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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  • tipoo - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    Please don't do that. Reply
  • cknobman - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    WOW Anand very disappointed.

    First Apple watch has been largely a market failure so far. Outside of initial orders sales have been poor.

    Second your review is definitely tinted in "Rose colored" apple glasses.

    The design is bulky, thick, and look absolutely stupid on a wrist. Even owners of it will admit its too big.
    The UI interface sucks and the using the wheel to scroll thorough dozens of tiny circles on screen is retarded and not user friendly.
    You fail to mention the watch practically does d!ck without the phone which makes it pointless. The freaking $400 Apple watch cannot fulfill the same level of functionality that a fitbit can unless its tethered to a damn iPhone.
    That reminds me the watch only works with iPhones!!
    The battery life is terrible.
    It TOO EXPENSIVE.

    Yeah greeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaat device though! ;)
    Reply
  • ViewRoyal - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    Yup, you are right. No one has bought the Apple Watch. Everyone hates it. Apple is DOOOOOOOMED!

    (And now, let's hear from someone who is rational and in tune with reality ;-))
    Reply
  • sonny73n - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    I have a few watches and some of which I'll probably never wear them again because I prefer my favorite ones. Let's not talk about Rolex, instead take one from my bunch - a Movado that I paid $2200 around 15 years ago. Surely it had cost me a lot more than the $400 Apple watch but its value today is not much different from 15 years ago. Carbide band and housing, sapphire glass - a fine and stylish quality time piece unlike the Apple watch which will be obsolete soon in a few years. Apple watch may be a good watch NOW but for $400, it's very unattractive not to mention I'll probably feel like an idiot right after I pay for it.

    Some people just doesn't understand that it's not about the price, it's about the value of the product they're paying for. If people keeps paying high price for craps, them companies will continue making craps thinking they've produced masterpieces. Personally, I wouldn't pay more than $40 for this ugly ToyRUs looking watch. And NO, Apple isn't doomed but sale figures can certainly tell how good or bad the product they're selling. Feel free to support Apple if you like but I'll only support my wallet.
    Reply
  • Zak - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    A smartphone should not be compared to a phone and a smartwatch should not be compared to a watch. Even though I still can't see any use for a smartwatch... But comparing Apple watch to a Movado or Rolex is just silly, this is not what a smartwatch is meant to be. Reply
  • Kvaern2 - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    I find Anatechs review to be a lot better than yours. Reply
  • DSN1138 - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    the watch can actually do work outs/steps without the phone. The battery life on the watch is insane im usually at 70-80 % by the time I got to bed. Also you don't "use the wheel to scroll through dozens of tiny circles".... its a touch screen.. you scroll with you finger.. Reply
  • davegraham - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    meh...I have a 42mm version of the sport and will burn the battery in < a day in use. for now, it's a good notifier of things i need to do but otherwise, it's nothing special. Reply
  • sohrab - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    May I ask what you do with your watch on a day to day basis that makes it so that you have no battery life left? I use mine from 7 am - 10-11 pm, most days with a workout recorded, and worst case scenario, I'm at 30% by the end of the day. Reply
  • Roguedog - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    your experience is unusual, as most who respond to these articles report eod average battery remaining to be about 40-60%.... my day starts at 0500, ends around 1130 with typically 45% battery remaining, I sleep with it on, awake @ 0430 with about 40% remaining, charge about 35 minutes to 100% while showering and shaving. What's not to like!? Reply

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