Battery Life

The Apple Watch, more than any other wearable, presents some enormous barriers for battery life testing. On the smartphone side, testing has traditionally been pretty simple in the sense that you can usually design an app, script, or some other form of automatic test that will run a specified workload. The display is set to not timeout by either an application that adjusts the timeout to an extremely large value or by adjusting the timeout in the settings menu.

Meanwhile for wearables, on Android Wear, testing battery life is generally quite simple, because you still have some control over the timeout settings, you can set manual brightness, and the display automatically turns on when you receive a notification. On Watch OS, exactly none of those things are true. As a result, objective battery life testing of the watch has a number of significant challenges and thus far I haven’t seen any real solution to this problem. We hope to have a standardized battery life test across all wearable OSes in the near future, but for now this section will be purely subjective in nature.

38mm Apple Watch Battery (Image Courtesy iFixit)

To really sum up battery life on the Apple Watch, it’s definitely more than sufficient. I never recall having battery life drop below 30% in a single day of use. If a day was particularly slow in terms of notifications, I often would end the day with more than 50% battery life, so going two days wasn’t completely impossible. However, in practice I found myself charging the watch every night.

Just by virtue of the glance-based nature of the watch, battery life continues to be far better than the iPhone 6 over the course of the day. I did notice that idle battery life isn’t particularly strong on Apple Watch when wearing it on my wrist, presumably because things like the haptic feedback, fitness tracking, and background sync activities have to be running quite often. Something like reading email doesn’t seem to drain the battery all that quickly, which is also helped by the consistently low average picture level (APL) throughout the UI. However, I would notice throughout the day that the battery percentage seemed to decrease even though I’d go the whole day just checking the time. Given that the workout mode also seems to have a pretty significant workload, I suspect fitness tracking is a significant component of this idle drain.

For a first-generation product on 28nm, this level of battery life is actually rather remarkable as I expected wearables to go through a few generations of somewhat poor battery life before reaching an acceptable point. Although performance isn’t amazingly fluid on WatchOS, it’s definitely more than made up for due to the improved battery life that comes from such a low-power SoC. Roughly speaking, Apple has definitely met their promise of 18 hours of battery life, and arguably exceeded it. Of course, given that there’s no real data here yet opinions may vary widely on whether the battery life of Apple Watch is acceptable.

Charge Time

Although battery life is usually the primary way in which people determine how good a device is at staying mobile, charge time often enters the equation. I’m sure a lot of people have experienced situations in which charge time becomes critical. Traveling will often affect this, as power outlets are fairly rare in airplanes and airports, which means that the time spent at a power outlet needs to be as productive as possible in terms of increasing battery charge. In the case of the Apple Watch, the only option for the average user to charge the watch is with a wireless charger that uses magnets to hold the charger in the correct position on the watch. This wireless charger is fed by Apple’s standard 5V, 1A charger. In order to test this, we monitor the time it takes for the wearable to go from a completely drained state to a fully charged state.

It’s probably no surprise that our test results track relatively closely with listed Apple spec at 2.68 hours. What isn’t listed in the spec is that like every other wireless charger I’ve tested thus far, trickle charging with wireless charging isn’t really trickle charging to the AC adapter. I thought something might have just been off with the Moto 360, but after my experiences with the Apple Watch it’s clear to me that wireless charging behaves differently from wired charging. As a result, it wasn’t unusual for me to wake up 9 hours after putting the watch on the charger and still feel that the watch was quite warm from charging. At any rate, given the need for wireless charging on wearables I suspect that we’re already at the limits for charge rate on wearables for the near future given the increased heat output of wireless charging.

Taptic Engine

As I’ve mentioned earlier in the review, one of the biggest points of differentiation with the Apple Watch is the use of a brand new haptic feedback system that Apple calls the Taptic Engine. At a low level, this is just a linear actuator, but the system is very different from a traditional linear actuator.

For those that are unfamiliar with traditional linear actuator haptic feedback systems used in smartphones, a voice coil has voltage applied across it, which allows current to flow and generates a magnetic field because the voice coil is an electromagnet. This voice coil acts on a mass, which vibrates in a small cell at a certain frequency. However, in the traditional y-axis configuration of most linearly-actuated feedback systems, the limited length means that there isn’t a lot of room for low frequency vibrations.

