The Watch doesn’t suck

I demoed and tried on the Watch and came away impressed. I wasn’t expecting to be so after reading several reviews, and taking the fanboy reviews with a grain of salt.

For a first gen watch, this is amazing technology. Being a previous owner of an MSN Spot watch (loved it right up until Microsoft killed the broadcast service it depended upon), and a Pebble owner for two weeks before I returned it to the store, and a long time dumb-watch user, I have certain expectations.

Right up front I’ve got to say though that the pricing is just too rich for my blood. That’s not a criticism. I think when you pack this much effort into the design of a wearable device, it’s not going to be cheap. No, I’ve never used an Android Wear watch so I can’t compare. Sorry.

As my Timex Ironman Triathlon watch’s band is falling apart for the second time in four years, and as it’s integrated into the module thus rendering this $140 watch useless when the strap fails, I’m in the market for a new watch. I’ve done a lot of research and rejected the Casio junk outright. Sadly, the watch I have is the best watch for my needs. I just won’t give Timex any more money to reward them for offering cheap plastic straps.

I went to the local mall to find a new watch and decided to stop in at the Apple Store knowing full well that I can’t afford one but, what the hell, it doesn’t cost anything to window shop.

As an aside I also wanted to try out the new force touch trackpad that doesn’t move when you click but makes you think it does. It does. 100% it feels like the damn thing actually clicked. It’s spooky it’s so well done. Unlike the mechanical buttons I’m used to in older MacBooks where the force is variable between units, and the button is often adversely affected by an aging, swelling battery below the trackpad, the force touch trackpad is adjustable and works exactly the same anywhere on the pad. All trackpads need to move to this technology.

Okay, that was impressive enough. Now to look at the watch. I visited the Apple Store during a quiet time so I had unlimited time at the demo station. I tried every one of the built-in apps. I had read enough to know the basic ways to navigate and, while there is a lot of functionality, I found my way around pretty easily. I’m not going to offer an app-by-app commentary but I was looking for certain behaviours based on the reviews I’ve read.

First off, I was expecting it to be slow. It’s not. Yes, it does have some lag at times but never once did I drum my fingers waiting for it to respond. Even the mapping function worked far faster than I had any right to expect. However, the demo stations are all running continuously. There was no opportunity to try the arm-raise movement to see what it was like to glance at the watch and have it turn on and show the time.

From my awful experience with the Pebble I was looking for readability of small text. The Pebble failed for my aging eyes forcing me to raise my progressive glasses to read the smaller text. There’s also not a lot of contrast between dark and light pixels so unless I was in direct sunlight, I found the Pebble display hard to read. The Pebble backlight was way, way too dim and didn’t stay on long enough. Well, the Watch’s razor sharp and bright display made it easy to read even the smallest text in the subdued lighting of an Apple Store. I don’t know what it would be like in direct sunlight.

One of the features I was looking for was a repeating timer function. The built-in apps don’t offer that. Here’s where it pays to talk to a store employee. I expressed my disappointment with what I thought should be pretty standard in an expensive watch and the guy agreed. But, he pointed out two other ways to accomplish a similar thing including a feature I remembered was there (after he reminded me).

The first one is to set up a repeating reminder. He was wrong when he said I could set it up to repeat hourly. The finest granularity is daily.

The second option was exactly what I needed. I use repeating reminders to get me off my butt and to move. Like most folks when programming, I get so immersed that I stay seated until I notice my butt gets sore. Well, the Watch has this reminder function built-in as part of its heath app. OK, so I don’t get all the features of my Timex watch’s ability to set any amount of time and chain timers, but all that matters is it has the function I’m looking for. It wouldn’t surprise me to have 3rd parties provide better chronograph and timer functionality.

Finally, I got to try on a few bands. Since this was a slack time at the store I just walked in without an appointment and instantly got to try them on.

The first was the sport band. I was quite concerned about the longevity of this band after my experiences with Timex’s terrible design so I was looking for flex points that would break over time. Looking at the band, the strap tucks in under the opposite side of the strap to keep the end from snagging. This is far superior to the Timex that has a tiny slider that never stays put and breaks in less than two years. There are thin points where the strap tucks in, but those don’t flex. When you put on the strap you snap the peg into the hole and flex the full thickness part just enough to tuck it in. One last thing I noted was that the band was slippery. Perhaps that was from all the try-ons, but I don’t see it being a problem. It was just a bit awkward the first time.

The second strap was the milanese loop. This is a beautiful strap that has a magnet that holds the end against the strap. My concern was if this would hold in place when I swung my arm hard. I’ve had metal expanding straps that would expand and I’d see the watch sail off into the distance. I asked the guy if I could swing my arm hard. He agreed and so I did. The strap stayed put. I don’t know over the course of a day if this would stay in place or gradually slip looser. Only the early reviewers will be able to say.

Finally, I tried on the link bracelet. This is a $600 strap so, yeah, something to dream about only. Unlike the other bands of this type I’ve tried that had a clasp that folded over but could still snag and pop open, Apple designed this one to be released only when two flush buttons on opposite sides of the strap are pressed. This just won’t happen accidentally in normal use.

The overall experience at the store was excellent. I’d probably feel different if I would have visited on a Saturday afternoon. The demo stations were excellent, the try-on experience was scripted to be informative and to make you feel comfortable. The guy I talked to was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but he listened and let me do pretty much what I wanted. This is a product that just can’t be sold in a Best Buy.

What disappoints me with Apple’s TV ads is that they’re still saying, “Coming 4.24.15.” That’s just not true anymore. Anybody who learns about the watch from the ad now will be in for a rude awakening when they find they can’t pick one up in store, and deliveries are into June, July, and even August depending on the model.

I left the store convinced this was the best smart watch I’ve tried and would surely buy one if it was affordable. For me, it just isn’t. The cheapest 42mm (large) watch in Ontario, Canada is $586.47. I thought my Timex watch was expensive at $140. The Pebble’s $200 price was decent given what it could do if it wasn’t so buggy, hard to read, and didn’t have such lousy apps and flaky bluetooth connectivity. Perhaps their next gen model coming Real Soon Now™ will be better.

I appreciate Apple’s efforts, and I’m really pleased that this will cause other manufacturers to up their game, but it’s still a luxury item and I’m a cheap bastard.

Author: Tom

Destroyer of software. If I haven't tested it, it hasn't been tested.

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