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Apple Watch review roundup: The best smartwatch yet, but…

A day before pre-orders for the Apple Watch kick off, the company has lifted the embargo on the reviews. A few publications experienced every facet of the wearable from experiencing the Watch at an Ap

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A day before pre-orders for the Apple Watch kick off, the company has lifted the embargo on the reviews. A few publications experienced every facet of the wearable from experiencing the Watch at an Apple Store, picking a variant of their choice (Watch Edition not included), to using it. Being the first new product lineup conceived and designed in the post-Jobs era, this is not only a huge deal for Apple, but could also set a new benchmark in the fledgling smartwatch space. Here’s our Apple Watch review roundup.

Hardware

With the likes of the Motorola Moto 360 considered to be one of the best looking smartwatches today, can the square-faced Apple Watch take that mantle?

Re/Code’s Lauren Goode thinks so.

I’ve worn my fair share of smartwatches and none are as good-looking as Apple Watch. My “next-best” design award goes to the round-faced Moto 360, but its display isn’t as rich-looking.

The edges of the Apple Watch are gently rounded, and the Retina display pours into a barely-there edge like a tiny black infinity pool. In terms of size, the 42-millimeter Apple Watch feels just big enough. I like a bigger watch, and the 38-millimeter model didn’t feel like enough Apple Watch for me. It’s also rather thick; multiple people have remarked upon this when they’ve seen it.

The Verge’s Nilay Patel too agrees.

As an object, it makes sense that the Watch is not nearly as cold and minimal as Apple’s recent phones and tablets and laptops. It has to be warmer, cozier. It has to invite you to touch it and take it with you all the time. Take the bands off and it’s a little miracle of technology and engineering and manufacturing, a dense package containing more sensors and processing power than anyone could have even dreamed a few decades ago. It’s a supercomputer on your wrist, but it’s also a bulbous, friendly little thing, far more round than I expected, recalling nothing quite so much as the first-generation iPhone. It is unbelievably high tech and a little bit silly, a masterpiece of engineering with a Mickey Mouse face. It is quintessentially Apple.

But not all are sold on the Apple Watch design. New York Time’s Farhad Manjoo says,

The Apple Watch is far from perfect, and, starting at $350 and going all the way up to $17,000, it isn’t cheap. Though it looks quite smart, with a selection of stylish leather and metallic bands that make for a sharp departure from most wearable devices, the Apple Watch works like a first-generation device, with all the limitations and flaws you’d expect of brand-new technology.

Features

Hardware aside, software and features like custom watch faces, notifications, and fitness features is what will determine how well the smartwatch does. Regarding the custom watch faces, Patel says,

The main watch face really is a complete self-contained experience: if the Apple Watch had no other functionality except for what you can do from the watch face, it would still be competitive. Customizing the Watch Face is the first time you’ll use Force Touch: you push a little bit harder on the screen, and you can swipe between Apple’s selection of watch face templates, each of which can be customized and saved as individual variations. Most of the templates are minor riffs on the same basic analog watch, but others are very strange indeed, like the animated butterfly and jellyfish. There’s no particularly great digital face, and there’s no ability to load up your own watch faces or buy new ones from the store, which is a clearly missed opportunity.

One of the main inspirations behind the Watch was that iPhones were ruining our lives with their constant interruptions. While unattended, the constant notifications on the Watch could be equally intrusive, the reviewers were impressed with the notification system.

Yahoo Tech’s David Pogue says,

Apple’s notification management is excellent. You have total control over which kinds of messages tap you on the wrist. You can choose “The same ones I’ve set up on my phone,” or override those settings for the Watch.

And if some call or alert starts ringing at an inopportune moment, you can shut the watch by pressing your palm against its screen, as though to say, “QUIET!” That’s handy in libraries, churches, or chess matches.

Performance Issue

Nearly all the software and motion tracking functions are controlled by Apple’s new S1 processor, which packs in multiple components on a single chip. But on the flip side, the wearable suffers from performance issues like slow loading apps.

Patel says,

The Apple Watch, as I reviewed it for the past week and a half, is kind of slow. There’s no getting around it, no way to talk about all of its interface ideas and obvious potential and hints of genius without noting that sometimes it stutters loading notifications. Sometimes pulling location information and data from your iPhone over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi takes a long time. Sometimes apps take forever to load, and sometimes third-party apps never really load at all. Sometimes it’s just unresponsive for a few seconds while it thinks and then it comes back. Apple tells me that upcoming software updates will address these performance issues, but for right now, they’re there, and they’re what I’ve been thinking about every morning as I get ready for work.

Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey Fowler is equally scathing in his observation,

The Apple Watch doesn’t have cellular connection, so you’ll need a companion iPhone nearby for many of its functions to work. Sometimes, though, that arrangement is painfully slow: The maps app, surely the answer to wandering pedestrians’ dreams, is so slow it makes me want to pull out my paper Rand McNally.

Battery Life

One of the most talked-about topics on the Apple Watch was the battery life. Despite the fact that the wearable needs to be charged once every day, the situation is not bleak.

Goode says,

Apple has promised that the battery will last 18 hours per charge with normal use. It hasn’t yet died on me during the day, or even late at night. My iPhone actually conked out before the Watch did; this happened to Bonnie, too.

One day this past week, I woke up at 5:15AM, exercised for an hour using the Watch, ran Maps during my commute, made phones calls and received notifications throughout the whole day, and by 11:00 pm the Watch was just hitting its Power Reserve point.

Fowler too continues in the same vein.

The battery lives up it its all-day billing, but sometimes just barely. It’s often nearly drained at bedtime, especially if I’ve used the watch for exercise. There’s a power-reserve mode that can make it last a few hours longer, but then it only shows the time.

The Apple Watch’s screen does an adequate job outdoors, but less so in the direct sun. Most of the Apple Watch’s screens feature white text on a black background, which helps some.

Conclusion

The general consensus is a mixed bag of sorts. While the reviewers are impressed with what Apple has achieved with the Watch, the smartwatch suffers issues plaguing first-generation products. But such issues should be ironed out in future iterations.

Bloomberg’s Joshua Topolsky says,

The watch is not life-changing. It is, however, excellent. Apple will sell millions of these devices, and many people will love and obsess over them. It is a wonderful component of a big ecosystem that the company has carefully built over many years. It is more seamless and simple than any of its counterparts in the marketplace. It is, without question, the best smartwatch in the world.

Patel says,

There’s no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today. It is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well. For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it’s not clear that anyone’s yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.

As per Goode,

Apple Watch strives for high fashion, but it still looks like a techie watch. Even if you can easily swap out the basic, smooth plastic band for a more elegant one — the $149 leather band, the $149 Milanese loop or the $449 link bracelet — the face looks kind of like a miniature iPhone.

Manjoo says,

There’s a good chance it will not work perfectly for most consumers right out of the box, because it is best after you fiddle with various software settings to personalize use. The most exciting thing about the Apple Watch isn’t the device itself, but the new tech vistas that may be opened by the first mainstream wearable computer. For now, the dreams are hampered by the harsh realities of a new device. The Watch is not an iPhone on your wrist.