Design

With a new form factor comes the need to deeply analyze design, and in the case of a smartwatch it really becomes more important than ever before. Like clothing, watches are deeply personal in a way that smartphones weren’t. The most immediate aspect of the Apple Watch is the size. I’ve used the Moto 360 before, and while I didn’t think it was too big for me, people with smaller wrists can look rather ridiculous wearing the Moto 360 or many other smartwatches. Even in the 42mm variant, the Apple Watch is surprisingly small for a smartwatch. The 38mm variant is definitely sized for people with smaller wrists.

Outside of height and width, the thickness of the watch is definitely a bit more than what one might expect from a regular watch, but it isn’t really all that noticeable due to the rounded curves of the casing. When looking at the display, the display’s cover glass also blends seamlessly into the metal case of the watch, which really looks impressive indoors, although the illusion is somewhat lost in strong sunlight as it becomes obvious where the display ends and the bezel begins. This really helps with analog watchfaces, but in practice I found I was never really bothered by rectangular watch displays. If anything, I’ve found round watch display to lack information density; round watch displays just aren’t pragmatic for general purpose computing.

In order to really give a sense of what the watch looks and feels like when it’s on the wrist, I’m going to start by assuming that most people will wear this watch on their left hand. This places the side button and digital crown on the right. If you read nothing else in this entire article, you should know that the digital crown is probably the best solution I’ve seen to the smartwatch input problem yet. The digital crown manages to have just the right amount of friction to the knob so input feels deliberate without being difficult. The notches that surround the crown really help with gripping the crown and improve the precision of input with the digital crown. Both the digital crown and side button have a solid, clicky action, but it’s probably not a surprise at this point given that Apple seems to consistently nail down details like button feel on their iPads and iPhones.

On the left side of the watch, the only notable interruptions are the speaker and microphone holes. As far as I can tell there’s only a single microphone hole, but it seems that Apple has some form of noise cancellation as background noise is generally well-muffled.

The top and bottom of the watch are just the attachment points for the bands of the watch, but from a design perspective this is probably one of the most crucial. The interchangeable bands work incredibly well because of just how easy it is to attach and detach bands. Attaching a band is as simple as matching with the slot and sliding it in, although it is possible to get it wrong by putting a band in upside-down. The fit and finish of both the Milanese loop and sport band that I received were both essentially perfect here, and the Milanese loop band has a glossy finish on the side that helps the band to blend in with the casing of the watch.

The bands themselves are probably the most important aspect of the Apple Watch's design. While Apple definitely hopes that users will be purchasing bands in addition to the one that comes with their watch, it's a safe bet that most users will be using the fluoroelastomer bands that ship with the Apple Watch Sport and the entry level Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition models. Because the fluoroelastomer band ships with the Sport version of the watch and has to fit every wrist size the fluoroelastomer band actually is more like one and a half bands. Included in the package is the section of the strap with the metal pin, and two pieces of different lengths with holes in them. The longer one is meant for users with larger wrists, and the smaller one for users with smaller wrists.

As for the band itself, the feel of it can be difficult to describe. When they were first revealed, my initial thought was that they would have a somewhat firm and rubbery feel. It turns out that the bands are very flexible, and also very soft. The best description I could give is that it feels similar to the soft touch back of the black Nexus 5 and Nexus 9, but much smoother and very resistant to smudges. Water also tends to roll right off of it which makes it very well suited to fitness activities. Since it's not infinitely adjustable there's always a small mismatch between the size of the band and the size of your wrist, but there's not much that can be done to solve that with a pin and tuck design.

In the case of the Milanese loop, the infinitely adjustable design has basically solved the teething issues I have with wearing most watches. The band manages to deal with the issues I’ve always had with wristbands that always seemed to be either too tight or too loose. The fabric-like pattern of the metal links also helps to distribute pressure while allowing for ventilation, so I don’t feel the need to constantly take off the watch due to trapped sweat or some similar issue. It’s also easy to clean the metal bands if they get dirty, although I suspect the leather bands will be rather difficult to deal with in this regard. There is some potential to pinch hairs, but in my experience this is pretty unlikely and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve noticed this problem in the past few months. As a result, this is probably the only watch I’ve ever worn that is consistently comfortable regardless of weather conditions. Independent of how good the wearable is from a digital logic/software standpoint, I’ve noticed that these aspects of the design are far, far more crucial than anyone seems to notice. In the case of Apple Watch, the bands are pretty much as good as it gets.

