Apple Watch: Early Reviews Are Underwhelming

High quality hardware marred by stumbling Siri, app performance

The Apple Watch is the first completely new product released by Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) since the iPad in 2010.

Apple Watch, the Apple Watch reviews are in
Source: Apple

It’s the first product developed during Apple CEO Tim Cook’s tenure that doesn’t have any Steve Jobs legacy attached. And it arrives at a time when the iPad — AAPL’s second-largest source of revenue — faces softening sales.

Apple is entering a smartwatch market in which competitors like Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) have a multi-year lead and where arch-rival Google (NASDAQ:GOOG,NASDAQ:GOOGL) is pushing to extend Android’s dominance. It’s also pushing Apple into new territory: a purveyor of luxury goods.

In other words, the Apple Watch is an extremely important product for the company, and Apple Watch reviews are likely to set the tone for what’s coming when pre-orders start on April 10.

Apple executives may be starting to sweat just a little because the early Apple Watch reviews are in, and they’re far from universally great.

Apple Watch Reviews: Better Than Most Smartwatches, But That Isn’t Saying Much

Smartwatches are still in their early stages of development. Generally speaking, they’re clunky and underpowered, they have limited functionality, battery life is terrible, and once you get past the cool factor they don’t strike me as a must-have device. At least not yet. I’ve tried out many of them including various Samsung versions, the Pebble and Pebble Steel and the Moto 360 (reviewed here).

Word from the early reviews is that Apple’s take on the smartwatch suffers from many of the same issues — although not necessarily to the same extent as the competition.

For example, in his Apple Watch review for The Verge, Nilay Patel says:

“In the first of many moments where the Watch felt underpowered, I found that the screen lit up a couple of ticks too slowly: I’d raise my wrist, wait a beat, and then the screen would turn on. This sounds like a minor quibble, but in the context of a watch you’re glancing at dozens of times a day, it’s quickly distracting.”

The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo echoed other Apple Watch reviews in his issues with third party apps behaving erratically and took issue with Siri voice control — a major selling point of the Apple Watch:

“I grew used to calling on Siri to set kitchen timers or reminders while I was cooking, or to look up the weather while I was driving. And I also grew used to her getting these requests wrong almost as often as she got them right.”

Geoffrey A. Fowler of The Wall Street Journal points out that Google’s Android Wear does a better job of assigning alerts to contacts you actually interact with to keep alerts from getting out of hand:

“Take app alerts—there’s a fine line between being in the know and having your wrist jiggle all day. It never got horrible for me, because Apple lets you assign VIP status to individual contacts and specify which apps can trigger alerts. But setting up all of this is a tedious—and unfortunately ongoing—chore.”

Apple Watch Reviews: The Good

So the Apple Watch isn’t the runaway smash success that AAPL was hoping for, but based on those early Apple Watch reviews there is a lot that Apple got right.

While some people will find it’s rectangular case chunky compared to devices like the Moto 360 or LG G Watch R that mimic a traditional, round-faced wristwatch, Re/Code’s Lauren Goode praised Apple’s design efforts:

”I’ve worn my fair share of smartwatches and none are as good-looking as Apple Watch.”

Farhad Manjoo may have been frustrated with Siri on the Apple Watch, but he was pretty excited about its use with Apple Pay and Passbook:

“I also used the Watch to pay for New York cabs and groceries at Whole Foods, and to present my boarding pass to security agents at the airport. When these encounters worked, they were magical, like having a secret key to unlock the world right on my arm.”

CNET’s Apple Watch review by Scott Stein praised Apple’s attention to detail when designing watch faces:

“Apple has spent a lot of time making its collection of watch faces great, and the effort shows: these are a beautiful bunch.”

Apple Watch Reviews: Wait for Apple Watch 2

Other aspects of Apple’s smartwatch have been a mixed bag. Some of the Apple Watch reviews are critical of the battery life, while other reviewers were pleasantly surprised — clearly, how you use the device will have a big impact on your experience.

Some people love the display and user interface, while others complain that icons are too tiny. The heart rate monitor earned kudos for its accuracy, but activity apps appear to be a mixed bag.

Above all, there’s the price. And the consensus there seems to be that if you want to buy an Apple Watch at launch, your best bet is the Sport Watch. Not the cheapest one (its display may be too small for many users), but the $399 42mm version.

I haven’t managed to get my hands on an Apple Watch yet, but here’s my takeaway from the early Apple Watch reviews: Wait for generation two — especially if you’re considering the more expensive versions. Having a $399 first generation product that’s eclipsed by a much improved second generation version is nothing compared to the burn of owning a $17,000 model that suddenly seems outdated.

Apple has a proven history of relentless refinement of its products. The first iPod, iPhone and iPad also had decidedly mixed reviews, but in subsequent generations of those devices Apple greatly improved them. Developers learned to take full advantage of the hardware with their apps. The Apple Watch won’t be any different.

The models that go on pre-order on April 10 may have flaws, but clearly Apple is on to something, and the second generation Apple Watch will be the one to get.

As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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