Iain Plays
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Review: Apple Watch Series 3 (2017)

Or, my week with an Apple Watch. #

In 2013/4, as modern smart watches began hitting the market, my thoughts were, “Oh, that’s a neat idea. I’ll wait for some year-on-year advances to the functionality and single-charge longevity and get one.”

The Pebble, Apple Watch, Samsung and so many little known manufacturers launched their take on the smart watch.

Fast forward to the last week in September 2017. I ashamedly and impulsively caved to my inner Inspector Gadget while in proximity to the local Apple Store; drawn inside like a moth to the flame. Excoriating my mind to splash out on the latest Apple Watch offering: A Series 3 + Cellular. Aluminium in a dark “space gray”, with a nylon sport loop, and the same magnetic induction charging technology as my toothbrush. All for the princely sum of £429 (the watch, not the toothbrush).

Now, my first foray into smart watches came earlier this year, in the form of a ~£30 fitness band from Amazon. This watch-come-band is indeed smart and unobtrusive, finished in a satin black. It holds a charge for several days, has a nice OLED monochrome display, measures heart rate, light/deep sleep, steps and even blood pressure. And it displays the time and date. It syncs to Apple Health API in the phone via a very usable proprietary app. It can vibrate to notify of an incoming call when Bluetooth paired to your phone. The iPhone app also flashes the band’s firmware, has nice infographics, and is regularly updated.

What then—except the obvious price difference of ~£400?—differentiates the Apple Watch from the fitness band (to me)?

Well, in my week of use, I’m confident that the body metrics were more accurate with the Apple Watch. But the band offers a less bulky form factor than the phone, and at £30, I’m far less precious about damaging it than any marginal accuracy gains from the £429 watch.

In the UK, EE is the only carrier that currently has the technology allowing the Apple Watch to share the same phone number as your phone (thus allowing direct calling and texting from the watch without the phone being on).

The Apple Watch battery never went lower than 67% in 24 hours of use, but the band lasted for many days without a charge. And to charge the band, you just slid one of the straps off to reveal a male-USB socket, which plugs into any [USB] port in a storm.

The Apple Watch has no camera and did not play back any video or gifs for me (except live photos). Companion apps would prompt me to “view on the iPhone”.

At first, it was neat to have my watch tapping me on the wrist with notifications and messages, but it quickly grew tiresome. It reinforced that I do not wish for the instant, immediate and regular distractions this helpful device tap-tap-taps me with. I am happier checking my phone when I choose to, and when it is not impolite to do so.

The form factor of the watch is nice enough, though could be a bit thinner.

The swappable straps on the watch are very clever and easy to switch, meaning you could sport many different looks with only a few different bands/straps. I’d definitely go third-party for these, as the Apple steel bracelets especially are magnificently expensive.

Some of the functionality of the watch, like syncing your latest photos and some music was a nice to have, but in almost every case, all I could think of was that my phone would be better and I have it very close to hand, albeit not on my wrist (see earlier point regarding immediacy).

I purchased the official Tamagotchi app for nostalgic reasons (that prompted me to hatch each pet using my phone) and the sleep watch app which was very slick. But I couldn’t find any killer apps. Perhaps I did not research enough on the companion apps that would enhance the functionality and value of the watch. Certainly, I trawled several “best” of articles.

Even calling them companion apps, by definition means the full app is elsewhere, i.e., on the phone, and a limited version is on the watch.

Ultimately, I was quick to conclude that trying to retrofit a use case to justify this purchase was a fool’s errand.

I realise this applies equally to any purchase one might make.

I’m thankful of Apple’s no-fuss 14 calendar day return policy. The associate in the store didn’t ask why I was returning it, but I briefly stated anyway that I’ll try one again in a few years.

I do think wearable technology and the wristwatch form function has a lot of potential, but it’s still early days. It was after all only ten years ago that the first iPhone came out and it took a few years for that to have a quality third-party App Store ecosystem. The iPhone 4S runnning iOS 6 (if memory serves, that was the combination) was sublime, and even as I sit here in a flying metal fart-tube typing this article out in Byword on my iPhone 6S Plus, I do yearn for a smaller device with the same functionality but even more impressive longevity between charge cycles.

And so, this week I returned my Apple Watch and strapped-on my self-winding mechanical watch again, to put the Apple Watch money to other uses, like the upcoming Switch Mario and Xenoblade games and useful Christmas presents for my loved ones.

Oh, and I was fortunate enough to pre-order a SNES Mini from a Spanish department store online a couple of weeks after the immediate UK preorder sell-out. And that arrived today for me to power on when I got home. Looking forward to playing some two player games with the family this weekend on that. And so the consumerist cycle continues.