Industry sponsors:
HOME | NOTEBOOKS | Tablets | Handhelds | Panels | Embedded | Rugged Definitions | Testing | Tech primers | Industry leaders | About us
Sponsors: Advantech | Dell Rugged | Getac | Handheld Group | Juniper Systems | MobileDemand
Sponsors: Motion Computing | Samwell Ruggedbook | Trimble | Winmate | Xplore Technologies

« Initial impressions of an Apple Watch holdout | Main | GammaTech celebrates its 30th anniversary »

June 16, 2017

Apple Watch Series 2 after three weeks

It's been three weeks since I finally gave in and bought a Series 2 Apple Watch. While the Apple Watch isn't a rugged device and thus not something we'd normally report on, it is a wearable device and wearable computing power is playing an increasingly prominent role. That's because unlike even handhelds, a wrist-mount is always there, always handy and it doesn't need to be stowed away.

So what's been my experience over the first three weeks with the watch? The good news: I am still wearing it. That could be because I wore wrist watches for decades (albeit not in a good many years) and am therefore used to the concept of wearing something on my wrist. It could also be that I found enough to like on the Apple Watch to keep wearing it. Most likely it's a combination of the two.

So here are some of my impressions, starting with the good:

Battery life — Battery life is better than I expected. With the way I've been using the watch I get at least two days of wearing it (including nights) and sometimes three. That's much less than a regular watch whose battery lasts years, but the Apple Watch likely has far more computing power than Apollo 13 had onboard when it went to the moon. And the Apple Watch charges quickly. An hour and a half and it's fully recharged.

Great watch — It makes a great watch. The Apple Watch can display an endless variety of watch faces. I use is a simple, elegant white-on-black analog one. The display is bright enough even in full sunshine. I configured the watch face so that it also displays the date/day of the week, remaining battery charge, weather, and the messages icon.

Messaging, weather and phone — I am surprised by how much I like having the weather info on the watch. I like knowing what the temperature is outside and whether it's sunny, cloudy or raining. I also like having my messaging app right on my wrist. This way I see incoming texts instantly, I can scroll through texts, and I can answer with quick canned responses or even brief messages (there's a letter recognizer function).

Knowing not only when I get a call or a text, but also being able to answer it right on the watch is great. Yes, that's what the iPhone is for, but given how large my iPhone 7 Plus is, I don't always have it on me. As long as my iPhone is within about 100 feet of the watch, there's a Bluetooth connection, and the watch has WiFi, too (albeit only the 2.4GHz band), so as long as my iPhone is on a network, the watch can be, too.

Using the watch as a phone works remarkably well. The sound is amazingly good. But whenever I use the watch as a phone I wonder why there isn't also a camera built into the phone.

Heart rate sensor — The iPhone's heart rate sensor is quite informative. For many years I thought my resting heart rate was around 60 and I really didn't know what it was when I was running. Thanks to a Sleep app on the Apple Watch I now know that my resting heart rate is more like 50. And thanks to my running app I now know my heart rate when I am exercising.

The sensors in the Apple Watch tell the watch how and when I am moving. That way the watch knows when to turn its display on for me to tell the time, and when I am laying down or sleeping. The Sleep app uses that information to show me whether and when I am restless during my sleep.

Onboard GPS — As stated, I bought the Apple Watch primarily because I didn't want to hold my iPhone in my hand or have it in a pocket when I go running. The original Apple Watch didn't have its own GPS and so relied on the iPhone for collecting positioning date. The Series 2 watch does have GPS and can record geographic information by itself. And since my preferred running app does have an Apple Watch app, I was looking forward to leaving the phone at home when running.

Initially, that didn't work. And I still haven't been able to get my favorite running app to reliably record runs. So I tried a different one (Nike's NRC+) and that one works just fine. The app records distance, speed, heart rate and route. Once a run is done, it passes the run info on to the iPhone. So that's what I have been using on my runs. I did, however, not like switching from my favorite running app one bit. Just as I wouldn't like to have to switch from my favorite wordprocessor to another one.

So that's what I have primarily been using the Apple Watch for. If that doesn't sound like much, a) I'll doubtlessly discover other cool things, and b) it's no different on my computer where 98% of the time I use the same four or five software applications.

But not everything has been great:

Battery life — Battery life, while better than expected, is still a limiting factor. With the Apple Watch, I now have yet another piece of electronics that I have to remember to charge. Which means another charger and another cable, and something else to lose or forget or damage.

No truly compelling apps — I am still looking for the "killer app" that would truly justify the Apple Watch and make it indispensable. In the past most people absolutely needed a watch to tell time. Now we use smartphones for that. It has to be something that the watch does inherently better than the phone, and I haven't found anything like that.

A couple of years ago, Apple said there were already 8,500 Apple Watch apps. Today that number is likely much higher. Unfortunately, the majority of watch apps I tried are really quite useless. Not all as some may address specific needs, like tidbits of information that are handy to have without reaching for the phone. But for the most part, whatever the watch can provide on its tiny screen, the iPhone does much better on its larger screen.

Clumsy interface — It doesn't help that the Apple Watch interface and controls are marginal. The mosaic of tiny round icons without any labeling is initially bewildering. I actually got used to it better than I expected, but it's definitely not a perfect solution, especially when one has a large number of apps on the watch. Apple itself seems to realize that as the next rev of the Watch OS will offer a simple alphabetical list of apps as an alternate.

As far as hardware controls go, the crown and pushbutton are far from self-explanatory. Use the push button to bring up the dock, then rotate the crown up and down to go left and right on the dock? Not great. Apps may require a tap, a double-tap or a hard push to do things, but you never know.

Disturbing Watch issue — Then there are other issues. After my wife recently returned from her vacation she found, much to her dismay, that the display of her own original Apple Watch had popped open! The battery inside was visibly swollen. Not good at all. Googling this disturbing situation revealed that bloating first-gen Apple Watch batteries are well documented, though stated that the problem "appears to not be widespread or something that has made mainstream media headlines."

Apparently the issue is serious enough for Apple to extend the service coverage for swollen first gen Apple Watch batteries to three years. We made an appointment with the local Apple store where a rather disinterested and not very helpful "genius" said he'd only ever heard of one other such problem. Apple would replace my wife's watch. Given that her faith in the watch is shaken, my wife, who was visibly appalled at the poor Apple Store experience, asked if she could pay for an upgrade to a Series 2 watch. No can do, said the genius.

So the verdict on the Apple Watch remains inconclusive. Stay tuned.

Posted by conradb212 at June 16, 2017 08:09 PM