Since 2010, Casio’s G-Shock had been my constant companion. On every adventure, big and small, I had a durable, solar-powered, feature-packed, tank of a wristwatch and I’d loved every second of it. I took comfort in knowing I could wash up on a desert island and at least have an accurate timepiece to help me track the time it takes a man to starve to death.
I mentioned it was feature-packed and it really was. It had a calendar and current time in the primary function mode, but also had stopwatches, timers, alarms, six different wavelengths for receiving accurate time, and an outer casing I’m almost positive could stop a bullet. It was also gigantic and, for all the features crammed into its casing, really only used for one thing: telling time. Even typically time-related tasks like timers or stopwatches were relegated to my phone because it was faster to pull my phone out and ask Siri to do it for me than muddling through the mode button options on my watch. Many people looked at that conundrum as reason to “just not wear one”.
“You already have a phone,” they’d say, “so what’s the point of wearing a watch?”
Personally, I’ve never liked the idea of having to dig something out of a pocket or a bag to access some minute piece of information like the time or date. This is especially true when my hands are busy doing something else, and in working IT I deal with this quite a bit. We IT folk are exposed to a daily hammering of notifications the likes of which would make a normal man crumble and die: meeting reminders, service requests, text messages, emails… some from humans, some from machines, all one more reason to dig that phone out of the pocket and see what’s on fire and where. A watch offers convenient and subtle reference for information you usually need right this second as opposed to after the ten or fifteen seconds it takes to grab your phone, unlock it, and access the app you need for the information you want. For me, the value in having small bits of relevant information at an immediate glance cannot be overstated. After furiously digging my phone out of my pocket for the tenth time one morning only to find a text message from Home Depot and expecting an email from a colleague, I glanced at my watch and mentally submitted to a fundamental truth of this era: a watch designed solely for time-telling is a waste of prime real estate.
It was time (I’m so sorry) to upgrade.
I could write a whole separate piece on why I chose what I chose to replace the G-Shock. And if anybody read it, they could write ten pages more on why I’m a stupid asshole jerkface for choosing it. Pebble, Fitbit, Microsoft Band, Galaxy Gear, Apple Watch… there’s no right answer which won’t get you crucified on the Internet for choosing. Accepting upfront that this is the Internet and I am wrong (no matter what), I chose to purchase an Apple Watch.
When I finally relented and ordered my Apple Watch Sport, I had to decide which size I would buy. There are two options available, 38mm and 42mm. I was worried the 42mm, which Apple named as their “large” option, might be too big. Compared to the G-Shock it would replace, it turned out to be downright tiny. Cute, even. After the month-long wait from order to shipment, the first thing I noticed was how light the thing felt. While the G-Shock without the band weighs 63g, the Watch comes in at 70g balanced between the case and the band (30g and 40g, respectively). I couldn’t find numbers on the G-Shock’s band weight, but given the materials I would assume it is heavier than the one on the Watch. I had never given much consideration to weight differences measured in grams (or fractions of an ounce for us American savages), but when worn on a wrist the difference is immediately noted.
The thing I was most skeptical about was, of course, the battery. Having decided several years ago that I’m an adult and don’t sleep with my watch on, the prospect of having to charge the Watch at night didn’t really bother me. It goes on the nightstand next to my phone and, with watchOS 2, makes for a handy alarm clock. Still, the Internet had me worried about its ability to stay alive long enough to get me from dawn til dusk. Those fears were totally unfounded. My first full day with it, despite being spent toying with it relentlessly and putting it through its paces, left me with 70% battery life at the end of the work day and over 50% at bedtime. The next day, we stayed out quite late and still had a decent 41% left just before bed at 1AM.