Moving past the bands, the back of the watch is somewhat unremarkable. There’s a rounded crystal that houses the heart rate LEDs and sensors, and serves as an attachment point for the MagSafe wireless charger. In practice, the only notable issue here is that the crystal seems to act as a pressure point when wearing the Watch, but it’s likely that this is done to ensure proper contact for the heart rate monitor.

Overall, Apple has pretty much nailed the design of the watch. The controls are well-executed and placed in a pragmatic position, in a way that I haven’t really seen anyone else achieve yet. The only real objection I have to the design is that the stainless steel casing seems to be a magnet for small scratches. They’re tough to see in most conditions, but with strong lighting it becomes pretty obvious that it’s pretty easy to scratch the watch casing. I suspect the only solution here is to regularly buff out scratches from the casing like most any stainless steel watch. As for the Apple Watch Sport, the 7000 series aluminum seems to hold up to daily use without any sign of scratches or chips on the casing of the watch. At 25g and 30g for the 38mm and 42mm respectively it's also lighter than the 40g and 50g masses of the stainless steel models. Since the Sport edition uses Ion-X glass like the iPhone 6 instead of the Sapphire crystal of the normal Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition, the display cover glass is much more susceptible to scratching. While I haven't encountered any scratches at this point, the sapphire glass editions will undoubtedly better stand the test of time.

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  • Tams80 - Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - link

    One more point to add:

    While this is essentially a piece of jewellery, it is also a throw away commodity. The battery will degrade quickly with it's intended use, and as far as I know is not replaceable. This is more acceptable for a base piece of technology, so prices can be high. For an accessory though? The price is far too high.

    It can't really be compared to jewellery though. Jewellery lasts a long time, and is often handed down. What it lacks in features, it makes up for in longevity.
    Reply
  • dan98 - Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - link

    "You haven't tried many watches, and by the sounds of it, none to the same extent as the Apple Watch. If that is the case, then I don't think you are qualified to make a comparison to them, as a professional reviewer. "

    Bizarre point. The reviewer doesn't make any comparisons, other than to those he has tried.

    "You do know that there are smartwatches out there that take standard watch straps? You do know that there are countless different designs of standard watch straps?"

    Bad point. Where did he mention just the strap? He's talking about the discomfort of the wearable as a whole.

    "What ergonomic annoyances? The watch goes on your wrist, and in many cases never needs to come off. In return watches tell the time, often the date and day, and sometimes more. How is glancing at a watch less ergonomic than getting your phone out of wherever it is and checking it?"

    Bad point. The ergonomic annoyances of watches are clear and obvious to most people. ie. they catch on things, add bulk to the arm, and require care to avoid damage in certain situations. Its a question of whether these annoyances are outweighed by the advantages of the watch in question.

    "Total fluff, and no shit Sherlock"

    ? This is a non-point which only serves to underline the commenter's bizarre stance.
    Reply
  • yhselp - Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - link

    The first proper, in-depth review of any wearable that I am aware of. Thank you for taking the time to do it right, the end result is a very valuable (in many respects) piece of work. This, in my opinion, is the most 'AnandTech' article since Anand left and it's very welcome -- I've now read one too many articles here where the reviewer explains himself and tries to justify his opinion in a manner as if to ward off the expected flamers in the comments. I believe that loyal and regular AnandTech reader values your opinion as it is, unbiased and as objective as possible; do not be deterred by fanboys and haters -- there's no need to cater to them. Reply
  • beggerking@yahoo.com - Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - link

    review is totally biased... 12 hr battery life?

    search for android watch phone. there are android watch phones that are FULL phones with dual core/ quad core cpu that has 3 day battery life, along with waterproof , micro sd, etc etc and the price is between $100-300
    Reply
  • beggerking@yahoo.com - Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - link

    "I don’t know if Apple will succeed in convincing others of the utility of a watch, but they’ve definitely convinced me."

    right. now how much $$ did Crapple deposit into your bank account?
    Reply
  • S2k15 - Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - link

    What has to happen in someone's life, that they become such a hateful and shitty human being like yourself? Do you have evidence that this author was paid off? If not, shut the fuck up and spare us your attempts at slander and character assassination.

