The San Francisco Apple Store was a mob scene at 3 p.m. on Friday as people clamored for a look at the new Apple Watch on the first day it appeared in the company’s retail stores. I was there among the crowd to get my first hands-on experience with the watch, thanks to a try-on appointment I managed to snag at the last minute through Apple’s site.
A salesperson led me to a special table near the front of the store that included a set of drawers containing Apple Watches, and I spent about a half hour trying on Apple Watch after Apple Watch in different combinations. Each band required trying on a different Watch, which were all stored inside a special locked charging drawer built into a table near the front of the store.
After all was said and done, I stand by my decision to buy one of Apple’s new smartwatches, but the try-on gave me a fresh perspective on Apple’s entry into the wearable tech market.
Here are the three lessons I took away from the experience:
1. Everyone who plans to buy a Watch should try them on.
I went into my appointment with a pair of standing pre-orders that I made at 1 a.m. that morning – one for a 42mm Apple Watch Sport with a blue fluoroelastemer band and one for a 42mm Apple Watch with a Milanese Loop band – and only a hunch about which one I would actually want to have shipped to me. I’m glad I took the time to try the different models on. While the Sport’s band was one of the best polymer watch bands I’ve ever tried, it still doesn’t really breathe, and I genuinely hate feeling like there’s a strip of plastic around my wrist.
The Link Bracelet is a stylish engineering marvel with its user-detatchable links, but it tugged on my arm hair when I put it on and was the heaviest band I tried on by a long shot. The Leather Loop was comfortable, but it felt oddly bulky. After all of my trying on, I kept coming back to the Milanese Loop, which was as comfortable as all the other metal mesh bands that I’ve worn over the years, but doesn’t require the use of a pinch-happy clasp. (The band closes using magnets.)
Before my appointment, there were some lingering doubts in the back of my mind about my purchase decisions, including questions about sizing, look and feel. Actually getting to handle the watch and feel what it’s like to have one on my wrist helped assuage them.
2. The Apple Watch feels and looks like the best smartwatch on the market
It’s hard to describe, but the Apple Watch just feels and looks the best out of all the smartwatches I have seen and tried. While there has been a lot of hay made about just how expensive it is, it seems to earn the premium price tag. The Digital Crown’s rotation felt nearly frictionless, and the small grooves cut along its circumference to improve a finger’s grip on the watch didn’t feel noticeable at all.
Compared to the vibration motor in my Pebble (above left), the Apple Watch’s Taptic Engine (which is used to provide notifications by tapping your wrist) was better by leaps and bounds. Rather than feeling like my wrist was buzzing, it felt like a forceful thump against my arm. It was much better at getting my attention, though that may have something to do with how unfamiliar the sensation is.
The Watches that were available for try-on were in demo mode, and ran through a pattern of different apps automatically, but there was a small display on the table that included a working version of the Watch. It didn’t have any third-party apps installed, but Apple’s interface felt intuitive and smooth, even if I couldn’t test out the voice recognition features in the middle of a very noisy store.
3. This isn’t going to be a product for everyone
Not everyone needs an Apple Watch, and not everyone is going to want one, either. For people who feel like they want to spend $350 or more on a smartwatch that will end up being outdated at some point, it’s a great option. If that doesn’t sound appealing, it’s completely understandable, and it’s worth holding off on a purchase.
Critics have said that the Apple Watch isn’t solving a clear problem, and to a certain extent, I agree. This isn’t a product that presents a great leap forward in computing. It’s a step forward in a budding market that has a lot of potential, but has yet to show real purpose. Wearing a smartwatch has made my life better, but I’ll freely admit that I’m an edge case.
It’s worth remembering that the iPhone and iPad weren’t unstoppable juggernauts at launch, either. People dismissed Apple’s entry into the tablet market as something that was just a larger version of the iPod Touch, and the iPhone didn’t even feature third-party apps when it launched. At this point, the Apple Watch of today feels like a jumping off point for the future of Apple’s wearable ambitions. People who aren’t early adopters can save their money if they wait and see what’s next.
For those people who are still interested, it’s worth noting that pre-orders for the Watch are only available online, and they’re going fast. Right now, most models available for purchase aren’t slated to ship until June.