Even though I’m satisfied with the battery life I’ve experienced, I think it’s still important to stress these days were atypical. The longer I have it, the more the initial novelty wears off, and the less “playing” I do on it. As I’m starting to use it more like a tool and less like an exciting new bauble, I’m seeing that battery meter just a little bit higher every night when I throw it on the charger. Some days see more dedicated use than others. Today, for example, saw heavy use and minimal play and the battery meter reflects as much. It also witnessed my discovery of a less pink shade of red for my watch face.
It’s safe to say the thing lasts more than long enough to be useful, so is it?
If you work IT, or really any desk-based support role, you receive a lot of phone calls. I’m away from my desk some of the time, so my desk phone forwards to my cell. I was performing a power supply transplant on a small desktop computer yesterday when my phone rang in my pocket. My left hand was holding several different wire leads which had to be plugged back in to particular places on the motherboard, my right hand was simultaneously releasing a retention tab and slowly “walking” the power supply out of position.
I wasn’t going to be answering that call.
The call went to voicemail and my watch lit up, notifying me immediately. I tapped the notification with my nose and listened to it via the built-in speaker. I was able to keep working while mentally noting a need to stop by a particular user’s desk when I was finished. The Watch felt totally useful to me in that moment. It relayed a task to me without interrupting what I was already engaged in, but it also prevented an additional task of remembering to check my voicemail. I can’t even count the number of times a voicemail has sat in my inbox because I had forgotten to check it. A notification is easy to forget about but a person with a face and a need is substantially less so.
Now if that story sounds minor, that’s because it is. It’s a little thing but lots of little things over the course of your work day quickly add up to something appreciable. If I’m walking around the building and my phone quickly vibrates one time in my pocket, I’m probably going to assume it’s an email or a text and decide it can wait until I’m back to my desk. If I’m busy working on something else, I’m definitely going to make that assumption. With the Watch, I’m a lot more likely to look at my wrist and realize I have a meeting next door in five minutes… a meeting I’d have been late for if I had waited until I got back to my desk or finished what I was doing to check. So again, little things. Like meetings and punctuality and task reduction.
So it’s useful at work, but what about after 5PM?
I’ll get this out of the way: if you want a smartwatch for sleep tracking, Apple Watch is not what you want to buy. Something like a Fitbit is going to be more useful for sleep tracking because battery life is measured in days rather than hours. You could use a Watch for sleep tracking, but the trade-off is you’d have to take it off for an hour or so each day to charge it. That said, there are plenty of apps in the App Store which will turn your phone into a sleep tracker just by putting it on your bed while you sleep, so it’s not as if you are totally unable to grab those stats if you really want them.
For all things related to being awake, however, the Watch is a great tool to have at your disposal.
The at-a-glance fitness tracking on the Watch is pretty great. For the past few months, I have been using MyFitnessPal to track my caloric intake and track macros, but keeping score of calories burned is a frustrating experience when only an exercise machine will tell you (roughly) how much work you’ve done in a given amount of time. The Watch’s heart rate monitor puts an end to that little bit of tedium. It takes an activity I used to have to partake in, that of getting into MFP and adding whatever exercise I had done and estimating the calories, etc, and makes it entirely passive. The Watch tracks my activity and puts it in an easy-to-read format without my having to participate at all. I’m interacting less and receiving more for it, what’s not to like?
Yesterday was a typical workday followed by an evening spent installing blinds and fixing things around the house. While I was moving around a lot, it’s clear I wasn’t exactly getting my heart pumping in the process.
What I like most about this sort of passive fitness tracking is it keeps me honest with myself whether I want to be or not. After dinner, when I’m about to lay back on the couch and watch TV or play games, I could assume that I’ve done enough to earn my caloric intake for the day. I could perform some mental gymnastics and lazy math and convince myself that the multiple trips from the fourth to the first floor and back again plus the walk to and from the parking ramp probably burned enough calories for me to deserve a night of sloth. The little wheel at the base of my watch face calls me a liar, though. It’s right there, I can’t debate it, and I have to choose to ignore it or act on it. It guilts me into staying somewhat active, and for some of us that’s what it takes.
