My first week with the Apple Watch

Last Thursday, a long wait—although shorter than I expected—was over and I finally got my hands on the new Apple Watch. I went for the second cheapest option—the Apple Watch Sport, 42 mm—because, in fairness, I don’t really need a fancier version, especially since the only difference between the models is their appearance; the technology is exactly the same.

The Apple Watch with its screen off.

The Apple Watch with its screen off.

By now, I have used it a little over a week and I’ve got to say, it’s a magnificent little gadget. It helps me monitor how many calories I spend, no matter whether I’m exercising or just going about; it reminds me to stand up once in a while when I’ve been sitting down for too long; it shows me the weather and other alerts—calendar, email, news, sunset and sunrise; I can pay in many stores with just my watch (which I use now every time if the store I’m at accepts Apple Pay); it wakes me up in the morning with a mellow sound; and, on top of everything, it also tells time!

When the first talk about the watch Apple was about to release emerged, I wasn’t too sure I wanted one. I had always been a classical watch man and I was skeptical about a watch with an electronic display—in my mind, such devices were for children, and, in fact, the children of the 1980ies. But as I had picked up an exercise regimen last fall, which helped me get fit and lose over 50 pounds over the last few months, I now realized the Apple Watch could actually help me with my new lifestyle.

The Apple Watch, in addition to other information, also tells time!

The Apple Watch, in addition to other information, also tells time!

And I was right. It does indeed help. By knowing how many calories I spend every day I am also understanding better how much and what we can and should eat in order to stay fit and healthy. For example, it came as quite a surprise that after a seven-hour, 14-mile hike in Yosemite I had only spent about 1,200 calories—the equivalent of one Big Mac value meal. Imagine how easy it is to stuff your face with the fatty burger and fries, and a drink full of sugar—and, how quickly you can do it!—and now think about how hard it really is to actually use up all those calories you just consumed. If you’re determined to watch your weight and health, the Apple Watch should be your unreplaceable companion.

Activity and Workout

These are the main apps I use for fitness purposes. I have tried Endomondo, which is not a native Apple app, and I found that it doesn’t understand running on the treadmill very well. The native apps do, and show me the details I need quite accurately.

The Activity app tracks your overall calorie loss, exercise and stand time throughout the day. It gives you alerts every hour to stand up—if you haven’t already—and, based on your heart rate, it calculates how many calories you spend doing whatever you are doing. A nice surprise for me was that it also counts the calories I use during driving. For example, yesterday I had a rest day—no exercise after five consecutive workout days—and by driving around most of the day I still used up 319 calories.

The Activity app.

The Activity app.

The app also calculates the time you exercise every day, and it does that without depending on the Workout app, i.e., if you just walk around intensively and haven’t turned on the Workout app, it does still consider your walk as exercise, and it will take it into account for your daily exercise goal. But, naturally, when you do have your Workout app on, the Activity app will take that into account as well.

The third aspect of the Activity app is making sure you don’t sit on your ass the whole day. If you don’t on your own, the app reminds you once an hour to stand up and walk around for at least a minute. All you office workers would be surprised how much it actually contributes to your daily calorie spend and your general fitness to stand up once in a while!

What comes to the Workout app, this is purely for people who actually work out. When you go for a run or a walk, do elliptical workout, cycle, or do other kinds of workouts, you can have the app track the time, your heartbeat, your calorie loss, and the distance/pace of your run/walk/cycling/etc. It calculates your calorie spend based on your heartbeat and some other details about yourself that you have entered into the app before, like your weight, height, gender, and age. And the app makes a distinction between workouts outside and inside, although from what I’ve learned, if you don’t run faster than 10 mph, there is no difference in outside and inside calorie spend.

It’s worth to note that when you’re lifting weights, the calorie count isn’t always accurate. The reason to it is, when you’re lifting weights with the hand on which you wear the watch, your arteries constrict, and this throws off the heartbeat sensor. For example, if I lift my 25-pound dumbbell with my right hand and I’m in the middle of an intensive workout, my pulse is around 140-150; doing the same with the left hand—the hand the watch is on—the pulse is around 40-50. And if the sensor doesn’t get your heartbeat correctly, it shows your calorie spend a little lower than it actually is.

