Apple Watch Hands-On: Only Time Will Tell

Apple Watch Hands-On: Only Time Will Tell

Today, I strapped a $14,000 watch to my wrist — one with an Apple computer inside. I played with it a bit, and tried to imagine integrating it into my life. But by the time Apple (oh so courteously!) booted me out of the showroom, I couldn’t make up my mind.

It’s big, but not enormous. Weighty, but in a reassuring way. If you like the way that it looks — and I do — it looks quite nice. The screen is about as crisp and pretty as I could hope for in a device this small. And the digital crown — that dial on the right side — feels really great. You just twist it to effortlessly glide through long lists of emails, or to zoom from a huge gallery of photos down to individual pictures.

The buttons also feel excellent: both the crown and the long button beneath it click into the watch with precision.

User Interface

What I don’t quite get about the Apple Watch — at least not yet — is why I also have to use a tiny touchscreen to get anything done.

Basic operation is simple enough: press in the crown or flip your wrist up into a “I’m looking at my watch!” gesture to wake the watch up (because the screen sadly doesn’t stay on) and go to the clock, which can not only tell time but also display up to four customisable “complications” in the four corners of the screen. Date, temperature, your watch’s current battery life… useful little things, and hopefully more on the way.

Press the bottom button to open the friends menu, where you can quickly call or message people right from you wrist.

Tapping once more brings you to the app screen, where you can pick an app to use:

But if you want to actually find and select one of those apps, you’ll need to swipe around and tap the one you want on the screen itself. That’s a little easier said than done: I stabbed the wrong icon more than once and wound up inside an app I didn’t want. You can zoom in with the digital crown, but it’s a little awkward to keep switching off between the buttons and the screen taps. It made me wonder why I couldn’t just use the excellent digital crown to zoom through apps and select them. Perhaps I’d get used to it.

Worse was Force Touch. “Force Touch uses tiny electrodes around the flexible Retina display to distinguish between a light tap and a deep press, and trigger instant access to a range of contextually specific controls,” reads an Apple description, which roughly translates as “When you press down hard on the screen, sometimes you can activate hidden controls.” Like changing up your watchface (see above). But sometimes when I tried to tap, it thought I was trying to Force Touch — and it wasn’t always clear which one I needed to do to perform an action. Again, maybe I’d get the hang of it after a while.

At least with lists of items, you have your choice of controls: You can swipe through your music, for instance, or use the dial to scroll.


Apple’s answer to Google Now. If you swipe up on the screen, you can access a whole variety of incoming information: the weather, upcoming calendar events, and so on. There were a bunch of dummy Glances on the Apple Watch I was wearing, examples of what it might be like, but it’s impossible to tell how useful they’d be without trying them for weeks or more… to see whether they’d be there when I need them to help me get stuff done.

Apple Pay

I have to admit, if Apple Pay gets anywhere close to universal adoption, I will love the heck out of this feature. Just double-tap the bottom button and up pops your credit card. Move the watch near the terminal and poof, you’re all paid without fishing for a wallet or a phone. But I couldn’t actually try it at the Apple event.

Siri and Phone Calls

Siri legitimately impressed me on the watch. When I got an incoming message in our demo, I was able to reply without pulling out a phone, using a canned message (which is an option) or tapping at an impossibly tiny keyboard on the watch itself. I was able to dictate a message with Siri, who clearly understood me even in a noisy demo room. She patiently waited for me to finish, adding additional words only when I spoke.

Would I be willing to do that in public? Hard to say without trying. Same as it’s hard to say if I’d be willing to make phone calls from my wrist. It definitely looks a bit ridiculous right now.

And Much More…

There are certainly more facets to the Apple Watch than I was able to try during my brief hands-on with the device, and precious few I was able to seriously judge. Like photos, for instance — Apple’s preloaded ones looked great on the watch, but would I need to load them into internal memory? Would I need to crop them to the screen’s aspect ratio for them to look right? Would the fitness app really remind me to get up and exercise, and would it be convincing?

Battery life is still a giant question mark, too. Even though Apple spells out how much battery life you can expect in certain scenarios, will the 18-hours-or-less of useful battery life dissuade me from doing some of the things it can do?

I can’t wait to find out, because the Apple Watch feels powerful. It feels like it could take smartwatches further than the notification-centric devices they are now. Personally, I’m not going to pay money to check my wrist just so I don’t have to check my phone.

If I can get things done quicker and more easily from my wrist, if it can save me time, I’d definitely consider shelling out. But it will take weeks, if not months, of testing to find out if Apple Watch is really worth all that money.