There are a lot more things that I like about my Apple Watch, but these are the three biggies. Still, my experience over the past four-plus months hasn’t been all moonlight and roses. Here are the things I’ve haven’t liked so much...
The Top 3 Downsides of Apple Watch
1. It’s too fiddly.
Okay, so fiddly may not be a technical term, but it’s the word that comes to mind most readily to describe the experience of configuring and interacting with Apple Watch.
As I noted in the section on notification anxiety above, the process to pair a new Apple Watch with an existing iPhone is as straightforward as you’d expect from an Apple device. You simply ensure that your Watch is powered on and then, on your iPhone 5 or later, launch the Apple Watch app that now comes bundled with iOS. The two devices will walk you through the initial configuration, which is very similar to the process for setting up a new iPhone and should take no longer than seven to 10 minutes.
That’s all pretty straightforward. It also introduces you to the fact that the Watch is very much a satellite device to your iPhone. Where things start to get fiddly is when you try to depart from Apple’s defaults.
For example, let’s imagine you want to re-arrange the apps on your Watch’s Home screen, which can quickly become crowded with inscrutable little glyphs. According to Apple’s documentation, it’s possible to do this from the Watch itself by touching and holding an app icon until all of the icons start to jiggle, but I’ve never seen this actually work. Instead, the icons just “bounce” as though I’ve made an errant tap on the screen. So I have to go to the Apple Watch app on my iPhone to customize the app layout on my Watch. And, even then, the process is needlessly fiddly, with auto-snapping behaviors that drive me bananas.
And many settings, such as determining which Glances appear when you swipe up from the bottom of your watch face, can only be configured via the Apple Watch app on your iPhone. I suppose this is similar to the early days of the smartphone, when a wired connection to a host computer was required to perform many critical tasks. But given that we’ve been “PC Free” since iOS 5, this reliance on a secondary device for basic configuration tasks feels like a step backwards, even if it is understandable.
Where I think Apple Watch gets really confusing, though, is in configuring app notifications. This is because control over the notifications that appear on your Watch is managed by way of an interplay of settings on the Watch itself, settings within the Apple Watch app and settings on the iPhone that you’ve paired with your Watch. In my experience, many people already have a hard time grokking the notifications interface on their iPhones, so it’s no surprise that adding additional layers of complexity should add to the befuddlement (see AppleInsider for a good primer on configuring Apple Watch notifications).
This is particularly unfortunate because you really need to tweak your notification settings to get the most out of Apple Watch. As noted earlier, the Watch mirrors your phone’s settings by default and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, this will result in notification overload. For example, do you really want to get buzzed on your wrist every time you receive an email, regardless of the sender? Or every time someone likes one of your photos on Instagram, or retweets you on Twitter? Probably not. Yet the fiddly nature of notification configuration for the Watch means that many users won’t get the most out of one of its best features.
There are several more examples of fiddly-ness I could cite here, but in the interest of concluding this review before the next ice age, I’ll move on.
2. Yet another device to charge.
One more device to charge every night—no big deal, right? That’s what I assumed when I ordered my Apple Watch. But after using it for several months now, I’ve been surprised by the extent to which the need to charge it nightly has colored my view of the device.
First, I should note that the battery life of my 42mm Stainless Steel model has exceeded expectations. I’ve heard some owners of the smaller, 38mm model report that their Watches hit the Power Reserve wall on days they use the Workout app (the Watch typically takes a heart rate reading once every 10 minutes, but this is amped up to once every 10 seconds when the Workout app is running, significantly increasing power draw), but I’ve tracked workouts lasting upwards of two hours and still ended the day with battery power at just a few ticks under 50 percent.
So, in my experience, the 42mm Apple Watch offers more than enough juice to get through a day of heavy use. I’ve even managed to get through a full day, a full night and half of the next day on a single charge. But for consistent performance, your best bet is to charge the Watch every night.
Now, I may be an oddball here, but I’ve found that this need to charge nightly contributes to a certain amorphous sense that the Watch is a burden rather than a benefit. First, there’s the need to find a place for the Watch’s proprietary Magnetic Charging Cable on my nightstand, which is already over-crowded with devices; not to mention finding a place to plug in the associated power adapter, which is small but nonetheless takes up a precious outlet on the already over-crowded power strip hidden behind said nightstand.
Then there’s the need to remember to pack that cable and adapter when I travel, and then find a place to plug them in at the hotel, which always seems to skimp on accessible outlets near the bed. I’ve taken a few overnight trips in the four-plus months that I’ve owned an Apple Watch and, before each, I’ve paused to consider whether this rigamarole was worth the effort. In each case I ultimately decided it was, and I’m glad I had my Watch with me on those trips, but I had to think about it. By contrast, I wouldn’t spend even a nano-second considering whether it’s worth taking my smartphone with me on a trip.