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.

Introduction Apple S1 Analysis
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  • TedKord - Monday, July 27, 2015 - link

    Holy crap. That post was longer than the review. Reply
  • Figaro56 - Saturday, August 1, 2015 - link

    Holly crap you sound exactly like a manic depressive friend of mine. You lost me at the gazillionth POS comment. Reply
  • michellepennie - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    Boohoo you sound the jealous type and i bet you couldn't afford one :P lol Reply
  • dsumanik - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    You know what Ryan, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    Whether it was apple PR or not is irrelevant. I'll even admit I didn't even finish the entire article because it read like a kid getting a new toy for christmas explaining how magical it was.

    Can you explain to my why the author(s) felt the need to photograph and post not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE neatly arranged unboxing shots... on the very first page of the article.

    The shots were deliberately arranged on a cleaned, attractive, ironed cloth that tied into the watch's color scheme.

    Some questions about the opening sequence of photos :

    - Do you think that these shots reveal any info to your readers? Tech specs, warranty info, durability?
    - Why does the EXIF info read adoble lightroom. Like gimme a break. They were enhanced.
    - If we remove all verbiage, does the watch look attractive, or unattractive in any way shape or form?
    - Do people generally wear a timepiece nicely draped over their fingers in front of a sunny picturesque tree?
    - Is it just a coincidence that not only I but others, thought the photo's looked 'funny'?

    The author(s) deliberately took time and significant effort to make the product to look as attractive as possible. The opening page, it's photographs and presentation instantly clue the reader that this piece is obviously written with heavy marketing bias and the overall tone and conclusion will be a positive one.

    Is my original post inflammatory? Sure. Beligerent? yes.

    100% True?

    YES.

    You know why this watch isn't selling? Apple's customers are thinking this:

    "Cool! New apple watch! What does it do?"
    "Hmm, it doesnt really do that much. I was kind of expecting more."
    "You know what, it's kinda chunky and why does it stutter?...OMG, 400 bucks? pffff totally not worth it."

    I know this because I am an apple customer, and this thing pretty much just sucks.

    Some more questions:

    - Do you think it would be good for your publication to write a scathing review of an apple product that went viral? Isn't that kind of sad?
    - Would you recommend this product for a single mother, your grandma, or anyone else close to you?
    - Have you thought about purchasing this product for ANYONE as a gift?
    - Had this review not taken place would you have gone out and purchased this item for yourself? LOL!!!!
    - Can you link me an article written on anandtech that portrayed any apple product in a negative light, ever?

    I'm sorry RyanI know you are jsut doing your job but the 'general consumer' is getting smarter and the internet is getting clogged up with this kind editorial crap.

    The only way to stop it is to speak up, LOUD, and be heard.

    Didn't Ellen Pao just say it best?

    "The trolls are winning"

    By trolls, she meant the general public tha ist sick of being lied to and manipulated.

    Lied to by presidents, company reps, journalists, law enforcement, intelligence agencies....right down to silly little amazon reviews.

    2 weeks later he files a patent to provide an advertisement based on your bank account balance!

    Call a turd a turd.

    Dont photoshop it then, sprinkle whipcream and cherries on top.

    Just sayin.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    "You know what Ryan, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt."

    Thank you. I appreciate it.

    "Whether it was apple PR or not is irrelevant. I'll even admit I didn't even finish the entire article because it read like a kid getting a new toy for christmas explaining how magical it was.
    Can you explain to my why the author(s) felt the need to photograph and post not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE neatly arranged unboxing shots... on the very first page of the article."

    The short answer is that our Apple reviews have a wider reach than our standard technical articles. The range of readers that will show up to AnandTech for a MacBook or iPhone review has a much more distinctive consumer shift than say an SSD or CPU review. And while we still have a large number of technical readers (who are our heart and soul), it's also good for us to be visible to less technical consumers, as it helps them learn that we exist and, hopefully, come back to learn things that no other site can offer.

    In any case, when you're working to reach a broader audience, you need to focus on more than just words. Less technical consumers aren't going to care about the S1 analysis for example, and that's okay, because we reach these users in other ways. And one of the ways we do that is in photography. Broader audiences like pictures - they like good pictures - and that means we step up our game on photography for these reviews in order to accommodate those users. There are a number of other sites out there reviewing the Watch, and there is a segment of the broader audience that will write us off in favor of another review if we show up with poor photography, so we need to make sure that not only is our analysis top notch, but our prose and imagery is competitive as well.

    At the end of the day we won't make any compromises on the technical side for our regular technical readers, but if we can also bring wider consumers into the fold through materials such as improved photography, we will do that as well. This way both techies and non-techies alike can enjoy our articles and learn something from them.
    Reply
  • mapesdhs - Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - link

    Irony is, if the photos were 'poor', someone would be complaining about that instead. Ya can't please all of the people all of the time...

    Ian.
    Reply
  • Schickenipple - Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - link

    It's sad, Ryan, that you actually had to explain this to someone. I thought your core readers would understand that an Apple Watch review isn't in the same category as a NVMe PCIe SSD. Guess not. Reply
  • bo3bber - Saturday, July 25, 2015 - link

    Ryan, just wanted to observe that this approach has had the opposite effect on me. I used to come to AnandTech as my absolute goto first tech site, and these Apple puff pieces made me question your other reviews. So instead of improving your reach, at least for me, you reduced your reach because I feel that I cannot trust you as much as I did.

    The fact that Anand himself also left to go to Apple would strongly suggest you be wary of running Apple stuff that is fluffy.

    I only read the summary, because the out-of-box first page showed me it was going to be a puff piece not a technical review.

    I think you do yourself a disservice and have damaged your brand by trying to reach a larger market.
    Reply
  • Samus - Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - link

    They clearly haven't paid attention to the high production value of ALL Anandtech articles over the past decade. You guys use top notch photography and lightboxes all the time. These comments are ridiculous.

    The Reddit fallout must have sent trolls to every corner of the internet.
    Reply
  • victorson - Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - link

    Ryan, I do respect Anandtech coverage a lot and Josh has done some great research articles that I'm still digesting. However, I have to agree with others: this review just reads strangely lacking in perspective. It is choke-full of weird claims about watchOS being the iOS in the watch world, and about all that first-gen BS that gets throw around. Why is it that every tech reviewer would gladly slam a device for its poor functionality, but once we start talking about Apple, suddenly you guys chicken out and rather than saying that it's shit, you say that 'well, it lags like hell, but that's okay, because it's a first gen product.' And how about commenting on the lack of any actual useful functionality on the watch that would make users spend a ludicrous $700 for a single-core 500MHz processor running a 1.5" display? Don't get me started on forgetting to mention that other competitors have always-on screen (the WatchOS is a sore disappointment) AND come with two days of battery life. AND half the price! But no, rather than giving us some insightful comments on that, we get the 'I'm definitely convinced in the smartwatch now'. Thanks, very useful! /s Reply

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