OK, it's been a while using the Apple Watch and I thought I might say a few words to give it some credit. Overall it's been very good to me. I think I'm generally healthier and move my butt a lot more effectively than I used to on a day-to-day basis. Never before did I go for a walk out in the cold, wet and dark night just to move a little, which now also allows for listening to podcasts, audiobooks and of course "Closing My Rings™️".
How does it compare with a smart band?
My smart wrist band story started with a Xiaomi MiBand 4 which proved to be a life saver in the confined life during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. I got it a couple of months before the crazy started and even then it was an interesting little device which primarily showed my step count for the day and lasted for weeks on a single battery charge. Having something like that is a no brainer, especially that it costs in the region of €30 and allows you to see a little bit more into your daily life routine. With the smart band, I started walking a bit more and it gave me a quick view into how many steps did I take on a given day. It also solved another problem, which is: I don't always have my phone with me, especially at home. This meant that the difference between sitting on the couch for a couple of hours vs walking around the house, cooking, cleaning or doing other things you don't typically use your phone with hasn't been recorded. As it turns out, even standing up a little to get a coffee adds up throughout the day. It showed the periods of inactivity during the day when I needed to focus and the times I was going to grab a snack. It turned out to be a helpful unobtrusive way to see into my own life. When summer came and the days were longer and the mornings weren't as chilly, I started to run every working day morning to stay sane during the full lockdown period. It proved invaluable in those days. A morning routine like that seriously helped to alleviate the growing mental unease.
The smart band has its limitations however. The morning routine was fun but I felt like I can do better. I got myself a pair of wireless AirPods to remove the need for sticking cables into the phone every morning and being annoyed with pulling on cables throughout the run. The AirPods solved that problem but the one with the phone remained. As mentioned before, having the smart band was a great way to get rid of the phone and yet still have the benefits of tracking my daily life in an unobtrusive way. Removing the phone on the run removed two aspects I didn't want to lose:
- Music: Running without a soundtrack is just not as fun, and I found that I got bored a lot easier and didn't push myself as much as I did with a nice motivational track.
- GPS tracking: Less important, because it is possible to measure the length of the run just using the accelerometer in the device, but it didn't seem as accurate in the long run. I wanted to see how much progress I was making in a more reliable way. The next generation of the MiBand does have a GPS tracker and a bit more functionality nowadays. If you're looking for an entry level smart band to start your adventure, in my fairly limited and biased opinion, that's the way to go.
Enter Apple Watch
I decided to get an Apple Watch as an experiment. I've had a Moto 360 smart watch for a little while and when paired with an Android phone it was quite fun to use, though I had to disable the constant buzzing on both my wrist and in my pocket so that I wouldn't go insane. Buzz buzz buzz...
I was excited to see what happened in the world of smart watch tech in the couple of years. As it turned out, quite a bit!
The freedom of not having a phone
This is the reason I bought the Watch. Has it stood up to the task?
- Absolutely yes.
As this was the sole reason to buy the watch and use it for working out, it has been the tool for the job. Running with music, podcasts, audiobooks, walking with meditation apps, from a physical health device perspective it solved all of the issues. After a little research I went with the bigger 44mm, Wifi-only version. I have tried both the smaller and the bigger one in a shop felt like the bigger one would be just as good, especially that it has a bigger battery which should last longer. After using it for a good couple of months now, I still think I'd like to try out the smaller one for a while to see if it would be more comfortable. It is quite a bulky machine on the wrist and being white it tends to be a little too "showy". Still, even with that, I do wear it every day. Next time I'll probably go with a smaller version. Mainly because even though it's a very powerful device, it's literally like a phone on your wrist, it is not a watch. It's still expanding and it's becoming more and more a health device, like a smart band on steroids that does multiple things well. It won't be a super accurate running device tracking all of your stats. It will be your running partner. Something you grow to like over the time you use it.
Should I buy the Wifi or LTE version of the Apple Watch?
