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First Look: Apple Watch

While there were smartwatches available before Apple stepped up with its offering, there’s something about the tech giant entering a marketplace that seems to validate it in the public’s mind.

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The Apple Watch is a nice piece of tech. While it only works with iPhones, it’s also the smartwatch that works the best with them. It runs Watch OS2, an updated version of the original system. Android Wear watches will work with iPhones, but not as smoothly.

Apple Watches are available in three models – Apple Watch Sport; Apple Watch; Apple Watch Edition – and two size options – 38mm and 42mm – with a range of different metal finishes and watch straps to choose from. Most smartwatches only come in one size with limited strap options. However, it does mean prices vary, with the cheapest costing $599 all the way up to the gold-plated version that costs $30,000. The version I tried was the “mid-range” option: 42mm Apple Watch, space black stainless steel case with a black sport band – $1049.

The Apple Watch has a single button and a crown on the side. The crown controls a lot of the functions. The button loads a quick access screen to your favourite contacts and turns the watch on and off. The crown is used for scrolling, controlling your phone’s volume, zooming in and out and for bringing up your apps or returning to the watch face.

The apps are arranged in a roughly hexagonal pattern that you can arrange either on the watch or, more easily, via your phone. You scroll to find the apps you want. It’s not the easiest system to navigate as it’s difficult to remember where the apps are, but it’s slightly better than scrolling through a list.

I mostly used the watch to read incoming mail, texts, and Facebook messages, but these are still basically just notifications. The Apple Watch shows the same notifications that show up on your phone. They only show on the watch’s screen if you lift your wrist after the watch buzzes you or if you press the crown or tap the screen. But while the watch is on, notifications won’t light up or vibrate your phone.

You can also control your phone with the watch. For example, you can control music playing through your phone from your watch, this includes third-party apps such as Spotify. The number of apps you might use specifically on the watch is much smaller.

Here are some things I did with the watch: I used the Air NZ app to bring my boarding pass up on to the watch screen and it scanned perfectly, though I felt slightly pretentious doing it; I played a couple of small games (though the games on my phone are much better); I also used the watch to arm and disarm my home security system.

The most common thing I used the watch for, other than notifications, was Siri. I used Siri to do things when I couldn’t use my hands, like while I was driving or cooking. Apple’s voice control system has come on in leaps and bounds in the past year and it’s now rare for it to give you an error. It’s sophisticated enough now that Siri will understand commands like “Hey Siri, play me the best songs from 1981” or “Hey Siri, remind me to call my mum when I get home”. The “Hey Siri” bit is important because that’s the phrase you use to activate Siri without needing to press a button. You just say “Hey Siri” and then speak the command into the watch. It also works with new iPhones and iPads

To conserve battery life, the watch screen only comes on when you raise your wrist. While this makes the watch last longer, it’s annoying. I discovered quickly that I usually just glance at my wrist for the time, rather than move it.

The battery life is solid. I am probably a mid- to high-end user and at the end of the day I still have about 50 percent battery life left. The longest I went without charging was nearly two days; by 2pm on the second day the watch died and I was left wearing a very expensive, but useless, bracelet.

Probably the worst part of using a smartwatch is those around you think you’re a bit of a dork, or at the very least impatient because you’re constantly looking at your watch whenever it buzzes.

Specs

Apple Watch, 42mm
Space Black Stainless Steel Case with Black Sport Band
$1049

Our writer received an Apple Watch on loan for this First Look. First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

By Hadyn Green.

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