Apple Watch review – hands on, release date, price and specs

Everything you need to know about the Apple Watch before it ships later this month

Apple Watch hands on hero shot

Page 1 of 2Apple Watch review – hands on, release date, price and specs

It’s been a long time coming, but the Apple Watch is now available for pre-order on Apple’s website, out to try in Apple stores and a select number of boutique shops, and shipping on the 24th April. We went down to the Covent Garden Apple Store to try the watch on in person and see how the sale of this product differs to that of other products. We also got a chance to have a hands-on go with the Watch.

The in-store experience

The Apple Watch is quite a different product for Apple, as much fashion statement as it is a bit of technology. It’s also available in three different versions (Watch Sport, Watch and the gold Watch Edition), with each available in two different sizes for different wrist sizes (38mm and 42mm) and comes with a ton of different band options. That adds up to a massive 38 varieties of the watch, so getting the right one isn’t that easy.

Apple Watch Sport variations

For this reason, the Apple Stores have all been converted to have special Apple Watch demo tables, where you can turn up to try on everything. Well, everything except for the Watch Edition, where you have to make an appointment to try the £8,000+ watch.

As well as being able to see every version of the Watch in a glass cabinet, each demo station carries a drawer full of every regular edition and strap options. It gives you the chance to try on everything and find the model that best suits you, and to make sure that you buy the one that’s the correct size.

Apple Watch demo in Covent Garden

All of the watches that you can try run a special demo mode of the software, taking you through all of the features. There are also demo watches on the floor that let you dive into the interface to give the Watch a proper workout yourself.

On launch day, the store was packed with prospective customers taking a look at the Watch and trying on the band. What struck us about the experience, after trying it ourselves, was that Apple has made the smartwatch a lot more personal. The attention you get makes it feel like a more special purchase than just buying an off-the-shelf Pebble Steel or Android Wear device. It’s hard to say how much this experience is worth and it’s easy enough to mock, but the truth is a lot of people like this more personal touch and it elevates the Watch above its rivals.

Our first impressions

As well as being able to look at how the Watch is sold, we also managed to get our first hands-on experience. The first thing we noticed was that it’s not as big as we’d been expecting. Stock photography is notoriously bad at giving a sense of scale and, in the flesh, the Watch is sleeker and neater than we believed it would be from the initial photos.

Unlike most other smart watches, when the Watch is on someone’s wrist, it looks far more like a watch than a piece of wearable technology. It helps that there are so many band options for it, as it means that not everybody ends up wearing exactly the same thing.

One of the issues we had with the Sports model was that the photos made the rubber straps look a little cheap. However, in real life the opposite is true, and the Sports version actually looks classy, with the soft-touch rubber feeling tough and well made.

We also saw how easy it is to change straps: you just press down on the release button and slide the retaining clips, before sliding the replacement strap in place. Not all straps are available for all model sizes, but straps are compatible with different versions of the Watch: you can remove the rubber strap from the Sports version and clip in the metal band if you prefer.

As the Sports version has an aluminium body and the Watch has a stainless steel body, there’s a slight variation in colour between the two; it means that certain straps are designed to work with one body, although you can mix and match if this doesn’t bother you.

We got a chance to play with the Watch to see how it interacts with the phone, as well as using the UI. We have to say that Apple’s decision to use the Digital Crown dial and a select button, as well as touchscreen, was the right way to go. Button controls are one of the main reasons that we like the Pebble so much, as a touchscreen only interface just doesn’t work on a device this small.

Apple Watch Digital Crown

The Digital Crown has a few functions, depending on where you are: on the home screen it zooms into the last-used app; on the favourite contacts screen, it rotates around the list; on Maps it zooms in and out; and in other apps it scrolls through lists. It also acts as a back button, while the larger button underneath is there to select options.

From the home screen, you use the touchscreen to choose which app you want to launch. The icons are small, but the sensitivity was high enough that we never accidentally launched the wrong app by mistake. Force touch, which is now available on the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina, is an addition to the touchscreen, giving you another way to interact with the Watch. You use it by pressing harder than for a normal tap, with a pressure sensor picking up the different interaction. For example, in Apple Maps, a Force Touch brings up a screen with Search and Contacts options. As we’ve come to expect from Apple, the interface is slick and smooth, with the Watch ably displaying silky-smooth transitions and animations.

Apple Watch Force Touch

As the Watch is tightly integrated with the iPhone, you can do more with it than you can with a Pebble. For starters, there’s Siri integration, so you can use voice commands to search for a location, make a phone call or to write a reply to a message. Apple’s also built in several shortcuts: you can reply with a pre-written message to an incoming SMS or iMessage, for example.

We’ll need to spend more time with a review sample to find out what the product is really capable of, but at this point, the Watch was way more attractive in the flesh, a lot slicker to use and capable of more than we had originally thought.

The Apple Watch WILL launch on April 24th

Tim cook promised us the Apple Watch in April, and the company has delivered, with the watch going on sale on the 24th of April. However, if you want to buy one then you'd better plan ahead. The Apple Watch will be available to pre-order online from the 10th of April. Or if you're not yet entirely convinced that it's for you then you can get a hands-on with the watch and a preview of its features in Apple stores from the same date.