To add a little on connectivity. The GPS works perfectly well on the Wifi only version and so does Apple Pay which turned out was a nice addition. After my bank finally decided to add support for Apple Pay, I stopped taking my wallet to the shop and I find myself paying with the watch most of the time for almost anything. In Ireland, Apple Pay doesn't have limits on the transaction amount, like the €50 on typical contactless transactions with your card. Which means you can buy coffee, groceries or a TV using your Watch.
TL;DR: Apple Pay works offline. You don't need internet connectivity on your Apple Watch to pay for groceries.
When it comes to connectivity, the only time I find it would be useful to have the 4G version is when I want to stay in touch with the world, when waiting for an important text or an email or generally when going for a walk at lunch time. That's when I do take the phone with me and that sorts out the issue. On the other hand, it's good to be able to disconnect sometimes but still be able to take music or an audiobook with you.
How do I listen to music on the Apple Watch?
Since we're on the topic of phone-less music, what can I do with watch you, might ask. Well, it turns out quite a lot. You can synchronise your own iTunes playlists for offline listening. While there are apps like Overcast or Audible which synchronise their content when the watch is on your wrist, most of Apple's content: Apple Music, Podcasts, etc. synchronise when the Watch is put onto a charger. Why that is I am not quite sure, the most compelling reason must be battery optimisation and the fact how the WatchOS communicates with iOS as it isn't just as straight forward as all processes running in the background on all the time. Some apps also say that putting your Apple Watch on a charger will speed up the process of sending data between the phone and the watch. It can be a bit frustrating at times when you want to sync something specific NOW. The watch works best if you let it do its thing in the background. Subscribe to a podcast or make a playlist available offline and let it synchronise whenever it's charging or whenever it feels is most appropriate to do so. This way you don't feel it and content appears on your wrist. I do find that some of my podcasts are missing sometimes or they are not completely in sync.
When it comes to audiobooks, you have Audible. It downloads the books to the watch and treats them like a copy. The app does need a little bit more work. The offline (on Watch) vs online (on Phone) players are different and don't synchronise fully when they need to and it generally feels like the app was made once by somebody who wanted to support the Watch but never went deep into the core of how WatchOS works internally to make it work as good as it could. It does what it should but it's quite buggy. There have been times when I opened the audible app and the On Phone player showed me the song I was playing through Apple Music before opening the app. Most of the time it works though and I haven't seen a good alternative yet so I guess we're stuck with it at the moment. I would also like to see other audiobook apps, like for example Audioteka.com to release an app for the Watch so that I could listen to books in Polish for example.
Music-wise, you do get Apple Music. There have been some news that you can now use Spotify to stream music directly from your Watch without the phone but since I don't use Spotify any more, I am yet to find out how that works. Maybe it's release on a per-region basis. With my free subscription I don't seem to be able to stream content when my phone is not around and my Watch is connected to wifi. As of writing this post the only way to store music for offline is Apple Music, having a playlist downloaded to your phone or perhaps use a podcasting app to subscribe to some music podcasts. Apple Music is a little different to Spotify, there are ways to make it work if you're thinking about moving. You can sync your playlists and the content discovery however different, still exists. You do get a 3 month trial so it's worth a shot just to check it out fore if it's for you for free. Music handling of Spotify on the watch is really good too. It's a solid app to control your home speakers for example. It works blazing fast. You can play music to any device connected to your account.
Nike running app
It's one of the most well-thought-out fit for purpose 3rd-party app on the Apple Watch. I has four quick look screens showing your latest runs, starting a run, guided runs and a settings screen. During the run you can get prompts in the regular or guided runs and you get quick access to workout controls such as pausing, resuming, etc., your running stats as well as quick access to the built-in Music Player. You can control the music volume using the digital crown just like in most music players on the Watch.
