TrustedReviews’ News Editor Luke Johnson is not much of a smartwatch fan. Here’s what happened when he booked himself in for an Apple Watch appointment at the Apple Store in Covent Garden
Hi, I’m Luke and I’m a smartwatch sceptic. I haven’t always been this way; I was coerced into it. I like the premise of wrist-worn gadgets and want them to evolve; I just hate pretty much everything that’s been released in the last couple of years.
Like Jennifer Lopez popping up as a single mum in any Rom Com, I’ve been let down, time and time again. From the flat tire display of the chunky Moto 360 to the wrist – nay – arm-engulfing Samsung Gear S, there’s yet to be a smartwatch that ticked my boxes – and that’s just on the design.
Yes, the LG G Watch R is more stylish than most, but beneath the surface the same issues are prevalent. Google’s clunky Android Wear user experience and basic functionality foil any hopes of long-term adoption. Dire battery lives and limited customisation options have also done little to tempt me away from my beloved ‘smarter’ but not ‘smart’ Withings Activite Pop.
Apple has promised an end to my smartwatch disappointments. The Apple Watch – that so called saviour of the smartwatch space, has arrived.
Surely this will resolve my concerns. Well, on paper, no. An 18-hour battery life and near £300 price tag (at the bottom end) hasn’t exactly won me over. But I haven’t had the smartwatch around my wrist, so maybe it’s a bit hasty to write the Apple Watch off entirely.
I went along to the Apple Store in Covent Garden for a hands-on play with the company’s first wearable and here’s how it all played out.
SEE ALSO: Apple Watch Buying Guide
Operation Apple Watch appointment
Let’s get something straight from the start; I’m not an Apple fanboy. Yes, I have an iPad mini, and I love it, but my go-to phone is the HTC One M8. I might use a MacBook Air for work, but at home I’m perfectly happy with my Lenovo PC. I’m not looking at the Apple Watch with rose (gold) tinted glasses.
Yes, I want to be impressed, but my default setting is cynicism – I mean how can a watch not tell the time for a full day on a single charge? Surely the term ’24-hour clock’ means something, right?
So, it was with equal parts excitement and trepidation that I headed to my Apple Watch appointment. The appointment wasn’t hard to arrange, you can book one through the Apple website or by popping into your local store. Demand is high and appointments limited, so you might have to be flexible in your availability. I found staff to be very accommodating though. If the store’s quiet, they will even see you on the spot.
Entering the flagship London Store on a busy Saturday morning, the usual throng of gadget gawkers littered the minimalist atrium. Following a jolly welcome by one employee I was shepherded over to the bearded ‘Genius’ who would walk me through Apple’s first brand new product line in five years.
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And then, there it was, the device I’ve been writing about for more than a year but had yet to see in the flesh. Not just one of them either. With a mystical wave of his iPhone – one worthy of any Paul Daniels TV special – my guide revealed a draw full of Apple Watch models, a glut of smartwatches now at my disposal.
With 15 configurations to choose from, I was spoilt for choice. To kick things off I opted for the 42mm Space Grey Aluminium Apple Watch Sport – a classic and comparatively affordable option.
Does it look like a traditional watch? No, not really. Does it look like something you would want to wear? Absolutely.
That’s the first point of differentiation over many of the smartwatches currently on the market and the first hint of the softening in my sceptical scowl. Trying it on I found it to feel light but not cheap or poorly constructed. It’s comfortable to wear and easy to alter the tightness.
Jony Ive and co, take a bow, you’ve nailed it. Samsung, LG et al, it’s time to up your game.
A Genius experience
As you would expect, the whole Apple Watch appointment process is slick, professional and designed to get your credit card twitching. It’s anything but a hard sell, however. In my appointment Apple didn’t try to sell me the Apple Watch once, it let the product sell itself.
My allocated 15-minute slot quickly ticked past the half hour mark without any sense that I was being hurried or moved along. There was no repeated mention of price or upgrade options. No ‘can we help you place your order’, or ‘how many would sir like to purchase today?’.
The Apple Genius I dealt with was personable and insightful, willing to help and, more importantly, honest.
There was no sales patter around how the battery life will be enough for my daily needs or whether the fitness tracking capabilities are as accurate as a dedicated sports watch. Questioned on both points he fed me the truth – he had yet to test either functionality himself and wouldn’t want to offer guidance without intimate, first hand experience. I found this refreshing.
SEE ALSO: Apple Watch vs Android Wear
Instead of ramming rehashed marketing gumph down my throat, he was interested in getting my opinions and explaining what he liked best – the rich colours and deep blacks of the OLED display.
It’s important to note that the watches you can try on for size are not fully working models. They run through a demo loop but you can’t interact. However, giving you a better sense of what it would be like to live with the timepiece, a sample board is available.
This is essentially a plastic square with a working Apple Watch locked in place next to an iPad mini that offers insight into each feature. My guide was again keen to let me fulfil my own whims and walk me through features and functions upon my request. This is where the Apple Watch experience really comes into its own.
The 15 minute verdict
Unlike Android Wear, the Apple Watch UI is simple and intuitive. Yes the combination of a Digital Crown, physical button and touchscreen display will take some time to master, but within minutes I found myself whizzing through the watch’s menus and features in a way I still can’t manage on the likes of the Huawei Watch.
The rollable, scrollable, selectable Digital Crown is an inspired addition. It removes the fiddly nuances of using such a small touchscreen, especially on the 38mm model.
The homescreen packed with app icons is easy to customise and navigate. The bubbles can be relocated with a holding press or highlighted through use of the Digital Crown. Even the Taptic Feedback was demoed on the wearable models. This feels far more intimate than I had expected, without being unnerving.
From my brief play, I am far more impressed with the Apple Watch than I expected to be. The wearable doesn’t offer any groundbreaking new features, it’s not competitively priced or pushing wearable tech to new levels. What it is, however, is refined, stylish, simplistic and well thought through.
Within 15(ish) minutes, my scepticism has certainly softened. I’m still far from convinced that I need many of the features the Apple Watch offers. What I am sure of, however, is that I now want the option.
SEE ALSO: Apple Watch vs Pebble Time
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an instant convert, I still have my concerns. Battery life and pricing are always going to be stumbling blocks.
The £299 Sport, although technically the entry-level option, offers the same complete features list as even the £13,500 Apple Watch Edition, and this is important. You’re not going to be shortchanged just because you’re short of cash.
With the draw of Apple Watches still open I further worried my wallet by trying on another half dozen configurations – simply because my Genius gave me the option.
From the 42mm Stainless Steel Apple Watch with Milanese Loop band (£599) to the same body with a bright blue Leather Loop (a personal favourite), via the 38mm Link Bracelet model (£819), I was free to try the lot.
Switching from one to another, I found that there really is no weak link here. Everyone has different tastes and no one will be disappointed. Each model has been crafted with care and precision. Time has been taken to match bodies to bands – again this is where Apple has succeeded where others have failed.
Has Apple converted a smartwatch sceptic?
Within a single Apple Watch appointment, my outlook for the smartwatch market is now back to one of youthful hope, not jaded skepticism. Will I be placing my own Apple Watch order? Let me just check my bank balance and I’ll get back to you.