Apple Watch review - now with WatchOS 2
Pedometer: Yes, Heart-rate monitor: Yes, Display size: 38mm/42mm, Resolution: 340x272 (38mm)/390x312 (42mm), OS support: iOS 9, Battery life: 18 hours
The problem with the vast majority of smartwatches is that they’ve been designed as a bit of technology, not also as something that you’d be happy to display on your wrist the entire time. It’s a trap that Apple has been keen to avoid with its Watch, aiming to design a smartwatch that’s both more powerful than what’s come before and more customisable than any other watch available.
While I found that Apple achieved most of these goals, the first version of the WatchOS was a little limited. In particularly, there were few watch faces, customisation was limited to what Apple gave you and apps didn't run natively on the Watch, making some of them rather slow. That all changes with WatchOS 2, which is now available for all users to download. As a result, I've completely updated this review to refer to the latest OS. Before I get into the details, I can completely understand why Apple took its time to add these new features: with the first OS, it was about getting the look and feel of the Watch right, while showing developers how the new features should work; with everybody used to the Watch, Apple could open up the OS to developers safe in the knowledge that they'd understand how the product worked.
As Apple says, the Watch is its “most personal device yet”: that ethos even stretches to the way that company sells the product, with the in-store experience more jeweller than technology retailer. Even the packaging says high-end watch, rather than tech product.
I have to say that Apple has been rather triumphant in both of its goals, with the wide range of models letting you choose a Watch that looks different to what other people may be wearing; crucially, every model has the same experience, so you’re only really choosing on looks, not features.
What makes the Apple Watch more flexible than any of its competition is the sheer range of design choices available. At the base level, you have the choice between two sizes: 38mm and 42mm. Where possible, I recommend the 42mm version, but the smaller version at least means that there’s an option for people with smaller wrists, which is something that other manufacturers have completely ignored: the Moto 360, for example, looks ridiculous on some people.
Once you know your size, it’s a matter of choosing the model that you want. The differences here aren’t in features but in the build materials. The entry-level Sport edition has an aluminium body, with a textured feel to it, and ships with the soft-touch Sport Band available in lots of colours. It costs £299 for the 38mm version and £339 for the 42mm version. It's now available in silver, gold, rose gold and black, so there's definitely a model that will suit you. I have to say that the new colours (gold and rose gold) look really classy and mean that Sport edition doesn't feel like it's just the cheap option anymore.
Next up is the standard Apple Watch, which has a stainless steel body and sapphire glass. It starts at £479 for the 38mm and £519 for the 42mm version, with the soft-touch Sport Band. Here you get more choice of straps to buy with the Watch, although prices rapidly increase: I've got the Milanese Loop on the 42mm version, which costs £599; at the top is a special black Watch with a Space Black Stainless Steel Link Bracelet that costs a whopping £949; fortunately, the black version is now available with a Sport strap for £479, so you can have this version without having to pay a fortune.
At the very top is the Apple Watch edition, which has a gold body and costs between £8,000 and £13,500, with each model having a unique strap. It’s fair to say that the standard or Sport editions are going to be the right choice for most people.
All of the standard Watch’s straps are available to buy separately and fit any edition of the Watch. Apple’s proprietary strap fitting means you can change a strap within a minute, giving you the option to have different straps for different occasions. This connector is available for licensing, so third-party straps will be available for less although I can’t vouch for their quality.
Design and build quality
No matter which version you choose, the Watch is beautifully designed and has the quality that I've come to expect from Apple. From its rounded edge to the way that the screen curves down to meet the metal body, the Watch is superbly designed and is a cut above any other smartwatch currently available. It’s also much thinner than you may expect, making some of the Android watches I've reviewed look rather chunky.
The same level of detail has been put into the straps. Our Milanese Loop was beautifully finished, with the magnetic clasp making sure it stayed tight against our wrist while remaining comfortable at all times. Once I had it on, the Watch looked and felt as though I was wearing a regular watch, not just a bit of tech.
Setup - Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
You need an iPhone 5 or later to use the Apple Watch. Setting it up for the first time is simple: you turn on the Watch, open the Watch app on your phone and then use the phone’s camera to take a picture of the pairing animation. After that, your Watch uses Bluetooth LE to connect to your iPhone. You only have to perform a few simple steps to complete the process, including setting a four-digit passcode. Not that you should have to enter it often, as the Watch stays unlocked while it remains on your wrist (it locks automatically when you remove it) and you can tell it to unlock with your iPhone, which is particularly handy if you’ve got Touch ID. For most people, then, they’ll only need to put their Watch on in the morning, tap Touch ID on their iPhone and they’ll be set for the day.
During setup, you can also choose which apps you want to install on the Watch, or just to install all that are available from your phone. For most applications, the Watch talks to your iPhone using Bluetooth, but it also has 2.4GHz Wi-Fi built in. You can’t select which network the Watch should join, but it will connect to any 2.4GHz network that your phone has connected to before, automatically. If you use dual-band Wi-Fi at home, such as with an 802.11ac router, make sure that you’ve connected your phone to both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz networks in the past.
Wi-Fi means that Watch keeps working when your phone is out of Bluetooth range. It automatically switches from Bluetooth to Wi-Fi when it can't detect your iPhone, so the Watch can communicate with your phone provided they're both on the same physical network. It’s great news, as it means that your Watch keeps working, for example, when your phone’s upstairs on charge and you’re elsewhere in the house.