You might be wondering if you’d like to add a smartwatch–perhaps an Apple Watch–to your timepiece collection. I love the elegance and precise mechanical nature of traditional wristwatches, but I was impressed with the clean design and versatility of the Apple Watch. Is it worth it? And did I have to abandon my favorite mechanical friends?
Sure, there are a lot of other smartwatches on the market, but Apple quickly dominated this space, and I’m an iPhone user (which is almost required if you want to get the most of the Apple Watch). It so happens that I was also diving into a physical fitness program and I sorely needed to keep track of my progress. I needed motivation. It was time for me to go for it. Do I regret it? Heck no. Let’s take a look at the results of my decision.
Why an Apple Watch?
Before I got my Apple Watch when it first debuted in April 2015, I asked myself, “Why?” What do I want it to do with it?
- Track my daily walks, where I take a 5K jaunt all over my suburban village, keeping my routes varied and interesting, and tracking the exact times and distances that I traversed these lovely trails and back roads.
- Respond to texts and phone calls no matter where I was.
- Remotely control the camera on my iPhone, so I could take scenic pictures on a mini tripod I can carry in my pocket.
- Adjust the volume of the music I was listening to, skip to the next song and switch over to podcasts while I walked without lugging around a phone.
- Keep track of my heart rate to see how physically fit I was actually getting.
- Check Dark Sky, the most useful hyperlocal weather app I have on my smartphone. It lets me know if there’s a rainstorm — in the exact location where I’m walking — that’s about to smack me in the face.
- Enjoy the style and versatility of the Apple Watch, swapping out bands as if they were outfits, and enjoy the aesthetic benefits of this chameleon-like device.
Obviously, none of those things were possible with my late dad’s vintage Rolex I was wearing at the time. Where the Apple Watch lacked the charm, personality or sentimental value of my 1962 Rolex, it made up for that with its wizardry.
Always the early adopter, I started out with the very first First-Generation Apple Watch (a distinct species from the Apple Watch Series 1). I chose the 42mm size because I thought the watch’s screen was too small anyway and the 42mm is the largest. At first, I was disappointed. A buddy of mine who ordered one sent his back because of what he saw as limited usefulness (he wasn’t interested in fitness tracking). Was this a bad idea? It was slow to react to my ministrations, it didn’t have GPS capability so I always had to have my phone in my pocket when I was walking, and it was often sluggish to display its face when I flicked my wrist. After all, the only way to check the time is to turn your wrist, which makes the screen light up. I never had that problem with the traditional watch. Damn. But I was uncharacteristically patient, and soon learned exactly how I needed to move my wrist to see the time. Still, it’s not perfect.
Apple Watch Series 3: Passing the Long-Term Test
Now here it is, three years later, and after living with the first-generation Apple Watch, I got a Series 3 Apple Watch last November. Yeah, now you’re talking, I said to myself. This is the GPS model, and my wish to venture forth without the encumbrance of a smartphone was granted. That’s a small victory, though, because now I always have my phone in my pocket anyway. But that’s a good thing because it made moot my decision about getting the new LTE model of the Apple Watch. That’s the model with the cellphone service built-in, and anyone who has their smartphone living in their pocket like I do has no need whatsoever to pay for another data plan. That redundancy would be redundant.
If you’re considering a smartwatch, I wouldn’t consider any other than the latest Series 3 model of the Apple Watch. It’s a noticeable improvement over its predecessor, especially the first-generation model I had before. Its GPS lets me track my location and its motion chip tracks my steps on its own (if I happen to forget my iPhone, which has happened more often than I’d like to admit). But it really shines when fitness tracking.
Apple Watch: An Elaborate Fitness Tracker
Thanks in part to my first Apple Watch, over the past three years I’ve become a fitness addict, and the main engine of that affinity surprised me: Apple calls its surprisingly compelling fitness app “Activity” (see photo below). It follows my movements throughout the day, depicting those actions with three rings. The red outer ring illustrates movements I’ve made during the day — which mostly consists of walking — measured in calories. The green middle ring shows how many minutes of exercise I’ve gotten so far, and it doesn’t let me cheat. It actually knows if I’m loafing and doesn’t count that as “exercise.” The blue ring admonishes me for sitting on my ass for too long. If I haven’t gotten out of the chair or off the couch during a particular hour, it won’t credit me for that hour.