We're a little disappointed that after such a long wait since the initial unveiling that we now have to wait another six and-a-half weeks before the Apple Watch goes on sale. it's not a worldwide launch, with the following countries getting the watch on that date.

The Apple Watch will be available in TWO different sizes

One of the big problems with a lot of smartwatches is that they're too big and won't fit all wrists, as you can see from big models, such as the Motorola Moto 360 and LG G Watch R. Apple counters that by making its watch in two different sizes, with 38mm and 42mm screens.

Nominally that means watches specifically for men and women, with Apple catering for a wider part of the market than other smartwatch manufacturers. We have to say that this feels like the right way to go and a watch has to be comfortable to wear as well as providing the best technology.

Prices vary a little between the two sizes, with the larger version simply costing £40 more on most models.

The THREE versions have wildly varying PRICES

As well as the size options, Apple will sell the watch in three different versions. There's the standard Watch, which will have a stainless steel case; the Sport version that has an aluminium case; and the Watch Edition, which will be made from 18 karat gold and will be suitably expensive to match.

The Apple Watch Sport starts from £299, the Apple Watch costs from £479 and the Apple Watch Edition starts at £8,000

As well as the differences in build material, each model also uses different glass on the watch face. The standard Apple Watch and Gold Apple Watch Edition both use sapphire crystal glass, which should be able to withstand serious scrapes and scratches (sapphire is second only to diamond in hardness and has long been used for watch faces), while the Apple Watch Sport uses Ion-X Glass. Because sapphire glass isn't particularly resistant to drops, ion-strengthened glass makes more sense on a watch that will be worn when exercising.

Disappointingly, the Apple Watch is not waterproof, not even the Sport version, although according to Yahoo it is water resistant and "Sweating, wearing it in the rain, washing your hands, or cooking with it are fine".

There are LOTS of colour and strap choices

The square Apple Watch is a beautiful-looking wearable with plenty of choices of colour and straps to suit different people. Apple has designed six different straps along with a mechanism for making it easy to swap between them. The Sport band is made from sweat-resistant plastic, but people will be able to choose between a leather quilted loop, stainless steel link bracelet and Milanese loop.

It's good to see this level of customisation as, combined with the choice of models, it means that not everybody will be wearing exactly the same watch in exactly the same colour.

PRICES vary according to your strap - A LOT

However, your choice of strap hugely affect the pricing of your final watch. The Apple Watch Sport comes in different colours, but they all cost the same, so that's simple: £299 or £339.

The Apple Watch though is available with the Sports Band for £479, with a classic buckle strap or milanese loop for £559, a leather loop for £599, a 'modern buckle' for £649, and then a whopping £819 for a stainless steel link bracelet. Add another £80 for the black finish, plus £40 for the bigger 42mm version, and the top model here comes to £949 inc VAT.

^ £819 is a lot more than we'd hoped to pay for a full stainless steel Apple Watch

The Apple Watch Edition maybe only exists to make you feel better about buying a £949 smartwatch. Prices range from £8,000 for an 18-carat rose gold case and smart band, up to £13,500 for a yellow gold model with a red buckle strap. With no idea on how many years your watch will last, battery replacement, software support, or simple technical obsolescence, it's a lot to pay.

Battery life could be an ISSUE

Apple's already said that the Apple Watch will need to be charged daily, with it now claiming a simple battery life figure of 18 hours. it's very vague on what that figure actually represents, but you'll certainly be charging it on a daily basis.

Some detail was leaked though, with 9to5Mac obtaining Apple's estimated battery life targets from its sources close to the project. At first, Apple was reportedly aiming for a battery life of one day of mixed usage, which combined a small amount of active use with longer periods of passive use. More recently, Apple changed this goal to roughly 2.5-to-4 hours of active application use, 19 hours of combined active and passive use, three days of pure standby time or four days of sleep.

This may come as a disappointment to anyone hoping that Apple might be able to solve the battery life problem that's been plaguing smartwatches such as the Motorola Moto 360 and LG G Watch R, but 9to5Mac suggested that the 2.5 hours figure of 'heavy' use will likely mean intense, processor-heavy gameplay, while standard app use will likely garner around 3.5 hours of continuous use. Strangely, Apple seems to be expecting better battery life figures when using its fitness tracking software, which is targeted for nearly 4 hours of straight exercise tracking. 

If you're not interested in using apps and only want to use it as a time piece, then Apple's figures suggest that it will be able to display its watch face and ticking animations for three straight hours as long as you don't use it for anything else. However, like most smartwatches, you're unlikely to be looking at it this long, as the display will turn itself off when it's not in use, prolonging the battery much further. Therefore, it seems most likely you'll be able to squeeze a full day out of the Apple Watch under normal use, but you're less likely to be able to stretch it over multiple days. 

9to5Mac says that the ongoing battery concerns were one of the main reasons why Apple pushed back the launch of the Apple Watch from late 2014 to early this year. As Apple continue testing the device, it's believed that around 3,000 watches are currently in circulation for real-world testing, mostly consisting of the stainless steel model.