Apple Watch called best smart watch by reviewers, but is faulted for UI and usefulness

The early views of the Apple Watch are rolling in ahead of the smart watch becoming available for pre-order on April 10 and when it hits stores April 24, and they are largely positive. In general, professional reviewers think Apple's gadget is the best smart watch to have come out to date, but they also faulted the learning curve for the device's user interface, its relatively weak battery life and the sense that the watch does not truly serve any real purpose yet.

Bloomberg's Joshua Topolsky summed up the consensus well in the ending words of his review: "The Apple Watch is cool, it's beautiful, it's powerful, and it's easy to use. But it's not essential. Not yet."

Apple is breaking into a new product category for the first time since the introduction of the iPad in 2010 and the company has invested a lot of time and money, as well as its prestige, into making the Apple Watch a success. Apple CEO Tim Cook said last month that the watch "will be the first modern smart watch--the first one that matters," even if its usefulness is not readily apparent.

Source: Apple

Some reviewers found utility in the watch's ability to let them get information at a glance. "I've found the Apple Watch isn't a replacement for the iPhone, but it's the right screen for many important things," Geoffrey Fowler wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "I only look at it in blips, for rarely more than five seconds. It shows me the weather with one finger swipe. It gets physical, gently tapping my wrist when something important needs my attention and lighting up when I lift my arm to look. It nudges when I've been sitting too long."

Fowler added "This description may either strike you as helpful or oppressive. It has made me more present. I'm less likely to absent-mindedly reach for my phone, or feel compelled to leave it on the table during supper."

The Apple Watch pairs with the iPhone 5, 5s, 5c, 6 and 6 Plus via Bluetooth. Users can send messages, read email and answer calls to their Phone via the watch. The watch supports Siri, Apple's digital personal assistant, and users can dictate to the watch to reply to messages. The watch also has a pedometer and can track steps, record workout sessions via a connection to an iPhone and GPS, and serves as a heart-rate monitor. The watch then can share all of the information via an app called "Activity" and with Apple's HealthKit health data software platform.

Some reviewers quibbled with the watch's user interface. "Pressing on the Digital Crown will bring you to a multicolored cluster of tiny app icons, which you can move around or tap on with your finger," Lauren Goode wrote in Re/Code. "(Yes, it's easy to miss the app icon you mean to tap--they're so darn small.)" Yet she wrote that "after a couple days with Apple Watch, all of this starts to make sense."

Apple is letting third-party developers create apps for the watch. Developers can use a software tool that Apple calls "WatchKit" to extend the capabilities of notifications so that users can take actions based on the notifications on the watch. Yet The Verge's Nilay Patel found the watch to be slow and buggy in many respects, including with third-party apps.

"Apple says it's still working on making them faster ahead of the April 24th launch, but it's clear that loading an app requires the watch to pull a tremendous amount of data from the phone, and there's nothing fast about it," Patel wrote. "I sat through a number of interminable loading screens for apps like CNN, Twitter, The New York Times, and others. Apps that need to pull location data fare even worse: the Uber app takes so long to figure out where you are that you're better off walking home before someone notices you staring at your $700 watch and makes a move."

CNET's Scott Stein found that the watch "is beautiful and promising--the most ambitious wearable that exists. But in an attempt to do everything in the first generation, the Apple Watch still leaves plenty to be desired. Short battery life compared with other watches and higher prices are the biggest flags for now. But Apple is just setting sail, and it has a long journey ahead."

Apple has said that the Watch Sport, the entry-level aluminum model, starts at $349 for the 1.5-inch version and $399 for the 1.65-inch model. The stainless steel mid-range Apple Watch will start at $549 for the 1.5-inch model and $599 for the 1.65 model, with prices ranging up to $1,049 and $1,099 depending on the style of band the devices are paired with. Apple said the luxury, 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition will start at $10,000.

Farhad Manjoo, writing in the New York Times, concludes that "the Apple Watch is far from perfect, and, starting at $350 and going all the way up to $17,000, it isn't cheap. Though it looks quite smart, with a selection of stylish leather and metallic bands that make for a sharp departure from most wearable devices, the Apple Watch works like a first-generation device, with all the limitations and flaws you'd expect of brand-new technology." Still, he wrote, "even if it's not yet for everyone, Apple is on to something with the device."

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this NYT article
- see this Re/code article
- see this The Verge article
- see this CNET article
- see these two separate Bloomberg articles

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