As with just about everything these days, display matters quite a bit. In a lot of ways, the wearable segment has display requirements similar to the smartphone space. However, unlike the smartphone space it isn’t necessarily critical to have the highest possible resolution, and it isn’t necessarily crucial to have perfect color calibration as in most cases wearables won’t be used for color-critical applications.

In the interest of addressing this, for the near-term we’ll continue to use the standard smartphone workflow, but I hope to expand the testing done here as wearables develop. For now, we’ll continue to do the standard brightness and accuracy testing, but I’ve removed the grayscale test as it strongly emphasizes gamma accuracy. Although it is important to not have obscenely incorrect gamma curves, wearables generally have to prioritize readability over dynamic range, which means that near-black colors would be brightened to try and overcome background reflectance. Similarly, we won’t be placing dE2000 average error in our Bench comparison tool or in graphs, as something like the Apple Watch cannot have controlled display brightness.

As a result, we can’t really be 100% sure that gamma tests and other tests of luminance are actually accurate when automatic brightness means that any inconsistency in light to the sensor will affect display brightness, which will strongly affect dE2000 results.

In the case of the Apple Watch, the display is interesting because this represents the first AMOLED display to ever be used in an Apple product. As far as I can tell, this is an LG OLED display with an RGB subpixel arrangement, but it isn’t quite the same as a traditional RGB stripe. I suspect that for the near future we will continue to see the use of this subpixel arrangement as the resolution of the Apple Watch doesn’t really allow for a PenTile layout. Given the current state of AMOLED (as evidenced by the Galaxy S6) I believe it is effectively the future of mobile displays, and it seems that whoever makes these decisions at Apple agrees as well.

As I mentioned in the start of this section, the Apple Watch also doesn’t have any way of manually setting brightness. You get approximately three choices of auto brightness algorithms, which bias the brightness curve of the display appropriately.

In practice, I didn’t actually care that manual brightness was gone on the watch because I never actually used manual brightness on the iPhone or any phone that has at least a halfway decent auto brightness system. In every phone I’ve ever used, the only time I use manual brightness is when the auto brightness system is clearly programmed wrong in some shape or form. Common cases where this would happen include auto brightness that didn’t actually set the display to maximum brightness in daytime or wouldn’t set the display to minimum brightness in absolute darkness.

Thankfully, the default auto brightness setting on the Apple Watch doesn’t have any of these problems, although for reasons unclear minimum brightness changes depending upon the brightness setting that is selected. As a reviewer though, it would definitely help if the watch had a manual brightness setting for more precise display testing and battery life testing. I’m sure that the precision of the digital crown would allow for precise brightness settings as well, but I suspect that this would have some very real potential to affect practical battery life as I’ve seen more than one person walk around with their smartphone display permanently set to maximum brightness because of reasons.

There’s also the issue of reflectance, which could be a problem given that the two higher-end models use a sapphire crystal glass on the display instead of traditional hardened glass. I did notice that reflectance is much higher than something like the iPad Air 2, but I never really felt like the reflections completely washed out the display. The reflections also indicate that the watch has a properly laminated display, without issues involving index of refraction mismatch. However, if people are worried about outdoor visibility Apple Watch Sport should be better given the use of more common aluminosilicate glass. I’m not sure if Apple has actually loaded different auto brightness algorithms for the Apple Watch/Watch Edition compared to the Watch Sport to try and compensate for this though, and I suspect such a change would be difficult to test for as well.

Although reflectance is one aspect of outdoor visibility, the other is display brightness. This is probably the only aspect of the Apple Watch where I can get consistent and repeatable results. Unfortunately, given that we haven’t actually done any other full-featured wearable reviews I’ll have to reference smartphones to get a good comparison point. As the Apple Watch display is already quite small, we won’t be able to get accurate APL vs brightness readings as it’s impossible to hold the meter in a repeatable position that isolates ambient light while also holding an LED to the display.

At any rate, the Apple Watch gets respectably bright at around 460-470 nits, although not quite the ridiculous 600 nits that the Galaxy S6 can achieve. At this full white display, I recorded a color temperature of 6891K, and 6883K at the ~100 nits that was used for the remainder of display testing. It’s important to keep in mind that these values are only at 100% white, so this isn’t the average color temperature that we normally list in reviews. Of course, this display’s contrast is also infinite, with no visible residual brightness on pure black images.

Saturation Sweep

Moving on to the saturation test, we can see that Apple has put a huge amount of effort into calibrating these displays, which is somewhat surprising given that one might expect wearables to not be all that critical when it comes to color accuracy. In my experience, I never actually bothered looking at photos on the watch outside of the messaging app and Twitter. I suspect that this was done in order to make it so that images look the same across all Apple devices, as something would seem “off” in most photos taken by an iPhone 6 if displayed with an Adobe RGB gamut. In this test, the dE2000 average error was 2.33, and as one might guess from the photo above most of the error was concentrated in blue, which appears to have some gamut issues as the native gamut appears to be wider than sRGB but not enough to completely cover sRGB.

