Apple Watch review

The iPhone-tailored smartwatch is an expensive convenience gadget

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Our Verdict

Apple Watch is good, but better suited on the wrists of early adopters and boutique shop regulars. It's convenient but there's a learning curve you have to overcome and a high price that some people won't be able to get around.

For

  • Stylish design
  • Clever interface
  • Two sizes

Against

  • Expensive at any level
  • Battery life is one day
  • Missing many key apps

Update: Stand by for Apple Watch news from WWDC, especially in the form of software update watch OS 3. It'll make this iPhone-compatible smartwatch a more attractive buy, even though the world waits for the Apple Watch 2. Here's our take.

Donning the Apple Watch in 2016 is a little more tempting because its price is lower, while its app count is higher. It's a fantastic smartwatch, as long as you're expecting an iPhone-tied convenience gadget.

That's why my Apple Watch is still ticking away on my wrist 12 months after its initial launch. It never ended up being called the "iWatch," but it really is "my watch" and Apple's most personal gadget yet.

This iPhone 5-and-up-compatible smartwatch has more than 71 flavors, with different case materials, colors, sizes and interchangeable Apple Watch bands. But, warning, none are inexpensive.

Apple Watch review

While the cheapest Apple Watch costs $299 (£259, AU$429), a small discount over the launch price of $349 (£299, AU$499), it still peaks at an exorbitant $17,000 (£13,500, AU$24,000). Ouch.

This means it's primarily for impatient early adopters and boutique store regulars. And Apple's vague sales numbers and "in learning mode" comments hint at just that; it's not for the masses just yet.

Speculation sets the second coming of Apple's wearable for September, along with the iPhone 7, but you probably want a smartwatch right now, especially with fresh Nylon straps to jazz it up.

Apple Watch review

Is it worth that still-tough-to-swallow Apple Watch price this late in the game? Well, beaming apps like Messages, Mail and every iPhone notification to an always-on-hand gadget is certainly a convenience.

I no longer retrieve my seemingly always-hiding iPhone 6S every time someone texts me, and I can locate my phone whenever it's lost or buried beneath the couch cushions. It has the easiest to use Find My iPhone app yet.

Similar conveniences are carried over to the thousands of apps. Checking into a flight thanks to a wrist-mounted QR code sure beats scrambling for my phone or paper boarding pass while moving my bags up in the security line step-by-step.

Apple Watch review

Those steps, it turns out, are being counted in the Apple Watch's fitness app. It's not the most comprehensive fitness tracker, but it enables me to keep tabs on metrics like my steps walked, calories burned and heart rate. Surprise: I need to move more when I'm writing reviews.

The Apple Watch OS 2 update opens up its Engine, Digital Crown and microphone to developers, meaning we've got a whole host of incoming apps that are set to supercharge the watch experience.

The Apple Watch update also features Wi-Fi connectivity, new watch faces with different customizable options, better Siri capabilities, email replies and even Transit directions courtesy of iOS 9 and iOS 9.3.

Apple Watch review

Apple is reportedly building on this novel idea with a proposed Find My Watch feature, which is the reserve of its handy phone retrieval system, and an Android Wear-like "smart leashing" detector to deploy a light tap on the wrist when the wearer wanders too far from his or her phone.

Both may be a part of watchOS 3 at WWDC 2016, with the necessary iPhone and iPad software baked into iOS 10 on the phone and tablet end.

But not having to fetch my phone for each and every vibration in my pocket is very much a luxury rather than a necessity, and not one every iPhone user needs – at least for the current asking price.

Why buy an Apple Watch?

Apple Watch is often oversimplified as an iPhone on your wrist, and almost everyone I have demoed it to has accidentally referred to it as "your phone" – even I slipped up once or twice in the last year.

It's not an unreasonable comparison. The square-shaped smartwatch is like a mini iPhone; it enables me to read emails, summon Siri and make and receive phone calls from my wrist.

Apple Watch review

The size is just right too. While many Android Wear watches look and feel chunky to the average person I talk to, the 42mm Apple Watch fits my wrist much more unobtrusively.

An even smaller 38mm size is also available, although most people should for opt for the bigger of the two. It offers better battery life and more useable touchscreen space (but does come at a slightly higher cost).

What feels strange about writing this review is that there's no point in really comparing it to Android Wear at all. Nobody chooses a smartwatch first and then decides on which phone to go with it; no, if you're reading this, you're probably either scanning through my review on the iPhone or with one close to hand, wondering if it adds enough convenience to make it worth the extra cost.

But do I need this Watch? On the one hand it's been great for changing my behavior, as too many times I've instinctively run to my phone, charging in another room, because it's ringing or because the default SMS chime has turned me into one of Pavlov's dogs.

How many times have I missed an important call or text? Just as important, how many times have I rushed to the phone and it was an unimportant telemarketing call or a friend replying with a text that simply says "OK" to something I said three hours ago?

Apple Watch review

These missed connections and potential disappointments are less insufferable thanks to the Apple Watch, and the ability to either pick up or dismiss these alerts in a tenth of a second.

Custom watch faces, like we've seen from Android Wear watches, are here (although only those that Apple makes, as it's sadly not permitting third parties to do the same thing), as well as new exclusive technology like the pressure-sensitive Force Touch touchscreen.

Apple Watch review

There are also a large number of Apple Watch apps already, including the easy-to-use Apple Pay in the US and UK, and the frequently used Uber car hailing service, equivalents of which have been slow to launch on Android Wear.

What's missing?

There are plenty iPhone features that aren't carried over to the wrist. Apple Watch is not a fully-fledged iPhone replacement.

It makes calls, but it can't add new contacts. It listens to dictated texts and sends them as an audio message or transcription, but it doesn't have any sort of edit function. Likewise, it can name songs through the Shazam app, but it listens with the iPhone microphone, not its own.

It tracks basic fitness goals, but not it's GPS-enabled and doesn't track sleep. It's also not nearly as good at motivating me to move compared to the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge.

Having to carry a phone still is a weird disappointment to a lot of people who are missing the point of current smartwatches. "Wait, I still need my phone?" is the response I've heard from baffled people.

Of course you do. The Watch isn't big enough for watching YouTube videos on its tiny display size, and trying to comment on Facebook posts while pecking away on a teeny keyboard would be terrible.

Apple Watch review

Who would want to don a giant watch capable of such specs or a large enough battery to run that? You still need an iPhone with you at all times, but you'll use it less than before.

The bigger questions: can is do enough to be worth its price, and is it fashionable enough to wear everyday, by geek chic and non-geeks alike? Let's examine the design first.