Apple Watch review: 'I'm really into you'

It was April 24, launch day for Apple's first smartwatch.

I had just landed in Tokyo, one of only nine markets where the Apple Watch was released, and I knew it was selling out fast.

Stepping into an electronics shop near my Shinjuku hotel, I asked: "Apple Watch?" Two left, he said, and went to check. He returned to apologise that there was only one.

"I'll take it!" I said immediately.

It was a 42mm stainless steel case with a classic black watchband priced at US$699 (S$926). The entry-level Sport costs US$349 and The Edition is US$10,000 and up. That is, if you can beg, borrow or steal. Pre-orders are backed up till July. I could not even get my hands on an extra watch band.

Look and feel

My stainless steel Apple Watch is absolutely gorgeous and exquisitely crafted, like a designer timepiece.

It weighs 70g with a leather watch band, but feels light on my wrist. The comfort level never drops, even when I go jogging with it.

On the right side of the watch, the digital crown looks a little different from other watch crowns. You turn it and press it to activate most functions. The Side Button next to it is a short cut that brings up your favourite contacts.

Everything, from the animated watch face to Instagram posts, looks good on the 390 x 312 pixel display. Sapphire crystal protects the display and the heart-rate sensors on the back, so I was not worried about it picking up scratches. The stainless steel case, though, may pick up some dings.

Maybe it is that the watch is so rare here. Heads turned and eyebrows lifted when the cognoscenti spot it on my wrist.

Set-up

First, upgrade to iOS 8.2, which includes the Watch app, on your Apple iPhone. Sorry, Android users, it does not work with your smartphones.

Charge the watch using the bundled cable with a puck that connects magnetically to its back. You can pair only one watch at a time with your iPhone.

Press the Side Button to power up. You will be asked to select a language. Tap Start Pairing on your iPhone and the watch. A pairing animation will appear on the watch. The app will show a virtual camera. Ensure that the watch face is in the centre of the viewfinder of your iPhone until a message announces: "Your Apple Watch is paired".

Easiest pairing ever.

On your iPhone, tap Set Up As New. Tap Left or Right on the iPhone to indicate the wrist on which you will wear the watch. This tells the watch its correct orientation and when it is in the right position to wake up the display.

The crown can be worn on either side of the watch. Though I'm right-handed, I wear my watch on my right hand and I prefer the crown on the right side. Next, tap Install All on the iPhone to sync all the apps that are compatible with the watch. Others will not sync. This took me nearly half an hour.

Usage

Simple is the word. To view the time or wake the display, raise or turn your wrist.

You can opt to show the watch face or resume your previous activity in the Watch app.

Press the Digital Crown to go to the home screen, where all apps appear as circular icons. Zoom in and out using the crown. Or tap the display to move the screen around to pick an app. Press the crown to centre the home screen; double tap to return to the watch face.

Swipe upwards on the watch face to bring up Glances, to access more functions of supported apps, such as the New York Times and Instagram. This lets you see a news feed and activity in greater detail. You can opt to take them out of Glances if you prefer to have fewer panels.

Notifications

Notifications are the bread and butter of this watch, which will, by default, mirror every notification to your iPhone. You may want to turn off notifications from apps you seldom use.

Unlike many smartwatches on which a notification pops up on the display once it is received, the watch vibrates to alert you but its display stays blank till you move your wrist. A nice touch that spares your battery. Android Wear, take note.

Communication

You can make calls from the watch. The voice quality is so clear that those I talked to thought I was using my iPhone.

You do need to hold the watch close to your lips, though.

Short messages can be read in full, something not always possible with smartwatches. You can reply with standard options such as "OK", "Thanks" or "What's up?". Siri can help. The voice assistant was a tad slow in recognising my speech, but it picked it up after a while. You can use Siri to reply in audio or text form.

As with the iPhone when charging, you can activate Siri by saying "Hey Siri" before asking your question.

So, I just had to ask Siri if she liked the watch. She replied: "I'm into it. Like, really into it."

Fitness

The watch does not have Global Positioning System (GPS) built in. But you can calibrate it by taking a few runs or walks with your iPhone and watch, with GPS switched on.

Afterwards, distance tracking on the watch proved to be quite accurate when I ran the same routes with only the watch.

The native Workout app tracks indoor runs and cycling well. The native Activity app will nag you every hour to get up and move, so you can hit your Daily Move target.

Heart-rate readings also seem quite accurate when I compared them with those from the Motorola Moto 360 and LG G Watch R.

Watch face

The watch comes with 10 watch faces, including the classic Mickey Mouse, and Astronomy, which shows the exact position of the planets in our solar system.

The faces can be customised. You can change the colour of the second hand, add the date or even a stopwatch.

Biggest downer? No third-party watch faces. This is due to Apple's insistence, apparently, on maintaining timekeeping to within 50 milliseconds of global time standard. A huge opportunity lost.

Variety and customisation in watch faces are about the most fun you can have with a smartwatch. Like many users, I often buy and change those on my Android Wear smartwatches.

Battery life

I usually work till 3am and wake up at about 9am, so my downtime is when I recharge my watch. When I plug it in, the juice level is usually still at 50 per cent. The lowest level so far has been 38 per cent. I have yet to see it in power reserve mode, which stops all activities other than timekeeping.

Missing in action

Apple Pay is not supported here. And knowing no one else with the watch here, I could not try drawing, or sharing my heart beat.

There are hardly any local apps catering to the watch. I found just SG NextBus to be compatible with it.

It may not be perfect yet, but the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch in the market now, with its exquisite design, intuitive use and intelligent notifications. Yes, Siri, I am really into it, too.

trevtan@sph.com.sg

BACKGROUND STORY

TECH SPECS

Price: From US$349 (S$460)

Case material: Anodised aluminium or stainless steel or 18-karat gold

Connectivity: Bluetooth

Weight: From 62g


RATING

Features: 4/5

Design: 5/5

Performance: 4/5

Value for money: 4/5

Battery life: 3/5

Overall: 4/5