GretagMacbeth ColorChecker

The GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test reveals a similar surprising level of attention to detail in color calibration. Color accuracy isn’t quite on par with the very best, but given that this is a first generation product I’m really surprised that the display is already receiving this much attention with an average dE2000 error of 2.42. Overall, this means that the display has relatively little perceivable error for sRGB content, which is the standard almost across the board, although wider gamuts like Rec. 2020 or Adobe RGB may one day supplant sRGB.

Overall, I’m impressed with the quality of the display of the Apple Watch. The AMOLED panel could probably reach a 600 nit max with sufficient progression in emitter technology from LGD, but I suspect this will take some time. The calibration is also incredible for a first-generation wearable, and the use of a full RGB subpixel helps to avoid a lot of the aliasing issues that tend to plague PenTile or other RG/BG subpixel arrangements at these relatively low pixel densities.

The reflectance of the sapphire lens on the display is a bit high and could probably benefit from anti-reflective coatings of some sort, but given that I haven’t had to worry about scratching the display thus far it’s probably a fair trade as a screen protector will usually increase reflectance noticeably. It’s also a bit annoying as a reviewer to not have manual brightness settings, but as an end user I never felt the need for manual brightness as the auto brightness algorithm works quite well.

Ultimately the entire user experience around the display in every aspect is well-executed, although there is still room for improvement on the technology side of things.

Apple Pay and WatchOS Final Words Battery Life, Charge Time, Taptic Engine, and Misc. Thoughts


View All Comments

  • Murloc - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    First! Reply
  • Murloc - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    the reviewer has no hair?? Reply
  • ianmills - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    HAHAHAHA exactly. The apple watch is reviewed by someone who is self-concious enough to shave their arm hair. This explains why the review is so positive. Some people find self-esteem in odd places... Reply
  • supermoon - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    That's just what some people's wrists look like bruh, including mine. what are you grasping at?? Reply
  • dsumanik - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    This entire article (photos and content) has been 'photoshopped' by apple PR. Hair and skin smoothed, bokeh added....look at how the watch is posed in the shots, it is amateur photography heavily post processed....in a lame viral marketing attempt.












    12K FOR THE 'EDITION' ?????????????


  • navysandsquid - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    Hate on brother lol butt hurt much its ok enjoy your droid turbo lol Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    "This entire article (photos and content) has been 'photoshopped' by apple PR. Hair and skin smoothed, bokeh added....look at how the watch is posed in the shots, it is amateur photography heavily post processed....in a lame viral marketing attempt."

    While we do use Photoshop for editing (once you get past basic cropping, you probably want Photoshop), to be clear here these photos haven't received any significant processing. The only work we do on our photos is lens/sensor correction and auto toning.

    The fact of the matter is that Josh is an excellent photographer (the best one among us, in fact), which is how he's able to pull off these amazing shots. So the fact that you think it has been heavily edited is flattering in a sense; we didn't have to edit them, we were able to take those photos naturally in the first place.

    And no, no one from Apple PR has touched the photos. Or the article.
  • BittenRottenApple - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    Worship the holy apple.

    The apple way, selling over expensive crap to stupid consumers that like to
    get robbed.

    This has been a disastrous launch in every respect. The iwatch is such an
    ugly piece of crap, it is truly unbelievable how a company, formerly known for
    its remarkable design, dares to put out such a crap ton of shit. Some
    characteristics are glaringly obvious and inherent to it: over expensive,
    hardly innovative, limited functionality and usability (need of an iPhone to
    make it work), looks exactly like a toy watch and so on.

    There are of course way better smart watches out there, especially from the
    likes of Samsung, Sony, Motorola, Asus, LG, simply put, there is no need for
    another piece of over expensive junk.

    Regardless of what the casing and strap are, it's still maybe $8 worth of electronics at best, a painfully tiny screen, awful battery life, absolute dependence on an iPhone for proper function, and in reality adding extra time to decide if the message your phone just pinged your wrist with is worth pulling the phone out for to reply with.
    The smart watch is a dumb idea in its current form. The Apple icrapWatch (tm) with its "Wealthy - Rich - Look how obscenely rich I am" case material tiers (seriously, the upgrade from plastic to red leather band is $7k? Not even a gold band available to justify that $17k price?) is the ultimate expression of that.
    Maybe in 5 years or so a transparent OLED screen over a traditional watch with these sensors to pop-up notifications long enough to be noticed but not need to be charged every two hours is when it'll make sense, but for now it's a useless gimmick that nobody really needs.