As practical as I want to be, there are a few things I like about the Apple Watch just for the cool factor. When I walk into (or near) a Tim Horton’s (or many other retailers), Watch nudges me to let me know I’ve got $5 on a gift card to spend there. If I’m playing music on my Apple TV or computer, I can control the track and volume with the Remote app. Similarly, if you’re using your iPhone to stream music to a Bluetooth speaker while working on a project, the Music app on the Watch allows your phone to stay safely within range of the speaker without interruption while you control the track and volume from your wrist. Another thing I really like is the camera. The Camera app on the Watch opens the full Camera app on the paired iPhone and lets you use the watch as a viewfinder. If you’ve ever tried to grab the serial number off the back of a monitor, you already love this feature as much as I do.
After a full week of use, it’s safe to say I do not regret my purchase. I’ll concede the novelty probably hasn’t worn off yet, but that will probably be the case until I stop finding new things I like about it. To me, it has the same feel my iPhone had. Shiny and exciting at first, followed by a months-long transition into indispensability. After getting used to it, I imagine taking it for granted and not wanting to be without it. By any measure, that’s a definite success when talking about a gadget. I find it functional, useful, and a better use of space than the G-Shock it replaced. Still… there is work to do. There are a number of things I can think of which would make it truly invaluable, chief among them being a dedicated two-factor authenticator.
It seems like for every account you want secured, there’s an entirely separate authenticator app you’ll need to download for it. What I’d like to see is a sort of “passbook” feature for authenticators and for that feature to talk to the Watch directly. How great would it be for your token to just show up on your wrist when you need it instead of having to unlock your phone, find the particular authenticator app, open it and wait for your token? When most of your accounts are secured with two-factor, it’s a real pain in the ass. If you want people to be secure, you’ve got to make it easier. “Making it easier” is kind of why the Watch exists, isn’t it?
Another thing I find myself wishing for is the ability to respond to text messages with a keyboard. I’m not talking about composing novels on the thing, but being able to tap out a quick two or three word response is, much of the time, all I really need. This wouldn’t be complicated to implement, either. The Watch already supports a number pad, why not put it to use as a T9 text entry method? It worked for the entirety of the pre-smartphone era and I think it can work here, too. Siri is not always a great way to interact with a device, especially in a quiet office environment.
Finally, and this is an issue with the Watch I just can’t ignore, is the price. I was lucky enough to want black anodized aluminum. It’s lightweight and less eye-catching than its more expensive stainless- and gold-clad siblings. Unfortunately, the 42mm base model is still an astounding (for a watch) $400. My G-Shock cost about a quarter as much and I wore it for five years. It could easily be worn it for ten more. This is a gadget, which means the countdown to obsolescence began before I even took it out of the box. It wouldn’t sting so badly if Apple didn’t stick an IonX Glass screen on it instead of the sapphire of the higher-end models, but if I want a black Watch with sapphire screen, I’m going to be paying about $1,100 for the privilege. I could buy two of the one I’ve got plus AppleCare on both for that.
Pricing is already a high bar for entry, but this focus on the Watch as a fashion instead of a technology is doing no favors for Apple or for the people who would normally be quick to adopt their products. I actually cancelled my cable and a few other subscription services just so I wouldn’t feel bad about buying one. There’s a guilt to it I’ve never felt about a piece of technology before.
Overall, I’m really happy with the Watch… however: I keep hoping the fun and utility of the thing will erase that guilty feeling and it just hasn’t happened yet. I can justify the cost of an iPhone or a MacBook Pro, but I’m struggling with this one. A MacBook Pro is a solid laptop you can get years and years out of. Mine is from 2009 and, after a few upgrades, is still all the machine I need day-to-day. I get the feeling I won’t be rocking my first-generation Apple Watch in 2021, though if pricing stands as it is, I just might be enjoying the solar-powered reliability of my 27th-generation G-Shock once again.
I guess only time… will tell (sorry).