strap with a round buckle but in actual fact, the buckle latches on securely with magnets.
For those with bigger hands, the Leather Loop is the only leather alternative and it gives you freedom of adjustments with the strap looped around and sticks onto itself with magnets. This is similar to the Milanese loop which is made with fine metal.
The most expensive strap available is the Link Bracelet, which is a metal band with a butterfly style clasp. Usually with most metal bands, the strap is adjusted by removing individual pieces with a tool. However for the Apple Watch Link Bracelet, Apple seems to have reengineered the metal strap with a tiny release button on each removable piece so that you can adjust it by hand without having to use tools.
As expected from Apple, this obviously comes at a price and the 42mm Apple Watch with the Link Bracelet goes for A$1,479 (RM4,115) and it costs A$679 (RM1,900) just for the strap alone!
Ultimate Luxury: Apple Watch Edition
For those with deep pockets for finer things in life, the Watch Edition is probably the most expensive product Apple has ever made. Available in 18 Carat Rose Gold or Yellow Gold, the Apple Watch Edition feels noticeably heavier than the other 2 models. The price is like putting a car on your wrist, with the 38mm Rubber Sport Strap version (shown above) going for A$14,000 (RM39K) and it goes all the way up to A$24,000 (RM67K) for the Modern Buckle Version (as shown below).
Although the strap is similar to the mid-tier Apple Watch, they come with matching pin and buckle colours in either Rose Gold or Yellow Gold. Even the Sport Strap comes with a golden pin instead of silver, just to give you your money’s worth.
Probably the most epic part of the Apple Watch Edition is the box that it comes in. It is a nice leather box that closes securely with magnets and it has a built in induction charger in the middle. So at the end of the day, you can recharge your watch in the box and it is powered via lightning connector that’s included in the package.
Apple is not the first to come out with a smart watch and as a first generation device, we can see how the Cupertino company is trying to do things different. Most smart watches these day focus too much on the tech side of things, leaving basic aesthetics such as the watch piece and strap designs as an afterthought.
Like its previous products, Apple takes a considerably amount of attention on the design as much as the tech that goes behind it. The Apple Watch piece is good but the variety of straps are making a whole world of difference on the look and feel of the entire package. It is clear that Apple has done a lot of work on the straps especially its leather link and metal link bracelet design. In fact, the tool-less mechanism for the link bracelet has been patented by Apple as well.
There’s a big contrast between tech companies and traditional watch makers on how a smart watch should be designed. The tech brands try to make a smart device look timeless and mainstream, while the watch makers are trying to find a way to make their creations smarter. For Apple, the watch seems to be developed from ground up with fashion and design in mind, which makes it appealing even before trying out how it actually works. At the same time, they didn’t try to conceal the fact that it is a smart watch and they embraced the non-classical squarish front glass and they managed to do it tastefully with an all glass appearance.
However we can’t say the same about the usability. In an attempt to be different, it will take a while to get used to its touch and scroll combination. There’s also the scribble and heart beat messaging feature which we found to be gimmicky for actual day to day usage. In terms of performance, the high resolution transitions are nice to look at but when it comes to apps, there’s a noticeable delay when we try to load. We are not too sure if this could be connectivity related but this is based on our experience with the sample units on the floor. Perhaps we will get a better experience from a final retail unit.
The Apple Watch is also not waterproof for swimming but they reckon it is resistant enough to wear into the shower. Probably the biggest hurdle is the 18 hour battery life, which means you’ll definitely need to charge this on a daily basis. This is probably the shortest battery life for a smart watch considering the Pebble can last us 4-5 days and the Gear 2 could last 2 days on most occasions.
The Watch Edition looks beautiful with its gold finishes and it comes in a beautiful looking Edition box. However with an asking price going close to RM70,000, it costs more than certain Rolex models. For those solely looking at functionality, the Apple Watch Sports would do just fine. It is illogical to pay more for the same watch inside except for some cosmetic differences which supposedly add more bling to your wrist at exorbitant prices.
So how is it like to use an Apple Watch on a day to day basis? We have received our unit along with other Australians as the first country in the world to get it. So stay tuned for our full review coming soon. In the mean time, if you have anything you want to know, please leave a comment down below.
Apple Watch Sport
Apple Watch Edition