    Let's face it, the Apple Watch is a total and utter failure. The one called Sport edition doesn’t even has a dust, shock and water resistant exterior and thus fails in nearly every "sports" related usage scenario, albeit still costing nearly as much as an iPad, or, you know, a real watch, which works for years to come.
    And the luxury one? Oh god, 17k+ for this utter crapicious experience. If you’re a millionaire, donate that 17k+ to the EFF, the communist party, an union or consider that such an amount of money could save lives in many third world countries or help to preserve nature. Besides that, it doesn’t even look that luxurious compared face to face to Rolex standards, more like some sort of ugly, chubby toy enclosed in a thin, and tiny gold case. The functionality provided, if one even dares to call it that way, are utter crap too, nothing new, nothing exciting here, nothing Samsung, LG, Pebbles haven't been offering for years on a far superior basis. For example the Pebbles watch which costs
    less than 79$ and has 8 days of battery life, shows many of the notifications and info someone might need, all the while being water and dust proof, with changeable wristbands. Seriously, fuck this overpriced, environmentally obscene, eco terroristic icrapWatch (TM).

    Yet another fine addition to the long list of "Terrible Products Apple Makes to Gouge Money out of People".

    The new icrapWatch (tm) is a testament to Apple's collapsing technical acumen. They eliminate all ports providing no cable based connectivity at all? This craven stupidity should send the last adherents running. But running to what? Windows isn't even a viable option anymore, since it now is the most widespread commercial NSA gathering tool available, closely followed by Android, iOS and OS X.

    It's a sad day for people who need real smartwatches. Jony Ive is a pompous, clueless hack who should be fired and shot on the spot (or torn apart by a horde of rabid dogs) for introducing crippling regressions like this one.

    Look at this POS: No USB port, which won’t require an adapter to do anything. So if you aren’t going to require an adapter anyway, why not make that nonexistent port a modern port one: Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt can carry USB, video, Ethernet, external storage... ALL AT ONCE. And it can be daisy-chained, which would be hugely important when the icrapWatch (tm) would have ONLY ONE PORT. So WTF is Apple doing in not making its nonexistant port into a thunderbolt port?

    And again, are you kidding me? No thunderbolt connector? Now every sorry user of this pos doesn’t have to find a thunderbolt to USB C, a USB C to USB to HDMI, a USB to USB 3.0 period, a USB C to USB connector for apple’s time machine and also does not manage to don't short circuit all that with the AC/DC to USB C connectors, seriously ? Not worth 200$ new pile of hairy connectors for the brand new icrapWatch (tm), and that is called a revolution nowadays? No ********** way, the Pebbles is way superior, period.

    By the way, they're perpetrating no connectors at all. Thunderbolt is a much-needed step to a modern I/O standard. No connector is an outdated, abused standard that was designed primarily for Rolex watches. It's not suitable for external storage, video, or anything else requiring bulk data transfer with minimal CPU overhead. A nonexistant connector at all is a regression, a major step BACKWARD.

    Starting at $349.00----Less than $8.00 worth of hardware = ~$341.00 premium to use icrapWatch OS instead of windows. (Honestly the most expensive component of this icrapWatch (tm) is probably the screen.)
    Anyone with real work to do will not even be able to buy this thing. My friend’s last Air was neat in that it was small and lasted all day, but it was so under-powered, it was frustrating. I can only imagine how limited this machine will be.

    Who cares about price, weight and size, when this product is crippled by a hopelessly defective design? You can't hook up a power adapter and external storage at the same time. You can't hook up an external display and external storage. Hell, you can't even plug in a thumb drive!

    This product is the most asinine piece of shit Apple has produced, and that includes the (thankfully) short-lived Shuffle that could only be controlled by a gimped Morse code.

    $270 less gets you the new Pebbles which will eat the crapWatch's lunch.

    If you need to do a lot of processor intensive work, than you would not even go near this thing. It would be useless to you. If you need to crunch spreadsheets or are heavy in corporate analysis, this icrapWatch (tm) would also be useless to you.

    This is the kind of icrapWatch (tm) that Apple sells a lot of. This icrapWatch (tm) is largely useless for anything other than email and facebook. It cannot store many files, it cannot process much information, and it has no external port. There is nothing wrong with using this icrapWatch (tm) for casual tasks, but it is CERTAINLY not a productivity machine.

    It is what it is. A status symbol/statement. Or some other statement. A statement that you just bought a $349 or icrapWatch(tm) with a $341 or more case so you can show off in front of your hipster isheep friends.

    I hate to stick to Apple only facts here, but Apple said that the current Samsung Smatwatch is 24% thicker than this new icrapWatch (tm). That does NOT mean that the new icrapWatch (tm) is 24% thinner than the current Samsung Smatwatch , it means that it is ~20% thinner than the current Samsung Smatwatch. They clearly phrased it that way to make it sound more impressive and hence dupe the consumer, aka stupid isheep.

