Personal review: The Apple Watch

I had never seen an Apple Watch until last month. Then I visited my friend, Sue, in St. Louis. She had upgraded to an Apple Watch Series 4 and offered me her Apple Watch Series 1, if I’d really use it.

Note: The Apple Watch Series 1 is the 2nd version of the Apple Watch. The very first one did not have a “series” model, and is now obsolete. But the Series 1 can still be updated to the latest WatchOS.

The last time I owned a watch was… a long time ago. My thought was, since I always have my cell phone with me why on earth would I need a watch? I know the time.

So I was never interested in even checking out what the Apple Watch could do. Now I see, and I’m impressed! It’s so much more than a time piece!

Let me go through what I’ve discovered.

Telling time

Of course, since it’s a watch, you can see the time. I do notice this is easier around the house, for example, where I’m not carrying my iPhone constantly. By the way, the watch itself (this is the 38 mm model) weighs almost nothing. You don’t even notice it’s there most of the time.

You can customize the Watch face a zillion different ways. In addition to a variety of built-in (and downloadable) faces, you can use photos from your iPhone albums. Here is my current “Monta watch.”

Monta custom Watch face with weather “complication”

You can add what Apple calls “complications” to a Watch face, which are extra features. Yes, “complications” is a weird name. They are add-ons, if they fit. You can tap on the complications and see more info. In this case, I can tape on the weather complication and see more details about today’s weather, including rain forecasts and temperature predictions thoughout the day.

Touching on the weather complication – it’s raining now, but should clear up by noon

By the way, you can easily take screenshots of the Watch and they are instantly synced to your iPhone camera roll. That’s where most of the pictures for this blog post come from.

Even just up to this point it is cooler than any other watch I’ve had. But wait! There’s more!

Notifications

You can install apps on the Watch, and you can mirror the notifications you get on the iPhone or set custom notifications. Many notifications (e.g. Messages) let you reply from the Watch itself. More on that below.

The home screen, containing installed apps
Some more apps on my home screen

I do feel more “in contact” with my notifications now. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But, for example, it’s easy to tap away junk or unimportant mail and get it trashed from the Watch without ever even opening it up on the iPhone or Mac. You can also dismiss notifications and at least be aware something is waiting for you.

I also like seeing short synopsis of news alerts from the New York Times or Apple News.

The “dock” on the Watch showing recently used apps

Notifications can have tone, haptics, or both. I did run into an “age-related snag” with Message tone notifications. The pitch is so high I can’t hear them! Sue could. I could hear all the other notifications except for Messages. I sent Apple feedback on that, because you can’t adjust the pitch.

Finally I decided to just use haptics, because the beeping was getting annoying anyway, while the haptics are subtle and not really disruptive.

This is a problem though. There are Apple product users of all ages. I was sort of hoping to show off the Watch to members of my volunteer class on Sundays. But almost all of them use just the standard apps, and at least half the class are seniors in their 70s and 80s. It’s amazing that Apple created a device that can’t be heard well (pitch-wise) by seniors. It’s pretty common knowledge that we lose the ability to hear higher pitches as we get older.

Still, haptics are easier on your overall senses I think, since it’s something you would be wearing all day.

Notifications work in a very logical way with the iPhone. If the iPhone is on, notifications go there. If the iPhone screen is off, then the Watch gets the notifications. This way you don’t get bothered with duplicate notifications.

Heart Rate

This is cool. It comes with sensors that rest against your skin and tracks your heartbeat!

Heart rate with history you can tap on

Activity

I’ve never had a FitBit or any device like that. The most I have is MapMyRun to track walks and bicycle rides on my iPhone. The Activity feature tracks used calories, walking, exercise, amount of times you stand, gives reports, adjusts goals and is pretty cool.

You can tap and see how far along you are. Your goals are to complete each ring.

It can be a bit of a nudge sometimes (“How about standing for 1 more minute now to reach your standing goal?”) but generally it’s interesting.

Yay. I reached my goal. My Watch is happy with me – for now.

Smart replies

This is a cute feature if you need to reply to Messages (or anything) from your Apple Watch and don’t want to dictate or “draw in” a message. Dictation works fine, but sometimes you just want to make a quick reply. And sometimes you’re not in a place where it’s easy to dictate. The “drawing” letters feature also works surprisingly well, but it is slow.

I noticed this feature when driving back from shopping and Sue asked me, “Will you be home soonish?”

(Note: Yes I know I shouldn’t be looking at the Apple Watch while driving.)

While safely at a stop light I did want to send a quick reply though and was surprised to see the first suggestion was, “I will be home soonish.” I sent that.

It turns out that WatchOS analyzes the grammar of received messages so it can come up with appropriate quick responses. Very cool! You can also add your own canned responses.

Replying to a message – The choices are dictate, an emoji, draw characters and below that some suggested smart replies and your own canned responses.

Listening to music

I’ve found this to be useful when listening to music on the train with headsets on. Instead of taking your iPhone out of your pocket to see what song is playing, or skip a song, etc., your Watch automatically knows you are listening to music and the default display changes to something like this.

Oh, you gotta have friends…

Camera remote

This is a genuinely cool and useful feature. The Apple Watch acts as a remote for your iPhone camera. You can flip between front and back cameras, and there is a 3 second timer option so you can lower your Watch out of view once everybody is in place.

Using the camera remote feature on the Apple Watch to take a picture of Dave, Nobu, and me.

Taking notes

Surprising, Apple Notes is not available for the Apple Watch. A strange oversight. But Google Keep recently released a WatchOS version, so you can use it for quick notes, including check lists for shopping.

Dictating a note into Google Keep on the Watch

Battery Life

During a normal day I have had no problem with battery life. I put it on in the morning and take it off when I go to sleep. It magnetically attaches to the small USB charger, and if you then stand it on its side it goes into “nightstand mode” where you can see the time by tapping on the phone – or even tapping lightly on the table it’s on.

My biggest battery test was returning back to Tokyo from St. Louis – almost a 24 hour day, door to door. It was a race against time, and when I got home the Watch was down to 1% and I just barely got it connected to the charger when it finally ran out of juice.

Conclusion

It’s fun. It isn’t vital to have. But it is a genuinely interesting supplement to an iPhone, with extra features you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as being on a watch. It even lets you make or receive phone calls!

With later series, the Watch also supports Suica pay, so you can use your watch to get on trains and buses, and pay for things without taking your iPhone out of your pocket.

It’s a relatively unintrusive, extra assistant for iPhone users throughout the day.

There’s more – I feel I’ve barely touched the surface. But you get the general idea. I like it!