When I say I had an Apple Watch hands on, I mean literally that and not much more; it went on my wrist, and cycled through some display modes. But after wearing it, and seeing a trained-up Apple professional put it through some delicate paces, it's clear that the Apple Watch could live up to its promises.
First, a word or two on Apple's smartwatch ambitions, which are quite large as far as wearable technology goes! Sensor upon sensor, telling you heart rate, your elevation, if you've stood up enough that day. A magic wand that opens locked hotel room doors and pays for your soda. A way to let your friends and loved ones feel your heartbeat on their wrist no matter how far away you are. It's an incredible vision. But it's not quite ready to show off yet.
That's ok though! Apple's got a history of following through on its software promises — with the occasional hiccup — and there's enough to talk about here with the watch itself. Which is, on a purely physical level, beautiful and delightful and something I was sad to have to take off of my wrist.
While shaped a bit like the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live (in that they're all rounded rectangles, but that's about as far as you should go with that comparison), the Apple Watch feels significantly more premium, which makes sense because it commands a premium price. That refinement is partly because the version I was using had a stainless steel band that wouldn't feel out of place on Gordon Gecko's wrist. But it's also because the watch itself is lighter, more solid, less rubberised. It's almost brazen in how much it trusts you not to break it.
Your mileage will vary based on the strap you choose, obviously, and mercy there are plenty to choose from.
Just knowing that it's a sapphire display helps; there's peace of mind knowing that it's as sturdy as it feels when you tap. And the digital crown — that wheel on the side that lets you scroll and zoom and navigate — has a psychological effect as well. It feels like you're wearing a watch that just happens to be digital, instead of SMARTWATCH 2.0.
The display on the larger model I tried on was bright and crisp, and the circular app icons were definitely large enough to discern. I'm still not convinced I'm going to want to actually look at a Map on a screen this small, but using it to navigate — little buzzes telling me where to turn and when — would be welcome.
In plain old time-telling watch mode, it looked and felt more like a real watchface than any smartwatch I've worn but the Moto X, although in the Apple Watch's case you don't have such a thick body to negotiate. For those curious about the righty/lefty dichotomy, you can set it up either way at the start.
As for the software, I wish I could tell you more. I watched my new Apple friend demonstrate Glances, which brings up Google Now-like info cards with an upward swipe, that can be rotated through with subsequent right and left swipage. I can confirm that it works, and that it was zippy, at least on this pre-release model.
I also watched a nice young woman walk on a treadmill, Apple Watch-clad wrist swaying and measuring, measuring and swaying. Presumably it was doing both accurately?
Again, that's not any cause for alarm. Apple has months to get everything ready for showtime. It's just an acknowledgement that no matter how good a device like this looks and feel — and it does look and feel wonderful, leaps better than any other smartwatch I've tried — how you use it matters even more. Is the display sensitive enough to pick out which tiny little homescreen widget you're tapping? How much more difficult is that smaller display than the large one to navigate? Or rather how much more squinting will it require? And that's to say nothing of the biggest open question mark: How long can it keep juggling these tricks before the battery runs out?
We'll know the answers to all of those questions when the Apple Watch comes out next year, if not sooner. But for now, it's a just a beautiful watch. And if what it does can live up to how it looks, it will likely make its way onto your wrist.