Source: Precision Microdrives

In the case of the Apple Watch, it seems that Apple is using a z-axis vibration motor combined with the speaker. Relative to the PCB on the watch, the weight and the length of travel for the mass is enormous. This inherently allows for much better haptic feedback at lower frequency vibrations. This haptic feedback motor design, combined with the speaker, is what makes up the Taptic Engine.

Source: Precision Microdrives

The question now is whether Apple has actually accomplished significant here for the end user experience, and the answer to that is definitely a strong yes. When this feature was first announced, I wasn’t particularly interested in it because I’ve never really been one to pick nits over haptic feedback which is why I never point out a phone’s haptic feedback system as a key point of differentiation unless it’s egregiously poor. However, in the case of the Apple Watch it’s an enormous step up from what one might be used to from a phone because of just how distinct it is. It really feels like someone is tapping me on my wrist when notifications come through, and it’s sufficiently distinct from conventional vibrations that I’ve never failed to miss a notification that comes in, which happens every so often with my phone or even other wearables.

Apple S1 Taptic Engine (Image Courtesy iFixit)

There might be some missed potential here though, as it would be great to have more variation to the vibration patterns to indicate various types of notifications as I usually can’t reliably guess what application a notification came from by the haptic feedback alone. The system is also remarkably quiet compared to vibrations from phones, presumably because the frequency of the noise is relatively low and the watch is strapped to the wrist, which muffles noise. As said before, I normally don’t care enough about vibration feedback to write anything about it, but in the case of the Apple Watch the difference is big enough to be notable in terms of user experience.

Misc. Thoughts

As far as I can tell, the speaker is decently loud for relatively quiet environments but it’s easily drowned out by background noise. I also found that I almost never took the watch out of silent mode, as the haptic feedback is enough and audible ringtones definitely lack the relative subtlety that comes just vibrations.

On the receiving side, I was pleasantly surprised by just how effective the microphones are at rejecting noise, as it rejects anything reasonably far away and seems to amplify nearby voices based upon some casual testing of iMessage audio messages. However, Siri seems to struggle a bit with noise rejection and I’m pretty sure that Google Voice Search continues to be faster and less error-prone than Siri when it comes to dictation.

As best as I can tell, Apple Watch currently doesn’t detect sleep states or much of anything around sleep, which is definitely an area of potential improvement as it would be amazing to have an alarm clock that would go off at the end of a sleep cycle to reduce sleep inertia. Sleep tracking in general would be a significant feature if executed well, although this would likely require significant increases in battery life so that an average workload would only use around 40% of the battery in a day.

Meanwhile as far as inputs go, the side button is roughly analogous to the power button on a smartphone, but with a friends list and Apple Pay mapped to the button as well. The Digital Crown is roughly analogous to a home button, but with a scroll wheel attached. In my experience, the Digital Crown isn’t manipulated with a twisting motion, but a sliding motion with a single finger similar to a scroll wheel.

Handoff works well with the iPhone, although it’s often difficult for me to remember to swipe up to activate Handoff when TouchID makes phone unlock almost instant. You are still able to use handoff via the multitasking drawer on your iPhone, but that requires a number of extra steps that can be slower than simply opening an app and navigating to where you need to be. I also find it a bit odd that Apple Watch doesn’t have a multitasking interface like iOS does, but given how rare it is that I attempt to switch to another app with the use of the double press interface I suspect that this is more of a fast app return switch than a multitasking switch.

Finally, "Hey Siri" works well in terms of activation, but it's really kind of disappointing that the hotword detection doesn't work with the display off. I suspect this is due to power requirements as I haven't seen any other wearable have screen-off hotword detection, but it would definitely be great to see such a feature in the future.

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  • Murloc - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

  • Murloc - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    the reviewer has no hair??
  • 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...
  • supermoon - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    That's just what some people's wrists look like bruh, including mine. what are you grasping at??
  • 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 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
  • 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 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.

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