Apple Watch hands-on review

Update 26/01/15: Apple Watch could hit shelves in March, says analyst

The Apple Watch - as it's officially known - has been unveiled.

After months of hints and mystery, Apple has finally taken the plunge and joined the battle for your wrist with its own smartwatch. 

As you’d expect with a brand spanking new bit of Apple tech, the Apple Watch has polarised opinion. Some have hailed it as the new Best Thing Ever, some have decried it as Just Another Smartwatch.

You can find all the specs, details and dimensions here; but what's it like in person? We tried one on in Cupertino; read on to see what we made of it.

IT'S OFFICIAL: 11 things you need to know about the Apple iWatch

Design and build

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Build quality is what you’d expect from Apple: light (very light) but strong, and slim, too.

The Apple Watch is not nearly as slim as the iPhone 6, and it’s flat, so in form factor it’s not radically different from the other smartwatches on the market. But Apple has been careful to keep it from looking bulky, and even the larger version didn’t look out of place on a dainty female wrist. 

The dial – sorry, Digital Crown – looks less obtrusive in real life than it does in Apple’s promo shots. It’s smaller than the dials on most men’s watches, but it’s also very easy to access.

We’re going to use the phrase ‘knob feel’ here, so brace yourself: the Apple Watch’s knob feel is light, with very little resistance and no click. It’s a great piece of design, allowing you to move things on screen without covering them with your clumsy great prodfingers.

Screen

The screen is bright and crisp, and looked at from the kind of glancing angles you’d expect to look at a watch screen from – edge-on while riding a bike or balancing in a crowded train – words and pictures remained nicely readable.

Apple Watch hands on review

While some of the watch faces look fantastic, this watch will never be able to ape posh fashion watches in the same way as the Moto 360. Well, not circular posh fashion watches, anyway.

READ MORE: Apple iPhone 6 revealed: hands-on review 

Taptic feedback

The demo unit we tried on was running a loop of app demos, a couple of which (including the heartbeat-sharing app) used the ‘taptic engine’, as Apple calls it, or buzzer, as we’re going to call it.

Apple Watch hands on review

We’re not exactly Haptic Feedback Review Monthly, but there is a difference between nuanced haptics and a flat buzz – Valve’s Steam Controller, for example, uses it to fool your hands into thinking you’re holding something with a different shape – and we think it’s an area that will become increasingly important as wearable tech becomes more popular.

The haptics in the Apple Watch have that sort of nuanced feel, with the heartbeat delivered as a softly detailed pulse.

More after the break...

Apple Watch App

Update 12/01/14: The Apple Watch app has been leaked to 9to5Mac, and it reveals some of the features we can expect to see from Apple's clever timepiece.

Aside from the standard notification features we've come to expect from all smartwatches, the app reveals other functionality, including the ability to have the Watch vibrate during turn-by-turn directions.

The Apple Watch can also nag you to stand up if you've been sitting down for the first 50 minutes of an hour, which is a setting we'll probably turn off immediately.

Notifications themselves can also be customised. You could, for example, set it so that text messages from certain people are pushed to the Watch, while other less important contacts' messages are left off your wrist. That's a feature we'd like to see in Android Wear, as it's all too easy to get bogged down in irrelevant notifications.

The app also confirms that you'll need to enter a four-digit passcode each time you purchase anything using the Watch. You'll also need to enter it if the sensors detect that you've taken the watch off.

Verdict

Is the Apple Watch a revolutionary piece of hardware? Yes and no. No, because it’s not a completely different kind of smartwatch, but as with all things Apple, the hardware – even if it’s nicer than anyone else’s – is only half the story.

As with the iPhone, the Apple Watch has a hulking great advantage in the apps department, something that was obvious from its unveling: where Google tends to talk about the amazing potential of Android Wear, Apple talks about big brands that are already signed up and making apps for its platform – apps to find your car, let you into your hotel room, control your smart heating or track and share your exercise, not to mention shopping with Apple Pay.

For that reason, the Apple Watch may be the device that brings the smartwatch to the masses and gets the wearable revolution revolving.

When can you strap in?

Apple's being cagey about when, exactly, you'll be able to slip an Apple Watch onto your wrist; it says only that the Watch will be available in early 2015. Prices will start at US$350 (£215), and it'll be available in three different variants: Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition.

Update 01/10/14: Taiwanese site Apple Daily believes that production of the Apple Watch will kick off in January next year, with a release date slated for mid-February. Could the Apple Watch be the most expensive Valentine's Day present you've ever bought? We'll just have to wait and see...

Update 03/11/14: An anonymous source has provided 9to5mac with a transcript from a video in which Apple Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Stores Angela Ahrendts states that the Apple Watch will be out in Spring next year.

The earliest we could see the Apple Watch then, is March next year, which technically falls in line with Apple's "early 2015" release date.

Update 07/01/15: It does seem as though the Apple Watch will arrive in stores this March. 9to5Mac reports that "several" sources have revealed that Apple will begin training select US employees (one or two per Apple Store) from February 9th-16th, with a view to them returning to their stores and training the rest of the staff afterwards. The report says that a March retail launch is the current goal, but there's always a possibility that software development and manufacturing issues could see that pushed back.

Update 13/01/15: Another chunk of evidence supporting a March release date is outed. This time it's a screenshot (courtesy of 9to5Mac) from the iOS 8.2 beta, which shows off a section in the Bluetooth settings promting users that want to connect an Apple Watch to use the official app. iOS 8.2 is due to be released in March, adding fuel to the fire of a March release date.

Update 26/01/15: Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst for KGI Securites with a decent rack record when it comes to predictions believes that the Apple Watch will begin shipping in March, supporting previous rumours. If true then we shouldn't have too long to wait before the iWrist era kicks off.

READ MORE: Apple iPhone 6 vs Samsung Galaxy S5: the weigh-in

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Apple Watch hands-on

Apple Watch hands on review
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