Apple Watch Series 4 – Day 3. Oooh, aaah.

Smart Watches, Watch Reviews

This is getting tricky now.

I have decided to not go into too much detail about all of the features and the myriad things you can do with the Series 4. Those things have been covered by people with more time than me, better video cameras and so much knowledge of every aspect of the device. These people look at the Series 4 from the angle of someone already embedded in the world of mobile technology whereas I prefer to look at it from the perspective of someone considering if a smartwatch will benefit me and if it is worth giving up other things for. In short, the 98% of people not obsessed with technology.

It is getting tricky because I am really liking the Series 4.

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The novelty factor is always at the back of mind, but I have owned a lot of Apple Watches in the past and this is the first one that feels truly useful and worthy of being a watch. It’s super fast, easy to navigate and looks great on the wrist. The battery is a big problem for me in that a day of usage is just about feasible, just about, and so I would need to be regimented in how I charge it.

I am going to stop the review here for a few days and will be back with my final thoughts at the end of the week. It’s Oris vs Apple Watch time and there is no option of using both. If the Apple Watch is to be my fitness tracker it would be a daily wear and in my view is not something you wear occasionally. It would also need to replace my Fitbit and that may be even harder to manage. Time will tell I guess.

Apple Watch Series 4 – Day 2. Still limited, but less so

Smart Watches, Watch Reviews

Any Apple product is an exercise in control and this brings with it good and bad experiences for the user.

On an iPhone you can only run iOS approved apps, you cannot use game emulators and you are limited in terms of what you can do with regards to even changing icons for apps. It is all commonly complained about by Android users, and I see the point, but I am also happy to sit back and have a phone that works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year as a trade off. I can live without some customisation if it means I get a more consistent overall experience.

It is less limited on the Mac of course and no one could persuade me that a Windows PC is worth the money compared to a Mac. The initial cost is easily retrieved over extended use and potentially much lower running costs (virus protection, software upgrades etc).

On the Apple Watch, however, I find very specific limitations that make little sense to me. They are choice driven and do nothing to make watchOS more stable. Some examples included-

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The stand ring is completely pointless, in my humble opinion.

No steps complication which is crazy. Putting your steps on a watch face is such a simple thing to do because the data is already there and it would make the Apple Watch feel more like a fitness tracker to those using competing products from the likes of Fitbit and Garmin. You can achieve this using an app like Pedometer++, but the complication is slow to update and I remain confused by the mix of data coming from the iPhone motion processor and the Apple Watch. The data goes to the Health app on the iPhone and can also be found by having to scroll (too far) in the Activity app on the watch or iPhone.

The new watch faces are a definite improvement and I particularly like Infograph. The fact that you cannot adjust the colours of any widgets, however, means that you end up with either a bizarre mix of colours that are too busy or a very nice looking watch face that cannot include the widgets you want to see. The clamour for Apple to allow third party watch faces continues, it would be a huge business after all, but at this time the ability to build a consistent theme on the watch faces through colour choices would be an improvement.

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It takes work to avoid an overly colourful clock face.

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This one looks great, but lacks the complications I need.

The workouts are laid out in a specific order which will apparently change as the watch learns what you like to do. This is useful, but not allowing the user to choice the order in which these appear seems arrogant and verging on mean spirited. It is perhaps the most obvious ‘We are Apple, we know best’ software feature in watchOS 5.

None of the above is a deal breaker for me apart from maybe the steps complication purely on the basis that it would be so incredibly useful to my fitness regime.

On the subject of fitness I am seeing much improved performance when working out with GPS not killing the battery half as fast as it used to. Overall, I am seeing approximately 50-60% battery left by the start of the next day. This is not too bad and is suggestive of 2 days per charge, but it still lacks in comparison to the smartwatch offerings from Garmin and Fitbit.

Batteries are something that Apple seems to think about differently to everything else. My iPhone X struggles to get through a whole day at least twice a week and charging a watch every two days feels like a chore because when you are doing this you are not tracking your heart rate, your activity or seeing the benefits the device is supposed to offer. ‘Just enough’ appears to be the motto for Apple and the watch, and this applies to the iPhone as well. It is the one area that I would like to see Apple concentrate the most on solving for the long term, but I don’t expect it to anytime soon.

I am literally forcing myself to wear the Apple Watch and I do not like doing so. I like to wear a real watch and the Series 4 feels like an imposter, another computer that is attached to me and one that I do not need. The problem, however, is that it is growing on me.

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Even news articles can be read easily now. Well, as easily as anything about Brexit can be read…

The larger display means a huge amount and makes so many tasks easier than they were before. I used to continually feel as though I was doing things on the watch for no good reason, but now it feels a lot more natural. Visually retrieving information now feels logical and with so many complications on offer at one time it quickly becomes a normal way of working. My iPhone can sit on the shelf for longer periods which is a bonus for its battery and the process of using the watch has stopped me using my iPhone so much for no other reason than to just use it, for browsing, gaming etc.

This is a process for me and one that I am fighting against, but something is building the more I use the Series 4. A sense that it now offers a range of benefits that I had previously missed is growing all of the time. That worries me…

Apple Watch Series 4 – day 1. What is it exactly?

