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Apple Watch Series 1 Review: In Depth

4.5
Time to buy a smartwatch?

The Good

  • Beautiful design
  • Two day battery life
  • Fast charging
  • Great screen

The Bad

  • WatchOS is awkward
  • Unresponsive apps
  • Expensive

Apple Watch Series 1 review: With Apple's first smartwatch finally hitting stores, here's our full in-depth review to help you decide if it's really worth the asking price.

Design: Considered and refined

It’s doesn’t pack a circular face like we were hoping, but it is a thing of beauty. The level of fit and finish is right up there with Apple’s greatest products and it's some of the best in the business, especially when you sit it alongside a few notable rivals.

Watch front Watch back

The Sport edition is the most affordable of the three variants with its aluminium casing and it looks particularly good in black, but depending on how deep your pockets go, there’s also a stainless steel option and a pair of 18-carat gold variants that’ll set you back up to five figures.

The details really help the Series 1 stand out; from the curved glass front that blends into the casing, the magnetic charging dock that connects neatly over the heart rate sensor and the easily interchangeable straps. Apple's used a proprietary design, so bear in mind that whilst they're easy to swap out, for the moment alternatives are only really available directly from Apple and they aren't cheap.

Watch crown

Even the larger 42mm body (there's a 38mm option for dainty wrists too) feels smaller than most other smartwatches out there which, means you get a relatively big-screened experience (for a wearable) from a small device.

Screen: Seamless

As we already mentioned, a circular screen would have been cool, but Apple has actually given its watch an excellent 1.7-inch 390x312 squared Retina Display instead (the 38mm version packs a 1.5-inch, 340x272 resolution display).

The impressively deep blacks help give the illusion that the screen is part of that curved glass front and a look at Apple’s notes to developers even suggest that they should design their apps with predominantly black interfaces to sell this idea.

WatchScreen

It’s a wonderfully colourful screen too, best seen from the apps menu and great auto brightness, paired with low reflectivity ensures it’s usable indoors or outdoors. Even simple things like the accelerometer have clearly been fine tuned, as it boasts one of the best takes on tilt-to-wake around, working 99% of the time.

The only gripe is that it’s not the sharpest in the business, but it’s wholly usable for fine text and images look OK too.

OS: Where the road gets bumpy

WatchOS 2 is right around the corner, but for the time being the experience on the Apple Watch has a few hurdles it needs to overcome. Namely that apps – which are the focus of the experience - can take a long time to load, especially when they have to poll your iPhone for information.

Aside from being a bit slow though, the Apple Watch is feature-packed. Perhaps a little too rich, if you don’t want to spend the entire day staring at your wrist.

Apple Watch screenshots

Glances help keep selected info to hand, accessible with a swipe up from the bottom of the watch face. Pressing the crown will bring up the complete apps menu, the layout of which you can customise from the companion app on your iPhone.

Outside of first-party apps, notifications aren’t particularly rich, which coming from Android Wear feels a little restrictive, but on the whole there’s a lot on offer here.

Fitness freaks will also appreciate the inbuilt activity tracking which distills your day into Standing, Moving and Exercising. The three ring UI makes it easy to see how you’re progressing and you can even unlock achievements by trying that little bit harder.

Performance: Don't believe what you hear

Smartwatch interaction is a tricky thing to get right, but the Apple Watch gives you a number of ways to do it.

The digital crown (as Apple has dubbed it) is both a smooth scroll wheel and a back button that’s great for scanning through lists quickly, rather than having to swipe and obscure things on the display. The touch screen supports harder presses too, called force touches for alternative options like changing your watch face and there’s a second hard key that brings up your favourite contacts or can be used to switch the watch off completely.

Along with force touch another intriguing feature you won't find on rival watches is Apple's taptic engine. In place of a conventional vibrating motor working in concert with incoming calls or notifications, the Apple Watch integrates a flexible diaphragm which simulates the sensation of a physical tap against your wrist. it's a little unsettling at first, but ultimately a more discreet and obvious way of informing the user of an event.

Ignore the hearsay if you’re worried about battery life. We consistently managed two days of use comfortably between charges and if you want, there’s a power reserve mode to push things even further. Charging is also pretty swift, going from 0 to 100 per cent in about an hour, so you’re never going to be without your watch for too long.

A smart feature that Apple didn’t make a big song and dance about at launch is that when you take off the Watch, it enables a pin code automatically, so it’s harder for prying eyes to get at any personal information you might have stashed away.

Verdict: You should buy one if you want one

So should you buy an Apple Watch? Maybe. If you’re after a smartwatch and use an iPhone, your options are this or the new Pebble Time or Time Steel, both of which are more affordable, but don’t offer as finely tailored an experience as the Apple Watch.

Watch Verdict

It’s got a lot of room to grow and it still needs work, but mainly on the software side; the easier side to alter and refine, so, yes the Apple Watch is a good smartwatch and it’s one of the best cases for the technology yet, even if it doesn’t have the power to convince everyone.

Read next: How much is an Apple Watch?

Key Specs

  • Smartwatch
  • 1.7-inch (42mm)
  • 390x312
  • watchOS
  • iOS
  • Siri, IPX7 certified, heart rate sensor, interchangeable straps

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