    So, it's a toy watch plus with a display and no over expensive dongle so you can’t do everything a Pebbles can do, at more than four times the price while looking posh.
    And here I thought technology was about function over form. I get it, functional art; art I can do things my phone does, but in a space that anyone can see me doing it, stylishly. Crippled and non standard in-house branded "business" software does great, can't do anything really artistic on it except maybe GarageBand or stock filter photo edits to my innumerable selfies, but it's got that partially eaten fruit on the back that screams "money I'm too stupid to keep or invest wisely."

    Take my money!
    I wouldn't hold my breath.

    This is apple's marketing strategy: mind-numbing markup on dirt-cheap, mediocre icrapWare (tm). They throw together a cheap little toy like icrapWatch (tm), pretty it up with silver or gold paint, and ride the wave of ignorance, outrageous markup, and marketing that they've been using as a business model for many, many years now. The only thing Apple has ever made that's less worthless than all the other crap their conspirators like Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd excrete all day and night by taking advantage of child labour are iOS and OS X which, besides being notoriously crippled and constrained walled gardens, aren’t even worth the hassle unless you also dumped thousands of dollars into other apple products.

    Many apple owners I’ve encountered never stop trying to belittle and demean others because they don’t have a Macbook or an iPhone (or an icrapWatch (tm) for that matter) and then try to act like their overpriced apple products are overall better when they are certainly not, by any standard.

    Luxury cars, while still worthless crash grabs, usually offer some quality and features that are actually somewhat superior to cheaper competing vehicles and models.
    icrapWatch (tm) such as this start already expensive as hell with little performance to warrant such outrageous costs. Apple isn’t the luxury car of anything. It’s the luxury car DESIGN with a 4-cylinder under the hood and a tape-deck in the sound system, all with the price tag of "luxury". They sell laptops made cheap in china, using child labour and the same hardware you can find in SO many other laptops, slap their OS on it, put it in a thin case, and then markup the price by 300% to 600%. These are the facts. This icrapWatch (tm) in question is nowhere NEAR worth that kind of money. I mean, smartwatches in general are overpriced, but apple has made their entire business model out of extreme markups backed by clever marketing with little actual technological superiority of any kind. Every single apple product on the market can be outperformed in every way by comparable products. Apple icrapWatches (tm) can be outperformed by smartwatches that are FAR FAR cheaper while relying on older tech. The only thing that apple has that nobody else does is OSX and iOS, their operating systems. These are mediocre operating systems, but they are literally designed to be limited on anything it determines to be "non-apple hardware". Other operating systems can be installed on just about any computer you can slap together, whereas OSX is specifically and deliberately designed to be non-functional on ANYTHING that isn’t made by apple. It’s nothing but a cash-grab.

    Apple is indeed playing run-of-the-mill capitalism, they try to capitalize on the ignorance of the average consumer with marketing campaigns designed to make you assume you're getting your money's worth.

    There are millions of consumers who are on the fence, who are actually interested in buying something that's worth the money they spend. Those people deserve factual information and do not deserve to be exploited for their ignorance on the topic. So excuse me if I have a problem with it. College students especially, who don’t have a lot to spend in the first place, are being taken advantage of in every area of their life. Buying a smartwatch should be one less area of exploitation. This is why I have a problem with apple and with many other companies and services that attempt to capitalize on ignorance.

    Years down the road when the batteries in this model are dead and you have to keep it plugged in just to use then you'll have no way to plug in a flash drive or an external hard drive. I don't care how sexy it looks: sometimes and more often than not less means a serious lack of functionality.

    We can only hope that consumers send this piece of diabolic garbage to oblivion, as they did the idiotic iPod Shuffle that could only be controlled with Morse code over a proprietary headphone wire.

    The Apple Iphone 1 and Ipad 1 might have been innovative at their time,
    but since then, the bitten apple has been continuously rotting from the inside
    outwards, always swarmed by millions of Iworms which regale themselves with its
    rotten flesh, not forgetting all other Americans who support apple by means of
    their tax dollars to finance its bought US Treasury/Government bond interest rates.

    Last but not least, every Apple product includes a direct hotlink to the NSA,
    free of charge, something that might make it a good value, after all.

    Ceterum censeo Applem esse delendam.
  • twanto - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    "There is nothing wrong with using this icrapWatch (tm) for casual tasks, but it is CERTAINLY not a productivity machine." I was really hoping it could handle some spreadsheets and a bit of 3D rendering, but I guess not.

    This post was either satire or the greatest literary achievement by someone with a bonus chromosome 21.
  • Schickenipple - Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - link

    Word. If you are trying to create spreadsheets on your watch, or any screen that small, you are an idiot. Reply

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