Smart Watches, Watch Reviews

Well, I have one and it cost £429. A sum that many people say is too high and an example of the way Apple overprices its products. This particular model is the 44mm GPS version and you can go slightly lower by opting for the 40mm version at £399. Or, you can go much higher and choose the 44mm Stainless Steel Case with Milanese Loop for £849 which also offers cellular functionality, if your mobile provider is supported of course.

So, we shall ignore the Apple Watch Hermès Stainless Steel Case with Fauve Barenia Leather Single Tour Deployment Buckle at £1,499 and consider that one for those who have more than enough money to spare, people who will make up a tiny proportion of Apple Watch users. What people fail to see, however, is that the Series 4 is actually very competitively priced in the wider watch world. You get a sapphire crystal, seriously good finishing and a ceramic back which are unheard of in any watch that retails for £400. Take a look around at watches in that price bracket and only a handful will offer these materials or attention to detail, and at first thought I cannot think of one that offers both.

UPDATE: You don’t get a sapphire crystal on the front, you get one on the back only with the GPS model and so you need the stainless steel model for a sapphire front crystal, which kind of kills some of what I said above.

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As an object described as a ‘watch’ the Series 4 is exceptional value with only one aspect drilling a hole in this theory – the temporary nature of its existence. In three years time it may be that your Series 4 is slowing down and that it cannot use the latest watchOS features, and it is likely that the latest Apple Watch will force you to change on an emotional level alone. For £400 this is a big expense, but if you are prepared to not think of it as a watch it may feel acceptable. If I am honest it doesn’t to me because I am a watch guy. I wear a £1,600 Oris which some will see as extravagant, but it could be on my wrist for 25 years and keep me informed of the time every day without me ever needing to charge it or interact with it in any way apart from changing the date and adjusting the time every month.

My Oris will grow more special over time as I experience new things with it and it will never become outdated on a technical level. It is mine for as long as I want to enjoy it and to me that makes the price feel more acceptable. I recognise that the majority will feel that a watch should not cost this much and I get that, but I also cannot quite grasp the notion of spending £100’s on a watch that will last only a few years. The more I think about it, the more confused I get trying to compare and rationalise these products; £100’s on a smartphone feels fine because we are used to that, £100’s on a watch is OK because we are used to that, but a smartwatch falls somewhere in between and it may take a few more years for it to find a comfortable home in the minds of the masses, just like the smartphone did.

One thing I can admit though, as someone who really does love traditional mechanical watches, is that the smartwatch is going to do serious damage to the retail watch industry and that the below £500 watch market is in for a tough time very soon. Luxury mechanical watches will continue as they are now, but a little bit of me sees them as potentially being akin to carrying around a record player to listen to music, hipster style. None of us know the future, but it would be more than foolish to suggest that the smartwatch industry is going to do anything other than grow exponentially.

Apple’s higher-end bands put most Swiss watch companies to shame. Apple’s link bracelet is extremely nice, and features a way to add and remove links to adjust the size that requires nothing more than your thumbnail. No one else has a link bracelet like this. The whole idea of easily swappable bands and straps — using nothing more than your thumbnail — is an astounding innovation. It’s a key driver of Apple Watch’s success as a watch. People have been wearing wristwatches for over 100 years, but until Apple entered the market no company had ever thought to design a connector system that would allow for seasonal new straps and bands. It helps make Apple Watch fun for owners and helps make money for Apple.

Apple didn’t start with one band and slowly grow its lineup over time. They entered on day one with an incredible strap lineup. No one would say Apple Watch debuted as the nicest watch in the world. But you can argue it debuted with the nicest lineup of straps.

John Gruber, above, came up with an argument that makes perfect sense. Apple changed how we think of watch bands overnight because it has the power to do so, but he misses the point somewhat by confusing an Apple Watch with a mechanical watch. The latter uses traditional strap pins because that is what we have used for decades previous. They fit the ethos of a mechanical watch which is to not necessarily be the best, but which is designed to be more organic, more personal and to be more than it is in terms of its history and feel. Adding a new mechanism-based strap to a classic mechanical watch would feel like installing a Tesla dashboard screen in a Jaguar E-Type.

This is something many tech and watch reviewers do. They choose when the Apple Watch is actually a watch based on if it suits the argument or puts their preferred product in a better light.

The first 10 minutes

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One thing Apple does very well is to make that first few seconds feel good. No one makes unboxing a gadget feel better than Apple in the tech sector, and coincidentally the only companies that do match Apple are the higher end watch brands. The difference is that Apple does it at a much lower price point and this should be applauded.

With Series 4 the unboxing experience is more friendly and somewhat different than before. It would actually take some time to explain the required steps to open everything, but the fact that it all makes sense immediately is a bonus. The watch and strap come in different boxes now and there is a lovely cloth protector surrounding the watch itself when you open it.

