Hands On With The Apple Watch

Apple’s smartwatch was on display again at today’s special Apple event, and this time we actually got to try a live unit. Last September, we were able to wear the hardware on our wrists, but today units had near-final live software so we got get a better idea of how it will actually work when it ships on April 24.

The Apple Watch’s hardware is of course still quite impressive, with the stainless steel especially catching the eye. The 38mm version still feels better on my wrist, but the 42mm is also not overly large. Apple revealed today that the larger version will be $50 more than its smaller counterpart in most cases, which is good news for those like me who prefer the smaller face.

The Apple Watch system software was new to us, but it is expectedly intuitive. After so long using all-touch devices, the digital crown does at first take some getting used to, but soon enough it makes as much sense as a navigation input as did the iPod’s clickwheel, if not more so. And when you do use touch input, it’s fast and responsive.

Apple’s ‘taptic’ touch engine is another tentpole feature of the wearable (though it’s also now in the new MacBook) and this works wonderfully in this setting. The engine’s vibration is very subtle and subject to fine tuning, providing a different response though only small variations. Compared to most haptic feedback in wearables that I’ve tried before, it’s almost on a completely different level – whereas you won’t even notice the kludgy vibration motors in a lot of Android Wear devices, taptic feedback is as difficult to ignore as an actual human lightly tapping your wrist.

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Apple’s various apps, including the health and fitness software and the camera remote, make good use of the limited screen space, and the input system ensures you’re never more than a couple taps away from sending messages to your closest friends, or loading up Apple Pay to use at a compatible retailer. The camera remote is especially clever, giving mobile photographers an easy way to capture group shots with themselves included, or to execute carefully timed snaps.

The band options are expectedly comfortable and luxurious, but I still do have occasional problems with the clasp on the sport band, which may get better as you become more used to the mechanism.

What is still probably Apple’s biggest strength with this device is just how much it feels like a watch – you might be surprised how many smartwaches miss this seemingly modest target. I’m a fan of automatic analog watches myself, and the Watch feels comparably at home on my wrist. Some may find it a bit on the thick side, but I’m used to the heavier, thicker cases that usually house automatic (vs. quartz) movement and this one doesn’t seem large by those standards.