Apple Watch Review – Your Mileage May Vary Edition

Blog Date: 
Tuesday, May 26, 2015

by Amy Mason

The biggest news in the Access Technology community of late has been the Apple Watch. Everyone has had their say.  People have complained about the availability of the devices, crowed about their watch shipping, reviewed, tweeted and blogged. With all the hype surrounding the device,  it only seemed reasonable that the Access Technology team should give it a spin, and give you, our loyal readers, our opinions so that all three of you who haven’t already made up your mind about whether or not you need one, can make that decision with the benefit of our experience.  

Physical Features

We have the 38 mm watch with the white sports band. The face is roughly square with rounded corners, and the edges are silver, and slightly rounded.  The sports band is sort of rubbery, and clasps by hooking a peg through a buckle hole.  Unlike a traditional buckle though, the peg is slightly indented, so that it holds the band in place without any extra fussing with the buckle.  On initial review, we found ourselves with a bit of a problem however.  The band that the Apple Watch was sporting coming out of the box was rather…. small. Clara and Anne could wear it with no trouble, I could just make it work, (with a fair amount of effort) but there was no way that it was going to fit Karl.  

We did not discover until a fair bit later, that Apple had us covered on this one. There was a larger band tucked into the document envelope in the box.  (Clearly the easiest place for a user to find it, because we all read the instructions right?)  This was an excellent surprise as it meant that Karl too could have his turn with the hardware. For this reason, Karl has promised do more testing, including making wrist-based phone calls, which ought to be interesting, or at the very least amusing.

Getting Fit with Apple Watch

So, the watch (with its original band) fits, but it’s a tight fit.  I can take a hint.  During my time with the device, I set up the fitness tracker, because this is one of the features that I was most curious about. I’ve wanted to join the Fitbit revolution for a while, and I thought this would be a good way to find out whether or not I would enjoy serious fitness tracking as a part of my everyday routine.  The result? I think I like it, but I’m feeling kind of judged by our friends in Cupertino. First of all, the watch itself is telling me to stand, (almost constantly it seems). This would not be so bad except that many of the hours when it’s reminding me to stand, I already have been.  Secondly, no matter what I do, it refuses to accept that I have exercised. I have walked, I have walked faster, I even tried jumping jacks, and jogging, (both with forward momentum and in place), I have danced, but no, it admits that I’ve moved, but it refuses to countenance that I have exercised. I don’t know if this is a failure of the watch, or something I am doing wrong, but honestly, I am getting pretty angry at the fitness tracker, because it refuses to admit that I am trying to be fit.

The heartbeat monitor similarly seems to be rather fickle. I know that while testing the watch, Clara found it to be fairly accurate, for me it seems to depend on the day, and Anne couldn’t get much in the way of an accurate reading. I expect that with further firmware updates Apple will get these difficulties under control, but for now, the fitness features seem to fail the Access Technology Stress Test.

 

Go Ahead, Apple, Tell Me Where to Get Off

Another feature I was excited to experience was the turn by turn walking directions with nifty taps on my wrist to alert me when I should be turning. I set up a few different paths in my testing, running errands, feeding friends’ cats, grabbing dinner, etc. All of these were great opportunities to put the turn-by-turn to the test.

It worked… mostly. My first attempt was rather unsuccessful. I asked the watch to give me walking directions to a nearby business, and waited… and waited… and waited… It began to tell me that it was loading, and continued to tell me it was loading for the next five minutes. I finally restarted it since I could not break the loop. This experience taught me the importance of starting any processor intensive job from the phone, and with that in mind, the tapping directions worked quite well. I think, though I cannot be certain, that there may be a different pattern of taps for left hand and right hand turns, but don’t hold me to it. Even though I took several trips with the watch, I finally gave up, and just checked every time. Once it had tapped my wrist, the watch obligingly told me that I needed to turn left or right, and all was well with the world.

I like this feature. I worry that it might be less useful in loud settings without dedicating a set of Bluetooth headphones to the watch, (rendering this a moot feature in a way, since turn-by-turn works equally well on the phone with a earbud in, but It’s a freeing experience to not listen to anything and still have information on where to go next.

 

General Phone Integration

As I write this, my phone is on the charger, just out of reach. It’s pretty handy that I can restart my music with a flick of the crown and a double tap of an onscreen button. I like that. No complaints.

It’s fun to be tapped on the wrist to discover a text message I would have otherwise missed because I didn’t feel my phone ring through my purse. Bonus points for this feature.

It’s fun to have Carrot deliver my weather forecast on my wrist. It would be nice if HeyTell were as accessible here as it is on my phone though. I really don’t know what I would do with Drafts on my wrist though, or my Bible app. I think some things just have an Apple Watch app because everyone wants to be cool and have one. It doesn’t hurt anything, but I think that it will be much more interesting to see where watch apps are in a year, after the novelty has worn off and people know what to do with it.

My only real complaint about watch and phone integration is that it’s very slow sometimes. Sometimes using the watch feels to me very much like using iOS 7 on an iPhone 4.  Everything is generally functional, but it’s not quite the slick experience I expect from a new Apple device, and very occasionally it is just going to hang. Once again, I think this is going to get better with subsequent versions of the hardware and software, but for now, it can be pretty painful.
This leads to…

 

The Verdict

Should you get one? *Shrugs shoulders*. Maybe. If the issues we’ve seen aren’t likely to bother you, and the tech is exciting, and you have the money to spend… it’s mostly harmless. Use and enjoy. Personally though, I just don’t have a strong enough use case to justify the price tag. Thanks to playing with the watch, I want a Fitbit, and I know that I want a Braille watch again, but for me it’s just not all that compelling. The Apple Watch is always audible, unless it is paired with Bluetooth headphones. This makes it a talking watch. A very pretty, very fancy talking watch. One of the best features of a watch, in my opinion, is the ability to unobtrusively check the time. Notifications and everything else are read aloud and I feel like I am sacrificing too much privacy by wearing it as a VoiceOver user. Finally, I just don’t feel like the bits I am most excited about are fully implemented. I’ll check again when we get to the Apple Watch 2, but in the meantime, I’ll find another way to spend the $400 burning a hole in my pocket.

Addendum

It’s been a few days since I wrote the majority of this post, and I have a few tidbits to pass along to ensure that it is up to date and as accurate as I can make it.

First, Karl has been using the watch since we found the band, and we have different interests, so we’ve tested different features. Therefore, Karl will also be writing up his thoughts on the Apple Watch for your further edification and enjoyment.

Second, I’ve done a bit of checking, and can confirm that the maps app does in fact offer unique tap rhythms when turning left or right. I personally still didn’t feel them, but they are apparently there to be noticed.  This leads to my final point. Since we found the larger band, I am going to give the Apple Watch another go. I hope to try further use of the GPS to see if I can find the difference between the left and right hand turns in a real world scenario, and I want to see if the band being slightly looser makes any difference with my ability to get the watch to accept my exercise activity.  If there are any major findings, I’ll ask to tack on a paragraph when Karl writes his post, or pass along the info if my experiences change.  

 

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