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Everything is perfectly proportioned and it feels great throughout with only a minute passing before you are ready to plonk it on the charger and start the setup process. Scrap that, 89% battery charge already on the watch is another positive so I didn’t bother charging it. I simply pointed my iPhone at the watch face and let it do its things which thankfully only took a couple of minutes. It would appear that on launch day the latest software is already installed because otherwise I would have expected many many more minutes of setup, which has been painfully slow in the past.

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On the wrist

The Series 4 feels different than previous Apple Watches with the tiny physical changes making a big difference to how the form works. Series 4 feels more consistent and as if the footprint and depth have been designed with each in mind. Series 3 did not feel this way. It felt far too high, too small on the diagonal and that red dot on the crown was hideous- overall Series 3 was a rare misstep from the Apple design team who appear to have learned some lessons with Series 4.

It is very hard to explain what makes a watch feel right and what tiny design flaw can through it off, but this one works much better than models 0 to 3 and that is despite the fact it is square(ish). The corner curves are more prominent than before which seems to add to the sense that this is a watch, and this is enhanced further by the fuller use of the available screen dimensions.

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I am not seeing the ‘huge’ screen that some reviewers have already raved about because this does still feel like an Apple Watch, but I am sensing that it feels more practical, easier to use and that the possibilities are more wide-ranging now than they have been in the past.

Give me a couple more days and I will be back with more…

Before I come back, I should add that it does appear that the software designers are having some issues working out when too much colour in a watch face is too much.

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Apple Watch Series 4: disposable luxury

News, Smart Watches, Watch Reviews

The above video highlights just how impressive the Apple Watch Series 4 looks in stainless steel, especially in the tone of gold Apple has chosen.

For the price it is an impressive collection of components; sapphire, stainless steel, a really good bracelet and the general level of finish which puts it on a par and possibly ahead of many other watchmakers in terms of quality for the price.

However, this is not a watch for life whereas you could potentially spend £900 on a watch and wear it for decades. Tricky to balance.

Nobody notices your watch, nobody cares


I didn’t own the watch (it was a rental from the good folks at Eleven James, who let me try their service), but that didn’t change things. I was conscious of it nearly all of the time. Walking down the street, riding the subway, shopping in stores, I was aware of the (surprisingly light) lug of metal and clockwork on my wrist. The guilt was immediate and unavoidable.

This stemmed from my foolish fear that people would notice it, and therefore treat me differently. This fear ended up being completely unfounded, as only one friend noticed it before I told them about it… More at B.I.

Good article if a little short.

A couple of weeks ago I wore a Rolex Sea Dweller for three days and not one person said anything. After that I wore a £10 watch from Amazon (brighter colours, Chinese no name brand and a bit bigger) and three people mentioned what a nice watch it was.

Buy a watch for yourself, wear it because you enjoy looking at it. Trust me, nobody else gives a damn what is on your wrist.

This is not an Apple Watch

Smart Watches, Watch Reviews

I have owned a few Apple Watch models since release, mainly to facilitate freelance work, and to date I have been less than impressed by almost everything the device offers.

From the form factor (too square, too thick, too fiddly) to the limited customisation options to the unambitious fitness implementation, it ticks none of the wrist-based boxes for me and falls into a place that just doesn’t fit my tastes or my needs.

Throw in a battery that requires a daily charge, even if it is a short one, and I struggle to understand why it is so popular. Indeed, it is the only Apple product that doesn’t appeal to me in any way. Apart from the HomePod, AirPods and iPad, but that’s another story. For me, Apple is the iPhone and the Mac and that’s about it, but boy do I enjoy using both of those products every day.

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Because of the above the time had come to try something new and so I was given the opportunity to test the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier watch, which is perfect timing considering that the new Galaxy Watch is imminent?

The testing ended up being cut short sadly due to battery performance that was beyond poor. It moved from 100% at 10pm to 0% at 4am and as such failed to track my sleep. I re-charged it and it was gone again by midday.

The watch was reset and I followed all of the online tips to resolve this issue, but it simply would not improve and the end result was half-day battery life which is of course unmanageable.

Aside from this I genuinely really enjoyed the Frontier when it worked. The faces on offer are visually quite impressive, some of the apps actually make sense on the wrist and there is a sense that this is a ‘watch’ rather than a small computer.

The debate surrounding what shape a smartwatch should be continues with some saying that square is the way forward because it makes more logical sense to build it this way. You get more real estate to cram small app interfaces into and it just makes things easier all round. However, for some of us a watch should be round if possible to break up the notion that it is in fact a computer.

This simple change of shape actually means a lot to the experience and in my case I found that I much preferred the Frontier to the Apple Watch on the wrist.

Fitness is catered for well with sleep tracking, steps etc and a heartrate sensor, and with Samsung Health you have the ability to track trends and aim for improvements. The main problem I see though is that it is very standalone with no way to import data from other fitness software. So, if you move from a competing product to this you will effectively be starting over, and the solution is not good enough (in my opinion) to allow that.

As I said, my time with the Frontier was cut short, but I do see something here which reinforces my view that the wrist will become smart and that the age of traditional watches, at least those below £500, is time limited. The Apple Watch may well be selling the most, but in my view there is much better out there, if some of the irritations are fixed.