Last autumn I bought an Apple Watch Series 4 and here I am with my luke-warm takes. Or “thoughts” as we used to call them.
I fancied getting an Apple Watch when they launched in 2015 but could never justify the cost to myself. The younger me, who owned two MessagePads, would have jumped at it but these days I’m more careful with money and less likely to buy gadgets just because they’re vaguely interesting.
Friends who had Apple Watches for a while mostly said “It’s nice but I don’t really use it for anything now”, which didn’t encourage me to get one. And now that’s also pretty much what I say, having owned one for over six months.
At first it felt odd wearing a watch at all — I haven’t regularly worn a watch on my wrist for about thirty years. I had a digital watch as a kid in the 1980s which was very exciting. But years later I decided I didn’t need to know the time every minute of the day and at university I wore a watch around my neck, under my shirt, for the rare occasions I needed it. Later again, I kept a watch, without a strap, in my pocket. Then, even later but still last century, I got a mobile phone so why would I need a watch?
It felt good wearing a watch on my wrist though. I don’t wear any jewellery so it felt like quite a thing, a statement, to have something round my wrist. Oddly, I felt slightly more grown up, somehow. Maybe men who buy ever larger and more ridiculous — and expensive — watches are looking to renew this feeling once it’s worn off.
Apple Watches can display different watch faces and the default face is… busy. An analog-style face with nine “complications” (the little widgets aside from the basic time-telling part). For all Apple’s reputation for minimal, tasteful design they repeatedly produce occasional ugly, cluttered, skeuomorphic nonsense. Even allowing for the fact there are, apparently, people who prefer reading analog watch faces rather than digital, and that some of them even prefer this when using a digital watch, this looks like a joke to me.
I bought the smaller version, the 40mm, which is plenty big enough for my wrists. The Series 4 is slimmer than previous generations but, at just over 10.7mm thick, it still feels pretty chunky. A Casio F-91W, the only other watch worth wearing, is 8.5mm thick. Slimmer would be better but I guess that would affect the…
Having read people complaining about the battery life I was wary about it but I haven’t had any problems. I put the watch on when I get up and take it off to charge it when I go to bed, and it’s never had less than 60% battery left. I mean, it’s still daft to have to charge a watch every day or two but here we all are. When I’m away, having forgotten my charger, I’ve switched the watch off entirely over night and almost got through three days of wearing it. However, I don’t use the watch much…
While the watch battery life was better than my rock-bottom expectations I noticed my iPhone SE’s battery suffering. I have no idea if this is due to the watch (which connects to the phone) or not but I hadn’t noticed it before. Overnight my phone’s battery would often lose 50-60% while doing nothing but lying there with Do Not Disturb on. I read of other people with similar issues and tried several things:
- Turned the iPhone and watch off. Restarted the iPhone, then the watch.
- Closed all the apps on the iPhone and repeated the above.
- Checked there were no in-progress workouts on the watch.
- Un-paired and re-paired the watch and iPhone.
- On the iPhone checked which apps were using battery most overnight. Siri was active.
- In the Siri watch settings turned off “Hey Siri” and Raise to Speak.
- Turned off notifications on the watch for all third-party apps.
- On the iPhone turned off both “Hey Siri” (which I didn’t have on anyway) and “Press Home for Siri”, effectively turning off “Ask Siri” functionality entirely on both devices.
Now I rarely have the same kind of battery drain, although it does happen occasionally. Few things show up as having been using the battery overnight. It’s frustrating.
And then, after all the above, I no longer have Siri active on the watch or iPhone at all. I’ve never found a use for the thing so this isn’t a loss.
One reason I was interested in the Apple Watch was to see what it would make of my exercise. How many calories did I burn doing different things? What was my heart rate like during them?
And it was interesting. I’ll burn around 250 “active” calories (i.e. above what I’d burn anyway just sitting around not doing much) swimming 1000 metres. And between 600 and 900 active calories at the gym (that seems… too much?). My heart rate peaks around 168bpm.
It’s fascinating to see all this stuff, but now I know the basics I’m not gaining much new knowledge. It’s nice how the watch calculates the speed of my swimming lengths, and groups sets of lengths together if I have a rest. But seeing as I’m not looking to beat my speeds or train for anything, I’m not sure if it’s any use to me now. Similarly, although I gradually increase weights at the gym I’m not bothered about whether I actually burn slightly more or fewer calories there.
I had to set targets for myself of active calories burned per day, number of minutes of exercise per day, and number of hours per day in which I stand up for at least one minute. There were three levels to choose from and I chose the lowest and haven’t changed it since. They’re pretty low (350 active calories, 30 minutes of exercise (like walking), 12 hours with standing) but enough that I can’t stay indoors all day and still hit the first two.