Which all contributes to a difference in calorie spend in different workouts, even though your heartbeat and the time might be comparable: 20 minutes of running, 245 calories spent; 20 minutes of intensive weight lifting, 166 calories spent. But I wouldn’t blame Apple for this discrepancy—it’s not like they can do anything against anatomy.

The main benefit I get from the Workout and Activity apps is that I know better now how much and what I can eat. I work out anyway five to six times a week, and their calorie spends are quite comparable; what I didn’t know before was how much energy I used up doing other stuff. And, in terms of moving around and using up calories, all days are different.

Do I need to carry my phone around?

Well, yes. I mean, if you want to make phone calls, send and receive texts, take photos or other stuff your iPhone does, then the Watch only operates as an extension of the phone itself. The watch doesn’t have a SIM-card, so you can send texts and answer/make phone calls with the watch, but it all goes through the phone to which it’s paired to.

The home screen.

The home screen.

But, the good news is, you don’t need to carry the phone with you when you’re exercising. The watch is completely capable of calculating your calorie spend, the time you exercise, and all the other stuff mentioned earlier, without being paired with the phone. And when you return to the vicinity of the phone, it will pass on the data to the Activity app on your phone, so they will then be completely synchronized again.

And it works vice versa, too. The Health app on your iPhone works with the watch, so if you go somewhere without the watch (although, why would you?), the phone still counts your steps and distance and then synchronizes it with the watch. The downside would, of course, be that only the watch is capable of counting the calories you spend. It truly is a device you shouldn’t take off unless you’re charging it and/or you’re asleep.

You can also synchronize a playlist from your phone with your watch, pair Bluetooth headphones with the watch and listen to your music while you work out without even being near your phone. It is also possible to sync a photo album with the watch to look at them on the watch, or use the watch as a remote for the phone’s camera app. Even Skype and Instagram work on the Apple Watch.

The battery life

It’s surprisingly good. The spec says the battery is supposed to last 18 hours; I took the phone off the charger around 10 o’clock this morning, as I’m writing this it’s 5:40 pm and I have 77% of the battery left. And the watch hasn’t been idle the entire time—I have paid with it, I have worked out, I have played around with it, you name it.

On the other hand, the Workout app does use quite a lot of it. During the aforementioned hike in Yosemite, the Workout app was running for almost seven hours. So, by the end of the hike, I only had 16% of the battery left. But after a workout as long as this, you won’t really do much, so it would still last until you go to sleep. And how often do you really use the watch, or the Workout app, so intensively anyway.

Usually, by the time I go to sleep in the evening, I have around 50% of the battery left. I still charge it every night, because otherwise I wouldn’t have enough battery left for the next day.

Other stuff you can do with the watch

On your watch, in addition to numerous third-party apps that you can synch between the phone and the watch, you have an alarm clock, a world clock, a stopwatch and a reverse stopwatch, weather, maps, passbook, calendar, stocks, you name it. You get the same alerts on your watch that you get on your iPhone, probably provided they’re paired—otherwise the watch wouldn’t be able to connect to the source. The iPhone and the Apple Watch are connected via Bluetooth, so their data exchange is quick and seamless.

You can use your watch to pay for things you buy.

You can use your watch to pay for things you buy.

You can choose between many faces for the watch itself, from a jolly Mickey Mouse (inspired, undoubtedly, by Robert Langdon’s Mickey watch from Dan Brown novels) to different analogue and digital displays. On many faces, you can customize the information that it shows to you on your watch screen. For example, mine shows me the time, the date, the weather, the battery, the activity bars, and as my personal favorite, the time the Sun is about to set or rise (depending on whether it’s after sunset or sunrise).

If you have an Apple TV device, you can use the watch as the remote. I don’t have Apple TV, so I haven’t tried it out. When you swipe from top to bottom, you get all your recent alerts; when you swipe from bottom to top, you see a selection of information from current weather, the position of the sun, the next event in your calendar, the price of your favorite stock to the latest news of the Wall Street Journal. And handoff between your Apple devices works seamlessly, too—when you open, for example, the calendar on the phone, you can at any point continue working on it on your Mac or on your phone.

Read the Wall Street Journal right from your Apple Watch.

Read the Wall Street Journal right from your Apple Watch.

Overall, I am very happy with the latest invention from Apple. Even so happy that I have put my previous watch away in the drawer and wear my Apple Watch every day. So far, a watch for me has been a fashion statement. Now, it’s my daily assistant to a better life.

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