Apple Watch Series 4


This was going to be my first thoughts on the new Apple Watch, posted about a day after I unboxed it. But then life got in the way and I’ve now been using it for a week. What I’d planned to be a little more than a “hot take” is now probably a little closer to an actual review!

From the picture above you can see what I was using before. It’s not an Apple Watch, it’s not a competing smart watch. It doesn’t even have a battery. (To be clear, my new watch isn’t a replacement. I still plan to wear the Marloe.)

I’ll be honest: until recently I wasn’t very interested in the Apple Watch. It was too big, didn’t look nice enough, was another thing to recharge every night and none of the things it did were compelling enough to overcome those annoyances.

Here’s the thing. The Series 4 is still too big — about twice as thick as the Marloe — and doesn’t look as good as a traditional watch. But I’ve been on a health kick for the last year, so partly I bought it as a new gadget, a reward for keeping going for twelve months, and partly, because of that, the health features became compelling enough.

As you’d expect for Apple, the hardware looks great and is well presented. The finish is beautiful, the controls click and rotate in a satisfying way. I found it odd that it came without the strap attached but I was able to get it up and running pretty quickly.

I’ve read about the Watch before but I’ve never got beyond playing around with one in a store. It surprised me how complicated it is. By which don’t mean it’s hard to use, rather that there are a lot of choices to make. Choices that you probably won’t know the answer to.

The new Infographic watch faces sound great, but what am I supposed to do with eight complications? Not having used the Watch before, I don’t know the best way of accessing apps versus having the information available instantly on the watch face. Should I use the app swarm? The most recently used list? Complications? Notifications? Then you find that some complications only appear in some locations. How am I supposed to know this stuff? It’s confusing. I’m sure I’ll figure this stuff out but I feel information overload just as I’m trying to play with my new toy. (Having started writing a Watch app I think I understand it better, but should I have to?)

I guess I was expecting an iPhone OS 1.0-type experience — just the bare minimum — but I suppose that’s an unfair comparison and an unfair expectation. We’re now at watchOS 5, so it’s had time to evolve. And in hardware terms the Watch is way faster than than the first few iPhones. (It is incredible that you can get a dual core 64-bit CPU on your wrist!)

Having waited until now to get a Watch, I’ve also seen features that I was concerned about. The main one: the not-always-on screen. Would I forever be wiggling my wrist to see the time?

No, is the short answer. It’s not 100% successful turning the screen on at the right times but it’s pretty close. The problems I’ve had have been more along the lines of the screen not staying switched on for quite long enough. Maybe I was too slow to read a notification, or I was showing my wife something neat, but I do occasionally find myself wiggle my wrist around just as I feared. Fortunately the times it happen lead me to think that, as I use the watch more, these occasions will happen less and less. I could be wrong, but I think this will work out fine.

Another example of complexity: if I want to go running, what app do I start? Strava is the obvious one. That’s what I use on my phone. But what about the Workouts app? Do I need that instead? As well? One of the features that attracted my to the S4 was the ability to see my pace for the last kilometre… but how do I get that while recording my GPS trail? Clearly this isn’t an insurmountable problem, but it’s one without an obvious solution. Some experimentation will be needed.

However, putting the niggles and unexpected complexity aside, how has it been? My experience in this first week has been great. Being able to quickly glance at notifications without pulling out my phone has been very handy. Walking around a strange city with it tapping my wrist with the directions is way more convenient, as are the notifications telling me which gate my flight boards. And being able to record a run without clutching my phone or have it strapped to my arm is surprisingly liberating.

I’ve heard people say that Watch apps are not great. Maybe that’s true on average but I’ve been impressed with Strava and, especially, Overcast.

All these things are slight reductions in friction or increases in convenience and are not necessarily compelling alone but when you add it all up it’s impressive. On paper, I thought the features were nice but not quite worth the asking price. I would still say it’s a luxury rather than a must have but the utility is certainly there.

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