The trouble with these targets is they’re so inflexible. You might “crush it” for six days, far exceeding your goals, and then understandably want a day of rest. But, because the goals are fixed and the same every day that would look like failure, no matter how superhuman you’d been the rest of the week.
So I’ve left my targets low. Now I can achieve them pretty much every day but they’re high enough to very slightly change my habits.
The detection of when I’m standing isn’t foolproof: as far as I can tell the watch thinks I’m standing if my wrist is pointed towards the floor. I don’t know how else it could guess. If I’m sitting down I can make the watch think I’m standing by dangling my watch-wearing arm down towards the floor. Conversely, if I’m standing in the kitchen preparing food, the position of my arms convinces the watch that I’m sitting down. I assume working at a standing desk would have the same problem.
The one time I’ve worn my watch overnight it reckoned I stood up during two of the hours I was asleep. Who am I to argue?
I turned off the “Daily Coaching” notifications before any appeared, having already seen screenshots of a friend’s Watch being all chirpy at him. No thanks.
I also turned off the Start Workout Reminder prompts because it would ask me if I was starting a workout whenever I’d been walking for a few minutes somewhere. Give it a rest, I’m just popping to the shops! Seeing as the watch automatically tracks my steps anyway I didn’t feel the need to separate occasions when I was walking somewhere into distinct workouts.
Aside from the exercise stuff what else do I find useful?
It’s quite nice to have the temperature and weather forecast on my wrist, at a glance.
It’s quite nice to be able to check-in on Swarm/Foursquare using the watch rather than digging out my phone. I like Checkie’s app more than Swarm’s. But it’s so easy to check in that yesterday, while at home, I accidentally checked in to a branch of Oliver Bonas, which was ludicrous because I didn’t need to buy a present for someone I don’t like.
It’s quite nice to get message alerts on my watch. I get very few messages or notifications on my phone anyway, and I only have direct texts, messages, DMs etc. going to my watch. I’m less likely to not notice a message, and I can read it, and sometimes reply, without getting my phone out.
It’s quite nice to read two-factor authentication codes on my watch, using 1Password, rather than open the app on my phone or laptop.
It’s quite nice to have my laptop unlock when I’m close and wearing my watch, rather than having to type in a password.
As I expected before I got it I find the watch nice but, after the initial interest, it’s not a lot of use to me now. All the above things are, yes, quite nice but none are worth £400 to me. It’s almost embarrassing to spend so much on a watch, or a tiny vaguely useful computer. I’ll keep wearing the watch now I’ve got it because, given the sunk cost, those few things are worth wearing it for. Just about. I’m paying for the luxury of occasionally not getting my phone out of my pocket which, put like that, feels pretty ridiculous.
It’s an amazing device really. When I was a kid basic digital watches were pretty amazing. Once, in the early 90s I bought a digital watch that could, if the wind was in the right direction, remote control a TV. That was amazing.
And as I got older I always wished there was a digital watch with a nice display. I didn’t expect colour or anything that exotic, but a decent typeface instead of the usual seven-part digital watch numbers seemed, for some reason, an unattainable dream.
The Apple Watch display looks great, really bright and clear and smooth. While the display does fill more of the face than on previous generations I’m still aware of a surprisingly-wide black border when using a “full-screen” app like Maps. That will no doubt improve over the years.
Part of me is slightly wary about all the tracking of data. That whole “quantified self” thing seemed fun years ago but, unless you’re the kind of person who won’t let the data escape from your personal Linux server, trusting large corporations to track and store everything feels increasingly icky. I’m not sure doing this with a watch is that much worse, from this point of view, than carrying my iPhone everywhere. But there’s still a lingering ickiness.
I can see that the watch could be more useful to me in a few ways:
If I was training in some way with some specific exercise goals to aim for.
If I had lots of appointments (I don’t) and wanted to check what was coming up without looking at my phone.
If I had lots of tasks that weren’t computer-based (I don’t) and wanted to see what I should be doing without looking at my phone.
If I received (and wanted) lots of notifications.
If I went running or cycling or hiking outside and wanted to track my routes, and times on those routes. It’d be great to do that without needing to take a phone.
If I had bluetooth headphones then I could put music on the watch and listen at the gym instead of the wired earphones and old iPod Shuffle I currently use (I don’t want to take my phone). That would seem like magic.
I can imagine the last one in my future and maybe the penultimate one. And maybe some other app will come out that will make the watch feel more than a quite nice luxury.