Apple Workouts App
The Nike running app is one of the best apps out there for running there's no doubt about that. Sometimes however you might want to go for a swim, or an outdoor walk in which case the app to use would be the built-in Workouts app. It has a ton of workouts built-in and there are new ones being added in every once in a while with software updates. Additionally, the Workouts app is not as selfish with some of the data like the GPS tracking points which in case of the Nike app is not saved into Apple Health's activity repository data. GPS tracking from the Workouts app can then be imported into other apps like Google Fit or Strava. I find the swimming tracking pretty good and better than the Swimming activity tracking on the MiBand which would only give you the main swimming style instead of sharing all of them.
AirPods or any other bluetooth headphones
The Watch does have a speaker but you wouldn't be able to use it to play music while working out, nor should you do it as it would drain the battery, annoy everybody around you and you wouldn't be able to hear the music properly anyway. The watch works great with AirPods as they are small enough to put them in and get out of the house with just the watch. At times the bluetooth connectivity can do some funny things, especially if you're near the house but not quite inside. I found that with some 3rd party apps (especially Amazon's Audible) the phone would sometimes steal my music when I pass near the house or better yet play the audiobook on both devices and give my wife a bit of a scare when randomly starting to talk in the dark room.
This might be the most recognisable feature of the Apple Watch. It doesn't only count your steps like most other smart bands out there but looks at your active burnt calories. You burn calories by raising your heart rate level to a certain point and generally by 'moving'. This is why the red circle is called the Move ring.
The green Exercise ring shows the Active Exercise minutes. You can earn them by running a workout or by doing some moderate activities which will raise your heart rate to around 100 BPMs. A brisk walk would do that, a run is even better. Doing a couple of flights of stairs might earn you a bit of the green ring also.
The blue ring counts the hours in the day in which you were Standing and moved just a little bit. Standing up without moving much might count as a "standing hour". The watch can also remind you it's time to stand up if you've been sitting down for too long by a notification and a gentle nudge.
All of these setings can be edited so that you can hit goals that are more appropriate for you.
The watch still measures your steps count just like any other band, so if you were joining a work steps competition you can still do that and get relatively accurate results with some extra data.
As we've been living the pandemic life, the battery hasn't been a problem. The Watch would last for about a day and a half generally with a moderate use with workouts, GPS tracking, Apple Pay payments almost every day. Going away proved pretty OK too. The battery charges pretty fast and I generally like to keep it between 30%-60% during the day anyway to make sure the battery keeps happy and is not overcharged or left undercharged for too long either. I would generally charge it in the morning or right before going to sleep to be able to track my sleep quality.
I tend to sleep with the Watch on my wrist to track my sleep quality using Pillow. This is where the smaller one would come in handy as the bulky size can be a little annoying at times at night in which case it lands on the nightstand nearby. It's still comfortable enough to sleep in though. The watch would also send you a gentle reminder that it's time to go to bed, and if necessary will remind you to charge it before doing so.
I really like the alarm clock slightly tapping me on the wrist to wake up instead of a buzzing alarm clock. You will need to set your watch to Silent mode to make sure it won't also wake everybody else in the house. Having it linked to sleep analysis is a nice feature.
So long passwords...
When using a MacBook Pro, unlocking the laptop is really neat. Once paired and set up to trust each other, all it takes to log into the device is to press any key and be close enough to it. It's secure enough that it won't just unlock even if you're standing 1-2 metres away from the laptop.
Now this is pretty interesting. It goes into the list of nice to have and low-barrier mindfulness. 1 Min = 7 breaths. And you feel a little better because of it. Useful in lockdown times.
You can do that. There are 3 hoops you need to jump through and the connection is finicky but it works. Is it really better than a clicker? Not sure yet. Probably won't be needing a clicker for a while in today's world
Recently I also found that I can do a lot more using shortcuts. It's the little things that you would think some apps would do for you but don't. Like caffeine intake. How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
Other 3rd party apps... Games?
As the Apple Watch has its own App Store now, you can download apps directly on from the watch. There aren't many choices yet as it's quite a niche device and there's only so much it can do, but you are able to get a browser, if you're into that, many sleep tracking apps, sports apps... and then, there's this...
because of course who wouldn't want to play a mini-football game on a mini watch screen.