First Impression of Apple’s Watch Series 5

Max: «These cuffs are made of tensiled steel. It would take you ten minutes to hack through them.»
[Hands Kid the hacksaw.]
Max (cont’d): «If you’re quick, and if you’re lucky, you can hack through your ankle in five.»
«Mad Max» (1979)

My trusted iPhone 5s was no longer able to cope with Apple’s iOS updates. And given that I work with media and computer science students it pays to know at least one system very well. So it was time for a new smartphone — which was also a good opportunity to try out a smartwatch.

So I bit the Apple bullet (damn, they are fricking expensive) and bought the Apple Watch Series 5.

So far, the impression is … okay’ish. It’s a mixed bag.

Compared to my prior solution — wearing an iPod nano (6th gen/8 GB) on my wrist, and using headphones to listen to music and podcasts — there are a few advantages, but also a few disadvantages.

The disadvantages

Mostly compared to the iPod touch solution, but also in general:

  • Lack of USB-stick like storage: I still haven’t found out how to use the watch for easy storage. There are a few files I would like to keep with me anytime, anywhere. The iPod could be used as storage device, similar to an USB stick. Haven’t found the option with the Watch.
  • Severely shorter battery life: Compared to the iPod, the Watch doesn’t last long. I can get up to two days of power with the Watch — by turning off the always on feature and otherwise trying to reduce battery power. At the moment I recharge it every morning (while I shower) so this isn’t a problem. Still, it would be nice if it would last longer.
  • At times cumbersome interaction: I also haven’t found out how to start/stop podcasts or music with a simple press of a physical button. The Watch does have two, they are both accessible relatively easily. But in contrast to the iPod, they have different functions than start/stop, even when a podcast is playing. Very annoying when having to listen to the environment/people, or restarting the podcast/music when carrying stuff. Also, no hardware buttons for volume control. Okay, this can be done via the earplugs, but still, wasted chance. Hardware buttons do have their uses.
  • Limited watchfaces: Yeah, it’s Apple. They limit what you can do with the Watch. Including the watchfaces. It would be nice if you could create you watchface from scratch. A bit like the presenter view in Keynote. But they only provide you with predefined ones, allowing for minimal customization. That’s the disadvantage of Apple — it’s their style, not your own. (For example, if I want to see the battery status, I have to sacrifice one area for it. Showing the battery percentage next to the date — top of the watch face, on the left side — would free up that space. But that’s not possible.)
  • Note-Taking/Typing cumbersome: Might be that I haven’t yet found a good app to quickly jot down a few notes. I can reply to my own mails, but a notes app would be nice. Or seeing my notes from the notes app on the Watch. Yep, you can use JustPressRecord or the like and do audio notes, and the transfer to the iPhone is cool, but in many cases, I really do not want to speak out loud what goes through my head — and neither does anyone else. Perhaps Evernote might work, but with the exception of Apple I don’t trust cloud-based systems.

The advantages

  • Access to information: Despite not offering access to all iPhone apps, the amount of information is … nice. Especially if you use multiple watchfaces. Similar to spaces on Mac OS (or virtual desktops), they provide specific information:
  • Very useful quick access to crucial information: It’s not only the amount of information, but the speed with which they are available. Esp. functions on the Default screen are really useful: Timer (for cooking), Calendar (next appointment is shown), and OmniFocus (quick access to the tasks of today, and the Inbox, and Flagged Tasks).
  • Reduces interaction time with my iPhone: While my iPhone is in my pocket most of the time, I can easily access information and start/stop podcasts. Syncing is nice too.
  • Nice continuous heart rate/life logging: I tried out a heart rate monitor, but while the data was a joy to dig in, it was inconvenient to wear it as an armband. Or to keep it charged. So far, the watch delivers interesting data. Same with other data, like activity. There’s lots of potential here, no question about it.
  • Comfortable wristband: Small detail but at times I have removed my iPod nano, because the wristband was annoying when typing. Haven’t had the problem with the Apple one.

Undecided

  • Bluetooth compared to cable-connected earphones: My iPod nano worked with earphones and a cable, with the Watch I’m using Bluetooth earphones (not the Apple ones). Normally, I prefer cable. Even though it runs up my arm and undernearth my shirt, there are no pairing issues, no connection lost, and most importantly: No second device (third, with the iPhone) to keep charged. But I have to admit, the Bluetooth earphones are much more comfortable.

So far, the experience is more positive than negative. But I’m itching to customize the Watch. Would be interesting to see what can be done with information/functions at that position. Could be very nice. Hmm, but making the time to reactivate my (sparse) programming skills … hmmm.

One last thing: It all depends on how you use it (Who is in control?).

While I love having access to information and messages/websites at my fingertips, or on my wrist, it should not become a handcuff. Interruptions should not come from bots or from just any kind of app, but from people that are important to you, or from apps that help you to achieve important things.

So I removed almost all notifications on my watch, including selecting custom notifications instead of just copying the notification settings of my iPhone.

For example, the calendar shows only notifications of upcoming events, not invitations or the like, and shows only two specific calendars.

Similarly, I have disabled the workout alerts. I walk to and from work every day (around 30 minutes), and the alert came after 1/4 of the walk, when I was thinking. It would be one thing if the watch simply recorded that I was doing an outdoor walk. It’s got my position, my movement (speed), it could simply learn from my behavior. But instead it always asked me. Absolutely destructive when you use the time to listen to interesting podcasts or (try to) think.

Likewise, the watch is not on «always on», nor does the display turn on when I raise my wrist. One reason is saving battery power, the other — more important one — is the distraction potential. I want the information when I want it, not when I notice a change on my wrist. The watch is black most of the time — similarly to the iPod nano I was wearing earlier.

Regarding messages, while I like the access to mails (work via Outlook and private via Mail), they usually don’t come with alerts. The only exception are mails from VIPs.

It might seem strange to lock down a watch this way, but compared to the default alerts, I like it much, much better.

Categories: General Tips, Improving your Creativity, Infrastructure, iPhone/iPad, Tools



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