    Also, I hope you're not older than 5 yrs old, which is the only thing that would excuse the sheer stupidity of the using the word "Crapple". It's sad that comment sections have been flooded with absolute trash posts like yours.
    Reply
  • allajunaki - Thursday, July 23, 2015 - link

    Wow, Anandtech Comments used to be filled with smart people. Sadly, most of the comments seems to come from trolls. And I have a sneaky feeling that most of it are from a few. Unfortunately, instead of reading anything constructive, all I read is haters hating, and defenders defending. And most of it has no objective, or constructive content.
    I have been an Anadtech visitor for the last 15 or so years. I never once had to question the integrity of this website. Its sad that other commentators do not share the same sentiment.
    Folks, best way to shut a troll, is by ignoring them.
    Anandtech, can we have Comment Votes (Like Arstechnica) ?
    Reply
  • Spencer Andersen - Thursday, July 23, 2015 - link

    It is sad to see so many negative people commenting on every tech site. I guess people just need to prove they have some superior intellect or knowledge that makes them better than others to be happy.
    I sometimes feel bad for these talented individuals doing these reviews who put their knowledge to the web only for it to be dissected and misconstrued by the masses every single time. The truth is if these commenters were happy with their lives they wouldn't feel the need to constantly challenge or put others down. It's a huge problem with the world today, rather than work together and bring each other up so we can reach higher existence we choose to be selfish and think about ourselves and drag each other down.
    I for one love Anandtech and visit it because these people know stuff about tech I never will so I value their opinions. I got some great information from this article as I do from every other article and thats why I keep coming back. So to all the malcontents out there talking all that trash, take a magnesium calcium supplement for witch your probably deficient in and chill the flip out. Enjoy this great website built off the efforts and contributions of many talented people. And click on damn add every once in a while to support them, its not going to kill you to loose a few seconds of your life.
    Reply
  • jonminchoi - Thursday, July 23, 2015 - link

    As an owner of the Apple Watch, I'd like to provide some comments to the review, and to the general state of the comments.

    First, a review (and by extension the reviewer) is not the ultimate source of truth in the universe, but rather is a mere opinion of a collected group, providing some form of technical evidence to ground their claims. Depending on the site, the aforementioned evidence could be extremely detailed and scientific, or it could be somewhat subjective.

    It is entirely your choice as the reader to agree with the reviewer's words, but please, do not belittle the reviewer or the article. Even if you are gifted with literary ability that far exceeds his (which I would think is extremely unlikely), it does not give you the right to bully and patronize others.

    I, for one, agree with most of what the reviewer mentioned: the Apple Watch has never given me trouble with the battery life. I doubt there is a huge population of Apple Watch users who have actual need to keep the Watch on for longer than 18 hours (the battery life stated by Apple, which seems very underestimated). I have not had much trouble with the actual function of the Apple Watch, as I use it mostly for parsing notifications more effectively than the use of just my iPhone would allow. Taptic Feedback works very well, and I am able to respond to most notifications without disrupting my coworkers in an extremely quiet work environment. Although there is some noticeable loading time for apps that require the use of iOS, this fact has never bothered me to the point of being a dealbreaker.

    At the end of the day, I'm able to afford the price of the Apple Watch, and have thus far enjoyed the benefits of ownership. While there are still some things I wish Apple could improve in both hardware and software, I have not regretted my purchase.

    I think both the moderators of Anandtech as well as its readers would benefit from a more contributive and constructive discussion.
    Reply
  • gamer1000k - Thursday, July 23, 2015 - link

    While I'm no Apple fan (and will never own an iPhone and by proxy and Apple Watch unless some major changes occur at Apple), I will admit that this watch is a neat piece of technology. Sure it has some first gen quirks and will likely be orphaned rapidly as new and improved models come out, but Apple did put some effort into this and I look forward to seeing their competitors up their game in response so I can get those products once the prices come down. Still, I'm a little annoyed at how much media attention and hype Apple gets for a product that really isn't all that different from existing android smartwatches. (And yes, this article does read a little like a kid at christmas who got a shiny new toy. At least the final conclusion comes back to reality and recognizes this is a first gen product with some major drawbacks so we should wait for the next version.)

    Granted, it's not the piece of technology I would have designed (and I heartily agree that it costs entirely too much for what it is), but the same could be said for pretty much all smartwatches at this point. I'm a little disappointed with Apple's (and most other companies) approach to the smartwatch and trying to pack too much power into a device that doesn't really need it.

    I think Pebble's approach is the most logical at this point. It displays notifications, has a microphone, and even runs simple apps all while maintaining a week's worth of battery life and an always-on e-paper display. The LCD and relatively beefy CPU on the Apple watch and others allow for flashier interfaces and apps, but I'm still not sure how that really adds to the smartwatch experience at this point.

    I'll keep an open mind and see what happens over the next few months, but right now I see the smartwatch primarily as a notification accessory for a phone and have a hard time visualizing how it will work as an application platform beyond the most basic apps given the tiny screen.
    Reply

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