Like clockwork, the embargo on Apple Watch reviews ended on Wednesday morning, just two days ahead of when pre-orders of the device are scheduled to open up. Per usual, Apple sent review units to a few outlets who have now lifted the veil of secrecy from Apple's highly anticipated wearable.
Below are a few of the more notable excerpts from the initial grouping of Apple Watch reviews.
Let's just get this out of the way: the Apple Watch, as I reviewed it for the past week and a half, is kind of slow. There's no getting around it, no way to talk about all of its interface ideas and obvious potential and hints of genius without noting that sometimes it stutters loading notifications. Sometimes pulling location information and data from your iPhone over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi takes a long time. Sometimes apps take forever to load, and sometimes third-party apps never really load at all. Sometimes it's just unresponsive for a few seconds while it thinks and then it comes back.
Apple tells me that upcoming software updates will address these performance issues, but for right now, they're there, and they're what I've been thinking about every morning as I get ready for work.
There's no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today. It is one of the most ambitious products I've ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well. For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it's not clear that anyone's yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.
The Apple Watch is light-years better than any of the feeble, clunky efforts that have come before it. The screen is nicer, the software is refined and bug-free, the body is real jewelry. First-time technologies await at every turn: Magnetic bands, push-to-release straps, wrist-to-wrist drawings or Morse codes, force pressing, credit-card payments from the wrist. And the symbiosis with the iPhone is graceful, out of your way, and intelligent.
But the true answer to that question is this: You don't need one. Nobody needs a smartwatch. After all, it's something else to buy, care for, charge every night. It's another cable to pack and track. Your phone already serves most of its purposes. With the battery-life situation as it is, technology is just barely in place to make such a device usable at all.
It was only on Day 4 that I began appreciating the ways in which the elegant $650 computer on my wrist was more than just another screen. By notifying me of digital events as soon as they happened, and letting me act on them instantly, without having to fumble for my phone, the Watch became something like a natural extension of my body — a direct link, in a way that I've never felt before, from the digital world to my brain. The effect was so powerful that people who've previously commented on my addiction to my smartphone started noticing a change in my behavior; my wife told me that I seemed to be getting lost in my phone less than in the past. She found that a blessing.
But what about the watch as a timepiece? I've found the experience somewhat inferior to that with a conventional wristwatch, due to one small issue. The Apple Watch activates its screen only when it thinks you're looking at it. Sometimes a subtle twist of your wrist will do, but sometimes it takes … more. Many times while using the watch, I had to swing my wrist in an exaggerated upward motion to bring the display to life. Think about the way people normally look at their watches, then make it twice as aggressive. As a normal watch-wearer, the idea that I might look down at my wrist and not see the time was annoying.
Sometimes, even if you do the arm-swing motion, the screen doesn't turn on. Sometimes it turns on, then off. Sometimes you tap it and nothing happens.
For all the noise Apple has made about what a remarkable time-telling device its watch is, I found it lacking for this reason alone. That doesn't mean it doesn't keep excellent time—it just doesn't offer the consistency of a traditional timepiece.
The battery lives up to its all-day billing, but sometimes just barely. It's often nearly drained at bedtime, especially if I've used the watch for exercise. There's a power-reserve mode that can make it last a few hours longer, but then it only shows the time.
For now, the Apple Watch is for pioneers. I won't pay the $1,000 it would cost for the model I tested, only to see a significant improvement roll in before too long. But I plan to pay $400 for the 42mm Sport version once it's on sale. That's worth paying for a front-row seat for what's next in tech.
Of the half-dozen smartwatches I've tested in recent years, I've had the best experience with Apple Watch. If you're an iPhone power user and you're intrigued by the promises of wearable technology, you'll like it, too.
But that doesn't mean Apple Watch is for everyone.
Not everyone has an iPhone 5 or later, which is required for the watch to work. Not everyone wants her wrist pulsing with notifications, finds animated emojis thrilling or needs to control an Apple TV with her wrist. Smartwatches can sometimes feel like a solution in search of a problem.
I've worn a watch every day since I was in 7th grade, almost 30 years ago. I'm used to being able to see the time with just a glance whenever there is sufficient light. Apple Watch is somewhat frustrating in this regard. Even when Wrist Raise detection works perfectly, it takes a moment for the watch face to appear. There's an inherent tiny amount of lag that isn't there with a regular watch.
Some other specific examples. I was in New York last week, and stopped to have coffee with a friend in the afternoon. He had a meeting to get to, and I wanted to catch a 4:00 train home to Philadelphia. I was sitting on a low bench, leaning forward, elbows on my knees. It got to 3:00 or so, and I started glancing at my watch every few minutes. But it was always off, because my wrist was already positioned with the watch face up. The only way I could check the time was to artificially flick my wrist or to use my right hand to tap the screen — in either case, a far heavier gesture than the mere glance I'd have needed with my regular watch.