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The Apple Watch question to ask: Does it make my life a minimum of $499 easier? (Part 1 of a multi-part review)

The one question everyone needs to ask themselves when they’re thinking about buying an Apple Watch (or any purchase really): does this new pricey gadget get me the value it should for its price? In order to help everyone answer that question, I’m putting forth my own responses and perspective on this new device.

My Apple Watch

There’s an important bit of context to understand about my Apple Watch that I must explain before we get too much further in my assessment of it…

I didn’t pay for it. My Apple Watch, which I received last week, is Chaotic Moon‘s watch that I get to wear because I happen to run a development team of people who develop applications for devices like the Apple Watch, and I regularly test the apps that we produce myself to ensure that my team is delivering the excellence that we deliver every day for our customers. So, my answer to the slightly more generic question Does this free device make my life easier?, my personal answer is yes.

But, I personally seriously doubt I myself would spend $499 (or more) on one.

Why not?

Part 1: The Apple Watch as a Watch

Watches are amazing pieces of equipment. They tell the time. Their batteries are generally nigh infinite. They are normally water resistant to the point where you can go diving with them. And if you know how, you can use an old school watch for navigation. Also, they are fashion statements. I own two watches that both cost more than this $499 Apple Watch that are totally worth that money to me, because they do all of these things exceptionally well. One is a Tag Heuer and the other is a Movado, and they are great watches.

The Apple Watch falls short in nearly every one of these watch categories, somehow missing the very is-ness of being a watch.

Telling Time

One of the most infuriating things about the Apple Watch is that when I glance at it throughout the day to quickly see what time it is, I’m not always guaranteed to quickly get the time. The Apple Watch’s face is not always on, so you can either set it to turn on on wrist raise or have it turn on when you tap it. Tapping every time you want to at a glance see what time it is is untenable, so I of course have it set to turn on on wrist raise. However, it fails to do so in a surprisingly large number of instances. I’d say 1 out of every 10 times I glance at my Apple Watch, the screen doesn’t turn on and I have to put my wrist down and flick it back up. This is particularly noticeable in scenarios where your arm is already raised, like when you’re driving your car with your watch arm on the wheel and you slightly turn wrist slightly to look at the time and see nothing. Or when you stretch your arms over your head after typing at your desk for a while and glance at your watch, only to see that the screen is already pointed down at you but not on. Also, if you’re a fan of sometimes wearing your watch on the inside of your wrist and you try to reverse-flip your palm up to you, that action doesn’t work at all with the Apple Watch.

Also, quite regularly when I’m simply glancing to see the time, I am instead distracted by a notification that has appeared on the screen. Sure, the time is still there, but it’s up small in the corner, not in the “at a glance” position of my watch-face where I was expecting it, so I often read the notification instead and miss the time entirely. More on that later…

Battery Life

The battery life is honestly better than I was expecting for a device like the Apple Watch, but that still only means that it manages to last all day long from early in the morning until late at night. That’s great, but here’s a dark little secret: the constant bluetooth connection between your iPhone and the Apple Watch to support all the cool connectivity actually results in the iPhone’s battery lasting not-quite-as-long-as-it-did-sans-watch. My iPhone Plus used to still be close to 40% charged at the end of the day, but I’ve actually had to go plug it in a few times recently while my watch is still going. I can’t imagine how unusable this would be for me if I were using a regular iPhone 6 with it’s not as good battery life as the 6 Plus.

Also, a day is still miserably short of months and months like my other two watches.

Water Resistant

The Apple Watch is actually extremely water resistant, however, it can’t handle the 10-30 meters water-proofing of my other watches.

Navigation Tool

Thanks to it’s integration with the iPhone, the Apple Watch is actually an extremely cool navigation device. The notifications from Google Maps even work nicely, albeit without the vibration directions of Apple’s inferior Maps product. However, if I’m stranded in a remote location away from modern electricity, the Apple Watch’s navigation features are only going to last about a day.

Fashion Statement

The Apple Watch does get some points under the fashion statement category. Like any new gadget, it says “I’m an early adopter.” Considering its price point, it says the same thing that both my Movado and Tag Heuer watches say: “I have the money to buy this device.” I do not, however, believe it says, “I have the money to buy this luxury device” like my Tag & my Movado do. It’s still too gadgety. Yes, it’s a nicely designed gadget that looks pretty sleek (even in the low end Sports model), but as my wife said, “It looks kind of like a Fitbit watch.” In other words, regular, non-gadget oriented people see it as a fancy gadget, not as a luxury fashion item.

Also, the digital crown for all the hoopla made over it during Apple’s announcement is stupid. The only purpose I ever find myself using it for is for a “Home” button, as it is the most consistent way to get back to your watch face. Everything else that you can do with it is either superfluous (like zooming in and out on the app screen; who cares?!) or something that you can already do via the touch screen. Guess what, Apple? After years of using iPhones, we’re all pretty used to touchscreens now and don’t care about this little knob.

The watch band that comes with the Sport model is actually great and very comfortable, which surprised me. However, all the other bands that you can buy are priced absolutely ridiculously. Again, this is not a fashion device, it’s a gadget. $150 for a non-gadget peripheral for a gadget is ridiculous. It’s the same price as a fully functional iPod nano! I said as much in an Apple Store when I was trying on one of the other straps, and the Apple employee actually replied, “But it’s leather!” as if that were a perfectly fine explanation.

This is part one of a multi-part review I am writing on The Apple Watch. Next time: The Apple Watch as a Notification System.