This lovely little game surprised me. I began to obey it, and it significantly enhanced my motivation to exercise and take a walk. I must admit, I’ve even gotten up and walked around a bit just to satisfy this little trio of graphical rings on my wrist. It’s insane. Compelling, indeed. Apple has designed an insistent reward system with Activity, giving you weekly badges if you meet goals you’ve set. It’s like those gold stars you used to be awarded in kindergarten. I set a modest goal of 450 calories’ worth of movement and 30 minutes’ worth of exercise every day. And by golly, I was going to hit those marks. Every. Day.
At the same time, it automatically sets a goal for its user to stand for at least two minutes each hour for a minimum of 12 hours. If you can do all of these things every day, you get a special weekly badge which simply feels good (and in true Apple style, it’s a beautifully designed little interactive animation). Then, if you can meet that daily red Move goal every day for a month, you get a special shiny monthly badge. When these micro awards start adding up, I hallucinate that they’re growing in importance. I’m not sure why, but this is been a serious motivator for me. Even though I’m reluctant to admit it, I had one streak of seven months in a row where I met every single goal every day. It sounds goofy, but it works.
Sure, there are other fitness watches and GPS trackers, but this one works the best for me. In addition to that unforeseen benefit, it’s a formidable watch, keeping perfect time and never requiring resetting. Downsides: The Apple Watch can’t track my sleep because it needs to be charged practically every day. Yes, the Series 3’s battery lasts a lot longer than the first-edition Apple Watch, but it still needs charging at least every other day. I’m still not completely satisfied with the way the watch face lights up (or sometimes doesn’t light up) as I raise my wrist. When it stubbornly doesn’t illuminate, I must touch the screen or push on the crown for it to show me the time. That’s a minor annoyance I’ve adapted too, but I still wish the screen stayed on all the time like my trusty Rolex.
A Watch You Can Talk To
The benefits of the Apple Watch go beyond fitness. I especially like the way the watch gives me a handy way to stay in touch while I’m on the go. I’m surprised by the accuracy of its speech recognition. If someone texts me, my watch gives me a subtle haptic nudge on my wrist (along with a little chime sound effect if I want one), and I can see the text on my watch’s screen. To respond to whoever is texting me, I tap on the little microphone icon and speak into my watch just like Dick Tracy. It felt crazy at first, but I soon realized that my watch began to understand me a little better every day. Now, I can respond to texts either with my voice or I can tap on some canned responses. And, the watch invites me to add my own custom canned responses. So now I can quickly answer a text while driving without hardly distracting myself at all, tapping on the canned response, “I’ll get back to you in five minutes” or “I’ll call you later.”
I’m getting even deeper into the associated gadgetry now. I’m putting together a “smart” home, with automated lighting scenes and the ability to control every light in my office with my voice. You guessed it, I can do this with my Apple Watch. May the wonders never cease.
Finally, I never thought I would care much about the fashion aspect of the Apple Watch, mainly because when the Apple Watch was first released, you’d have to spend hundreds of dollars to get a new watch band. But lately, I’ve discovered the flourishing third-party Apple Watch accessory market on Amazon, eBay, and others. For instance, instead of paying $449 for a stainless steel link bracelet or the new Hermès Tour Médor leather band ($439), I can get knockoffs of these, along with nearly exact copies of Apple’s lovely nylon Sports Loop, its sparkly Milanese Loop in a wider variety of colors, and a dazzling array of even more innovative watchband styles. The surprising part is the humble sum required for such variety: it’s a mere $15 for most of them. I even picked up a ceramic Apple Watch band for less than $30. Look for my individual reviews and roundups of these inexpensive wonders coming up here on WWR.
Meanwhile, don’t count out smartwatches, especially the Apple Watch, if you’re an iPhone user and fitness buff. I found myself wearing one watch on each wrist because I can’t do without my (usually) trusty Apple Watch. At the same time, I can’t abandon the timeless elegance of a traditional wristwatch. So it looks like my final decision between wearing a watch or wearing a traditional timepiece was easy: I’ll do both.
- Apple Watch Series 3 GPS’s best role is as an elaborate fitness tracker
- It works best if you’re an iPhone user
- Its “Activity” app is surprisingly addictive
- The LTE version is redundant if you always carry your iPhone
- Its apps make it even more useful: Texting, hyperlocal weather, speech recognition, more
- High Style: There’s an astonishing variety of low-priced/high-quality knockoff bands
- Its “raise to view” screen illumination is flawed